Category Archives: Religion

5 best documentaries about Umbanda

Umbanda baptism, photo by Aline Scaravelli/Flickr

One of the fast-growing Brazilian religions, a mix of African traditions and Catholicism, Umbanda is frequently misunderstood and despised. Check this selection of documentaries that shed some light – maybe not enough – on one of the pillars of Brazilian religiosity.

1- Brazilian Spirituality, a basic intro from Global Village Travel Guide:

Continue reading 5 best documentaries about Umbanda

Religion mix at the Sorority of the Good Death

Photo by Rosino/Flickr
Photo by Rosino/Flickr

For the last 190 years, the few dozen members of the Sorority of the Good Death  – all of them black women over 50 – have been promoting Festa da Boa Morte in Cachoeira, in the state of Bahia. Originally a secret society, the sorority keeps a tradition that intertwines Catholic and African elements, such as the devotion to Mary and comidas de santo – dishes offered to the orixás in the Candomblé religion. Officially it was created to celebrate the Virgin and to provide decent funerals to slaves and their descendents. But, in fact, it was a way of preserving African traditions and fight against slavery.

It includes a mess, a procession, a vigil, street parties where the local population dances the very traditional samba de roda, and eat caruru (made from okra, onion, shrimp, palm oil and toasted nuts) and feijoada (a complex meal that includes a stew of black beans with pork and several side dishes).


Honoring Saint John

São João in Piraí, Rio state. Photo by João Vicente/JVC, via Flickr

Saint John’s festival, celebrated today, is a delicious fake celebration of rural lifestyle, with all the surreal stereotypes that this entitles.
It has, almost inevitably, the following elements:
1 – A mock wedding of a shy pregnant freckled bride in pigtails and a bridegrooms in shabby suit, straw hat and missing teeth. Continue reading Honoring Saint John

10 days with John of God

John of God receiving visitors. Photo by Stever Cleaver/ Flickr
John of God receiving visitors. Photo by Stever Cleaver/ Flickr

João de Deus – or John of God, as he is internationally known – is arguably the most famous psychic in activity in Brazil. He lives in Abadiânia, in the state of Goiás, close to Brasília, the country’s capital. Last Easter, Verônica Angriman, an Argentinian architect based in the US, spent 10 days in the town, that has less than 13,000 inhabitants, to meet the psychic. “It felt like entering a Fantastic Realism novel”, she describes. In this interview, she tells her experience at Casa de Dom Ignácio de Loyola, where John of God operates, and gives a few tips for those willing to pay him a visit.

DB – How was your arrival in Abadiânia?

V – I came from Brasília by taxi (1oo dollars from the airport). It is a really small town and the presence of João de Deus is clearly important for the  local economy. There are, for instance, several shops that sell white outfits – demanded for the rituals. He is, of course, very popular in Abadiânia. Continue reading 10 days with John of God

Poll reveals that most Brazilians believe in God

Santuário da Lapa, in Ibiquera, Bahia. Photo by Deltafrut/Flickr

The BBC just published the results of a poll that interviewed 18.829 adults  in 23 countries about their religious beliefs. Produced by global research company Ipsos and Reuters news agency, it concluded that 51% of the population in this universe “definitely believes in God or some superior entity”, while 18% said they don’t and 17% say that they are not sure about that.

Three countries came out as highly faithful: Indonesia (93%), Turkey (91%) and Brazil (84%).

Check some other answers given by Brazilians:

  • 28% said they believe in the concept of Hell and Heaven
  • 32% said they believe there is an after-death (but it doesn’t involve going to Hell or Heaven)
  • 12% believe in reincarnation (Spiritism, the religion/doctrine developed by Allan Kardec in France in the 19th century, is big in Brazil)
  • 47% of Brazilians believe in Creationism and discard the idea that we are related to apes (it is a higher percentage than the 40% verified in the US, where creationists are particularly loud)
  • Only 3% said they don’t believe in God, gods or other superior entities. And 4% are not really sure – they “sometimes believe, sometimes don’t believe”. I understand 9% preferred not to answer or gave other answers.

I must confess I am a little surprised by these numbers. I also wonder how many interviewees said they are believers because they think this is “the right thing to do”. What’s your opinion?




Easter in Nova Jerusalém

TV actors Thiago Lacerda and Floriano Peixoto as Jesus and Pilatus. Photo by Karla Vidal/Flickr
TV actors Thiago Lacerda and Floriano Peixoto as Jesus and Pilatus. Photo by Karla Vidal/Flickr

Since the sixties, the small town of Brejo de Deus, in the dry lands of the state of Pernambuco, promotes an Easter presentation depicting the passion of Christ that became (according to its organizers) the largest outdoor show in the world. The town incorporated the spirit of the original Jerusalem and built 4 meter (13 feet) tall ramparts and towers. Today, the comunity, rebaptized as Nova Jerusalém (New Jerusalem), receives around 80,000 visitors every year for an event that is considered an example of efficient organization. The audience moves from stage to stage – nine in total, from Herodes palace to the Golgotha – to watch the 550 actors and extras, plus all sorts of animals, in action. The technical crew is composed of 400 professionals.

It is maybe kitsch, but also unique and a great source of income for a region where there is little water and economy. At least 3 million people visited Brejo de Deus since the first shows, leaving money for the small hotels, shops, restaurants and street vendors.

Have a glimpse of the atmosphere at Nova Jerusalém these days thanks to this (poor quality  home video):

Shortcut to understand the Brazilian people

Darcy Ribeiro

Here is a master class on the History of Brazil and the genesis of its population: the documentary “O Povo Brasileiro” (The Brazilian People), based on the book of same name published by anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro in 1995. Subtitled in English, it offers a deep seven-hour approach of a complex topic and several cameo appearances by composers Chico Buarque and Tom Zé and literary critic Antônio Cândido, among many others.

Directed by Isa Grinspum, it is divided in chapters that deal with the influence of the natives (parts  1, 2 and 3),  Portuguese (parts  4, 5 and 6) and Africans (Part 7, 8 and 9). Plus a series of chapters about their interactions (Encontros e Desencontros – parts 10, 11 and 12), and regional specificities  (Brasil Crioulo – parts 13, 14 and 15; Brasil Sertanejo – parts 16, 17 and 18; Brasil Caipira – parts 19, 20 and 21; Brasil Sulino – parts 22, 23 and 24; Brasil Caboclo – parts 25, 26 and 27) and a conclusion (A Invenção do Brasil – parts 28, 29 and 30).

The story on how “O Povo Brasileiro” was written would certainly deserve another documentary. Darcy Ribeiro, an intellectual known for his lust for life and women, was a terminal cancer patient in 1995. He had lost one lung and his doctor told his family that he had a few days left to live. His reaction: he ran away from the hospital to hide at home, in the beach of Maricá, close to Rio de Janeiro, where he intended to finish his book – which he did in 45 days. He still survived for two more years. Surrounded by his many, many (female) admirers.

Prayer drive-thru

Event promoted by Igreja Universal by the beach in Florianópolis. Picture taken by Reyes/Flickr.

Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, a fast-growing native Brazilian Pentecostal church that is extremely popular, is inovating again. Last year, its founder, self-proclaimed bishop Edir Macedo, announced that he is going to build a replica of the  Temple of King Salomon that will be able to accommodate 10,000 people  in the city of São Paulo. Recently, Macedo also introduced the concept of “prayer drive-thru”. I have seen it in operation and that’s how it works: a couple of elegant man in suits and ties stay in front of the temple and wait for passing-by cars  to stop. They enter the drive-thru area and are approached by one preacher, Bible in hand, for five minutes of prayer and, maybe, a donation.

Founded in 1977, Universal has today 5,000 churches around Brazil and a few others in two dozen countries. Despite its many controversies (a bishop kicked a statue of the Virgin Mary on a TV program, the church was involved in lawsuits concerning tax evasion and frauds against followers), it grows non-stop, in part because their many radio and TV channels and huge communication skills.

Tolerant neighbors (sort of)

Paraty, photo by Rodrigo Solon

Brazilians have prejudices, but are among the most tolerant populations of the world. This is one of the conclusions you can draw from the graphs produced by the World Values Society. It  is a worldwide network of social scientists that study changing values and their impact on social and political life. They have been conducting surveys in 97 countries since 1981.

In one of their latest studies, they asked people all over the world about their tolerance towards their neighbors. The following percentage of Brazilian respondents said they wouldn’t like to live close to:

  • People who speak a different language: 9.1% (US – 11.1%, Great-Britain – 6.3%)
  • People of a different race: 5.3% (US – 4.1%, Great-Britain – 5.4%)
  • Immigrants/foreign workers: 8.1% (US – 13.2%, Great-Britain – 15.9%)
  • People of a different religion: 7% (US – 2.6%, Great-Britain – 2.1%)
  • Homosexuals: 26.1% (US – 26%, Great-Britain – 18.8%)
  • Unmarried people living together: 7.1% (US – 8.4%, Great-Britain – 2.3%)
  • People who have Aids: 17.8% (US – 15.9%, Great-Britain – 13.6%)
  • Drug addicts: 82.2% (US – 93.8%, Great-Britain – 94.4%)
  • Heavy drinkers: 60.4% (US – 72.9%, Great-Britain – 67.8%)

In all of the scenarios, Brazilians were among the most tolerant or, at least, in the average group. But it is sad to see that the rejection of gays is still very high. If you want to check the statistics for other countries, just click here.

Saints without a halo*

Mighty Anastácia

They were not canonized. They are controversial. There is even doubt if some of them really existed. Nevertheless, Brazilian popular saints generate deep devotion, pilgrimages and flourishing commerce.

Take, for example, Escrava Anastácia. This beautiful slave of blue eyes, that supposedly lived in the 18th century, was obliged by her master to wear a mask covering her mouth, because she refused to, you know, accept his sweet love. Apparently, this device was commonly used in the gold mines, so the slaves wouldn’t ingest (and steal) the metal. There is almost no evidence that Anastácia really existed, but she is still considered a big miracle worker.

Another powerful popular saint is Padre (Father) Cícero, a priest, landowner and conservative political leader of Juazeiro, in the Northeastern state of Ceará. Also known as Padim Ciço, he was excommunicated in the late 19th century by the local bishop after a series of supposed miracles that his superior considered a fraud: the host offered by Cícero would systematically turn into blood when ingested by one of the priest’s followers. Later his excommunication was invalidated by the Vatican but he was never allowed to return to his parish. His popularity never diminished, though. He amassed a huge fortune, including 34 rural properties, and became the state’s vice-governor.

Continue reading Saints without a halo*