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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Tent of Miracles: Jorge Amado on Afro-Brazilian History

I've been wanting a good excuse and the time to read The Tent of Miracles by Jorge Amado.  My good excuse was the Around the World in 52 Books challenge which is only 90% complete at this point.  Since December 31st is coming up fast, I fear this 2012 challenge will remain incomplete.  At least the holiday season gave me the opportunity to read a book that was recommended to me as a Candomble novel. Candomble is an Afro-Brazilian religion.  I'd like to know more about it.  After doing a search, I discovered that The Tent of Miracles isn't the only book by Amado with a great deal of Candomble content.  Jubiaba is another one of his works that deals prominently with Candomble, but Jubiaba is not as easy to obtain in English.

The Tent of Miracles is the second book I've read by Jorge Amado.  The first was The War of the Saints which was recommended to me as a book with a primary focus on the Yoruban spirit Oya who is widely known as Yansan in Brazil.   I read The War of the Saints some time ago.  It had tons of magical realism, but I remembered thinking at the time that I wanted more spirituality, ritual and folklore.  That's when I was told to read The Tent of Miracles.

The fictional central character Pedro Archanjo fought against racism and religious discrimination in early 20th century Bahia.  When I researched this book, I discovered that Amado had based Archanjo on  Manuel Raimundo Querino, an Afro-Brazilian writer who did all the things which Amado credits to Archanjo.  See Querino Paper. This actually looks like a section of a paper  that is part of Columbia University's files. There is no indication of who authored this paper. Pages 14-16 of the pdf  deal with the connection of Querino to Archanjo in The Tent of Miracles.

Archanjo is also known in the novel by the Yoruban title Ojuoba.  This means "the Eyes of the King".  Xango is the Yoruban spirit of kingship. (His name is variously spelled Chango, Shango and Xango in different cultural contexts.  Xango is the Brazilian version.) Xango had ordered Archanjo to "see all, learn all and write it down on paper".  

The title of the book comes from the shop of the character Lidio Corro who is a miracle painter.  His shop became a gathering place for those interested in Carnival, Candomble and the Afro-Brazilian martial art, Capoeira.   Pedro Archanjo was a close friend and supporter of Lidio's, and gave the shop its name.

One of the delights of this book for me were all the names from Brazilian history that are mentioned in this book.  Any of them could open a door to an amazing story.  There is a statue of Maria Quiteria mentioned in this book.  She turned out to be the first woman in Brazil to wear a military uniform.

The Candomble priestess Olga de Alaketu is mentioned in this novel, but oddly enough it's in the context of practicing Voodoo.  I figured that Jorge Amado must have known that Candomble and Voodoo are different traditions with different origins and practices. The spirits of Candomble are the Orixa from Yorubaland in Nigeria.  The spirits of Voodoo are called the Loa and are usually Fon spirits from Dahomey, but Voodoo also includes spirits from the Congo.   I have read about Voodoo in Haiti and New Orleans, but had not expected to find it in a Brazilian novel with a focus on Candomble.  The Wikipedia article on Olga de Alaketu  that I linked mentions that Jorge Amado knew her and attended her ceremonies.  So when he says in The Tent of Miracles that she was a daughter of the Loa known as Papa Loko as well as the Orixa Yansan, I assume that Amado knew what he was talking about. Papa Loko is a very important Loa as you can see from the article about him that I've linked.  This implies that Olga de Alaketu combined Candomble and Voodoo in her practice.  Academics call this syncretism which always interests me.

Although I had heard about the discrimination against Afro-Brazilian religions in the first half of the 20th century, I had not read about it before in either fiction or non-fiction.  There are a number of scenes in The Tent of Miracles that depict instances of prejudice.

 One manifestation of this discrimination shown in this book was the attempt to remove Candomble from Carnival.  The white upper class feared the influence of Afro-Brazilian religions on Carnival, and banned the Afoxes and Blocos Afros from appearing in Carnival.  As the Bahia cultural article that I've linked states, Afoxes use Candomble music and songs in secular contexts.  The Samba which is now inextricably associated with Carnival in Brazil comes from the Afoxes and Blocos Afros in Bahia which first appeared in the 19th century.

The Tent of Miracles also portrays police invasions of Candomble ceremonies in Bahia.  As a result, some Candomble ceremonies were moved to the surrounding countryside while other Candomble practitioners left Bahia entirely and relocated to Rio de Jainero.

Yet religious discrimination is also shown in this book as being brought to an ignominious end. The character Pedro Archanjo played a role in ending it.  Archanjo says in this book that "One day the orixas will be dancing on the stage."  This is a prediction that has come true in modern day Brazil. 

I was very glad to learn so much about the history of Candomble and other significant aspects of Brazilian culture through reading The Tent of Miracles.  I hope to read Amado's novel Jubiaba in the not so distant future.






1 comment:

  1. Hi Linda, I enjoyed your article. I read the book over 10 years ago and you made me relive it. Thank you