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Monday, March 11, 2013

Eye of Mercy, Eye of Transformation--Jorge Amado Envisions a New Society in Jubiabá

When I was working on the review for The Tent of Miracles  by Jorge Amado, which I posted in December 2012, I discovered that another Amado novel, Jubiabá , also deals with Candomble, an Afro-Brazilian religion that interests me.  I recently finished reading it.  My review is below.


This is an earlier work of Jorge Amado, so it isn't as sophisticated as the novels he wrote later in his career, but it is heartfelt and Amado's characteristic themes are very much present.  According to a Brazilian Biography of Jorge Amado ,it's also one of the first portrayals of an Afro-Brazilian central character in fiction.

 We follow the adventures of Afro-Brazilian orphan Antonio Balduino in what is known as a picaresque novel .  Like Don Quixote, the most renowned picaro, the central character tries to be a hero in a society where heroes don't exist.   Over the course of the narrative, Antonio's idea of heroism changes, and he does become the hero that he set out to be. 

The character named in the title, Jubiabá , is a Candomble priest and healer. He is a respected man who teaches  Antonio some important lessons.  The most emblematic concept that Antonio learns from Jubiabá  is "the eye of mercy".  Antonio eventually comes to the conclusion that "the rich had let their eye of mercy dry up".  This statement about the wealthy doesn't just apply to Antonio's Brazil.  It could easily apply to contemporary American politics.

The Candomble scene in this novel that I most appreciated is the one in which the spirit known as Exu demands to be honored.  He is called "the devil" in this novel and is often viewed that way in Brazil, but he is a Yoruban power who is far more ancient than the Christian devil.  Exu is also known as Elegua in Santeria and Papa Legba in Voodoo.  He is the opener of the way without whom nothing can begin.  He is also a trickster who is known for causing a disturbance.  In an earlier scene,  Jubiabá sends Exu away before the ceremony as is done traditionally in Candomble.  Why include a disturber in your religious pantheon at all? There can be no change if the status quo isn't disturbed first.  Even if all you want to change is a personal habit, your routine needs to be disturbed.  That's why Exu is so necessary in order to start any enterprise. Not all manifestations of Exu are seen as satanic in Brazil.  In Umbanda, another Afro-Brazilian religion, there is such a thing as a "baptized Exu" , a concept that is discussed in the Google Books result that I've linked which is taken from Umbanda: Religion and Politics in Urban Brazil  by Diana DeG. Brown.  It seems to me that seeing Exu as a helpful spirit, makes people realize that new beginnings in their lives are possible.  Things can improve. A being who promotes readiness for change should be honored.

Amado makes an error when he portrays the male Yoruban spirit Omolu as "the terrible Goddess of the bladder".  Omolu , who is also known as Babalú-Ayé  in Santeria, does have a terrible dark aspect as a bringer of plague and other diseases.  Yet worshippers also appeal to Omolu as a healer who can cure disease.  Later in the same scene, Amado associates Omolu with St. Roque  .  The French site to which I've linked tells us that St. Roque was known for stopping the bubonic plague, and devotees still pray for St. Roque's intercession in cases of AIDS.  So Amado's mistake was at least partly rectified with a very appropriate patron saint. 

Despite the rawness of  Jubiabá, there is still much of value in this novel and I was glad that I read it.  I look forward to reading Amado's Sea of Death which is supposed to be a very lyrical Candomble novel that focuses on the Lady of the Sea, Iemanja, a very beloved figure in Brazil.


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