Dienstag, 15. April 2008

saints and spirits

the walls of the little, side-alley shop are filled with bottles, statues, amulets, powders, potions and books. a young couple, assisted by the old lady behind the counter, is pondering which amulets they ought to buy, which ones would best serve their needs, fulfill their wishes...

the artefacts in the shop are all part of the local yoruba (or orisha) religion. like its counterparts in the caribbean and other latin american societies, yoruba is a mixture of catholicism, indigenous beliefs and african religious influences brought over by west african slaves. the catholic church saw these religions as pagan cults while the more earthly colonial masters feared the revolutionary potential of these movements which were beyond their control (and were quite possibly spooked by the undertones of black magic involved). and with good reason, as these various religious movements did in fact often provide an important structural basis for slave revolts, such as the 1804 revolt in haiti which eventually led to haitian independence.

being more or less forbidden religions, these syncretic movements often 'hid' their message in an accepted catholic packaging. for example, the west african trickster god eleggua has taken on the form of saint anthony of padua while the gifts given to santa barbara are actually meant for the goddess shango.

in venezuela, this veneration of saints, spirits and gods also involves the veneration of historical figures considered to have special powers, such as simon bolivar, guaicaipuro or the doctor jose gregorio hernandez. intriguingly, the yoruba pantheon also includes the figure of a viking, symbolising the norse settlers of vinland. unfortunately i was not able to elicit much more information about the figure, apart from that it is an auspicious figure and apparently a relatively popular one at that.

coming back to the young couple in the shop, i could not help but notice that they evidently didn't put all their faith in supernatural powers. in order to deal with more mundane problems of everyday life in caracas, they were quite conspicuously 'packing heat,' with a 9 mm automatic on her belt and a revolver on his...

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