To whom is this alphabet addressed? To artists (users of words and images), journalists, educators, teachers, human and social sciences researchers, agents of religious and social activities, Catholics and non-Catholics, workers, young people, elderly people, at last, to all those who want to think about the life and faith of the poor. We partake in a society where the forces of cultural wealth are almost opposite to the frail material life borne by the biggest part of the population.
Devoid of health care and undernourished - when not joining the 32 million population which lives in absolute misery, a sad number unanimously indicated by present statistics - the major part of the poor survives with the certainty of a solidarity working on a basis of goods and services exchange.
We know efforts have been made on the part of the government and non-governmental organizations to diminish this desolating situation and there are actions aiming at the citizens rights extensive to all Brazilians.
Nevertheless, there is a delicate and difficult question inside the relationship among the several segments of the national society: the unknown ways of thinking, living, creating and working of the poor.
Besides this issue, unfortunately there is a common opinion that minding culture in a third-world country would be an extravagance, as if learning to read and write, labor organization, land reform, democratization of society and Church adaptation to Brazilian models could be managed without the help of culture. Popular religiousness is culture.
Many scientists and journalists concerned with the life of the Brazilian people exclude religion, an item which explains a lot of things and has to do with daily logic. That is exactly the reason why religion should deserve an accurate analysis. The so-called "beliefs", "magic practices" or "superstitions" are registered, but they seem to be irrelevant to the modern researcher. Some approach feast partakers and congadeiros very closely, but what they cannot see is that beneath this particular characters there are men who struggle for life, who are engaged in a profession, earn their salary and support a family. Religion is treated as a separate field of life and a world apart, where it would lose all its meaning.
Popular religiousness has a historical dimension, but it is manifestation of life in its essence. It is Catholic faith in a very concrete reality. The subtitle of the book we are writing describes our subject: life and religion of the poor in Brazil.
Some consider it a mistake to associate popular religiousness to poverty. They assume that the question of popular religiousness is not a concern of the poor. In this work we wish to expose the religious experience of the poor and their culture. After all, the term "popular religiousness" appeared exactly when in Medellin, in 1968, the Church of Latin America gave priority to the poor. This subject leads us to broad, dense and profound readings of reality with all its differences, contradictions and incoherence. In a true pedagogy of conflict we open our minds to learn from the other, from the non-official, from the outcast, from their richness. We wish to respect them. As a matter of fact, on the one hand, there is an official religiousness and on the other hand, there is a popular religiousness. We do not want to stereotype the poor, nor the rich. Poverty must come to an end someday.
Among the cultures of the poor, religiousness is a common strong thread that weaves the cohesion and harmony of life. In these terms, faith in the supernatural is a familiar element that pervades daily life. Spiritual matter is never separated from the human activity be it at work or in times of leisure, in illness or in health.
Thus, we choose the path of religiousness to find better ways to approach the history of the outcast, their fights and creativity which mark their existence over the centuries in this country - it does not matter if they are Indians, black or white. We have also noticed that, after four centuries of multicultural interchange, we are all of an Indian-black-white blend, bound by blood or cultural lineage. All we want is to point at responsibilities, similarities and diversities and thus share and not undo identities, differential traits or otherness.
Globalization seems to threaten the cultural identity of peoples. Everyday news shows us Basques, Irish, Palestinians, Tibetans, Kurds, Chiapas or Yanomanis struggling for the survival of their cultures and for a place to live.
Therefore, in this book, we do not intend to make a pattern out of the religiousness of the poor, as the commercial televisions or even our great liturgical pamphlets do. We believe in unity within diversity.
Schools and televisions do not prize popular history and wisdom. The Catholic Charismatic movement, as well as the Pentecostal Churches do not incorporate, for instance, Wise Men fools(religious street folklore), prayers of blessing women nor the religious experience of the black and Indian folk.
On the other hand, socialism is in crisis because it did not manage to integrate and value the cultures of the poor men, of the poor workers. It had not been patient enough to wait for the changes rising from the base. The ideologists did not really trust in people and without shared and affective experience of their universe, they used cultural stuff for doctrinal purposes. Although the ecclesiastic activities of the CEBs (Base Ecclesiastic Community) and the Theology of Liberation have been deeply modified, they also seem to have been suffering from a similar disease.
Carnival, prayers against evildoers, congados (Brazilian dramatized dance to crown a Congo king) and umbanda (Afro-Brazilian religious rite) rites seemed to have been obstacles for liberation. The music produced at CEBs is not contiguous to the bless prayers, the folias , the evocative and penitence songs of the poor. It is probably because we are unable to value what comes from the base that we are kept from approaching the poor.
Therefore, this book is not intended to be a folklore dictionary, nor a collection of prayers neither a gathering of truckers´ or metalworkers´ smart phrases, a dreamer´s handbook nor a compilation of Afro-Brazilian rituals. It is not a biblical, hagiographic nor a liturgical wordbook for these works have already been written.
Our concern is to relate the necessary elements for the understanding of religiousness starting from the common life of the people. Our intention is to shorten the distance and to establish respect and solidarity.
Apparently non-religious elements like food, medicine and arms come out to be an organic network that joins all vital elements of a given group , once there is coherence. Also among similar groups the exchange of likeness and dissimilarity happens, besides a common story of castaways. The higher layers are not outside the ring of symbolic transfer; they support soccer teams, this popular art, they can dance samba and they also like to eat rice and beans. In this book, we understand society as a circular network where nothing exists in isolation. The poverty of some has to do with the wealth of others. In a society grounded in relationship, men are responsible for one another. National economy, for instance, affects everyone although in different degrees, as well as the question of human rights (for instance, the rights of the suburb funk members and the homeless).
In the same way, the official religion and the religion of the poor, though different, cannot be set apart. Therefore, the present book includes many official topics as theology, liturgy and catechism.
We have tried to draw a large scenery that could depict the life of the poor. This alphabet concerns their ways of eating and drinking, of building their homes, their transporting means, their plant treatments to heal their diseases, their behavior in love and the way they form their families, how they arm themselves, earn money, celebrate family and religious dates. This is how we found out the ways life and religion go together. We have tried to reveal the richness of the language of meeting that features Popular Religiousness.
Important third-world migratory movements from rural areas to cities have been registered. Nowadays, 70% of the Brazilian population is concentrated in the cities, contrasted to the last 25 years, when the same percentage lived in the country. This huge urbanization demands a more attentive observation of the popular religious practices in towns. Before this transformation, country culture, which is also largely focused in this book, was the main subject of folklore studies. Daily life in modern cities and the life led in rural regions are strikingly contrasted. The migratory population and country dwellers undergo a violent pressure coming from metropolitan forces like media and individualism.
Established in big cities, groups joined by the same culture form centers and tend to gather and to keep their rituals and feasts faithful to those practiced in their original land, wishing to maintain their identity amidst the unhinging pressure of the new habits and values. This is what happens to a festivivity called de Wise Men Fools from the Morro de Santa Marta in Rio de Janeiro, where a great number of participants fled their little towns of the State of Rio de Janeiro. This folia has the same sacredness it had originally and it is accepted in each and every home of the slums, with the same devotion. In Brasilia, the northeastern population that fled from drought and misery keeps the tradition of an important and beautiful festivity named bumba-meu-boi. This kind of population coming from the same region is also seen strolling through public spaces in towns looking for amusement on weekends. Events like the famous Feira de São Cristóvão (Saint Christopher Fair) in Rio de Janeiro have witnessed the visit of the nordestinos for decades, where they meet for the sake of music and for their typical meals served in open air in the company of friends and relatives, and also to buy folders, flour, hammocks and the like.
Evidently, new symbolic elements are likely to appear through the several cultural productions of the migratory population in this process of social change. Chinaware artisans from Paraíba, now living with their families in the Jacarepaguá slum, manufacture, besides the usual pottery, images representing cangaceiros (northeastern nomad gangs), cattle, cowboys and saints depicted with a touch of realism assimilated from the academic aesthetic notions common to given segments of the so-called "high culture". Nonetheless, modernity can also be incorporated into popular culture with creativity. In Caruaru (in the State of Pernambuco), the craftsmen working with clay mold shuttle Apollo XII with astronauts in the cockpit.
A country that has always had floating populations ever since the colonial times and that sees them growing in times of industrialization can, at the same time, witness an old woman fled from the Jequitinhonha region singing a drought penitence prayer as a lullaby for a child living in a São Paulo slum. It can also hear the reminiscence of an Austrian prayer to cure izipa (popular name of a skin affection) as old as the 9th century and listen to the astonishing complaint of a priest over the foolishness of some prayerful women.
And when it comes to an umbanda lot where Oxalá is evoked - "Open the door, people, that He will come, Jesus!" - one is listening to a part of a Medieval Passion drama forbidden by the Church for centuries.
Many migrants that take up permanent residence in big cities are neighbors to itinerants coming from the same place or region. The first to arrive call their fellows aiming at the reunion of families or at new job opportunities long missed in their dry lands. This alphabet has entries that reveal the expulsion of the agricultural workers from their lands driven away by the sudden break of the relative partnership formerly held with the landowners due to the rising mechanization adopted by the agrarian-industrial sector. The MST (Movement of the Landless) demands effective agrarian politics that would bring about a fair distribution of land.
People make use of categories to classify the surrounding world. Once we do not entirely know their internal coherence, we included words used by the people itself, the way social sciences do all over the world. The image-maker of Caruaru would not classify his art as sculpture; he would rather call it a clay doll. Likewise, the praying woman identifies inside the human body a "fallen breastbone", vento virado (belly pains) and "broken flesh", giving different denominations from the official medical glossary. Likewise, terms like Congado and Congada will also appear, depending on when, where and how this ritual happens.
The titles of the words are presented as the current word in official Portuguese to which casual terms of popular usage may be added. When very usual, the popular term has an entry in italics and is addressed to its equivalent in the official language. Accordingly, we italicized jargon but also proverbs, prayers and even erudite texts as the ones of the 19th century Christian Doctrine Primer because of their incorporation into popular experience.
Besides aiming at the publication of words and terms proper to the people, our intention was, whenever possible, to value them in a major context as they occur in proverbs, verses, prayers, stories, blessing prayers and even testimonies.
Due to their importance, we approach the Afro-Brazilian religions, though not exhaustively, for this is a contradictory subject among researchers and it is not our duty in this work to solve this problem. To exemplify, we recall the great variety of supernatural entities and the difficulty to name them for they are worshipped by countless groups under different names. Nanã Burucu and Anemburoquê, for instance, are the same deity. Moreover, one can find different ways of writing the same name of an orixá, depending on the perspective and background of the author.
The life and religious experience of the Indians is also remembered, especially for its braid with certain Afro-Brazilian cults and Catholic oral traditions from Europe. As a matter of fact, Brazilian Catholicism spread mainly because of the Portuguese oral tradition. Nevertheless, as we approach this topic, we have absolutely no intention to shorten nor to exhaust such a complex matter.
The inclusion of these words and expressions is though insufficient to make a comprehensive approach to the ideological options made by the poor to manifest themselves. Beyond showing the beauty, originality and simplicity, besides the religiousness of this language, we expect to meet the spirit and the meaning of its quest.
Of fundamental importance are the entries on the history of Christianity in Brazil, laymen and official Church organizations, patronage and romanization, the CEBs and Pentecostalism. Hermits, blessed soouls and prophets, seclusions, shrines, brotherhoods and messianic movements are also mentioned.
This alphabet is not determined to be neutral. It is rooted in Catholic grounds - literally universal - whenever it tries to avoid prejudice. We do not refer to popular faith as a superstition or belief. Enough with discrimination and mockery! In our Church today, the question is not as much as doctrine and dogma, but the use of power and true participation of the people of God.
Bringing together several points of view on Brazilian religion and society life, we hope to contribute to the righteousness of the ways our beloved Church proceeds. In 1992, in Santo Domingo, the Latin American bishops reasserted their preferential and biblical option for the poor and defended the incorporation of the Gospel into many different cultures. We believe that, without knowing and honoring the system of cultures, behaviors and faith features that make up popular religiousness, this merge of cultures is unimaginable.
We have pointed out facts and have tried to enhance knowledge concerning the history of the poor. A chronology listing important religious dates is also included for a better understanding of the matter. After all, the poor are the new subjects of History.
It is senseless to speak of religion without a live God in our existence. The religious experience of the everyday life of the poor is the golden thread of this work.