Afro-Hispanic Pacific Lowlanders of Ecuador and Colombia - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. From the time of the founding of the first palenques in the interior of Colombia and Ecuador in the mid-sixteenth century, the Black runaways, or self-liberated people (Cimarrones) have regarded themselves as true Christians. This religious underpinning has often been in contrast with the Spanish, colonial, and, later, national priests, friars, and curates from Europe, Colombia, and Ecuador, who sought to "stamp out" Black beliefs and practices, taken to be "pagan" and "African." The cosmology of Afro-Hispanic culture is highly syncretic, with dynamic aspects of Catholicism and African religions fused into transformable systems of belief that vary from subregion to subregion. Other worlds exist on the sea and under, over, and beyond the sea; the sea itself is a universe of spirits as well as a domain for fishing, traveling, and shipping. Fear creatures, called visiones (visions), are said to be encountered in all environments and niches. Principal among them in most places is the Tunda, a spiritual body snatcher who is driven away by the sound of a base drum or a shotgun, and Riviel, an especially dangerous ghostghoul who must be deposed by a shotgun or rifle. Other fear creatures specific to localities include "the widow" (a masked flying witch), "the headless man," and "the living dead." This earth contains multiple entrances and exits to other worlds, including the site of a shrine to a saint, the locus of a funeral ritual for a child or an adult, and the cemetery. Heaven and purgatory seem to exist "below" the sky; saints, spirits, virgins, and souls of the dead come there, and souls of the dead depart from the earth to go there. Hell is set aside from purgatory and heaven; it is the locus of the devil, demons, and the souls and spirits of dead people who expired while "hot" (see "Conflict").

The cosmology of Afro-Hispanic culture, especially in the southern sector of the region, is divided into two halves—the divino and the humano. The former is the domain of the virgins and saints (of colloquial Afro-Hispanic Catholicism), and the latter is the domain of the devil and all of the spirits and dangerous souls that can be appropriated to the devil's domain. The domain of the divino is a plane of existence populated by a number of saints, including the Virgen del Carmen, San Antonio, Santa Rosa, El Niño Dios, and La Mano Poderoso. Many people have shrines in their houses on which they light votive candles to the saints who protect them from diseases and other misfortunes. The domain of the humano, overseen by the Christian devil, is the other plane of existence, populated by obscure figures such as the Anima Sola (soul by itself, lone soul) or El Mismísimo (the Devil himself).

Religious Practioners. Curanderas (female healers) and brujos (male sorcerers) are the active agents who draw from the domains of the divino and the humano. Curanderas have special relationships with some saints and many of them are "representatives" for particular saints. Curanderas use the power of the saints and virgins during their curing rituals. Curanderas heal illnesses such as evil eye, evil air, and magical fright. To cure patients of these afflictions, they recite secret prayers, light candles to the saints and virgins, and use herbs the names of which invoke the powers of important figures of the divino. Brujos are said to use the power of the devil and some admit to actually doing so, at times. They know secret spells in which they invoke the powers of the devil, which are said to be used to make people ill or infertile, or to destroy someone's business.

Ceremonies. There is remarkable consistency in the culture of Afro-Hispanic life of this region with regard to ceremonial performance. At the death of a child a chigualo is held. Here African rhythmic and musical patterns conjoin with such Spanish customs (sixteenth century) as dancing with the corpse in the little coffin prior to burial. The child is willed to heaven as a "little angel" or "pure angel" ( angelita/angelito ). Women control a similar ceremony, called arrullo, with cognate music, to bring saints to them and to their shrines. One of the most prominent saints in this region is San Antonio, whose color is beige; he seems, in some regions, to represent a transformation of the African deity Legba, the trickster. The "broker" (usually, a female, síndica, but sometimes a male, síndico ) of a given saint is the woman (or man) who is in charge of organizing a festival for that saint's special day, also called arrullo. Assuming this role is an act of reciprocity by a person who has received a favor, usually related to health, from the saint. During the alabado (wake) and novenario (second wake after nine days) for a deceased adult, women sing Moorish-Spanish-style songs to induce the soul to purgatory or heaven, without any rhythmic accompaniment. The important thing in this ceremony is that the soul leave the living and the community of the living. Another ceremony is sometimes performed after the second wake to force the lingering soul out of the world of the living.

The currulao is a secular ceremony, although it may be held at Christian sacred times, such as Easter, wherein, to the rhythm and music of exceedingly African provenience, men and women work through symbolic tensions manifest in their quotidian social relations. Finally, the most dramatic ceremony of all is the seldom-performed La Tropa (the troop), which enacts the formation of a palenque, the killing of Christ, the reign of the devil, the bringing of the forest into the Catholic church of the palenque, the resurrection of Christ within the forest within the church, and the liberation of the people of the forest and of the church within the palenque. La Tropa is performed only where priests permit people to do so, at Easter week, and people from the community or children of people from the community travel great distances to attend and perform.

Arts. Men make canoes and paddles, wooden bowls, drums, fish nets, and other ordinary and ritual paraphernalia; they also construct houses and shrines. A few men specialize in making incised clay pipe bowls with wooden stems. Women in some areas make gold jewelry. In Guïmbi, Ecuador, there is a master marimba maker who serves a large area, and in San Lorenzo a school has been established for the making of marimbas and all other musical instruments in use in Afro-Hispanic culture. There are itinerant artisans in the area who make such tourist goods as polished black coral, black-coral figurines, ivory-nut carvings, coconut and shell figures, and model boats.

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