My Brazilian Family Story
by Heirie Murakami
I don’t quite remember when it was the first time I saw a despacho. Despacho is the offering or sacrifice in tangible form that is devoted to a specific orixa (the god or spirit entity seen to have power over a certain sphere of life) for a specific request. They are prepared by santeros/santeras or pai de santo/mae de santo (father/mother of saint) as they are called in Brazil. My first memory of seeing one of them was at the corner of a street near my parent’s house. I was probably seven years old, and I remember I could see the clay bowl with something inside - a few black feathers, a red piece of fabric, and a bottle of alcohol. My mom quickly pulled my arm toward her and we immediately crossed to the other side of the street. She said, “There is power in the blood of Jesus,” while she warned me not to look at that. I asked what it was, and she told me it was macumba but didn’t give me any further information. (The word “macumba” is frequently used in Brazil to refer to any ritual or religion of African origin.)
At the church, kids would remain at the service the whole time though in a specific place. Thus, everything that the pastor was saying to adults we would also hear. That’s when I think I started to understand a little better about what in the world macumba was. The pastor would give us several examples of people that were in bondage because of that, and he would point out that demonized people would frequently be involved with such things. He said that macumba was the work of pai/mae de santo, which was a paid service. That service was done according to specifications given by the orixas to pai/mae de santo, and the person requesting the service had to pay for that and also provide whatever the orixa was asking. Pastor said that type of witchcraft was a legacy from Africans who came to Brazil during the time of colonization and who brought their gods to be worshiped. With time, those practices became religions spread all over the country, and they have different names depending on the state, but the most famous are Candomble, Umbanda and Quimbanda. All of them follow the same doctrine, and in general the orixas are the same.
I quickly learned that the temple of those religions was called centro, meaning center. Over there they would practice rituals and receive evil spirits; that’s when a person would be possessed or demonized. Those temples would not look like churches; they were basically normal houses, but one could identify one by the white flag standing on the roof. Also, the pai/mae de santo wear white. I’m not sure why they wear white, but the fact is they do. Due to the strong influence of the Catholic Church in Brazil, the slaves couldn’t freely worship the orixas, so they used the Catholic saint images to make a correlation with their gods. This practice later on ended up in a syncretism with Catholic devotion to saints and the orixas. From that syncretism was born a new religion called “Espiritismo” or Spiritualism in Brazil, which had the medium replacing mae/pai de santo, and instead of the orixas it was good and evil spirits. The rituals also remained, but they were a little less harsh than the original. As a legacy, it left Catholic Christians with a mild form of ritual called mandinga. One of the most popular ones among Catholic Christians is to tie a piece of fabric on someone’s wrist with the name of a saint on it, and make sure that the knot was tied well enough. The fabric must not be taken away in any circumstance. When it naturally wears out and falls, that’s when whatever was the request made upon the moment of tying the knots is going to happen. There are several other mandingas, but it is almost impossible to list them all.
My Father's World Before Jesus
My father once told me that before he accepted Jesus he was an espirita or a member of Spiritualism. He told me that espiritas would refer to Spiritualism as mesa branca (white table), and Candomblé and so on as mesa negra or dark table. Again, espiritas wear white, and the mediums also wear white. The white for espiritas means that they are on the good side of the spirits, and the black means the dark side of the religion. However, in essence they are the same; one is directed to the good and the other one to the evil.
Father told me that when he was about to leave his home town and try a different life in the big city of Sao Paulo, his guide (that’s how they call the spiritual entity or good spirit that is helping them) said my father would leave him. Although my father said he wouldn’t leave his guide, the spirit said my father would do so, because my father would find a strong house (Amen, it was the church he was referring to).
My father told me that a friend of his didn’t believe in any of those things as good or evil spirits. His friend was not a Christian, and one day he spotted a macumba and kicked the whole thing up into the air. Dad said his friend then became dependent on alcohol from day to night, probably because the macumba was an offer to the Alcoholism orixa (there are several orixas that attack specific areas or weaknesses such as alcoholism, prostitution, infidelity, etc). Dad also told me that during the ritual sessions with mae/pai de santo the person who would receive the spirit would have to drink some type of alcoholic drink and dance an African dance, which would include intense spinning. It’s necessary to make the person almost unconscious to receive the evil spirit; otherwise it’s not possible. Once possessed, the evil spirit will use the person as “a horse” to ride on and keep its authority. The more a person is possessed, the less he/she needs the alcohol or the dance; the demon will take over completely.
When Satan Has You Bound
Some of our sisters and brothers at the church gave their testimony of deliverance when they were under such bondage. They described how they would be aware of what they were doing but couldn’t help themselves to take back the control. As Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Satan used the same principle to take over lives that haven’t been reached by the Good News and are therefore still under his control.
My Grandparents - Catholicism and Harshness
My mom told me that my grandma was a very firm believer of Catholicism, and she had several saints at home as well pictures of them on the wall. My mom is the fourth child among eleven siblings, and my grandparents could barely feed the children. Life was harsh on them; my mom told me they didn’t have plates, so my grandpa would make plates out of used cans. Grandpa worked with construction all his life, and it’s a very low paid job, especially when you have so many mouths to feed. Grandpa was a harsh, severe, and violent man. He had this huge jealousy over my grandma, and once in a while he would spank her for some silliness that he thought was flirting with another man.
My mom got sick, and because most of my uncles and aunties suffered with bronchitis, when my mom got weaker every day, my grandparents didn’t know she had poliomyelitis. Life was going downhill in full speed for my mom and her family, but God had a salvation plan.
My grandpa once was listening to a Christian radio station. Although he was a Catholic Christian, this radio station was Evangelical Christian. The missionary was talking about bondages brought by demons through many different ways that my grandpa could identify in his own life. He decided then to go to the church and see for himself what that man was talking about. Throughout the service, the word of God found a place in my grandpa’s heart, and on that same day he accepted Jesus as his only Savior. He came back home as a new man, and he decided to bring his family with him next time. My grandma freaked out with the news and she refused to go to the church, because she thought it was a betrayal to Catholicism.
The Miracle of Healing
At that time my mom couldn’t walk anymore, and the doctors said it was too late for her, because the polio had already taken over. My grandpa carried my mom in his strong arms to the church and among thousands of people, the missionary said there was a child that couldn’t walk and on that day God would heal him or her. People started to lift up kids while the missionary indicated that the Holy Spirit would confirm which child it was. None of them was the one, but when my grandpa lifted up his daughter, he said, “There she is, that’s her.” She was brought close to the platform and the missionary just said, “In Jesus’ name, get up and walk,” and immediately my mom got up and started to walk.
I asked my mom how that happened. She knew she couldn’t walk. She was about twelve years old, so she had already some sense of what was going on with her. Mom said she didn’t think about anything. When he gave the order, she just followed it. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said we should enter the kingdom of heaven like children.
Surprises in the House
After that, my grandma was a little bit more convinced that maybe that missionary had something that would help them. She agreed then to receive the missionary for a visit at their home. As soon as the missionary stepped in the house, pictures on the wall started to shake and chairs started to move. My mom said it was a horrific scene, and all the children were scared to death. The first thing the missionary spotted was this picture of the sacred heart of Jesus. He said there was a macumba there. They took down the picture and opened the back, and there they found a mix of human hair and some little swords crossing (the little Saint George sword was commonly sold by the Catholic Church as part of a mandinga for protection of the loved person. The swords would be put in a virgin cup filled with water). In the bedroom the missionary said there was another one, and though my grandparents couldn’t believe it, the macumba was inside of the pillow. Again was a mix of human hair but this time with needles crossing it.
During the visit, the missionary prayed for all the children who had bronchitis, and they were all healed immediately. Now, fully convinced of the truth, my grandma finally got rid of all the images and pictures. She gave her life to Christ that day, and until today she is still a firm believer.
The syncretism of combining Catholicism and African orixa religion can make confusion and bondage in the midst of revelry.
Although the gospel has spread all over Brazil since that time, many people are still under the control of demons and trapped by macumbas. It’s easy to see them everywhere in Brazil, which makes me think that maybe we are not doing such a good job of bringing the Good News to everyone.
Last Update: 2016-09-01 12:11