Note from BW of Brazil: The persecution of followers of African-oriented religions is another form of intolerance that we’ve been following for some time. There’s nothing new about it and represents yet another means in which Brazilian society shows its rejection of the African presence and influence in the country. The rise of Evangelical churches over the past few decades all over the country has only intensified often times violent attacks on those who practice their religious convictions. The story presented here today is particularly troublesome as the religious leader’s temple has been attacked a number of times in the past eight years.
The orixás (African deities) protect
The mãe de santo Conceição d’Lissá resists religious intolerance wisdom
by Paulo Cesar Soares, with contribution from Diego Valdevino
Police still have no clue to the authorship of arson in the Kwe Cejá Gbé – A Casa do Criador Candomblé terreiro – of the mãe de santo (priestess) Conceição d’Lissá, in Duque de Caxias, in the Baixada Fluminense region of Rio de Janeiro. The crime occurred on June 26, during the night, and was recorded at the 62nd Police Precinct in the Imbariê suburb of Rio. The fire reached the second floor of the house and destroyed the ceiling, furniture, appliances, religious clothing and members of the terreiro (temples of worship).
It is not the first time that Maria da Conceição Cotta Baptista, 53 – known as Conceição d’Lissá – has been the victim of attacks. She has administered the center in Caxias for 18 years. And the attacks started about eight years ago. “They’ve already set fire to my car, which was then broke down and parked inside the tent. And they fired shots at my house and in the tent gate. They took nine shots.” Poised, she avoids pointing out suspects. It’s up to the police, she says, to find out who committed the fire and other attacks.
The center, according to the mãe de santo, does not have a fixed number of regulars. More than 50 filhos de santo (initiates, holy sons and and daughters) work for the terreiro. They take turns doing the work. Most started off Candomblé by the hands of Conceição d’Lissá work and in the preparation of events. In January the festa of Olissa was held. In May, Oxum. In June, Ogun, and in September, Bessem.
According to Deputy David dos Santos Rodrigues, the police have come to the site twice, trying to get witnesses. Unsuccessfully. In charge of the police station since February of this year, Rodriguez is an evangelical, a member of the Igreja Sara Nossa Terra (church). All hypothesis, ensures the deputy, are on the table. “In principle, the issue is religious intolerance. But it may be something else. We are doing a survey on how many Umbanda and Candomblé centers exist in the region to see if they suffered attacks in the last three years.”
For Conceição d’Lissá, Brazil needs a law to limit the power of radios and TVs that broadcast Evangelical programs contrary to the religions of African origin. “There is no space for response. The power they wield is immeasurable.” She also complains of the Internet, used for divulge content offensive to Candomblé and Umbanda. In May, defending entities of dialogue between religions authorities ordered the withdrawal of 16 videos from the internet that attack African culture.
The mobilization occurred after the judge of the 17th Federal Court of Rio de Janeiro, Eugênio Rosa de Araújo, denied the exclusion of videos. Umbanda and Candomblé religions weren’t religions, claimed the magistrate, because they don’t contain a base in text, like the Bible, a hierarchical structure, a God to be worshiped. A superior court decision modified, however, the lower court decision and ordered the removal of the material. “I saw the videos. They demonize the African religions, Umbanda and Candomblé. Shocking scenes. An incitement to violence,” says State Representative Carlos Minc, chairman of the Committee Against Racism, Homophobia, and Religious Intolerance of Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro.
Regarding the fire in the terreiro of Conceição d’Lissá, the congressman remembers when she called and reported the incident. According to him, in the same moment the information was passed on the head of the Civil Police. “Fernando da Silva Veloso was in the Legislative Assembly, sitting in front of me, following a vote. He called the station and asked for action,” recalls the parliamentarian. According to Minc, the mãe de santo could be a victim of drug traffickers who recently converted to the Evangelical religion. “This is the main hypothesis. It not only neighbors’ fight. In Complexo do Alemão (neighborhood) and Ilha do Governador (island in Guanabara Bay) converted groups stop frequenting Candomblé and Umbanda terreiros. Only on Mãe Conceição’s street there are two churches that demonize African religion,” said the deputy.
For the president of the Centro de Articulação de Populações Marginalizadas (Center for Articulation of Marginalized Populations), the babalaô (priest) Ivanir dos Santos, what draws attention to the case of the mãe de santo is the fact that the attacks are persistent. “It’s not the first time. If the measures had been taken years ago, they could have already ceased. The police have to be more rigorous in their investigations. The growth of some Neo-Pentecostal sectors that instead of preaching love, preach demonization and encourage these acts of intolerance. That is undeniable.”
Ivanir dos Santos is one of the leaders of the annual walks against religious intolerance held in Rio de Janeiro, every third Sunday of September. The 7th Walk in Defense of Religious Liberty – Walking to Understand Each Other – will be on September 21st at the Copacabana beach, in the south zone of Rio de Janeiro.