Note from BW of Brazil: In many ways, art and statues can be very influential in the way in we see the world. Similar to film and television, such depictions can stamp indelible images and meanings into our conscious and subconscious. Such images can shape how see ourselves, understand the human experience and our own places in time. Its for these reasons that control of the media and the arts can also be considered a form of power, for whoever has the control of such images presented also has an enormous form of control over the ways that we think.
Control of the images that are deemed important in the history of mankind is clearly one of the weapons Europeans and their descendants have been able to conquer and dominate millions of non-whites over the past five centuries. Symbolically, if you can make subjected people see what they are made to believe to be the creator of the world and life itself, and you make this image appear equal to people that look like you, symbolically, these people will subconsciously and even consciously worship you and those who look like you. It is a very powerful form of manipulation.
So what does it mean when people reject or even strike down images? I remember an old episode of the 1970s classic American sitcom, Good Times, in which the youngest child in the Evans Family, Michael, presented a painting of a black Jesus into the Chicago home in which the family lived. The mother of the family, Florida, played by actress Ester Rolle, wasn’t having it. She strongly rejected the replacing of the white Jesus she had always known for this depiction of a black man that looked like any brotha walking on the street. It shook up her personal values and beliefs. We see this same effect on the minds of perhaps hundreds of millions of black people around the world who define themselves as Christians.
There are so many different angles from which to analyze today’s story. A woman, or at least what appeared to be a woman in the vídeo, in a neighborhood of the city of Florianópolis in Santa Catarina state, arrived in front of a statue in a car, got out and starting going to town destroying a statue representing the African goddess of the sea known as Iemanjá. In Afro-Brazilian religions, Iemanjá is a well-known and important deity that has her own charactistics and attributes. Two of those atributes are that she is black and she is African.
On February 2nd, the day of Iemanjá is celebrated in Brazil. On that day, as well as on December 31st every year, Brazilians make all sorts of offerings to the goddess who is known for her vanity. Articles such as mirrors, necklaces and perhaps most commonly, flowers are thrown into the ocean as gifts to the queen of the sea in hopes that she may bring good energy and protection. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
So then, what would cause a person to destroy an image in honor of this goddess?
I mean, it just couldn’t be because the statue is clearly a black woman, could it? Although Iemanjá is known to be an African deity, we also know that Brazilian vendors have turned her image into that of white woman reminiscent of the Virgin Mary. As such, another question would be, if the statue in today’s story had depicted a white woman, would the assailant have even considered taking a sledgehammer to it in such a violent manner?
Let us also consider the fact that Brazil has always attempted to stomp out any references to black/African culture unless its leaders found some way to profit off it as in the cases of samba and capoeira. Otherwise, Brazilians are indoctrinated from birth to accept Europe at the top of the cultural hierarchy with all other cultures being deemed inferior. We also know that Brazil’s elites have always demonized African-origin religions, and nowadays, with the rise in popularity of the Evangelical movement, attacks have only increased in frequency as well as in the shocking levels of violence perpetrated on African-origin religious symbols, temples and even people.
With this history in mind, this latest attack simply shows us the depths of which intolerance is imbedded in the minds of the people. It will be intriguing to see who this woman is.
Police open inquiry to identify who damaged Iemanjá’s image in Florianópolis
Image was hit by hammering on the morning of Thursday (19), in the Ribeirão da Ilha neighborhood
Besides the base, the statue also had its hands and an ornament of the head damaged with the strikes from a sledgehammer blows.
The case of the image of Iemanjá that had part of its structure broken by hammering is being investigated by the Civil Police. The inquiry has been launched and police are still seeking to identify the person (apparently a woman) who appears in the video by striking the image of the female orixá – a deity of African-based religions. The depredation occurred on the morning of Thursday (19), in the Ribeirão da Ilha neighborhood, in Florianópolis.
In the video you can see when the woman gets out of a car with the sledgehammer. The crime of religious intolerance is still being considered by the Civil Police. According to police cheif Abel Mantovani Bovi, of the 2nd Saco dos Limões Police Station, the information gathered so far is owned by the public property, but no hypothesis has been ruled out.
“From the identification of the perpetrator of the damage, and in the course of the police inquiry, it will be possible to define whether or not there was intolerance on the part of that person,” explained the delegate, in a statement.
The image, which measures 1.80 meters, had damage in the hands, an ornament on the head and the base. The statue has been in place since 2013 and had been placed there by the Sociedade Ylê de Xangô, which maintains a nearby Umbanda center. But it’s not the first time it’s been attacked. In November 2018, it had part of its structure painted with red paint and some parts damaged. The act was denounced by Ylê de Xangô, but the author was not found.
“The suspicion is that it’s nobody from the neighborhood because we are very well received. Maybe it’s someone in charge of some institution, some organ and the person is in disguise,” says Ilê de Xangô’s representative, Aporele Zaia.
The sculpture was made by an island craftsman and the center still doesn’t know what to do to renovate the image in time for December 29, when the community celebrates New Year’s Eve with a party.
The temple has been operating in Ribeirão for about 20 years and approximately 100 people attend the site per week. The mãe de santo Diovana Belli Zaia’s mother fears acts of intolerance against frequenters of the house. “They may invade our home, destroy the sacred images, hurt our brothers.”
“It’s different from other religions that people profess their faith with complete freedom. Us, no. People look with a look of prejudice. Apart from the attacks on our symbols, there is also our bodies,” says member of the African Matrix Religions Forum, Bárbara Furlan Marques.
A protest against religious intolerance is scheduled for this Sunday (22), starting at 5pm, in Freguesia do Ribeirão da Ilha. The act is organized by different entities, including the Center for Studies and Research on Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue, of the Catholic Faculty of Santa Catarina.
The image was struck 23 times
The video showing a woman hitting the image with a sledgehammer was recorded by Francisco Leandro Reinaldo da Silva, who lives in a house located in front of the statue.
He says he saw the woman after hearing a noise and going out to see what was happening. He began recording when he noticed the woman’s action. After breaking the image, the woman gets into a car and drives away.
Religious intolerance is a crime
“Religious intolerance is a criminal offense under the Penal Code. Article 208 provides for sanctions against those who “publicly vilify an act or object of religious worship”. In this case, the penalty provided is imprisonment from one month to one year, or a fine.
Intolerance also appears in Law 7.716/1989, as amended by Law 9.459/ 1997, which defines as a crime “practicing, inducing or inciting discrimination or prejudice of race, color, ethnicity, religion or national origin”. The penalty is one to three years imprisonment and a fine.
In addition, the Brazilian Constitution establishes religious conscience and belief as a right of all, pursuant to article 5, item VI.