Originally published in Brazil as O Diabo e a Terra de Santa Cruz, this translation from the Portuguese analyzes the nature of popular religion and the ways it was transferred to the New World in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Originally published in Brazil as O Diabo e a Terra de Santa Cruz, this translation from the Portuguese analyzes the nature of popular religion and the ways it was transferred to the New World in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Using richly detailed transcripts from Inquisition trials, Mello e Souza reconstructs how Iberian, indigenous, and African beliefs fused to create a syncretic and magical religious culture in Brazil.
Focusing on sorcery, the author argues that European traditions of witchcraft combined with practices of Indians and African slaves to form a uniquely Brazilian set of beliefs that became central to the lives of the people in the colony. Her work shows how the Inquisition reinforced the view held in Europe (particularly Portugal) that the colony was a purgatory where those who had sinned were exiled, a place where the Devil had a wide range of opportunities. Her focus on the three centuries of the colonial period, the multiple regions in Brazil, and the Indian, African, and Portuguese traditions of magic, witchcraft, and healing, make the book comprehensive in scope.
Stuart Schwartz of Yale University says, "It is arguably the best book of this genre about Latin America...all in all, a wonderful book." Alida Metcalf of Trinity University, San Antonio, says, "This book is a major contribution to the field of Brazilian history...the first serious study of popular religion in colonial Brazil...Mello e Souza is a wonderful writer."
- Preface to the English Edition
- Preface to the First Edition
- Translator's Note
- Part I. A Wealth of Impieties: The Colony's Lot
- 1. The New World between God and the Devil
- 2. Popular Religiosity in the Colony
- Part II. Sorcery, Magical Practices, and Daily Life
- 3. Material Survival
- 4. The Onset of Conflict
- 5. Maintaining Bonds of Affection
- 6. Communicating with the Supernatural
- Part III. Culture, Imagination, and Everyday Life
- 7. Intertwined Discourses
- 8. Remarkable Stories: Where Their Roads Led
- Conclusion. Sabbats and Calundus
- Appendix: Tables
- Sources and Bibliography
That unripe side of earth...
John Donne, "To the Countess of Huntingdon"
From Imaginary Voyages to Real Voyages
The discovery of America was perhaps the most amazing feat in the history of humanity. It opened the doors to a new time, different from all others—or "like to no other," as Bartolomé de Las Casas wrote. It joined the known worlds of Africa and Asia to a new part of the globe, as men "discovered the totality of which they are a part." The novelty of the discovery was not, however, immediately understood. In the Caribbean Islands a restless Christopher Columbus searched for the signs of Asia that would assure him he had reached the land of the Great Khan. Calling the indigenous peoples he encountered "Indians," Columbus struggled to link what he saw to the travel narratives of Juan de Monte Corvino, Giovanni da Pian Carpino, Marco Polo, and so many other medieval explorers who from the thirteenth through the end of the fourteenth century had taken advantage of the Pax Mongolica to journey throughout Asia and the Indian Ocean region. This new information brought with it and fertilized a whole imaginary universe. European eyes sought confirmation of what they already knew, leery of recognizing the Other. At a time when hearing meant more than seeing, the eyes first saw what they had heard said, and everything they saw was filtered through reports of fantastic voyages, of far-off lands and monstrous beings who inhabited the ends of the known world. Perhaps with some trauma, the evidence of these new things gradually crept into the age-old patrimony of the European imagination, destroying dreams and fantasies and finding echo in other signs of the world's disenchantment. In 1820 Giacomo Leopardi pointed his accusing finger at what he felt was a lamentable trend. As a European, he was lost in this inability to recognize the Other, that is, the new universe emerging around the American image. Three hundred years had gone by, time enough for the mental projections of sixteenth-century Europeans to stretch into the newly discovered continent, encountering the imaginary universe of peoples from other cultures and ultimately merging with them. The colonizing process would see the weaving of an American colonial imagination, while other Europeans, not just Leopardi, would not realize it.
Although it was singular—that is, colonial—the New World would owe much to elements of the European imagination, under whose sign it was born. Heavily influenced by extensive reading of works like Sir John Mandeville's Book of Marvels and Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly's Imago Mundi, Columbus saw India in America. Shackled to the medieval universe, he saw in order to write narratives that would in turn be heard. In Columbus, medieval thought commingled with the intrepid adventurer of a new age—the age of navigation and discovery—just as the habit of hearing was allied to that of seeing, in a kind of premonition of the baroque's characteristic visual primacy. Columbus was overcome by the "vertigo of curiosity" that was to contaminate so many others after him, from the Portuguese chroniclers to Hans Staden, Anthony Knivet, and Jean de Léry. Placed "at the service of the discovery of the world," the eye gained precedence over the other senses, seizing and imprisoning the rare, the strange, and the unique, just as these had captured medieval attention earlier. Reorchestrated, the senses gave birth to new travel narratives, this time early modern.
Yet before Columbus had written his letters and his journal, and even before medieval explorers had reached Mongolian Asia and told of their actual travels using a narrative structure in which the imaginary element still played a central role, imaginary voyages enjoyed immense popularity in the Christian West. Among the most interesting of these were the complex travel narratives and visions of the Carolingian period. In the twelfth century, the marvelous acquired new strength and began melding with geographical descriptions of a world unknown or little known to Europeans. The legend of Alexander, for example, popularized the marvels of India, the flower-women, and other exotic beings that the Crusades had made more familiar to medieval man. Around the same time, another growing legend was that of Prester John, a Christian sovereign of the East (about whom more will be said later on). Fantastic voyages beyond the known world, like the Vision of Tungdal, Navigation of St. Brendan, Purgatory of St. Patrick, and Le livre d'Alexandre were "remarkably disseminated in the Iberian area throughout all of the fifteenth century and in part during the sixteenth." Of these, A vida de Santo Amaro is notable for its richness of invention and particularly because it told of a maritime adventure that reached a number of desert islands. So from early on, travel narratives linked fantasy and reality, blurring the borders between real and imaginary. Fictitious adventures like those of St. Patrick contained elements drawn from the earthly world, while real adventures like those of Marco Polo were interlaced with fantastic accounts and implausible situations that the merchant had heard from someone and believed he had actually experienced himself.
Mandeville's Travels is a good example of this blending of the imaginary and the real. Written in French, probably in Liège in the mid-fourteenth century, these narratives are authored by an imaginary Sir John of Mandeville. Based on geographical texts and encyclopedias like Vicent of Beauvais's, this compilation was published several times in Latin and in a number of European languages as well. The first of the two-part work offers an itinerary of the Holy Land (a "sort of pilgrim's tourist guide," in the words of Carlo Ginzburg), while the second describes a trip to the East that encompasses far-off islands and reaches India and Cathay (China). It ends with the description of the Earthly Paradise and of the islands surrounding the mythical kingdom of Prester John. Although both parts are presented as direct testimonies, there is a difference between them: "the first abounds in precise and documented observations, [whereas] the second is mostly imaginary."
What was people's vision of earth in the fourteenth century? They believed in the existence of the equator, the tropics, five climatic zones, three continents, three seas, and twelve winds. Northern Europe and the Atlantic Ocean were already part of an imaginary geography and were described in almost fictional form; arctic peoples lived in darkness in the cold north, while the sea held countless mysterious islands. Talk about Africa included the Maghrib and Egypt; hypotheses were fashioned about the sources of the Nile, said to lie within India (in turn believed to be connected to Africa, enclosing the Indian Ocean) or in the upper part of the Niger. Immensely fascinating to the European imagination, Asia enclosed the Earthly Paradise, sealed off by high mountains, an iron curtain, and hordes of monstrous animals. To the north lay the legendary country of Gog and Magog, inhabited by the tribes of Israel cast out by Alexander. Stretching over the middle was the kingdom of Prester John, descendant of the wise men and relentless enemy of the Mohammedans. The first mention of this kingdom—of major importance in the European imagination—comes from Otto of Freising (1145), twenty years before Prester John was supposed to have written his letter to Alexander III, Manuel Comnenus, and Frederick Barbarossa. To the south lay India, location of the Christian community of St. Thomas, according to legend narratives. Beyond the Indian Ocean was the country of antipodes, antinomic world par excellence, inhabited by monstrous beings: dogheaded apes, Cyclops, troglodytes, headless beings, ant-men....
For centuries, the Indian Ocean had constituted the mental realm that incarnated the medieval West's exoticism (or need for it), "the place where its dreams freed themselves from repression." For Le Goff, the fear of unveiling this world was like the fear of unveiling one's own dreams. One of the basic components of the Indian dream was wealth—islands overflowing with pearls, precious wood, spices, lengths of silk—which linked the dream with the need for greater trade and the acquisition of new markets to supplement Europe's. The expansion of trade thus constituted the infrastructure of these oneiric projections or at least a part of them. The other side of the Indian dream was the fantastic exuberance of nature, of people, of animals, some of which were monstrous. For Europeans, this was a way of compensating for their own deprived and limited world. From a sexual perspective, it was the fascination with difference: cannibalism, nudism, sexual freedom, eroticism, polygamy, incest.
All of these themes, analyzed by Le Goff in relation to the Indian Ocean, are present in the discovery of America. As Europeans gained ever-greater familiarity with the Indian Ocean, where the travels of medieval explorers had figured importantly, these countries of legend and these monstrous peoples were pushed farther away, into peripheral regions as yet untouched by Westerners. Claude Sutto shows that Gog and Magog became inhabitants of northern Russia. Prester John shifted from Central Asia to Ethiopia. Medieval man had first placed Ethiopia in Meridional India, in Le Goff's opinion symbolizing the union of the queen of Sheba and Alexander, and no longer her union with Solomon. By the fifteenth century, the Portuguese already saw Ethiopia as part of Africa. Ever more often, reports depicted Asia in strictly human dimensions.
From this perspective, it would seem justifiable that once the Indian Ocean had become known and its fantastic universe demystified, the Atlantic would begin playing an analogous role in the fifteenth-century European imagination: it was the last stronghold of monstrous peoples, of an Earthly Paradise, of the Kingdom of Prester John, and perhaps—as Friar Vicente do Salvador stated—of the kingdom of the devil himself, who here would engage in bloody battle against the cross and its knights. The marvelous would be forever fated to occupy the fringes of the world known to the West, and the American colonial world would thus be its last frontier.
The legend of Prester John is enlightening for two reasons. First, it is a model illustration of the notion that a geographical migration took place within the European imagination when unknown lands were finally revealed. Second, it is closely related to Portuguese navigation and to the discoveries. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda believes that the long-standing legend of the Eastern Christian potentate was diluted and simplified by the Portuguese, who had little inclination for fantastic daydreams. He does, however, recognize that this navigating people played an important role in the "demand for the fabulous country of Prester John. " In 1487, when Afonso de Paiva and Pero da Covilhã left Portugal charged with discovering an overland route to the Indies, they carried with them Dom João II's instructions concerning reconnaissance of Prester John's land. As Buarque de Holanda has stated, the legend was already over a century old by then and did not benefit much from the Portuguese imagination. Yet Brazil's greatest historian does not focus on the fact that by incorporating this legend the Portuguese inscribed it within the genesis of their enterprise of world discovery. In the imagination of the Portuguese sailors who left with Vasco da Gama or with Pedro Alvares Cabral, how great was their expectation that they would at long last touch the legendary lands of the Christian king?
It was also Sérgio Buarque de Holanda who pointed out this shift of the Earthly Paradise to the Atlantic universe, transferred from the distant reaches of Asia and Africa and in its new habitat associated with quite ancient Celtic traditions. It was a slow process. In the tenth century the Earthly Paradise was to be found in the middle of the ocean. It subsequently traveled first northward then westward, accompanying the progress of geographical knowledge, "until disappearing in the late sixteenth century, though it did not fade from the popular imagination before the eighteenth century."
As the European imagination accumulated legends, relocated them spatially, and remolded them, it also came to encompass the archipelago of the Brazil islands, possibly a transformation of the island of São Brandão. From 1351 to 1508, this land went by myriad designations: Brazi, Bracir, Brasil, Brasill, Brazil, Brazile, Brazille, Brazill, Bracil, Braçil, Braçill, Bersill, Braxil, Braxili, Braxill, Braxyilli, Bresilge. In 1367 Pizigano's letter listed the three islands of Bracir, which would from that time on be registered on most maritime charts, with their position unchanged: "the southernmost of the islands we find indicated within the Azores group, approximately at the latitude of Cape Saint Vincent; the second lies NW of Cape Finisterre, at the latitude of Brittany; the third, to the W and not very far off the coast of Ireland."
Friar Vicente do Salvador most likely was unaware that the name "Brazil" had appeared on medieval maps, and it seems to me that he was the first to associate this title with the reddish dyewood. But it is curious to note that when he did so he offered a very complicated explanation of a religious bent, alluding to the struggle between good and evil, between heaven (kingdom of God) and hell (kingdom of the devil). Moreover, he associated "this immature portion of Earth" with the realm of demoniac possessions, unburdening upon the nascent colony the full weight of the European imagination, where the devil had played a major role since at least the eleventh century. If an identification with infernal regions is visible in Friar Vicente's text, less evident is the association between the fruit of a concrete voyage—to wit, the discovery of Brazil—and the many imaginary voyages that Europeans had been undertaking for centuries, though one connection is just as legitimate as the other. Brazil, colony of Portugal, was thus born under the sign of the demon and the projections of the Western imagination. But in this excerpt from Friar Vicente, infernal dominion was not the only possibility. The first move, made by Pedro Alvares, had been toward heaven, to which the colony was meant to be coupled—had Lucifer's successful efforts not turned it all into a lost cause. The text of Brazil's first historian is remarkable precisely because it takes into account the complexity underlying these two possibilities: seeing the colony as the dominion of God (i.e., as paradise) or of the devil (i.e., as hell). For Friar Vicente, the devil came out on top: Brazil was the name that stuck, and the monk laments that the other appellation fell into oblivion, for it was much more virtuous and consonant with the courageous Portuguese people's goal of saving souls.
Taking quite a different stance, Antonio de Santa Maria Jaboatão, another friar, saw the discovery of Brazil as supernatural and miraculous. For many years, God had kept the existence of this expansive region hidden and had finally unveiled it to human eyes so that heaven might gather "bountiful profits" from this treasure. Not only is that which occurs supernaturally and miraculously to be deemed wonderful, but so too is that which "occurs naturally, outside the normal order of things," as was the case with the discovery of Brazil—which was therefore miraculous and supernatural. For Jaboatão, the supernatural was a positive force in the case of Brazil's discovery; it had been a divine act, and it was God, through His unfathomable designs, who led men to this land. The discovery of Brazil revealed and reinforced the existence of God: a divine miracle—such was the revelation of the Portuguese colony in America.
The formulations of these two clerics, separated from the event they interpreted by a greater or lesser number of years—in the case of Jaboatão, by two and a half centuries—lead us to think about the constancy of the mental universe, less permeable to change than are economic and social structures. The age of the discoveries was characterized by religious zeal; as is well known, the discoverer of America himself was seriously thinking about using American gold in a Crusade against the Infidel. For Columbus, it can be said there were three kinds of reasons for navigating the seas: the human, the divine, and the natural. As components of the mental universe, they were never isolated from each other but maintained a constant and contradictory relationship: in the divine sphere, God does not exist without the devil; in the world of nature, there is no Earthly Paradise without hell; among human beings, virtue and sin alternate.
The maritime venture thus played itself out under the heavy influence of the European imagination, both positive and negative currents of thought. The golden age of European utopias was tightly linked to the great discoveries and travel accounts, "embellished by the imagination." They produced culture shock and led to comparisons with, and questionings of, the prevailing social structures. André Thevet and most especially Jean de Léry made their influence felt in the construction of the myth of the noble savage, and edenizing tendencies find resonance in many of the chronicles and treatises written on Brazil; Pero de Magalhães Gandavo, among others, was considered a propagandist of Portuguese colonization of the tropics. But even the rosiest interpretations spoke of risk, danger, and death. Thevet himself calls attention to the other side of expansion—the fear of the ocean sea, of maelstroms, of Adamastor giants: "...abandoned at the whim and mercy of the most uncertain, least merciful, and least safe of all elements, with small wooden ships, fragile and dilapidated (from which one can almost always expect death more than life) to navigate their way toward the Antarctic pole, which had never been discovered nor was even known to the ancients." Léry and his companions even started to believe they would be eternal prisoners of the sea: "Indeed, since we had been tossing and afloat on the sea almost four months without putting into port, it had often occurred to us that we were in exile out there, and it seemed as though we would never escape it." Gandavo's tantalizing prognoses saw a tragic reversal in the accounts of shipwrecked Portuguese, a curious literary genre that flourished during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. "We have nothing but ships swallowed by the waves; crews wasted by disease; extreme suffering by women, the aged, children; lean gains for the more fortunate, who may perhaps manage to survive one journey but will die on the next. " Viewing overseas expansion as the "petty eagerness of greed and oppression," the authors of these accounts in effect denounced the ideological instrumentalization of elements of the imagination, which was grounded on the justification of "spreading the faith and the empire."
Once discovered, Brazil was to occupy a position in the European imagination analogous to that previously held by the far-off mysterious lands that, once known and penetrated, had lost their enchantment. With the advent of slavery, this imagination would be remolded and restructured while still maintaining deep European roots. As a modified extension of the European imagination, Brazil also became an extension of the metropolis with the advance of the colonizing process. Everything that existed there existed here, but in a singular, colonial form. Once again, it was the highly astute Friar Vicente who perceived this similarity within difference: "Does wheat flour come from Portugal? That of this land suffices. Wine? A most mild one is made from sugar and for those who like it strong, by boiling it for two days, it leaves one drunk like grape wine. Oil? It is made from palm-tree coconuts. Cloth? Cotton is made with less effort than it takes to make linen or wool there. ... Almonds? They too can be replaced with cashews, et sic de ceteris. " "This Brazil is now another Portugal," Fernão Cardim was to write, shortly thereafter adding its differences: a much more temperate climate, much rarer diseases, but less comfort in dwelling and in dress. This was an early perception of being-and-nonbeing, which would intensify in the eighteenth century. America was much more a child of Europe than Asia or Africa had ever been. But "it was Europe, and at the same time, non-Europe; it was the geographical, physical, and soon the political antithesis of Europe. " Good and evil, heaven and hell, which in Europe (the metropolis) ended up reaching equilibrium, could here (the colony) more than anywhere else tend toward polarization. In terms of nature, the idea that the New World was an extension of Europe—and thus the place where the myths of an Earthly Paradise would be realized—tended to triumph; almost always, nature was edenized. But when it came to a distinct kind of humanity, painted black by the African slave and brown by indigenous peoples, difference won out. The human world was infernalized to an extent never before dreamed by all of European teratology—an imaginary place of Western visions of an inviable humanity. Clouds of insects, gigantic snakes, and intense heat all aroused great perplexity, but the cannibalism and lassitude of indigenous peoples, the sorcery and noisy music of blacks, the mixing of the races, and, last, the colonists' desire for autonomy engendered repudiation.
Nature: The Predominance of the Edenic Vision
Western expansion was twofold in nature. On the one hand, new lands were incorporated and made subject to the temporal power of European monarchs. On the other, new flocks were gathered for religion and for the pope. Of all the fruits that the newly discovered land could yield up, to Pero Vaz de Caminha it seemed the finest would be the salvation of indigenous peoples. "And this should be the principal seed that Your Highness should sow," the scribe of Calicut took the liberty to advise, writing quite naturally. In Caminha's text, spreading the Catholic faith appears to be the monarch's great desire: "to do what Your Highness so desires, that is, expand our holy faith!" Nearly fifty years later, Dom João III reiterated the Christianizing goals of the Portuguese monarchy: "The principal thing that compelled me to command that said lands of Brazil be peopled was so that its folk be converted to our holy Catholic faith," he wrote to Tomé de Souza in 1548. It has become a commonplace to state that religion furnished the ideological means for justifying the conquest and colonization of America, masking and camouflaging the atrocities committed in the name of faith. This was undeniably true. But if so much has been said about the relations between infrastructure and superstructure, almost no efforts have been made to dissect the complex world of religiosity. It never hurts to remember that the close of the Middle Ages and dawning of the Early Modern age were typified by a deep, zealous, angst-filled religiosity. Therefore, while material objectives were not minor, Christianizing was indeed an integral part of Portugal's colonizing program for the New World. Moreover, it was an important part, given the weight of religion in the lives of sixteenth-century people.
The Portuguese were sincerely convinced of their missionary role. "Other men, by divine institution, are only obliged to be Catholic: the Portuguese man is obliged to be Catholic and to be apostolic. Other Christians are obliged to believe in their faith: the Portuguese man is obliged to believe and moreover to propagate it," said António Vieira one century and a half after discovery. The example of missionary zeal came from above, from the king: "All kings are of God, made by man: the king of Portugal is of God and made by God and for this he is more His," said Vieira. But the example also came from God Himself above, who had elected the Portuguese from among other peoples, in a kind of repetition of the history of Israel.
The question of faith was not separate from the issue of the overseas enterprise: the faith would be spread, but lands would be colonized as well. Portuguese caravels were vessels of God, and missionaries and soldiers sailed in them together, for "not only are the missionaries apostles, but so too are the soldiers and captains, as all go in search of heathens to bring them to the light of faith and to the congregation of the Church." In the first quarter of the eighteenth century, Sebastido da Rocha Pitta would continue to explain the discovery of Brazil theologically. Here the land was uncultivated and its inhabitants were barbarians "when general Pedro Álvares Cabral discovered it," "joyous to be the first who found an unknown region of so many heathens (where our monarchs had that which they sought, to expand our Catholic faith, which was their purpose in ordering the plowing of the seas with so many armadas)." Expansion of the faith, colonization, and strengthening of monarchical power always appear in conjunction. Dom João III "devoted his Catholic zeal to the enterprise, among the lands as well as the souls of Brazil, and he achieved both victories, gathering as many lambs into the fold of the universal pastor as subjects under the rule of his dominion." In lines almost identical to Vieira's, Rocha Pitta wrote that the monarch sent "captains and missionaries together" to the Portuguese colonies.
Friar Vicente do Salvador justified the colonizing endeavor on the basis of religion. Among the products raised in the colony were bread and wine, required for the holy sacraments. "If you say to me that a land that has no wheat bread and grape wine for mass cannot sustain itself, I will agree, for this divine sacrament is our true sustenance; but for this purpose that which grows in this same Brazil, in São Vicente and the fields of Sdo Paulo, suffices. " Colonial nature was thus enfolded into the sphere of the sacred.
Gandavo proposed to engage colonists in the exploitation of maritime riches until mines of precious metal could be discovered inland. He said that in addition to exploiting this wealth, it was important to bring indigenous peoples from the sertão [Brazilian backlands], for when "placed before the light and knowledge of our Holy Catholic Faith," their souls would be saved. It was up to the settler to discover the land's riches and also to enrich the heavens, converting souls. There seems to have been a flow of reciprocity, a kind of balancing of accounts: Providence's benevolence, affording the discovery of silver and gold, should be repaid in souls. By the same token, the more souls that were sent to heaven, the more benevolent the Creator would feel toward the colonists.
According to Father Simão de Vasconcellos, divine attention was first directed toward Europe, Asia, and Africa, where humanity, the Earthly Paradise, and the patriarchs had been placed. The other part of the world, "no less agreeable," had lain bereft of paradise, patriarchs, the divine presence, the light of faith, and salvation for 6,691 years. At the end of this period, "the order was given for this new and hidden world to appear"; the Portuguese were made God's arm and charged with spreading the faith to these new parts. Once more, here is the idea that God provided for everything, determining that the Portuguese should discover lands in order to colonize and Christianize them—again, the idea of a "kingdom of God by Portugal."
It was thus a generalized idea, particularly among clerics, that the discovery of Brazil had been a divine action and that God had chosen the Portuguese from among all peoples. Furthermore, as masters of the new colony, the Portuguese had the duty to make it produce material wealth by exploiting nature and spiritual wealth by recovering souls for the divine legacy.
The discovery of Brazil—a divine action—unveiled to the Portuguese the paradisiacal nature that so many would liken to the Earthly Paradise. Within the storehouse of their imagination, they searched for elements of identification with the new land. Associating fertility, lush vegetation, and the pleasant climate with the traditional descriptions of the Earthly Paradise made this faraway, unknown land seem closer and more familiar to the Europeans. The divine presence could be felt in nature as well; elevated to the divine sphere, this nature once more reinforced the presence of God in the universe. This is what Rocha Pitta, Thevet, Léry, and others have to say. In a famous passage, Rocha Pitta describes the passion-fruit flower and associates it with Christ's passion: "mysterious creation of nature, which from the same parts that composed the flower shaped the instruments of the holy passion." Awed by the beauty of a certain bird, possibly from the parrot family, Thevet wrote: "Thou shalt know not how to deny praise to He who is the artisan of such a lovely work." In an admirable passage, Léry, an author of greater skill, tries to show that the diversification of the natural world is proof of the grandeur of God's divine work. During the year he spent involved in the French effort to establish a religious colony in Brazil—known as French Antarctica—Léry says he observed trees, fruits, and animals wholly unlike those found in Europe. Each time he recalled the image of that new world, "the serenity of the air, the diversity of the animals, the variety of the birds, the beauty of the trees and the plants, the excellence of the fruits, and, in short, the riches that adorn this land of Brazil," he remembered the cry of the Prophet in Psalm 104:
O Seigneur Dieu que tes oeuvres divers
Sent merveilleux par le monde univers
O que tu as tout fait par grand sagesse!
Bref, la terre est pleine de ta largesse.
Fortunate were the peoples dwelling there, he concluded—but with this caveat: "if they know the author and creator of all these things."
Thevet's stance is more straightforward: the beauty and perfection of the natural world refer us to God, again proving His existence. What other craftsman could fashion such a perfect work? Léry goes further: the beauty of the New World reinforces the existence of God not simply because it is beautiful but indeed because it is different. In this context, the specific lends evidence to the varied and the multiple found within divine will and action. God thus exists, for He makes what is beautiful and makes what is different. Léry's position of course reflects the Calvinist notion that the world was created for the glory of God. Incorporating these ideas, he read the colonial world through a religious prism in which Catholics and Protestants ended up converging.
If the European imagination shifted its projections to the New World and if spreading the Christian faith and colonization went hand in hand, it was no surprise that the discoverer of America would be its first "edenizer" as well. As a Soldier of Christ, Columbus was concerned with the salvation of souls. In order to justify the need for Christianization, the New World's "indigenous" peoples had to be denigrated—and by denigrating them, slavery was justified. Columbus therefore inaugurated the double-edged movement that would last for centuries in American lands: the edenization of nature and the denigration of men—barbarians, animals, demons. This tendency to associate the men of the colony with animals or demons would later be accentuated; but in Columbus there is an inarguable display of ceaseless interest in examining nature and a disinterest in the men who reaped its benefits. "Here and in all the island, the trees are green and the plants and grasses as well, as in the month of April in Andalusia. The singing of the small birds is such that it would seem that a man would never willingly leave this place. The flocks of parrots darken the sun. Birds great and small are of so many kinds and so different from ours that it is a wonder," the discoverer was to write.
Ever since his first voyage, based on analogies between what he saw before him and what he had read in authors like Mandeville, Columbus would endeavor to prove that he had reached the environs of the Earthly Paradise. Like him, countless authors would make repeated reference to the presence of paradise in American lands, in the literal or figurative sense. Friar Vicente do Salvador stopped short of expressing the idea that paradise lay there, but he did unreservedly state that "Brazil has a greater abundance of provisions than all lands that there are in the world, for in it are found the provisions of all the others." With these words he echoed the man who had first written about Brazil: Pero Vaz de Caminha. Making no reference to the Earthly Paradise, focused much more on describing people than landscapes, Caminha said this new land was "so generous that, desiring to profit of it, everything shall grow in it, by virtue of the waters it hath." The potential utility of this discovery was of greater import than fanciful deliriums. In contrast to Columbus, the Portuguese were incapable of dreaming, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda was to state. How did the earth look to Caminha? "Very flat, very lovely," "very big," "very fine climate, fresh and temperate." For Rocha Pitta, on the other hand, Brazil was not just the best part of the New World—"a most vast region, a fortunate land upon whose surface all is harvest, within whose center all are treasures, along whose mountains and coasts all is aroma," a remarkable country where a lavish nature surrenders fertile production for the "affluence of the monarchy and the benefit of the world"—rather, it was the Earthly Paradise itself. It is well worth citing the passage where he defends this position, for it lists all the paradisiacal features thereafter to be repeated ad infinitum (in Brazil's national anthem as well):
In no other region does the sky appear so serene, nor does the dawn awaken more lovely; in no other hemisphere does the sun have such golden rays, nor such radiant nocturnal reflections; the stars are the gentlest, and appear always joyful; the horizons, be the sun rising or be it dying, are always clear; the waters, drawn from springs in the fields or from aqueducts within settlements, are the purest; Brazil is, in short, the earthly paradise discovered, where the greatest rivers are born and flow; a wholesome climate prevails; gentle stars have influence, and the gentlest zephyrs breathe, although, since it lies beneath the torrid zone, Aristotle, Pliny, and Cicero would doubt and consider it uninhabitable.
Jaboatão was to reiterate many of the edenizing features enumerated by Rocha Pitta. Brazil—"remarkable, delicious, and rich portion of the great America"—had for a long time remained "hidden from the news of human discourse." For this reason it was called the fourth part of the world, though it deserved the title of first. Healthy air, fresh breezes, a mild climate, fertile earth, all cloistered by two precious keys: one of silver, demarcating its southern part; the other of gold, defining its northern. Alluding to the Prata and Amazonas rivers, which delimited Brazil's lands, the author thus sought to liken Brazil to the Earthly Paradise. The beauty of this perspective—the natural world—reinforced the idea of an Earthly Paradise: "Peaked mountains" and "extensive valleys" filled with lush, fruitful trees, covered with "pomes at any season of the year"; joyous, multihued flowers, growing "with no more care for their raising than that of nature, and of time," capturing one's eye and stimulating one's sense of smell; birds that both "entertained the eye with the variety and sheen of their feathers" and "satisfied the taste with their tantalizing and appetizing meat," in addition to delighting people with their sweet songs—in short, a New World, where the Creator sought to repair some of the Old World's imperfections. "A new world at last, and such an accommodating place for man to live that not much censure would be deserved by whoever wanted to plant the Earthly Paradise in it, or at least to describe it with the excellencies and privileges of an earthly Paradise.""
As can be seen, Jaboatão did not go so far as to affirm that the Earthly Paradise lay in Brazil, perhaps leery that his work would meet the same fate as that of the priest Simão de Vasconcellos." Still, even though somewhat timidly, Jaboatão insinuates this analogy in more than one passage. Citing an unnamed author, he exalts the qualities of Pernambuco—the most "flowering, fertile, and rich" of the captaincies. "Its climate is a second Paradise," he adds, leaving aside (and for others) the question of the initial paradise.
Knivet, a sixteenth-century Englishman who sailed with Thomas Cavendish, left some interesting images of Eldorado that reveal what a strong influence the European imagination wielded in views of the New World. Like Gandavo and Gabriel Soares, Knivet beheld the Resplendent Mountains: "We came into a fair Country, and we saw a great glistening Mountain before us, ten days before we could come to it, for when we came into the plain Country, and were out of the Mountains, the Sun began to come to his height, we were not able to travel against it, by the reason of the glistening that dazzled our eyes." Knivet was convinced they were in the vicinity of the Potosí, which was the case whenever gold and precious gems were found: "We came to many Mountains, where we found good store of gold, and many precious stones; when we came into this Country, we thought we had been in the Province of Peru."
Pero de Magalhães Gandavo and Ambrósio Fernandes Brandão. were advocates of the edenizing line. What is interesting about them, however, is that they lent new hues to this edenization, reiterating the notion that the edenic character is restructured and transformed during the process of colonization. Nature is prodigious, generous, friendly—so long as transformed by humans. These humans may even be the poor expropriated fellows from the metropolis or banished undesirables, for nature, with its bountiful positive features, is greater than human pettiness. For these two authors, who wrote in 1576 and 1618, respectively, colonization became an indispensable prerequisite to the edenization of nature.
The images Gandavo uses to describe the Province of Santa Cruz are those commonly found in European descriptions of Earthly Paradises. The land is "very delicious and fresh," all "cloaked in very tall and thick trees, wetted by the waters of many and very precious streams of which all the land has an abundant part, where the verdure always remains with that moderation of spring that April and May offer us here." Unlike the situation in Europe, plants do not suffer in the winter, for Providence has provided a perfect nature, rich, moreover, in precious gems and metals.
Yet in very few passages is nature dissociated from humans. The province is "better for the life of man than each of the others in America." In Gandavo's view, the colony's edenic potential favors and facilitates human labor. For this reason all who cannot find opportunities in Portugal should seek the new land; the colony serves to "correct" the metropolis's ills. In the new land, "no poor walk from door to door begging as in this Kingdom [Portugal]"; and "all those who live in poverty in these kingdoms should not doubt in choosing it for their shelter."
Underscoring the quality of the New World's climate, the fresh winds, the symmetry in length of days and nights, Ambrósio Fernandes Brandão adds his voice to the edenic chorus. "There is no lack of authors who want to affirm that the earthly paradise is located in these parts," he states. Even the Elysian Fields so celebrated by the Europeans fell far short of the Brazilian land; like "the fabulous paradise of the scurrilous Maphamedes," these fields were no more than "deceits." Here, on the contrary, ran actual rivers of milk and honey—the wild honey found in abundance in the forests, the excellent butter taken from cows, goats, and sheep. Brandão. thus incorporates edenization, an important element of the European imagination, but offers a new reading of it. Paradise is here, where exuberant nature (native honey gushing forth) joins with systematic work (livestock, milk, butter). The happy marriage of nature and labor, initiated by colonization, made Brazil superior to Europe, Asia, or Africa. "The land is ready to have done on it all the husbandry of the world, for its great fertility, excellent climate, good skies, the willingness of its temperament, healthy air, and another thousand features assembled on it." Docile birds, most excellent fish, crabs, and shellfish abounded here within hand's reach—"countless eggs, marvelous fruit," "various types of legumes," provisions, and "other infinities of wholesome things. "
It was a bountiful nature but one already transformed by the colonizing effort. As in Gandavo, these efforts are attenuated by the presence of slaves (a propagandizing tool?); but in Brandão more than in Tratado da terra do Brasil, the Europeans' work in the tropics was eased by the conveniences of a wild nature (plentiful fish and game).
The colonizing, re-edenizing process was thus superimposed on the already edenic nature of the discovered land, which revived images of the Earthly Paradise in the European imagination. When Brandão listed the six essential riches of Brazil, the only native ones he included were timber and brazilwood (in two differentiated categories). All the others—sugar, trade, cotton, crops, and cattle—presuppose the colonizing endeavor. "Of all these things, the principal fiber and substance of the land's wealth is sugar-raising," Brandão was to conclude, placing prime emphasis on the most typically colonial of the colonial products. Is there any room for doubt?
Jaboatão, as seen earlier, likewise embraced the idea of an Earthly Paradise. In an enigmatic text, he shows the other side of the coin. Rich with its infinite treasures of metals, precious gems, and valuable drogas [tropical products such as cloves, pepper, and sarsaparilla], Brazil enriched the rest of the world with the fruit of its womb, "yielding itself up." But like the viper that nourishes ungrateful offspring and harvests death and destruction, the colony would ultimately suffer; colonial assets, "who does not know it, were, are, and always will be the reason for this same ruin, and for the ruin of its own native sons. " Viewed within the whole of Jaboatão's work, this passage might even seem a lapse, a pessimistic outburst by the historian of the Seraphic Order. His meaning is clear: the colonists do not reap the benefits of colonization, which bear fruit elsewhere: in Europe. In the first place, this negative tone clashes with the author's positive formulations, where Brazil is always cast as having a great destiny to fulfill, favored as it is by the Creator's generosity. In the second place, what is Jaboatão's interest in pointing out the defects in the colonial system, since he showed himself to be an enthusiast of the Marquês de Pombal, the true ruler of Portugal (he even dedicated some flattering décimas to this illustrious minister of Dom José I)?
Even if this mystery cannot be deciphered, one can draw inferences from the passage. In writings on the New World—whether by European authors or by colonial authors, who belonged to the elite or shared its culture and therefore let themselves be influenced by projections of the European imagination—edenization rarely reigns supreme or absolute. The specter that haunts it, sometimes more timidly, sometimes more resolutely, is the denigrating view of America, one that seeks to reinforce its negative aspects.
Negative readings of the New World—works by its so-called detractors—multiplied, especially in the eighteenth century. In a notable book, the Italian historian Antonello Gerbi followed the reverse trail of Sérgio Buarque de Holanda. From Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda to G. W. F. Hegel, he studied the polemics on America, focusing more on the negative than the positive current, however. During the second half of the eighteenth century, when Jaboatão was writing Novo orbe, these polemics reached one of their most heated moments.
Edenic formulations were projected on America, erecting a bridge that drew the New World closer to the Old, made it part of its imagination, and filled the space formerly occupied by far-off lands that had gradually been unveiled. In a way, edenizing America meant forging a kind of camaraderie with it, a complicity grounded in the imaginary world. Something was found here that had somehow already been conceived; people saw what they wanted to see and what they had heard said.
Yet as the new continent's unique features began to emerge, edenization was threatened: novel plants, strong winds, heavy rains, but above all, the most peculiar people and animals—others, different from the Europeans.
It must be made clear that there was no orderly sequence between one tendency and the other, between edenization and detraction. Even the great edenizers of nature did not refrain from more or less pejorative observations about the New World. Though the tendency toward edenization predominated in their case, it did not enjoy exclusivity.
To gain a better understanding of this other side of edenization—detracting and even infernalizing (as will be seen later)—I believe it is worthwhile to remember Erwin Panofsky's analysis of the paintings of Piero di Cosimo, a Florentine artist born in the mid-fifteenth century. A recluse who refused to eat hot meals and nourished himself on hard-boiled eggs, di Cosimo devoted a series of pictures to mythological motifs. Panofsky views these as an expression of the "hard primitivism" of classical origin. Idealizing the world's primal condition, "soft primitivism" is in keeping with a religious concept of life—it is the time when Eve spun and Adam wove, "hard primitivism," on the other hand, is associated with materialism.
From Panofsky's lesson, it can be understood that the Italian Renaissance presupposed two possibilities: revival of the myth of the Golden Age and, simultaneously, the negation of this myth. There could thus be no pure and simple idealization of nature; ever since the classic era, its opposite had always been taken into account.
In a way, Jean Delumeau returned to this issue in Le péché et la peur. In his opinion, the Renaissance was more pessimistic than optimistic. "Francesco Pico della Mirandola and Guillaume Postel were a minority," says Delumeau. And in another passage: "Sadness and Renaissance: these two terms would seem mutually exclusive, yet they were often close traveling companions." To back up his position, Delumeau borrows a passage from Eugenio Garin, who says it is not hard to find—and sometimes in a single author—"on the one hand, the signs of the Anti-Christ and the imminent cataclysm; on the other hand, the Golden Age."
The Renaissance was enigmatic and contradictory, and its contemporaries were aware of this ambiguity. "Everything... has been mixed and tangled up, the loftiest with the lowest, Hell with Heaven, the best with the worst," Guillaume Budé was to lament." Consequently, it is not surprising that heaven and hell would also intermingle in stories of America and that even the most edenizing of authors would find themselves caught up in detraction.
Gandavo, an edenizer par excellence and propagandist of the new land, deemed the place delightful and temperate albeit subject to deadly winds. "This wind from the land is very dangerous and unwholesome," he stated, "and if it aims to stay a few days, many people die, both Portuguese as well as the Indians of the land." Positive and negative qualities alternate in the same paragraph: "The land itself is weary and neglected; in it one finds the men somewhat weak and wanting in the strength that they possess here in this Kingdom, because of the heat and the provisions that they use here; this is when people are new to the land, but after a time they grow accustomed, and so solid and so hale and hearty as if this land were their very native country."
The negative aspects of both the climate and the land itself even influenced the animals. Gandavo deliberately avoided discoursing about them, but nevertheless did so in one paragraph, where he endeavored to justify their existence and endow them with a certain inevitability:
There are many other poisonous animals and creatures in this Province, with which I do not deal, of which there are so many in such abundance that it would be a very long story to name them all here and specifically deal with the nature of each one, there being, as I say, an infinity of them in these parts, where, because of the temperament of the land and of the climates that rule it, these could not but exist. Because as the winds that originate from this same land become infected with the rottenness of the grasses, woods, and swamps, [these creatures] produce themselves, many and most venomous, under the influence of the sun that contributes to this [and are] scattered about all the land, and for this reason grow and are found in maritime areas, and throughout the sertão, infinite in the way I say."
Writing his Tratado around 1584—thus making him one of Brazil's first chroniclers—the priest Fernão Cardim realized that the same climate that stimulates development of fine animals brings the proliferation of repulsive beings. In his words: "It seems that this climate induces venom, for the infinite snakes that there are, as well as the many scorpions, spiders, and other filthy creatures, and the lizards are so many that they cover the walls of the houses and their openings." And then the counterpoint: "Just as this climate induces venom, it likewise seems to induce beauty in the birds, and as the entire land is filled with woods and groves of trees, so is it filled with handsome birds, of all kinds of colors."
Unlike other authors, Cardim detected fleas and lice solely among the indigenous peoples and blacks. In compensation, "there is no want of cockroaches, moths, wasps, flies, and mosquitoes of so many kinds and so cruel, and venomous, so that when they bite a person the hand is swollen for three or four days." They primarily afflicted members of the kingdom, since the insects were hungry for the blood running "fresh and sweet" thanks to the food from Portugal . Knivet tells of crab-lice. His group walked through mountainous lands so infested with these bugs that to get them off their skin and be rid of them, they had to take dry straw from the ground and scorch themselves, "as you would singe hogs."
A great admirer of Brazilian birds, Léry would prove more moderate in regard to quadrupeds. But, ethnologist avant la lettre, he introduced them as different, unique. "Concerning the four-footed animals, I will say first of all that in general and without exception there is not a single one in that land of Brazil in America that is in all respects exactly like any of ours." In Historia natural de Chile, two centuries later, Father Giovanni Ignazio Molina was to state that American nature was not inferior but, rather, different.
The Jesuits who were in Brazil from the late sixteenth century to the early seventeenth were wholly oblivious to the question of the New World's singularity. In the Luso-Brazilian tradition, they were the greatest representatives of miscomprehension of the colonial universe. More than the animal and vegetable world, people were the prime target of Jesuit ill-will. But creatures, plants, and lands also received their quota of detraction.
The land of the colony was very poor and wretched: "Nothing is to be gained from it" because its inhabitants were likewise very pitiable, Manuel da Nóbrega wrote to the superior general of the Society of Jesus, Father Diogo Láinez. "Here there is no wheat, nor wine, nor oil, nor vinegar, nor meats, save by miracle," he went on in disappointment. "Whatever is found in this land, which is fish, and roots, no matter how much may be had, we shall not cease to be poor, and even this we do not have." In addition to being scarce, the food that was available was "very weak" and the work to be done in the colony "much greater."
Besides being poor and not highly fertile (the native food was "weak"), the land was swarming with "an immense number of vermin, namely, bichos de pé [chigoes], and much smaller than those [in Portugal], with which all are covered," according to Father Jerónimo Rodrigues. "Fleas such as one cannot believe, save one has lived with them, as we have lived with them for these two years, in summer as in winter, for much of the day we spent killing fleas." The fleas were "the perdition" of the priests' drawers and shirts, which were soiled all over with bloodstains. One night, says Father Jerônimo, he swatted four hundred and fifty fleas to death in his bed, not counting those that fled. "And here came the Father to say that we would not take ill, because of the many bleedings the fleas were giving us," our narrator goes on, "but I, to the contrary, said that they take the good blood, leaving the bad." The legions of fleas were due to the "infinity of dogs" and because the indigenous people urinated wherever they happened to be.
As if fleas were not enough, a cricket plague destroyed books and clothing. Although they killed "a great multitude every day," it was easy to reach out and grab forty to fifty; there was no end to them. Faithful to the habit of tallying insects, Father Jerônimo once counted five hundred crickets.
And the cockroaches? What "there was, one could not believe, for the altar, the table, the food, and everything was covered with them. And every day the father took a large number of them in his hood, and every day with traps we caught thousands and they always seemed to grow."
Already in the sixteenth century, the contours of the polemic on America were being outlined: a humid, inferior continent, thick with inferior animals like insects and reptiles. In the mid-eighteenth century Georges-Henri Leclerc de Buffon was to state: "Let us then see why such large reptiles, such fat insects, such small quadrupeds, and such cold men exist in this new world. The reason is the quality of the land, the state of the sky, the degree of heat and humidity, the location and elevation of the mountains, the quantity of running or still waters, the expanse of the forests, and above all the raw state in which nature is found."
At the time the New World was discovered, Isabel of Castille appeared troubled and worried by the information from the Admiral of the Ocean Sea. He explained to her that because of the quantity of rainfall the earth was made rotten and kept tree roots from penetrating deep into the soil. "In this land where trees do not take root," the queen said, "little truth and less steadfastness will there be in the men." A humid climate, inferior animals, weak people with no will—this is an association the Portuguese chroniclers did not make in the sixteenth century. Once again it is Buffon who systematizes the negative data on America, in his concern with explaining the reasons for the inferiority of animal species on this continent. It was sparsely populated, and most of the people lived as animals, "leaving nature in its raw state and neglecting the land." Uncultivated, the land became cold and unable to reproduce active cultures, like the embryos of the great quadrupeds, which in order to grow and multiply require "all the warmth, all the activity that the sun can give the beloved land." For the opposite reason, what proliferated were reptiles, insects, and "all species of animals that crawl in the mud, whose blood is of water, and which multiply in putridity."" In the eloquent words of Gerbi, America was fated to be the "prolific humid mother of cruel tiny animals, barren of noble beasts." In America, the majestic lion of the old continent would be reduced to pitiful dimensions; here the king of the animals was a maneless coward. In 1768 Cornelius De Pauw would take Buffon's observations to their ultimate consequences: American nature, like American people, was decadent and decaying. "It is without a doubt a great and awful sight," he stated, "to see one-half of this globe so forsaken by nature, so that all in it is defiled, or monstrous."
Humanity: The Predominance of Demonization
The inhabitants of far-off lands, which were fantastic realms to European eyes, constituted another humanity—fantastic as well, and monstrous. As the great discoveries took place, these peoples migrated from India to Ethiopia, to Scandinavia, and, finally, to America. In the precarious medieval world, it became necessary to name the unknown and make it incarnate in order to contain fear within bearable limits—monsters described by religion (Satan); monsters described in the world of beasts (unicorns, dragons, ant lions, mermaids, and so on); individual human monsters (crippled people, fiends); and monsters that inhabited the ends of the earth, resembling normal people (i.e., western Europeans) but bearing monstrous hereditary traits.
Classic authors like Ctesias and Pliny were references for the Latin teratologists (Solinus, Macrobius, St. Augustine, Isidore of Seville, Rabanus Maurus), all incorporated by authors of the early Middle Ages. In the late Middle Ages, it had been St. Augustine who had established certain concepts about monsters—monsters had something to demonstrate. Isidore of Seville was to return to St. Augustine, classifying monsters in four large families: individual monsters, monstrous races, fictitious monsters, and human-beast monsters. This classificatory labor represented the Westerner's desire and effort to "affirm his own normality, comparing it point by point with the deformity of imaginary races. " In the thirteenth century, Thomas of Cantimpré compiled a list of monsters drawn from a number of earlier writings—a list that the largest medieval encyclopedia, Vicent of Beauvais's Speculum, would include in its entirety. Realizing their pedagogical value, medieval moralists made ample recourse to monsters, bestowing upon them a moral meaning and social dimension; the monstrousness of monsters was somehow depleted by their internalization.
As a reader of Cardinal d'Ailly's Imago Mundi, Columbus believed in monsters. The cardinal wrote of peoples "whose customs had fallen away from human nature," of "anthropophagic wild men with horrible, misshapen features, at the two extreme regions of the Earth...: it is difficult to ascertain whether these beings are men or beasts." Columbus thought that as he moved inland he would encounter one-eyed humans and others with snouts like dogs. On January 8, 1492, he saw three mermaids leap out of the sea and was disappointed, for they were not as beautiful as he had imagined. In the direction of the setting sun, he wrote to Santángel, people were born with tails. Perhaps he would sign below François de Belleforest's words: "The present time is more monstrous than it is natural."
In two of the most popular forms of "escapist literature," monsters played a central role: travel books and knightly romances. "Monstrous races—giant monopodes, or with enormous ears, or with their faces on their chests—had had a place in descriptions of Africa and Asia from ancient times, and still could be found in Renaissance cosmography." In the seventeenth century, Francisco Correia's account of the wreck of Nossa Senhora da Candelaria ("which, coming from the coast of Guinea in the year of 1693, a heavy storm caused to come aground on the Ilha Incógnita") told of monsters and exotic animals. On the island there were apes "eight palms tall and with teeth the size of four fingers"; snakes as "thick as a small wine cask of eight almudes [roughly 65 gallons]"; marine women who would leave the waters swiftly and climb uphill, ladies of "all perfection down to the waist, as lovely as can be" but made ugly by huge ears that "dropped below their shoulders" and rose half a palm above their heads when lifted. From their waists down, they were covered with scales, "and their feet were shaped like a she-goat's, with fins along their legs." Near Tenerife, the author also saw "a marine man of such horrendous features that he looked like the devil himself."
Many of the chroniclers writing of Brazil in the sixteenth century referred to sea monsters. Knivet saw "a great thing come out of the water with great scales on the back, with great ugly claws and a long tail." It advanced on him, opened its mouth, and "thrust out a long tongue like a Harping-Iron." Gabriel Soares made reference to the many marine men in the Recôncavo region, known as upupiara by indigenous peoples. These creatures swept jangadas [fishing rafts with one sail] and people to the bottom, drowning them in the sea. The tide would later return them "bitten on their mouth, on their nostrils, and on their nature [genitals]." The author himself claims he lost a number of slaves this way.
From its birth, and even before that, the colony had been the purgatory of banished whites. As tradition has it—and it matters little whether this is fact or fiction—at least one exiled man had lived in Brazil prior to its discovery: the legendary João Ramalho, who supposedly arrived around 1490. In various passages, Caminha mentions the exiled men who came over with Cabral's squadron: Afonso Ribeiro, manservant to Dom João Telo, sent by the captain to "go among [the indigenous peoples] and learn their lifestyle and habits"; and another two, unnamed (would one of them have been Afonso Ribeiro himself?), who were to be left in the discovered land to learn the indigenous language, thus becoming interpreters. Convinced of their roles, they set off on the long path of purgatory, taking communion with their departing companions. On May 2, as the squadron set sail for Calicut, they stayed behind on the beach, crying.
Banishment, a little-studied topic, has inspired equivocated interpretations. It has even contributed to the development of deterministic, pessimistic, and covertly racist analyses like that of Paulo Prado, who endeavors to attribute a hapless Brazilian history to the fact that "all the filthy scum of the old civilizations" ended up there. Colonized by a people "already infected with the germ of decadence," the Brazilian colony heightened the moral degeneration; the only ones to escape this "overseas degeneration" would be those "ethnic groups segregated and cleansed by an appropriate mixing of bloods"—whatever he may mean by "appropriate mixing of bloods." In a literal reading of colonial chroniclers, Prado thus perpetuated the image of an inviable colonial humanity, where banishment provided one of the chief reasons for this disqualification. Biased as it was, Prado's viewpoint nevertheless comprehended the hell-purgatory-paradise complex cemented together by the colonial system: "The transplanted Portuguese man thought of nothing but the overseas homeland: Brazil was banishment or purgatory."
As a ritual exile, banishment was part of age-old traditions present in the European imagination; in the Early Modern age, the colonial system endowed it with a new meaning. The act of cleansing was still the crux of the matter but now in a new context, articulating metropolis and colonial world. Medieval passengers on the ship of fools, the Portuguese lepers were now deported to Cape Verde, where they would supposedly be cured by eating turtles and washing themselves in their blood .
Throughout the colonial period, the tendency was to purge one's sins and serve out more serious sentences not where an infraction had been committed but elsewhere. The misappropriation of tobacco in Brazil was punished by banishment to Angola. Those accused of offenses and then tried and convicted by the Inquisition's tribunal in Portugal often served out their sentences in Brazil or were sent to Angola or other places in Africa. The relation between the specific offense and the place where cleansing occurred varied during the colonial period. A preliminary examination reveals that in the seventeenth century those accused of sorcery were sent primarily to Brazil; in the following century, however, Portuguese sorcerers began serving their sentences on the Atlantic islands or, more and more often, in Portugal's coutos. Coincidentally, it was during the eighteenth century that the colonial system was being rethought.
Defined in relation to the colonial system, purgatory had a geographical, spatial existence as well. "The most depraved and perverse persons in the Kingdom" were exiled to Brazil, and that was how it had to be. But to keep this people from disintegrating into an inviable humanity, it would be necessary to "people [Brazil] with better persons than so far have come to it."
Jaboatão chronicles the disorder reigning in Espírito Santo during the early colonization, to which bad government and "excesses in customs" both contributed. "In those early days, there came to these parts, save some noble persons of distinction, unruly peoples, some for their crimes, some banished, and thus they lived, as disorderly men, given over to all kind of vices." It did not take long for purgation to come. "Disorders of nature always bring punishment from Heaven," and this came in the form of the war the heathens fought against the white settlers.
Gandavo's whole line of argument is centered round the idea that the metropolis must be purged of its evils through colonization, which should serve to attract—thus the edenization of nature—dispossessed peoples. Responding to Alviano's allegation that "Brazil was settled first by banished persons," Brandônio goes a bit further: in the colonial purgatory, the evil nature of metropolitan people is corrected. In Brandônio's words: "Thou shalt know that these men, who firstly came to people Brazil, in a short while, given the largesse of the land, were made wealthy, and with their wealth rid themselves of their evil natures, to which the necessities and poverty they suffered in the Kingdom had compelled them. And the children of these people, already enthroned with this same wealth and rule over the land, cast off their old skin, like snakes, in all ways displaying the most honorable behavior. " Being the place of cleansing, the colony attenuated sins as the colonizing process advanced. The greater the harmony between the activities undertaken and the interests of the metropolis, the faster this purging would progress. The laborious efforts of the good settlers thus widened their path to heaven-barred to black slaves.
Born into a capitalist nation, João Mauricío de Nassau had a lucid perception (not always found among the Portuguese) of the colony's role as purgatory and as the dungeon of delinquents. He typified Brazil as "a fertile land and fortunate country." But he added: "Without settlers, these lands can neither be of use to the Society nor capable of forestalling enemy incursions. If in this manner the proposition cannot be achieved, I would wish that the prisons of Amsterdam be opened and that the galley slaves be sent here, so that, tilling the earth with their spades, they may correct their wickedness, wash away their prior infamy through honest sweat, and return to the Republic not harmful but useful." Purging sins and cleansing Europe, the colony would make it possible to transform an onus into something useful. This reversal would be possible, however, only through great effort—"honest sweat"—where the qualifier serves, along with the edenic vision, to alleviate the harshness of the labor.
Brazil—Earthly Paradise owing to its nature and hell owing to the peculiar humanity it sheltered—was purgatory owing to its relationship to the metropolis. The damned could reach heaven through honest effort, daily labor, and subjugation to the will of the metropolis. The colonial system perpetuated purgation; it cast undesirable elements to the colony, promising them Eden (as in Gandavo's propagandistic discourse) and initiating their purification with the ritual exile represented by the crossing of the Atlantic. Once in Brazilian lands, the settlers dreamed of the distant metropolis and saw their stay in the New World as temporary; the promised paradise had been transformed into purgatory.
For the white settlers, heaven was their return to the metropolis; for the black slaves, salvation through faith. So long as the colonial system was in force, for both groups purgatory could metamorphose into hell: for whites, if they refused systematic labor and embraced confrontation with the metropolis—that is, revolt; for blacks, if they cloistered themselves within their own cultural universe, living in quilombos, turning their backs on Christianization and on endorsement of the colonizers' cultural and political values, killing off masters, and seeking their freedom. Escaping hell, or even purgatory, meant breaking free of the colonial condition. For whites, it meant no longer exhausting themselves in the daily toil that brought glory to the metropolis, purifying sugar and sins. For blacks, it meant no longer being slaves, becoming citizens instead. Under the colonial system, blacks would always live in hell, and whites in purgatory. Antonil was crystalline in his formulation.
Hell and purgatory could be confused, as was the case in Europe. Describing the countless forms of torture afflicting souls in purgatory, Le Goff defined the "third place" as a hell of a specific duration. Through "honest effort," the white settlers could to some extent control the length of their suffering. The slaves, captives until death, were fated to suffer eternally; for them, not even purgatory was possible.
Within this being and not being, nothing defined the condition of a great purgatory better than the condition of being a colony. For this reason, as long as it lasted, there would always be a purgatory at the heart of the colonial system.
An edenic nature, a demonized humanity, and a colony viewed as purgatory were the mental formulations with which the Old World cloaked Brazil during the first three centuries of its existence. Within these notions, centuries-old European myths and traditions blended with the cultural universe of Amerindians and Africans. Monsters, Wild Men, indigenous people, black slaves, exiles, and settlers who bore the thousand faces of the scorned, the inhabitants of colonial Brazil frightened Europeans, who were unable to grasp their singularity. These hybrid, multifaceted, and early modern beings could relate to the supernatural only in a syncretic fashion.