Circling With/In The Saint: Bahian Candombl�'s Feminist Poiesis and Dark Horse Kinetics
Rooted in West and Central African, Amerindian, and popular Catholic influences, Candombl� constitutes a set of ritual practices that cohered among enslaved Africans and their descendants on Brazil’s sugar plantations between the 16th and 19th centuries. Across a range of traditionalist and marginalized genres, Candombl� practitioners use ritual dance to invoke and interrelate with African Diasporic and syncretic divinities. This dissertation project investigates how devotees in Bahia—Brazil’s colonial capital and Candombl�’s formative region—marshal ceremonial dance choreographies to produce revisionary histories, articulate mother-centric body politics and authorize minoritized social actors’ illegitimized pleasures and desires. Based on extensive ethnographic field work, choreographic analysis and historical inquiry, this project approaches ritual dancing as a site of knowledge production and political expression for Candombl�’s primarily Afro-descendent, women practitioners, as well as male and trans subjects who are feminized through Candombl�’s gender coded logics of mediumship. Whereas ethnographers have generally focused on Candombl�’s Africanist-oriented Orix� traditions as practiced in the dominant Candombl� houses of Bahia’s capital city, Salvador, this dissertation includes outlying, heterodox temples and their homages to hybrid spirit entities known as Caboclo and associated with Brazil’s Amerindian Tupi peoples and with mixed-race Afro-Indigenous cowboys. This expanded view allows for the foregrounding of Candombl�’s stigmatized Caboclos and their understudied samba dances at temples excluded from scholarly and popular imaginaries of Afro-Bahian religion because of their outlying locations, cultural heterogeneity and transgressive performances of gender, sexuality and national identity. Building on emic terms of spirit embodiment to propose the model of "circling with/in the saint" (rodar com or rodar no santo), this dissertation intervenes in representations of Afro-Atlantic religion that rely on the trope of "possession." As a local, movement-oriented and reciprocal process through which devotees interrelate with their guardian entities, circling with/in the saint encompasses the original concepts of Candombl�’s feminist poiesis and dark horse kinetics in order to apprehend how ritual choreographies activate counter-hegemonic discourses in Brazil’s systemically racist society with its roots in plantation slavery. Linking matri-focal ontologies with circular, cyclical choreographies used for invocation, Candombl� feminist poiesis fosters performances of ritual gender fluidity that contravene patriarchal norms and valorize procreativity outside of the domestic sphere. While the feminist poiesis informs Candombl�’s spectrum of traditionalism, dark horse kinetics features in Caboclos’ unruly sambas, layering onto the feminist poiesis as its disjunctive ancillary. Dark horse kinetics include fall and recover (barravento), loose (solto), broken (quebradinha) and driving qualities of motion (puxado). Together these imporivsatory aesthetic politics destabilize hierarchical regimes within Candombl� and in the broader Bahian society, working to unfix exclusionary discourses of Bahian state independence and modern Brazilian nationalism and drawing on repressed sexualities as contested sites of power to articulate sovereign claims.