Voices of the Magi: Enchanted Journeys in Southeast Brazil / Edition 2

Voices of the Magi: Enchanted Journeys in Southeast Brazil / Edition 2

by Suzel Reily
Pub. Date:
University of Chicago Press


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Voices of the Magi: Enchanted Journeys in Southeast Brazil / Edition 2

Voices of the Magi explores the popular Catholic musical ensembles of southeastern Brazil known as folias de reis (companies of kings). Composed predominantly of low-income workers, the folias reenact the journey of the Wise Men to Bethlehem and back to the Orient, as they roam from house to house, singing to bless the families they visit in exchange for food and money. These gifts, in turn, are used to prepare a festival on Kings' Day, January 6, to which all who contributed are invited.

Focusing on urban folias, Suzel Ana Reily shows how participants use the ritual journeys and musical performances of the folias to create sacred spheres distinct from, yet intimately related to, their everyday world. Reily calls this practice "enchantment" and argues that it allows the folia communities to temporarily make the social ideals of mutual reciprocity and equality embodied in their religious beliefs a reality. The contrast between their ritual experiences and the daily lives of these impoverished workers, in turn, reinforces the religious convictions of these devotees of the music of the Magi.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226709413
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 05/28/2002
Series: Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 283
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

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Voices of the Magi: Enchanted Journeys in Southeast Brazil

By Suzel Ana Reily

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2002 Suzel Ana Reily
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226709418

CHAPTER I - Preparations

As the Christmas season approaches, folias de reis, or companhias de reis (companies of kings) begin to make the necessary preparations for their ritual journeys (jornadas). Before setting oV they plan their itinerary, they check to make sure that there are people to occupy all the ritual and administrative roles required by the tradition, and they meet for rehearsals to guarantee the quality of their performances. While folioes (folia members) know what happens on these ritual journeys, no one knows what will happen during the one for which they are preparing themselves. Expectations heighten as folioes reminisce about previous journeys, remembering bygone days when the drama could be conducted "properly"; they remind one another of the various "Herods"--or dangers--they might encounter along the way; they speculate about how they will be received by a particular household, and about the number of manger scenes to be adored along the way. As they prepare for their journey, folioes create an atmosphere of excitement around the days to come, keeping expectations high through to the Wnal festival.

This book is about these journeys, and it follows their sequence from theplanning stages to their festive culmination. Folia journeys are both part of and set apart from everyday life. They are embedded in the patterns of everyday social life, but they are also special spaces which enhance social experience through music making and intense sociability. Journeys articulate with the folioes' values and commonsense notions about the world around them while speaking also of their visions and aspirations. These ritual spaces constitute "total social facts," drawing on the dominant themes that mark the daily lives of the folioes: they comment on family and community relations as well as on class and race relations, they refer to the economic conditions of the participants and provide a forum for the elaboration of political views, they create a stage for asserting and proclaiming the values of the devotees, and through their ritual activities they deWne themselves as a moral community. The investigation of these ritual contexts, then, provides a means of gaining access to the social lives, worldviews, and aspirations of vast sectors of the Brazilian subaltern classes engaged in popular Catholic activities.

My focus is upon the folia tradition in the urban context, where the ritual journeys are set against the backdrop of the journeys made by rural migrants in search of a better life in the city. In the urban setting, many migrants have confronted conditions of extreme poverty and marginality in a highly strati-Wed society, and their adaptation to city life has been hindered by low levels of education and inappropriate skills as well as by value systems radically opposed to the rationality of capitalist enterprise. Within this hostile environment, folia activities have provided a means of creating and sustaining networks of mutual support. Though there is nothing new in this proposition, I shall argue that the eYcacy of these networks within the folia universe is predicated on the ethical base that sustains them: the moral principles of popular Catholicism emphasize solidarity and mutual obligations, and a claim to these principles has become a primary means of forging cultural integrity within migrant communities. It is in moral terms that they mark their identity in opposition to the privileged sectors of Brazilian society.

This argument could be made equally with respect to popular Catholicism in rural contexts. Indeed, it is not my intention to suggest that there is anything unique about the urban setting which alters the fundamental dynamics of the folia tradition. On the contrary, the very embeddedness of folia ritual activity in everyday life has hindered its sedimentation, allowing the tradition to be continuously resigniWed over the centuries in consonance with changing historical circumstances. In moving to the city there certainly has been a shift in the themes highlighted during folia performances, but since colonial times folias de reis have operated in and articulated with a diversity of social formations, the contemporary urban context being only the most recent structural setting into which the tradition has been adapted. One of my objectives is to portray the Xuidity with which folia communities have continuously negotiated their ritual life in face-to-face interactions, drawing on their daily experiences on the margins of mainstream Brazilian society.

The resilience of popular Catholicism in Brazil is undoubtedly linked to its continuous ability to engage with the themes of immediate concern to the devotees. But these themes are brought to the fore within an aesthetic environment of intense experiential value, in which music plays a central role. Folia journeys are conducted through participatory musical performances, as are countless other vernacular religious traditions around the world. Music, of course, is used in a number of distinct ways within diVerent ritual contexts, just as musical styles and the conditions of their performance display considerable diversity from one ritual tradition to another. Yet ethnomusicologists have documented numerous cases in which music is the primary medium for organizing ritual activity. The folia de reis is just such a musically directed religious tradition: musical sounds dominate the ritual time-frame; musical performance is conducted by an ensemble with a more or less inclusive participatory orientation; and music is the primary means of integrating the attendants into the ritual drama. Through an in-depth ethnography of this context I hope to show that anthropological perspectives on ritual and ritualization can be signiWcantly enhanced by close attendance to ritual music and music making.

The book is premised on the argument that participatory musical performance within a religious context provides a means of orchestrating ritual enactment in such a way as to allow participants to proclaim their religious truths at the same time as their coordinated interactions during music making re-create the social ideals embodied in their religious tenets. I refer to the musical mode of ritual orchestration as "enchantment." Enchantment creates a highly charged experiential realm in which devotees gain a momentary glimpse of the harmonious order that could reign in society, provided everyone agreed to adhere to the moral precepts outlined in religious discourse. By promoting such intense experiences, musical performance is, I contend, a powerful medium for forging religious conviction and commitment.

In vernacular usage, "enchantment" refers to a seductive world of poetry and fantasy. One of its connotations pertains to the use of magical powers to eVect transformations. The concept of enchantment was introduced into social theory through the work of Max Weber, for whom it was the condition of premodernity. Weber contended that enchantment would ultimately be displaced by the rationality of modernity, leaving in its wake a disenchanted world of "icy darkness and hardness" (Weber 1958, 128), a world devoid of meaning. But what I wish to highlight here is the link Weber ([1922] 1963) saw between enchantment and morality. According to Weber, the enchanted sphere of religion articulates a moral order, and when ethically constituted, the world remains warm, Xuid, and meaningful. My conceptualization of enchantment draws on these associations, providing a concise way of encapsulating what I consider to be the main thrust of the musical mode of ritual orchestration: the creation of a morally grounded visionary social world through communal music making, the experience of which can have profound transformative implications for the participants.

As an experiential realm, enchantment takes place in the here and now; its eYcacy is predicated upon its emergent quality. Such experiences can be promoted through music precisely because music making organizes collective action, while song texts can be endlessly rewritten and brought to bear upon the speciWcities of the immediate performance situation. By directly linking content to the performance context, I will demonstrate how folioes are able to generate profound personal experiences within an interpretive frame which relates shared discursive representations to the sensory experiences promoted during ritual enactment. Furthermore, within the Xuid and decentralized context of the folia universe--and of other vernacular religious settings--musical performance serves to mediate the negotiations involved in staging ritual activity.

My journey into the folia universe began with the enchanted experience I had when I Wrst heard the Folia do Baeta Neves back in 1986. But like the Kings, I did not return by the same route. Once the singing had come to an end, I began the struggle of making sense of their journeys and musical performances, reXecting upon where I had been and what I had heard, seen, done, and read over the years, merging the intensely moving experiences I had among folia communities with the requirements of academic practice. Without doubt it was the memories which my data evoked in me of my time spent with them that sustained my interest as I confronted endless stacks of Weld notes, transcriptions, photographs, and audio- and videotapes.

Journeys always produce stories--as do reporters. It is, therefore, through stories that I present this account. Some of the stories I will be telling were narrated by folioes; others are my own anecdotal representations of observations and experiences I had during my time in the Weld. Stories have the potential of bringing an event to life; they demand the readers' identiWcation with the characters, allowing them to sympathetically reexperience an episode with the narrator. Moreover, stories provide eloquent illustrations of the uniqueness and contextuality of an event; they show how shared representations are negotiated in terms of the speciWcities of the here and now. Stories are perhaps the human way of reconciling the Xuidity of experience with the representational mode through which people communicate with one another. But before I can begin my story, I will set out my agenda through a dialogue with relevant literature.

Folias de Reis and Popular Catholicism in Brazil

Numerous popular narratives tell how the Three Kings became musicians, forming the Wrst folia on earth. In one of the most common versions of the narrative it is said that, in exchange for their gifts, Our Lady presented them with musical instruments when they arrived at the creche. She gave them a viola (a stringed instrument slightly smaller than a guitar, with Wve double courses), a pandeiro (tambourine), and a caixa (a large double-headed cylindrical drum) and told them to return to the Orient singing along the way to announce the birth of Christ. In accordance with the myth, folias de reis conduct a symbolic dramatization of the journey of the Three Kings, in which a group of musicians and a few clowns--frequently known as bastiao--roam from house to house with the banner of the Holy Kings. During their journeys--or giros (rounds)--the groups bless the families they visit in exchange for donations that will then be used to promote the "festival of the arrival" ( festa da chegada) that occurs on Kings' Day, 6 January. Companhias normally begin their journeys at midnight between 24 and 25 December in a ritual known as the "departure of the banner" (saida da bandeira). This event occurs at the home of the festeiro (patron of the festival), who administers the funds the folia collects during the journey and organizes the festival on behalf of the community. The journey ends when the group closes the circuit and "arrives" back at the festeiro's house, where the festival of the arrival is held. All those who contributed with donations during the journey are invited to participate in the event. A good festival is one in which there is an abundance of food and much music and dancing throughout the night.

There can be little doubt that the folia tradition in Brazil came to the country with the Portuguese colonists, but it then began to take on a localized proWle. As the tradition diVused throughout the land, it was continuously reinvented and reinterpreted to suit the speciWc needs and aesthetic preferences of those involved in its performance. As one would expect of any "folk" tradition, there is a considerable degree of variation in the performance practices of diVerent groups from one region to the next, and even from one town to the next within a single geographic area, just as each group is itself in a constant process of transformation. Today folias are also common in the country's large urban centers, brought by the millions of rural laborers who have come to the cities over the past decades in search of work and a better standard of living. This process has brought further transformations to the tradition to adapt it to the migrants' experiences in the new context.

The folia de reis is but one of countless localized lay devotional traditions to have developed in Brazil during the colonial era. Congados and mocambiques, for example, are drum- and percussion-based dance troupes, made up predominantly of blacks, that perform during festivals in honor of Saint Benedict the Moor and Our Lady of the Rosary, among other saints; Saint Goncalo dances (dancas de Sao Goncalo) are devotional double-line dances which help guarantee the strength of one's legs; baptisms of Saint John the Baptist involve requests for rain by rural communities to guarantee an appropriate supply of water for crops; festivities in honor of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of "old maids" (tias), commonly include social dances and mock weddings. Like the Three Kings, many of the saints who have become the objects of popular devotion in Brazil are depicted with all-too-human characteristics, and quite frequently they are fun-loving musicians and dancers. Devotion to these saints typically involves merrymaking, an abundance of food, and much music and dancing.

The relative homogeneity in the devotional practices associated with a speciWc saint has led some researchers to suggest that these spheres be viewed in terms of distinct "cycles" (see Brandao 1981), each comprising a cluster of interrelated symbolic units of wider or more restricted diVusion. While it could be argued that a broadly deWned popular Catholic ethos underlies them all, the sphere of popular Catholicism is highly fragmented and localized; whatever links there may be across devotional cycles--or even within each cycle--popular Catholic practices constitute local instantiations of an available repertoire, in which, over the centuries, participants have selected, highlighted, and downplayed distinct elements at their disposal, in accordance with their daily lives and aspirations.

What favored the proliferation of these forms of lay religious expression was the limited presence of the institutionalized church in the colony, which left settlers to develop their own forms of devotion to meet their religious needs, particularly in isolated rural communities. These circumstances emerged out of a special relationship between Rome and the Portuguese crown established during the crusade against the Moors, in which a series of papal bulls granted the king patronage concessions over the religious institution, rendering the church subservient to the Portuguese state. In the Wrst years of ecclesiastical patronage, the goals of the state were congruent with those of the church. In time, however, the crown's greater interest in gold than in souls had grave consequences for the expansion of the church. Approximately 250 years after the "discovery," the state had scarcely fulWlled its part of the mission: there were but eight dioceses in the colony and the vast majority of secular clergymen were employed independently by large landowners or urban confraternities, serving a limited part of the population. Throughout much of the colony, religious life was left predominantly in the hands of laymen, who expressed their religious sentiments by drawing upon Portuguese forms of folk devotion, many rooted in late medieval musical practices.

With the separation of church and state in the late nineteenth century, the relationship between local religious communities and the Catholic church entered a new phase, as a progressive sector of the clergy spearheaded a project of ecclesiastic Romanization. Their eVorts, however, were unable to eradicate popular Catholic beliefs and practices, particularly among members of the lower classes. Though they invested heavily against vernacular forms of devotion in urban centers, the most they were able to achieve was to push such practices out of the church itself, while in isolated rural areas they remained virtually unaVected by this civilizing onslaught. In any case, the primary targets of Romanization were the members of polite society, so that the rural peasantry remained forgotten and continued to conduct their religious lives much as before. In urban centers the marginalized lower classes either transferred their religious practices out into the churchyard and the street or removed them altogether from the direct gaze of the priests (Brandao 1985, 138-39). It is worth noting, however, that among signiWcant sectors of the clergy, the former state patronage system remained entrenched, such that conservative stances with tolerant and laissez-faire attitudes toward popular Catholicism have continued to be prevalent right up to the present day.

Even since Vatican II, when the church declared a preferential option for the poor, the oYcial church in Brazil has made little headway in displacing popular Catholic worldviews and ritual activities. It has been primarily the groups associated with liberation theology who have made the greatest eVorts to absorb the practices of their low-income parishioners into the sphere of the church, but they have often found it diYcult to reconcile their projects with the "unorthodoxies" of popular Catholic religiosity.


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Table of Contents

Key to Musical Transcriptions
I. Preparations
II. Folias
III. Banners
IV. Rehearsals
V. Departures
VI. Adorations
VII. Visitations
VIII. Arrivals
IX. Visions
Appendix: Musical Examples

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