Accepted paper:

An Awkward Feeling: shame, fear and power in candomblé spirit possession


Giovanna Capponi (Musée du quai Branly)

Paper short abstract:

I carried out a research in a "candomblé house" situated in Northen Italy. Here I will explore the ways in which Brazilian immigrants and Italian "converted" experience spirit possession and other religious rituals, by expressing discordant emotions like shame, fear, excitement or power greediness.

Paper long abstract:

Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religious system based on the cult of the orixás, deities whose origins can be traced back to the West-African kingdoms. Candomblé rituals involve sacrifices, spirit possessions and manipulation of sacred energy. The Axè Ilé Alaketú Ayrá is a terreiro (candomblé house) that was founded in Arborio in 2000. It is attended by both Brazilian immigrants who practiced the cult in their country, and Italian novices who decided to "convert" and who were initiated in the religion. On these premises, the sacred space has been reinvented in order to fit into the social expectations and rules of a European settlement. Nevertheless, I found the challenge for the terreiro is to fit into a social landscape where "otherness" generates fear and anxiety amongst the people of the surrounding villages, but also amongst the novices' families and friends. I spent part of the research examining how the social actors rebuilt their identities according to their original social and religious backgrounds. The experience of the initiation, the trance and the offerings are perceived differently by Brazilian and Italian practitioners. By shifting their identites with the orixás, candomblé practitioners embody power and knowledge, reclaiming the streghts and weaknesses of their personal gods and the prestige of incorporating the sacred energy. However, the trance also triggers feelings like shame, fear and helplessness. The sacred space shows its power through the projection of a new transnational identity, that is embodied both in the migrants' reminescences and in the novices' cultural memory.

panel WMW04
Anthropology of emotions and senses in religious performances