Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Holy Harlots

Holy Harlots: Femininity, Sexuality, and Black Magic in Brazil

Kelly E. Hayes
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Holy Harlots
    Book Description:

    Holy Harlotsexamines the intersections of social marginality, morality, and magic in contemporary Brazil by analyzing the beliefs and religious practices related to the Afro-Brazilian spirit entity Pomba Gira. Said to be the disembodied spirit of an unruly harlot, Pomba Gira is a controversial figure in Brazil. Devotees maintain that Pomba Gira possesses an intimate knowledge of human affairs and the mystical power to intervene in the human world. Others view this entity more ambivalently. Kelly E. Hayes provides an intimate and engaging account of the intricate relationship between Pomba Gira and one of her devotees, Nazaré da Silva. Combining Nazaré's spiritual biography with analysis of the gender politics and violence that shapes life on the periphery of Rio de Janeiro, Hayes highlights Pomba Gira's role in the rivalries, relationships, and struggles of everyday life in urban Brazil. A DVD of the filmSlaves of the Saintsis included.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94943-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    • CHAPTER 1 Wicked Women and Femmes Fatales
      (pp. 3-37)

      Recalling the fearsome, cigarette-devouring entity that had taken possession of his wife, Nazaré, some dozen years before, Nilmar glanced around the small, street-side kiosk where the three of us sat huddled across a table before continuing in a low voice:

      And this is something that I knew if I told anyone outside, they would never believe me, but she broke all the bottles in the place, as she was passing by, they just exploded. She never touched them, but they exploded. And then she sat there on the ground, in the middle of the temple, and began to light cigarette...

    • CHAPTER 2 Pomba Gira and the Religious Imagination
      (pp. 38-68)

      I first encountered the notorious Pomba Gira on an expedition to the Madureira marketplace, a large, indoor bazaar in an outlying district of Rio de Janeiro whose merchants specialize in attending the ritual needs of Afro-Brazilian religious practitioners. As I wandered about the aisles of a shop, my attention was drawn to shelf after shelf of statues depicting a voluptuous female figure. There were dozens of variations on the basic model: one dressed in rags, another in the guise of a gypsy fortune teller, a third crowned in a tiara, a fourth brandishing a trident with a skull at her...


    • CHAPTER 3 Life on the Margins
      (pp. 71-94)

      For good reason Rio de Janeiro is known affectionately throughout Brazil as the cidademaravilhosa,or marvelous city, a place whose exuberant blend of azure blue skies, white sand beaches, tropical vegetation, and graceful high-rises makes it one of the most stunning urban centers in the world. Beyond its breathtaking beauty, however, Rio de Janeiro’s most striking feature, commented upon by visitors and inhabitants alike, is the everyday proximity of tremendous affluence and miserable poverty.¹ The material extremes that distinguish one of the world’s most inequitable distributions of wealth are evident in ramshacklefavelasthat overlook the city’s most expensive...

    • CHAPTER 4 Sexuality, Morality, and the Logic of Gender
      (pp. 95-114)

      In the contemptuous gaze of the police we may see not just an example of repressive policing, but a reminder thatfavelaresidents, in the eyes of a larger and more powerful public, inhabit the very periphery of the human community. Beyond the real problems of poverty, inadequate urban infrastructure, and violence that residents of these areas face, the perception of thefavelaas a perversion of the larger social, moral, and economic order has created its own stigma, reinforcing the social distance betweenfavelapopulations and inhabitants of Rio’s wealthier neighborhoods.

      The social consequences of this stigma are far-reaching....


    • CHAPTER 5 Becoming a Zelador
      (pp. 117-140)

      Although Nazaré works with a variety of spirit entities, it is thepomba giraMaria Molambo whom she credits most for her reputation aszelador,the term she uses when describing her relationship with the spirit world.Zeladormeans “caretaker” or “custodian” and typically refers to the caretaker of a building or residence. As is true for the practitioners of other Afro-diasporan religions like Santería and Vodou, Nazaré is not concerned with affirming the reality of the spirits through abstract statements of belief, but with correctly fulfilling the caretaking duties that will ensure the spirits’ beneficence in her life. Rather...

    • CHAPTER 6 Spiritual Defenders and Protectors
      (pp. 141-157)

      In marked contrast to Nazaré’s stories of human treachery, when she spoke of her various spirits it was always in positive terms as her protectors and spiritual guides. In these narratives the spirits invariably protected Nazaré from those who threatened to harm her or her children, particularly Maria Molambo, who played the role of Nazaré’s most important and stalwart safeguard. “Molambo defended me,” Nazaré affirmed, “she never left me. She defended me from anyone who wanted to hurt me.” According to Nazaré, the most acute threat to her well-being came not from an external enemy, but from within her own...

    • CHAPTER 7 Maria Molambo’s Revenge
      (pp. 158-172)

      In Nazaré’s retrospective accounts of her spiritual development it clear that her relationship with the spirits, in particular Maria Molambo, offered a kind of protection against Nilmar’s treachery. Although Nazaré understood this protection in mystical terms, we may also discern in her appeals to Maria Molambo a process whereby Nazaré narratively restructured and ultimately redefined her relationship with Nilmar. Paradoxically by invoking the spirit of a prostitute the context of her struggles with Nilmar, Nazaré reinforced her claims as a wife. Far from resolving her troubles with him, however, working with the spirits also exacerbated the tensions in their domestic...


    • CHAPTER 8 If God Is All Good, Then Only the Devil Can Combat Evil
      (pp. 175-200)

      Margarida was desperate. For several months, she confided to me, she had nurtured a lingering suspicion that her husband, Severino, was seeing another woman. On more than one occasion she had detected the scent of a strange perfume lingering on his clothing when he returned home in the afternoon to catch a few hours of sleep before working a second job as a nighttime security guard. She felt certain that he was investing the money he had promised to set aside for improvements to their small house on the seduction of this new paramour. When acomadrereported spotting Severino...

    • CHAPTER 9 Balancing Human and Spirit Worlds
      (pp. 201-224)

      As both Margarida’s and Nazaré’s stories indicate, the desires and aspirations that motivate women to seek Pomba Gira’s assistance with a specific problem in their life are deeply human, indeed banal in their very ordinariness. For both of these women, Pomba Gira offered not only supernatural assistance, but a means to negotiate prevailing conventions of gender, sexuality, and female agency that prescribe for women a subordinate role in relationship to men, limit female power to the domestic sphere, and stigmatize female sexuality while permitting men a range of sexual outlets. Although the phenomenon of Pomba Gira does not challenge the...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 225-264)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-288)
  11. Index
    (pp. 289-293)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 294-294)