Amazons, Wives, Nuns, and Witches

Amazons, Wives, Nuns, and Witches: Women and the Catholic Church in Colonial Brazil, 1500-1822

CAROLE A. MYSCOFSKI
Copyright Date: 2013
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/748538
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    Amazons, Wives, Nuns, and Witches
    Book Description:

    The Roman Catholic church played a dominant role in colonial Brazil, so that women's lives in the colony were shaped and constrained by the Church's ideals for pure women, as well as by parallel concepts in the Iberian honor code for women. Records left by Jesuit missionaries, Roman Catholic church officials, and Portuguese Inquisitors make clear that women's daily lives and their opportunities for marriage, education, and religious practice were sharply circumscribed throughout the colonial period. Yet these same documents also provide evocative glimpses of the religious beliefs and practices that were especially cherished or independently developed by women for their own use, constituting a separate world for wives, mothers, concubines, nuns, and witches.

    Drawing on extensive original research in primary manuscript and printed sources from Brazilian libraries and archives, as well as secondary Brazilian historical works, Carole Myscofski proposes to write Brazilian women back into history, to understand how they lived their lives within the society created by the Portuguese imperial government and Luso-Catholic ecclesiastical institutions. Myscofski offers detailed explorations of the Catholic colonial views of the ideal woman, the patterns in women's education, the religious views on marriage and sexuality, the history of women's convents and retreat houses, and the development of magical practices among women in that era. One of the few wide-ranging histories of women in colonial Latin America, this book makes a crucial contribution to our knowledge of the early modern Atlantic World.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-74854-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION. Amazons and Others
    (pp. 1-18)

    On June 10, 1562, one of the first Portuguese missionaries in Brazil reported on the great successes of Padre Fabiano in conversions of indigenous women:

    He has also constructed another great house, . . . where live many girls of those Indians under his guidance and he teaches them to tailor, weave, and so on. Of these those already taught doctrine and instructed in good habits are married with young men.¹

    Padre Brás Lourenço, the putative author of the report, confidently declared that the young women had abandoned their former heathen customs so that they might serve the Jesuits, the...

  5. ONE Amazons and Cannibals: IMAGINING BRAZILIAN WOMEN IN THE COLONIAL PERIOD
    (pp. 19-54)

    In the first letter written from Brazil by a Jesuit missionary, the first published for eager readers awaiting news of the new colony in 1551, Padre Manuel da Nóbrega began thus:

    The information that I can give you of these parts of Brazil, dearest fathers and brothers, is that this land has 1000 leagues of coast, all populated by people who go about naked, both women and men. . .. ¹

    Here Nóbrega presented the primary information for his readers, that the land had some familiar characteristics (it was coastal, albeit excessively so) and one truly alien feature: the inhabitants...

  6. TWO The Body of Virtues: THE CHRISTIAN IDEAL FOR BRAZILIAN WOMEN
    (pp. 55-83)

    In the early 1600s, the Jesuit Antônio Vieira preached to Catholics in Brazil that the failings of women began with their ancestral mother, Eve. After Eve’s great sin, women had repeatedly abandoned the virtuous life that had been mandated for them, and exemplary women of Scripture were themselves trapped in perversion and ignorance. Vieira insisted that not all of the women named in Jesus’s own genealogy were virtuous, for Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Ruth had failed to uphold the virtue of chastity. Magdalene, too, had been sexually “dishonest,” bearing seven demons of unchastity before encountering Jesus’s healing exorcism; the women...

  7. THREE Reading, Writing, and Sewing: EDUCATION FOR BRAZILIAN WOMEN
    (pp. 84-106)

    Writing in 1587, historian Gabriel Soares de Sousa noted with approval the transformations of indigenous cultures in northeastern Brazil through the praiseworthy efforts of Franciscan missionaries. The conversion of indigenous Tupinambá women to the religion and culture of Portugal was, however, still incomplete:

    The girls of these people who are raised and indoctrinated with Portuguese women, learn well the sewing and needlework, and do all the works with the needle that they teach them, for which they have much ability, and to make sweets, and they become remarkable cooks; but they are much desirous . . . of having love...

  8. FOUR Before the Church Doors: WOMEN AS WIVES AND CONCUBINES
    (pp. 107-142)

    In Bahia in 1591, Antonia de Bairos confessed to the visiting Tribunal of the Portuguese Inquisition that she had been living in a bigamous marriage for decades following her exile from Portugal for adultery. Anrique Barbas, her second husband, had arranged false witnesses, and they had wed “before the doors of the church” with the license of the episcopal official. She had fled from Barbas, however, because of the “wounds and blows” that he dealt her and her “bad life” with him. She had sought refuge in her village church. Although she herself was nearly seventy and all witnesses had...

  9. FIVE Freiras and Recolhidas: THE RECLUSIVE LIFE FOR BRAZILIAN WOMEN
    (pp. 143-182)

    In Rio de Janeiro in 1756, Thiodara Francisca Evangelista formally petitioned the Convent of Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Ajuda to admit her daughter, Thereza Rosa, as a pupil “until she reaches the age to decide whether to profess as a nun.” To support her case, Dona Thiodara explained that the girl’s father had died in the Lisbon earthquake while attempting to secure her a place in a convent there, and her aunt was already a professed nun in the convent. At the same time, she offered a twelve-year-old companion, an impoverished “Mariana” who could “serve while in the company...

  10. SIX Women and Magic: RELIGIOUS DISSIDENTS IN COLONIAL BRAZIL
    (pp. 183-227)

    On August 20, 1591, in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, Paula de Siqueira confessed that she had learned a small repertoire of prayers and rituals for obtaining and securing the love of her husband. Among them was a spell using the Latin words of consecration from the Catholic Mass that, when whispered to her sleeping spouse, would cause him to “put all of his affection on her.”¹ Two years later, in the agricultural center of Pernambuco, Isabel Antunes denounced her neighbor Ana Jacome, who was said “by the good and bad of this land” to be a witch. Jacome had taught her...

  11. CONCLUSION. Closing the Colonial Era
    (pp. 228-238)

    Over the course of Brazil’s colonial history, women faced numerous and sometimes insuperable barriers to their full expression as religious persons. In the earliest conception of the colonial enterprise, women’s presence was portrayed in otherness, representing the otherness of America itself. The alien continents nurtured alien women who signified the others, the Amazons, cannibals, and — finally — witches of the Old World transposed to the New. These restrictive images reduced women to a status outside of their own self-understanding, and, with so few written accounts of their responses to the invasion, I have had to rely primarily on men’s documents, letters,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 239-270)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 271-290)
  14. Index
    (pp. 291-308)