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Ecstatic Encounters

Ecstatic Encounters: Bahian Candomblé and the Quest for the Really Real

Mattijs van de Port
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 316
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  • Book Info
    Ecstatic Encounters
    Book Description:

    Ecstatic Encounters takes its readers to the threshold of Candomblé temples in Bahia, Brazil, where - for many generations -- members of this spirit-possession cult and curious outsiders have been meeting to marvel at each other's otherness. Having allowed himself to be baffled by Candomblé's mysteries and miracle productions, the author explores the notion of 'the-rest-of-what-is': the excess that is the inevitable by-product of all reality definitions; the non-sensical that is the surplus of all culturally informed sense-making. Ethnographical insights in Afro-Brazilian mysticism are thus made to speak to anthropological forms of world-making, in a study that rejects the totalizing pretensions of all reality definitions, emphatically including those of academia. The theoretical importance of this book lies in its critical assessment of the constructivist paradigm that long dominates cultural and social anthropology. Adopting the Lacanian premise that the meaningful worlds we inhabit are lacking, and depend on fantasy and make-belief to be perceived as coherent, persuasive and incontestable, this study argues that the analysis of cultural forms should always include an exploration of the processes of cultural enchantment that endow man-made worlds of meaning with a sense of the really real. Ecstatic Encounters is written in an accessible, engaging, literary style. Philosophical issues are taken out on the streets, to be pondered in the face of everyday life; just as mundane dimensions of being are allowed to soil the conventional proprieties of academic text production. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1396-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 7-9)
  4. Introduction: Avenida Oceânica Candomblé, mystery and the-rest-of-what-is in processes of world-making
    (pp. 11-45)

    The field notes I made on 4 February 2008, were brief. ‘Insist on the thought,’ it says (underlined like that), ‘that this is what it is all about’.

    This energy on the street. This sparking electricity. This ecstatic frenzy of thousands of scantily clad bodies, packed together on the Avenida Oceânica, jumping to the rhythm of Daniela Mercury, sweating from top to bottom, stretching their arms towards the goddess of Axé Music, stretching, stretching, jumping, jumping, singing their heads off in massive unison – Zum-zum-zum-zumbaba. Zumbaba. Zumbaba. Really, that’s all there is to say.

    Bahian carnival is hardly a time...

  5. 1 On Immersion Academics and the seductions of a baroque society
    (pp. 47-67)

    When I came across these words by the Dadaist artist Arthur Cravan (in Shelton 1984: 323) they were instantly recognizable, their content and tenor effortlessly graspable, commonsensical to the point of simply being true. Who wouldnotunderstand this set of preferences? Who wouldnotopt for the possibility to trade the world of Mademoiselle Franfreluche and her well rehearsed steps for a place where experience has the immediacy of clean punches, left jabs and right uppercuts? Let me be dragged along over snow-covered mountains. Let me court ever-darker shades of black, with all the moving out of control, and...

  6. 2 Mysteries are Invisible Understanding images in the Bahia of Dr Raimundo Nina Rodrigues
    (pp. 69-97)

    I have pushpinned two photocopied portraits of Dr Raimundo Nina Rodrigues (1862-1906) on the wall of my office in Amsterdam. They have been sitting there for months now, stuck somewhat unceremoniously between postcards from a summer’s trip to the baroque churches of southern Spain, a printout with several how-to-avoid-rsi-exercises from my physiotherapist and teaching schedules for the next semester.

    One of the portraits depicts Dr Nina as a young man. It seems to follow the conventions of portraiture in the Brazil of the second half of the 19th century, when – as Ana Maria Mauad tells us – Brazilians were...

  7. 3 Re-encoding the Primitive Surrealist appreciations of Candomblé in a violence-ridden world
    (pp. 99-125)

    ‘I love Candomblé!’ We were sitting in a fancy bar and the girl was sipping from a spicy, ginger-based cocktail called Maria Bonita. She sported glasses with a hip frame in red and white and she was from Macéio, capital of the neighboring state of Alagoas. Having learned about the topic of my research she beamed with enthusiasm.

    ‘I love everything about it. The music, the celebrations, the mythology. It is beautiful. And I’m devoted to my Orixá, my guide and protector.’

    She bared one shoulder to show me a small tattoo, an abstract depiction of an elegant round hand...

  8. 4 Abstracting Candomblé Defining the ‘public’ and the ‘particular’ dimensions of a spirit possession cult
    (pp. 127-157)

    Since Jorge Amado’s publication ofJubiabá, endless cycles of quotation have effected a genuine proliferation of Candomblé imagery in Bahia’s public sphere. Quoting, as I have stated before, is always a procedure that produces distance. It removes you from the source. It takes the heat out of things, so to speak. ‘Look, it has been said before! I’m only quoting!’ Yet it also creates little pipelines between fields that were hitherto unconnected. Through these pipelines the color of the quote – its feel, its temperature, its texture – is passed on to the new surroundings in which it was inserted....

  9. 5 Allegorical Worlds Baroque aesthetics and the notion of an ‘absent truth’
    (pp. 159-181)

    The montage-like statuettes that you see in the pictures on the left examples of a popular art form from 19th-century Bahia and are calledO Menino Jesus no Monte, the Child Jesus on the Mountain. They are sometimes also referred to aslapinhas, ‘little caves’, as many of them exhibit a dark void in the middle of the mountain, suggestive of a cave. What little information I found on these lapinhas reveals that they were made in Bahian convents in the Recôncavo area. The nuns from the Convento de Recolhimento de Nosso Senhora dos Humildes in the town of Santo...

  10. 6 Bafflement Politics Possessions, apparitions and the really real of Candomblé’s miracle productions
    (pp. 183-213)

    I was giving a visiting colleague a tour of Salvador, and the ogã must have seen us coming, climbing the many steps leading to Casa Branca, one of the oldest and most reputed terreiros of Salvador. Undoubtedly, he had assumed that we were just another couple of curious tourists. We started chatting.

    ‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘There are a lot of tourists that visit here and they always ask a lot of questions. They always want to know about possession. Whether it is for real, and stuff like that.’

    My colleague, missing out on what I took to be a...

  11. 7 The Permeable Boundary Media imaginaries in Candomblé’s public performance of authenticity
    (pp. 215-247)

    On one of my visits to Gantois I caught sight of Luis, a fellow anthropologist. He was standing on the other side of the barracão, the great ceremonial hall of the terreiro. As it was very crowded, it was impossible to reach him. We acknowledged each other’s presence with a nod.

    The purpose of my visit to Gantois was a celebration in honor of Oxum, the Candomblé deity of beauty and of the sweet waters. The barracão had been decorated with garlands and cloths in the yellow and golden colors of the orixá. As always, the splendid performance sought to...

  12. Conclusions Cracks in the Wall Invocations of the-rest-of-what-is in the anthropological study of world-making
    (pp. 249-262)

    One day, when we were returning from the village where Victor grew up, he told me to leave the br-342, the highway that connects Salvador with the Bahian hinterland. Behind those hills, he said, pointing at a ridge of green hills to the left of the road, liesO Milagre de São Roque– the Miracle of Saint Rochus. It was a place where hismadrinhaused to take him when he was a small boy. Usually they would go there on foot, all the way from Amélia Rodrigues, to fetch holy water from a spring. Yet sometimes his madrinha...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 263-272)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-294)
  15. Index
    (pp. 295-300)
  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 301-316)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-317)