Dr. Aziz Saliba, a 2008 JusticeMaker’s Fellow in Brazil, is programming an educational video regarding rights to Habeas Corpus. The video shoot will begin on Tuesday, July 7th. Two days before filming begins, Dr. Saliba’s assistant, Cecilia Neves Silveira, gave the IBJ Journalists an introduction to the spirituality of these communities facing high incarceration rates. The spiritual ceremony we attended provided a more complete picture of the accused in Divinópolis by describing some of the religious beliefs of communities that IBJ’s Brazilian program will be assisting.
Adão, a spiritual leader practicing forms of healing similar to Umbanda, or White Magic, welcomed us to his house where he held a service praying to Nossa Senhora do Rosário. Adão lives in a community that has faced much racial discrimination and high incarceration rates. Fortunately, Adão says racial discrimination is declining and members of his community are less frequently arrested for racial profiling. Dr. Saliba’s assistant, Cecilia Neves, taught me that this discrimination happens because when slavery existed in Brazil the slaves were almost the only ones arrested, thus this culture continued to exist even when slavery had ended in Brazil.
Adão’s house contained a 300 year old painting of a king’s crown which he keeps as a token of the African tradition brought to Brazil known as Festa do Reinado, celebrating black saints and Nossa Senhora do Rosário, credited for victories of Christians over Ottoman Turks. The outpouring of love for Adão was touching. Many during the service were brought to tears. They lifted their hands to the sky in prayer and later danced Moçambique to the beat of drums stored in Adão’s bedroom.
Adão’s worship of Christ has gained popularity through his adaptations of African traditions and local beliefs since the time of his grandparents. This form of worship is also highly popular among the prison communities. Rather than say that these two traditions are at odds, Adão spoke how these religious customs validate one another. His argument is foreshadowed by those of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s thesis in Three Books Concerning Occult Philosophy. Here, Agrippa argues Christianity and magic reinforce one another and, in some ways, always have. Professor Ralph Bauer at New York University introduced me to these arguments a few years ago and his concluding remarks on Agrippa immediately came to mind and were similar to what Adão said. The arguments claim that forms of spirituality like Umbanda are religious practices that can validate the Christian faith by tying individuals to the natural resources of the world around them.
Adão told us many communities facing high incarceration rates believe in Christ but come to him for advice in the arts of Umbanda. Many can be imprisoned for long periods of time before they even receive their sentence. This problem has motivated lawyers like Dr. Aziz Saliba to inform the public about habeas corpus to prevent the illegal detainment of the accused.
Adão also talked at length about the changes taking place in the religious customs of his community. People are moving away from larger community festivals toward the celebration of personal events such as birthdays and anniversaries. Many feel alone. He does not preach often but listens to people’s complaints regarding loneliness in their search for a higher power. Adão noted that some people might feel alone and scared when trying to treat an illness that standard medical practices are too expensive for their means to pay for. And so many turn to their faith or other traditional treatments.
We were very grateful to the IBJ team here in Brazil to give us this spiritual context of the accused in the communities that Dr. Saliba works in. Attendees at Adão’s service commented on these spiritual practices praising Adão’s pure heart and the healing qualities of his services.
Those attending Adão’s service continually hugged him and told us that he is a special man in their community. Adão is a modest man. Rebuffed the compliments. Prayed for his personal failures. He was passionate. Could hold his drink. He knew how to dance and pray crying on his knees. His humility and identification with his people would claim accolades given to other men who were great because of their personal failures. As Clive James once said, these kind of men who are full of love and love’s failures are warmly welcomed by the public, especially those like Adão, a man who “seemed mainly in search of reassurance that he was not as unique as he felt.”
Adão is a great listener. He reminds people of their worth and helps them. As Stephano urged in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play dealing with spirituality in the New Word, let
Every man shift for all the rest, and
let no man take care for himself; for all is