When our cortejo(1) walks the streets, we show our ways of being and doing things to other people. The cortejo is part of the Kingdom’s(2) work, besides other necessary things that happen inside our conjó.(3) When we go to the streets, to the urban space, we submit ourselves to being observed by people who were not expecting to see us and who do not know what the Kingdom is, the Rosário(4) or the Congado,(5) and we can reach new people. Those who do not belong to our space can get to know our garments, our songs, and our stance. They can get to know our political and religious perspectives. If we stayed inside, only those who came our way would get to know us.
Maria Casimira, my grandmother, was born on the 4th of March 1906 and she was the first Queen of Congo in the state of Minas Gerais. She was titled by the governor of Minas Gerais on the day of the 400th anniversary of Rio de Janeiro, in 1965. All states were invited to create displays in honor of Rio de Janeiro; Minas State chose to honor the Kingdom of Our Lady of the Rosary,(6) and my grandmother as their representative. That is how the post of Queen was created. My grandmother was older and very wise, and people came to her to learn about the Rosary. She was famous for being the first woman to establish a Guard(7) in our region, a promise she could not keep by herself.
The Rosary parade was prohibited by Dom Cabral, the bishop at the time. To have the parade, a license was needed, and women could not apply for it. Maria Casimira, then, emancipated my uncle, Efigênio, her oldest son, when he was seven years old, and he made the registry. The Rosary captains at the time, who were in charge of the Congados in Minas Gerais, thought she was very ingenious and gave her the title of Bárbara Heliodora of the Rosary. Bárbara Heliodora participated in the Inconfidência Mineira movement.(8) The title opened many doors to Maria Casimira, and they surrendered to her wisdom – or, as my son would put it, to her “strategy”.
She was the Queen of Congo of her house – the 13th of May Mozambique Guard of Our Lady of the Rosary,(9) founded in 1944 – and Queen of the state of Minas Gerais. Many years later, after my grandmother’s passing, my mom, Isabel Casimira das Dores, also started a Congo Guard. So, today we are the 13th of May Mozambique and Congo Guard of Our Lady of the Rosary,(10) and I am Queen of this Guard and of the state of Minas Gerais (with my mother’s passing, I was crowned in her place). Before that, I was a princess. I was born on the 13th of April, and on the 13th of May, during the Rosary Party, I was crowned the Princess of the Rosary, being one month old.
The Rosary Party has always taken place, with or without official consent. Sometimes the police would come and take the instruments… It is told that once, Belmiro was going to hold the party, but he was arrested before that by the police (who wanted to prevent the party from taking place), so he sang from the jail cell while watching the moon. “I did not kill, I did not rob, I didn’t do anything. I did not kill; I did not rob; I didn’t do anything. Rumor has it that today is my court day. I will pray for the Virgin Saint to be my lawyer. I will pray for the saint virgin to be my lawyer!”. Now, in my house, we sing, “the manacá(11)seed fell and landed in Angola. My manacá’s seed fell and landed in Angola. Now, I have to fertilize it so that it can flower, so that we will harvest the seed, my manacá’s seed. In time we plant, in time it flowers, in time we harvest the manacá’s seed!”.
The neighborhood where my grandmother was born, in Betim, is called Angola. It is a neighborhood where many enslaved people from Angola lived after being freed; they stayed there. Later, my grandmother and her family went to live in Belo Horizonte, the state’s capital, in a neighborhood called Barroca. This is a wealthy neighborhood today because the municipality decided they had to remove the people who lived there originally; these people agreed to come to the region where we live today, in the Concórdia neighborhood. That is why the neighborhood is called Concórdia (or Agreement, in Portuguese). In it there is a great assembly of people of African descent, from Umbanda(12) and Candomblé,(13) Rosary people, and samba(14) people. There are all kinds of African culture manifestations in this neighborhood.
In our house, we have two entities in the same headquarters: the Spiritistic Center of Saint Sebastian – an Umbanda center – and the 13th of May Mozambique and Congo Guard of Our Lady of the Rosary. They exist in different moments of time. The Rosary Party takes place from the 1st to the 13th of May. So, May is all about the Rosary Party. From the 1st to the 9th, the Manta Ox(15) walks the streets of Concórdia, announcing the party’s proximity, inviting people to participate. The ox singes, dances, and invites people, chasing kids and playing around to help raise funds for the party. As my mom would say, the ox is the party ambassador.
The ox walks around the neighborhood and invites people to the party, and he also starts setting up the cosmic camp, because the party is near, and the universe prepares a festive atmosphere for a good celebration. The ox summons everyone in the neighborhood and in close neighborhoods – grandmothers, mothers, great grandmothers and grandchildren. Their presence strengthen our culture, because we need the youth for continuity.
It is said that in the enslaved people quarters, when Black people would run, they would use ox leather over their bodies to hide in the forests. To the eyes of the enslaver, the ox leather was just an ox running away. The same leather that could be used as a disguise could be used to protect oneself against animals and the cold during the night in the forest. One thread pulls another; one story pulls another. I do the same things my grandmother, Maria Casimira, used to do; the same things my uncle Efigênio and my mother, Isabel Casimira das Dores, did. I learned how to do them.
The Saint Sebastian Spiritistic Center anniversary is on the 20th of January; it is the day of Oxóssi.(16) On the 23rd, we celebrate the Ogum(17) party. After that, we have the São João(18) party, which happens after the Rosary party. Then we have the Cosme and Damião(19) party, which we love so much and organize with a lot of affection and care. The next party is a Rosary party, and takes place on the 8th of December. So it goes: a party of the spiritistic Center, then a Rosary party, then a party of the Center, and another party of the Rosary. It is all quite separated because they are different things. My mom knew about this distinction as did my uncle and grandmother, and today I keep it; they share a space, but they don’t mix.
When we go to the streets for the party, we are filled with faith, the hope of survival, joy, and spirituality. As we walk, we praise Our Lady, our protectors, our guardians, and our ancestors. The Rosary parade sings and prays all the time; it dances as it sings, it prays as it sings, and manifests itself in different ways. As our powerful people pass by, with a magnificent and ancestral force, each step they take in the urban space will transmute the energies: the negative ones into positive ones, the bad ones into good ones, the bad thoughts into good thoughts. The procession is a moment of cleansing, of mental and spiritual firmness. We are there to establish ourselves as people and show what we do and what believe in, serving Zambi(20) and our guides of light.
What are the cortejos? What story do they tell? My grandmother told me that many years ago, on the coast of Africa, a beautiful lady appeared in the sea waters. She was covered in flowers and light; some saw her, some did not. Those who saw her felt the need to sing and dance and ask for her protection, because they knew that she was a deity who had come to protect us and our land. They were praying and singing, and the lady came walking on water, all covered in flowers. At that time, the Blacks were sure that a long-awaited help had come. As my mother used to tell, the White masters brought a music band, with various instruments, but when they took her out of the sea, she went back into the waters. She didn’t stay with them. Then came the candombe with its drums. They made a circle with the instruments on the beach and kept singing to her and walking backwards, never taking their eyes off her. They would sing and walk and she came after them. Some say that she sat on a drum named Santana. She stayed with the Blacks, she accepted them. Hence our devotion. It is through this story, told, retold and lived every year, that we affirm our faith. The processions, then, are this: we repeat, every year, the moment when the Lady was brought from the sea to be close to us, and we dance, again, always looking at her. We celebrate and we live the choice of Our Lady of the Rosary. She chose to stand by the side of the Blacks and not with the masters. In this narrative, Blacks are victorious. Our faith is very old and so is tradition.
At that time of captivity, of enslavement, people probably also organized processions in order to clean their space from the evils of the lords, as we still do. Our ancestors went out into the streets to create a party for everyone. The party was meant for the bad landowner, just as it was for the bad landowner’s good son. And it was meant for the bad landowner’s bad son too. He would also feel and would also be soaked by that energy. Water dropping day by day wears the hardest rock away. Today the procession goes to the streets in order to be close to the people and affect everyone: those who like it, those who pretend to like it and those who don’t. As we go by, we are expanding mindsets, breaking chains, breaking hearts. Bad people may turn into good people over time; this is very real, and it happens all the time.
This moment of spiritual being in the urban space brings an energy that will stay in that space. The next day, the following year, it will still be there, and as thoughts connect with that energy, it will multiply. It is an energy of strength, goodness, self-esteem. It helps people to realize that, whatever they are going through, it is temporary. It is a continuous current that generates positivity, abundance, joy, health, and hope for all in the surroundings.
“Hey, Angola, my gunga(21) comes from there, my gunga. Run the world, cross the sea”, the crossing song of those who came from Angola goes. The Blacks, even when they came in a single boat, each had their origin, their own nationality. Congo and Mozambique, as our two Guards are called, have different tones and rhythms. For example, a partido-alto samba, a samba-canção, a samba enredo or a samba de roda:(22) they are all samba, but one can tell by the rhythm which is which. The people of the Mozambique Guard, those from Angola, wear a turban, gungas at their ankles – which are those small cans with seeds to tinkle the sound and accompany the snare – and a stick as a command. The people of the Congo Guard wear a sword, because they are a warrior people, an elite army to protect kings and queens, a powerful fleet. Congo is a powerful country in everything: technology, mining… The people of Congo were captured to be miners, they already knew how to extract diamonds and gold because that’s what they did there, although with other means and functions.
In the old songs, you cannot change the way some words are mispronounced, because that would change the rhyme taught by our ancestors. They said “fulô”(23) not because they didn’t know the correct wa y to say “flower”. They were bilingual; that is why they had some difficulty with certain words, the same as a foreigner will have speaking our language. Our oppressors thought they didn’t speak correctly because they were ignorant, but they could speak more than one language, they were bilingual. They had their own languages; sometimes they are called “dialects”, but they were languages!
The Reinado, our kingdom, is a sort of faith we learn with our parents, with our tatas, with our elders. We see our tatas praying and being thankful for the graces they receive. Out of the blue someone will come to the rescue, to help, and we can stay calm because our divinity, Our Lady, will always solve whatever problem. That is why, as the party approaches, all the energy changes. It starts getting stronger, from inside out. This energy, this healthy strength, our gongá, is a force that flows, vibrates, and spreads around us. It is a kind of energy that encompasses our house, our street, our neighborhood, our country, the whole world. It is an expansive energy; it expands and comes back. Each time this magnificent wave of energy carries good and healthy energy, it returns to us with that same energy. Like the sway of the sea that comes and goes, it goes beautifully and comes back wonderfully.
The Rosary colors are blue, pink, and white, but some people are devoted to other saints, too. There are Our Lady of the Rosary Guards devoted to Saint, to Saint Benedict… Our Lady is in command, but the Guard can be devoted to another saint. The Guard and the Kingdom belong to Our Lady, as a whole. But each house has its own devotion color. In my house, we are the 13th of May Mozambique and Congo Guard, in tribute to the captives’ souls, as our ancestors used to say, and to their freedom. Our color is purple, symbolizing the color of Angola at the time of slavery. It is the color of evolution, of purification.
When people hear us from their houses, they listen to a sound that cures. We are a people of light and strength and every single time we go to the streets we show this. Our procession brings health and peace. Those who like it, enjoy it; and those who don’t like it, have to accept it. The sound is a tribal message. The drums continue talking when our voice is no longer heard. From far away, if someone wants to imitate the sound, they can, even if they can’t hear our singing. That is how far we can go; if we are heard and our sounds are replicated everywhere, we will go further and back to Africa.
The sound of the drums is our arrow, our boomerang; our music is the message of a people. Albeit brought from a faraway land, we know when to pray; we are heard. And even when people are far away, they hear our songs and are given strength, because they remind them of their spirituality, of Our Lady the Virgin of the Rosary, of the Black enslaved people. People are reminded of our strength. That makes those that dislike us tremble, because it is supernatural, ancestral, and spectacular. The music delivers a message to those who need to hear it. The sound is like an individual letter: each person gets their own message by feeling the vibration.
Going out on the streets is an affirmation, a way to show our community that we exist, resist, and worship, and that we keep doing what our tatas used to do. Domestic worship goes where it needs to go, but when we go to the streets and walk around our neighborhood we go beyond. The curing energy goes beyond; it has more reach.
Our ancestors can see us anywhere, in our house or on the streets. They are always invited to come, and they know their responsibility in analyzing what is working and what is not. No one can do it like they did, but we can all do our best. That is spirituality; we don’t walk alone. They know this, and we know they are supporting us, keeping us company, and directing us. As long as we believe, they will be there to help us. Everything in which we believe exists.
As my mom used to say, our ancestors form an astral guard, a celestial guard that is meant for the people that are part of our religious secret. They are the people that came first, that are in heaven, in the energy of the universe. They form part of the Rosary, a big celestial brotherhood, an eternal friendship, an eternal commitment. They are not selective, their energy is of kindness and human mutation; when people have that sort of energy, they don’t just feed their grandkids, but also other people’s grandkids, be them white, Black, blue, Indigenous, Asian, whoever. The energy of our people is about sharing, donating and multiplication. It is pure and involves the whole environment, the whole block, the whole neighborhood. The cure is for everybody, and it goes to every house. Kindness, charity, hope and health for all. Some don’t know that, but we know it and we have extra energy for them.
We, the Bantu people, are different from Umbanda and Candomblé, that stay more within their terreiro,(24) within their conjó. Our nation is different: we share, multiplicate, add, this is our energy. We go where we are needed. Sometimes our path is so long that people who never knew we existed also participate. They are called when they see this happy, Black, strong, and beautiful people. Why are they like this? They don’t have anything, they hardly have teeth, so why are they smiling? Regardless of the situation, we are always happy and we thank Our Lady. The Zambi people are happy, because our happiness lives within us, and that is why we share it, because its source never runs out. It is the seed of gratitude, hope, health, perseverance, and faith. Believing in Zambi is possible for anyone, Bantu or not. We can do wonders with what little we have!
This is what I call partnership, and my grandmother used to call partneraction:(25) a partnership is made of people who come together in favor of their desire; they get together to fulfill their promise. I talk about human people and plants alike, because our surroundings are sacred. Here in our house, many people come to help, be helped, and help us help. Neighboring plants too. As we live in a big city, many plants are becoming extinct, difficult to grow. We understand that the plants we have in our house which we consider sacred will be sacred in other people’s houses, too. We will take care of them both for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters.
With this in mind, our green belt of herbs and sacred plants will always be up to date, at everybody’s disposal. We know that when we lack a certain plant, a certain leaf, we will always find it somewhere else, be it for a bath, some tea, a smoker or simply for the smell of herbs… This is a heritage of our people: cultivating plants. The energies of the universe pass through plants, rivers, the sea, the sky, and inside us. Plants are our food, our medicine.
Spirituality is about caring and kindness. Things present themselves throughout our journey. We believe that our tatas’ journey was not in vain, nor ours will be, nor yours. My mother wanted to walk over the same rocks in the streets of Diamantina our ancestors walked. She knew who had put those rocks there. This happened in 2012, when we went to Diamantina for a Guards procession. Similarly, I stood, in 2018, on stones in Angola that had been engraved with our ancestors’ footsteps. I stood where my grandmother had stood: “I stood in Nzinga, where my grandmother stood!”. And her grandmother also walked many paths…
Ours is an ancestral pedagogy, a different kind of pedagogy: how to walk, why to walk, paying attention to where we step. Everyone has their gift and can share it; everyone has their gift. For my mom, stepping on those same stones could shine and sharpen her gift. Suddenly, on that path that our relatives had walked, that the tatas took, we might recognize a plant, a flower, a different stone. On that path, something will bring us back, beyond the life we are living at the moment, which is very individual. My mother also walked to pay homage to those tatas who built that magnificent place, the city of Diamantina. Stepping on those stone is nothing if we try to imagine those who had to place the stones. She valued our ancestors, who came before us, and their work.
The Rosary means simplicity, faith and health, strength, union, and it means community. When you think about it this way, you can make simple food that will be whole, that will fulfill its promise. In the city, many people think, as they do in many places in the countryside, that the Reinado is Catholic, but it is not. The Rosary does not belong to the church; Our Lady is not exclusive to Catholics. It is an entity, a deity that is worshiped in various situations and combinations. Sometimes politicians and public officials try to give the Guards new uniforms and call them folk groups. If we don’t accept that, they say we are radicals. It’s not about being radicals, it’s about knowing who and waht we really are! We are not folklore. We are religious groups, respectful of the Virgin Mary. The Reinados remained more traditional in cities, compared to the countryside, as they had more freedom of worship. Public power cannot intervene in the groups because there are too many of them. Here there is no State intervention and we neither need nor want that.
1 Cortejos are a kind of street parade or procession in Brazil. They can be religious or non-religious. Usually, they are held by a group of people that walks the streets, following a specific path, and can be accompanied by bands, music, singing and special outfits and paraphernalia.
2 In Portuguese: Reinado.
3 Conjó means house in the Bantu-Brazilian vocabulary.
4 Rosário: Rosary in English. The Rosary Party (Festa do Rosário) is an Afro-Brazilian and Catholic religious manifestation. It celebrates Nossa Senhora do Rosário, as well as the Black people who resisted slavery. It usually accompanied by Congo and Mozambique “kingdoms”, dancing and singing groups also called “guards”, adopting different clothes, rhythms and functions according to their lineage or tradition.
5 Congado is a popular Afro-Brazilian and Catholic festivity, usually associated with Festa do Rosário, where dancing and singing take place, representing the coronation of the Congo king.
6 In Portuguese: Reinado de Nossa Senhora do Rosário.
7 In Portuguese: Guarda in Portuguese. See note 4.
8 The Inconfidência Mineira, or “Minas Gerais Conspiracy” was an unsuccessful separatist movement in Brazil in 1789, inspired by the independence of thirteen of the British colonies in North America and caused by the decline of gold mining in the region. The conspirators were seeking independence from Portugal, and many of them were sentenced to the gallows.
9 In Portuguese: Guarda de Moçambique Treze de Maio de Nossa Senhora do Rosário. The 13th of May is the date Brazilians celebrate the Abolition Act, which outlawed slavery in 1888.
10 In Portuguese: Guarda de Moçambique e Congo Treze de Maio de Nossa Senhora do Rosário.
11 Manacá (Tibouchina mutabilis) is a Brazilian tree from the Atlantic Forest biome.
12 Umbanda is a Brazilian religion that synthetized elements from African religion, Indigenous religions, and Christianity.
13 Camdomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion derived from traditional African religions.
14 Brazilian musical genre originated in the urban Afro-Brazilian communities in Rio de Janeiro in the beginning of the 20th Century.
15 In Portuguese: Boi da Manta. Traditional party where a group of people in costumes parade the streets escorting characters dressed as oxen.
16 Afro-Brazilian Deity, also known as Orixá.
17 Afro-Brazilian Deity, also known as Orixá.
18 Saint John Party, or Festa Junina, is a popular party celebrated in June.
19 Celebrated on September 27th. Saints Cosme and Damião are twin saints from the Catholic religion associated in Brazil with Ibejis, the twin Orixás that represent children.
20 Supreme God in the Bantu Candomblé religion.
21 Gungas represent the chains that were attached to enslaved people, that would rattle when they tried to escape.
22 Different samba varieties.
23 In Portuguese: fulô, a mispronounced way of saying “flower”.
24 Terreiros are the houses of worship of Afro-Brazilian religions.
25 In Portuguese “parcerada”; a made-up word that takes the word radical “parceiro” and adds the sufix “ada” that implies action.