Urban Sorcery, Segregation, and Ethnographic Spectacle in Twentieth-Century Rio de Janeiro

Lee, Ana Paulina

In twentieth-century Rio de Janeiro, police and local authorities addressed “black magic practices” through surveillance and regulation that were related to new cartographic and discursive imaginaries of urban reform and segregation. Police raids were a common occurrence, and journalists who wrote about sorcerers and sorcery participated in a discursive mapping of Rio de Janeiro’s new urban imaginaries. This article examines a set of public health laws and policing tactics that monitored the activities of poor women and Afro-Brazilian spirituality under the assumption that their practices constituted black magic. Accusations of witchcraft represented a spectacle in which ideas adapted from eugenics and racial science to urban planning and capitalist modernity were enacted. Equally important, sorcery scenes present an important set of counter-narratives that demonstrate the ways in which urban residents deployed strategic performances as sorcerers and fortunetellers to counter police narratives that considered their bodies and activities to be heterodox and inadequate for secular urban modernity.

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Luso-Brazilian Review

More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Published Here
April 8, 2022