Lady Exúa Sings The Blues: Contextualizing Ritual Response to Violence and Gendered Conflict in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


African American Studies


Linda Carty

Subject Categories

African American Studies


Lady Exúa refers to the spirit entity Pomba Gira, a "wicked harlot" popular not only in the northeastern state of Brazil called Bahia, but petitioned for intervention in marital affairs, love, and financial situations by socially marginalized folks across the social periphery of South America's largest country. Because appeals to this feminine version of exú (derived from the Yoruba Eshu, transferred to the Americas as Exú, and demonized in Brazil as "the Devil") are considered to be immoral, often characterized as "pacts with the devil," the religion has been legally and socially repressed at different periods in history. Lady Exúa "sings the blues" because she explicitly addresses those tropes--love and loneliness, domestic violence and abandonment, sexual agency and freedom--themed in provocative requests for her spiritual intervention. The "blues" lamented in ritual appeals to exús are the subject of this thesis which employs multidisciplinary ethnography to contextualize pragmatic religion in subjective context, as a means of responding to a lived reality. The analysis not only considers how rituals reflect subjective experience, social marginality and economic disenfranchisement, but it also delves into the meaning of ordinary persons' conscious attempts to enact immediate change in their lives. Often obscured in the ambivalence of private desire, petitions to trickster spirits are also material representations of conscious opposition to conventional social arrangements and a status quo where realities are too often defined by public displays of violence and the private traumas of interpersonal conflict.


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