But Erik the Red was not in the mood to party.
In Venezuela, Adoration Meets Blend of Traditions
Blood trickled from points on his face, which he had punctured with a nail. He staggered under his red cape. Yet he went on with his duties, blessing a teenage girl in search of good fortune in romance and rubbing the belly of a middle-aged housewife suffering from a hernia. To one and all, he offered sips from his horn.
“One is born with this ability to channel positive energies,” explained the medium, Juan Antonio Castillo, 42, a shoe salesman who said he had been possessed by the Norseman and carried out the ritual accordingly. “Erik,” he said admiringly, “was first a pirate, then a farmer, then a great warrior who made it to Greenland.”
María Lionza, with its ever-growing pantheon of saints and spirits, has emerged as one of the New World’s most malleable religions, blending Catholicism with West African traditions and many other customs. Across Venezuela, it is symbolized in statues depicting a sensuous María Lionza, an Indian woman riding a tapir — the South American herbivore related to the rhinoceros — while holding a human pelvis in her upstretched arms. As many as 30 percent of Venezuela’s 27 million people, from varying social classes, take part in its rites, according to anthropologists.
María Lionza is said to draw on centuries-old rituals by Caquetío and Jirajara Indians who resisted Catholic evangelization, but historians say it crystallized around the end of the 19th century or the start of the 20th, around the time the teachings of Léon Dénizarth-Hippolyte Rivail, a Frenchman who popularized trance communications under the name Allan Kardec, became fashionable in Caracas and other Latin American cities.
Since then, María Lionza has constantly evolved, absorbing with each generation new spirits that can be appealed to for guidance. Followers channel the souls of both local heroes like Pedro Camejo, known as Negro Primero, a slave who fought in the independence war here against Spain, and despots, like the legendary dictator Juan Vicente Gómez.
Even Venezuela’s infamous violent crime seems to be represented. Some devotees in recent decades have started paying tribute to “santos malandros,” or holy thugs who somehow became legendary for feats of crime in the slums of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.
Some traditional “courts,” or groupings of similar spirits, offer prominence for once-marginalized historic figures like Negro Miguel, leader of a 16th century slave revolt. Then there are newer groupings like Erik the Red’s Viking Court, which anthropologists believe stemmed from fascination with a 1970s television show about Vikings.
“María Lionza is one of the most syncretic religions I have ever encountered,” said Wade Glenn, an anthropologist at Tulane University who has studied María Lionza’s evolution.
The pilgrimage to Sorte Mountain here in Yaracuy State each October offers a glimpse into the rituals of María Lionza. More than 5,000 devotees come from Venezuela and abroad, including Colombia, the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Aruba.
Then the Marialionceros, as followers call themselves, start their rituals, scheduled to take place around Venezuela’s Day of Indigenous Resistance, the October holiday here that is a counterpoint to Columbus Day in the United States.
Earlier this decade, local news reports suggested that some devotees saw President Hugo Chávez as a reincarnation of Simón Bolívar, who is the hero of Venezuela’s liberation from Spain and a revered saint in María Lionza.
But there were no signs in Sorte that such reverence for the president had taken root. Images of Mr. Chávez, while usually ubiquitous in rural Venezuela, were absent here. Some devotees said they liked Mr. Chávez. Others said they did not.
The pilgrims visit shrines to María Lionza, whom they call “the queen.” At some shrines, she is depicted as an Indian princess. At others, she is portrayed with fair skin and green eyes.
Some devotees smoke cigars and recite chants as they pray for good fortune in the months ahead. Others go much further. They draw elaborate designs on the ground with chalk, and lie within them awaiting cleansing before spirits possess them. Then they prick their faces with razor blades or make incisions in their chests with machetes. They writhe in apparent agony, or ecstasy. Some speak in tongues.
“Our time in Sorte gives us the opportunity to get away from the daily burdens of our lives,” said Delwin Rodríguez, 35, who works as a fabric salesman in Guarapiche in eastern Venezuela.
The pilgrimage’s most frenzied point comes at midnight, at the start of the Day of Indigenous Resistance. The fire dance begins. To the hypnotic pounding of drums, more than 20 devotees dressed as Indians jump through burning pyres of wood, a chance to demonstrate imperviousness while possessed by spirits.
They dance on the embers, mixing expressions of glee, agony and indifference. Some put pieces of burning wood in their mouths. At each movement, a helper shadows them, taking swigs of cocuy, a Venezuelan liquor made from the agave plant. The helper spits out the cocuy in a spray aimed at the feet of each devotee.
“I feel wonderful,” said Anderson Rodríguez, 23, a participant in the fire dance, showing his unscathed feet afterward. He said he hoped that his devotion would advance his wishes to get a job at the Morón oil refinery near here. “I adore my queen,” he said, “and I hope, now, that she can lift my chances in this life.”
La Ventanita de Tucho: ‘¡Periplo por tierra de María Lionza!’
Martes, 27 de Octubre de 2009 22:24
Estas festividades constituyen parte del conjunto cultural de Venezuela; el cantautor neoyorquino Willie Colón y el panameño Rubén Blades, entonan una inspiración en homenaje a Lionza, que empieza así: “En la montaña de Sorte por Yaracuy en Venezuela, vive una diosa, noble reina de gran belleza y de gran bondad...”. Ella es el centro de la trilogía de máxima jerarquía en las cortes espirituales venezolanas, integrada por ‘Guaicaipuro’, Gran Cacique de Los Caracas y el ‘Negro Felipe’, luchador durante las guerras de la independencia de Venezuela.
La ceremonia se extiende a lo largo y ancho del territorio venezolano; flores, velas, velones, inciensos, rezos, puros, licor, Padre Nuestros y Ave Marías, sobresalen en casi toda Venezuela y posiblemente en el mundo, donde residan ciudadanos de este país.
El enraizado ‘Baile de la Candela’, convocó a más de seis mil personas, el fuego emblema de la fe cubría Quibayo; el rito se realiza en la medianoche, justo empezando el 12 de octubre; las caravanas deben inscribirse; la falta de alojamiento, implica armar carpas a lo largo de la ribera del río; la celebridad, se inicia cantando las sagradas notas del Himno de Venezuela y varios actos culturales, grupos folklóricos de diversos países y hasta una representación de nuestra patria se pudo apreciar.
Los ‘Marialonceros’ danzan descalzos sobre tizones de brasas; llama viva que no les quema la piel; según explicación de los creyentes, “los espíritus toman su cuerpo”; el número de espiritistas, se preparan durante tres meses consecutivos, sin comer carne ni tener relaciones sexuales, porque debilita el cuerpo; sólo se alimentan con frutas. Al ritmo, “¡Que le den, que le den!” y en coro ¡FUERZA! Y entre licor y tabaco, los espiritistas se mantienen trasportados. Las tradiciones y profesar culto, merecen ser respetadas... aun en contra de nuestra voluntad.
Eduardo Velásquez García