Bahia: inquisition and society

Image: Roger Hilton (1960)


Commentary on the Book of Luiz Mott

Luiz Mott is an anthropologist by training and a historian by vocation. An excellent ambivalence, as evidenced by his vast historical work, always original, documented and pioneering.

Bahia: Inquisition and society it is yet another demonstration of his consistency as a historian and, more than that, of the ease with which he moves in the various domains of history. Bringing together studies based on inquisitorial sources – but not only on them – the book rescues Bahian colonial history from the margins, focusing on themes absent from any history of Bahia, so to speak, more canonical.

The choice of some themes addressed in the book seems inspired by what the Italian Jesuit, Jorge Benci, wrote at the end of the XNUMXth century: “Oh, if the streets and alleys of the cities and towns of Brazil could speak! How many sins would they publish, which covers the night and does not discover the day... and which the pen trembles and is amazed to write them”. The Jesuit's pen trembled just thinking about the sins of Bahia de Todos os Santos. Luiz Mott's keyboard, on the contrary, is strummed with uncontained enthusiasm and eagerness.

This applies, first of all, to texts related to sexuality and witchcraft. “Misadventures of a sodomite convict in seventeenth-century Bahia” is a masterpiece of micro-biography, crossing cultural and social history, all tempered by copulations, kisses and caresses between the character and his partners.

“A Dominican sorcerer in Colonial Salvador” tells us the amazing story of Friar Alberto de Santo Tomás, a religious who fought the devil by resorting to healers and blessings. Patients of his, assured the friar, expelled the evil through variegated filth, from safety pins to “bugs, armpit hair and black hair”.

“Quatro mandigueiros do sertão de Jacobina” offers valuable evidence of African religiosity, as well as of inquisitorial action against slaves, something unusual at that time. More usual, on the contrary, was manorial violence against slaves, the subject of “Torture of slaves and heresies in Casa da Torre”, Mott's classic study on the cruelties perpetrated by Garcia d'Ávila Pereira de Aragão, the largest landowner in Brazil in the XNUMXth century.

Luiz Mott's versatility as a historian appears clearly in two institutional history texts, "The Inquisition in Ilhéus" and "O Cônego João Calmon, commissioner of the Holy Office in Bahia", both focused on the relations between the inquisitorial machine in Bahia and colonial society. The book ends with a study of total history, in the long run (1740-1854), encompassing demography, economy and society. But the subject is of ethno-historical inspiration: the indigenous population of southern Bahia. Luiz Mott deals with these more conventional themes with the same expertise revealed in the treatment of spicy themes. The same heuristic rigor. Almost the same passion...

The first words of the book reveal Luiz Mott's profile as an engaged intellectual, when he condemned, with regard to the inquisitorial history, “any kind of intolerance” and sectarian fundamentalism. The final words of the work resume the idealist spirit: “that Indians, blacks and whites build a new society based on equal rights for all citizens, regardless of their race, sex or sexual orientation”. I sign below the words of Luiz Mott, historian who, without prejudice to scientific rigor, produces a sensitive, solidary and humanist history.

*Ronaldo Vainfas is a retired history professor at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). Author, among other books, of The Heresy of the Indians: Catholicism and Rebellion in Colonial Brazil (Company of Letters).

Originally published on Journal of Reviews no. 10, November 2010.



Louis Mott. Bahia: inquisition and society. Salvador, EDUFBA, 294 pages.


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