- Carved of wooden and painted with tar, Saint Bilibeu is alleged to bestow fertility on the land, animals and girls, and is worshipped yearly within the territory belonging to the Akroá Gamella folks in Brazil’s Maranhão state.
- The ritual, which incorporates Catholic components, lasts for 4 days and sees a procession of individuals dressed as looking canine collect food and drinks to supply to Saint Bilibeu.
- As soon as celebrated throughout Carnaval, as we speak the ritual is held on April 30 in recognition of an assault by ranchers on the Akroá Gamella group throughout a land dispute in 2017.
He’s known as Bilibeu, Saint Bilibeu, and even Bilibreu. Carved of wooden and painted with tar, this saint is alleged to deliver fertility to the earth, to animals, and to girls. He’s worshipped yearly by the Akroá Gamella Indigenous individuals who reside on the land between the municipalities of Viana, Matinha and Penalva within the Brazilian state of Maranhão.
“Bilibeu lives within the forests, the creeks, the sky and amongst us,” says Maria Roxa Akroá Gamella, an area shaman.
The ritual, composed of components from Catholicism, lasts for 4 days and includes a race that, this yr, went on for 12 hours. The concept is to journey by way of all of the villages within the territory and do justice to the Akroá Gamella by saying “our ft are our scriptures.” It’s meant to affirm that the invasion of conventional lands that occurred from the Sixties to the Nineteen Eighties doesn’t invalidate the possession by Indigenous folks from time immemorial. “Folks did this within the previous instances. They walked to go to all 4 corners of the territory yearly,” says Borges Akroá Gamella.
Thought-about extinct by the Brazilian authorities, the Akroá Gamella had been known as mulattos, or a mixed-race folks, for many years. As a result of their id — and consequently their tradition — had been censored, the Akroá Gamella stored their worship of the non secular entities they consider inhabit their territory a secret. However Bilibeu didn’t have to be hidden: he remained public as a result of he turned a part of Carnaval celebrations. “He survived as a result of it is a time when all the pieces is allowed,” says Domingos Akroá Gamella, one of many folks chargeable for praying the saint’s novena.
So Bilibeu has all the time been allowed to exist on the streets throughout the pageant, when dozens of youngsters and adults, their our bodies painted with charcoal, embody “Bilibeu’s Hounds” and go “looking” from home to accommodate, village to village. The hounds, led by the figures of a margay and a jaguar, each wild cats, accumulate food and drinks from every dwelling to supply as much as the saint. At a sure level within the ritual, Bilibeu dies, is buried as the ladies cry, and is reborn the next morning to proceed bringing abundance and fertility to the Akroá Gamella folks. “I’ve been going out as a Bilibreu hound since I used to be 12,” says Pyn Capric Akroá Gamella, now 24.
One among Bilibeu’s most necessary roles is as a purveyor of fertility. Underneath his garments, he carries a phallus, and when girls grow to be pregnant, Bilibeu is taken into account the daddy. Within the rituals following delivery, mom and youngster supply their thanks via paying their guarantees. The mom presents breast milk to Bilibeu as she had promised. When they’re large enough, the kids grow to be hounds in his pack. The necessity to maintain dwelling (and being born) has stored the ritual alive yr after yr since time immemorial.
The ritual was accepted throughout Carnaval, however was all the time considered unusual by these from the skin. It survived on the road between play and the weird, as a result of on the day of the hunt, the hounds sublimate their humanity and eat uncooked meat in entrance of everybody. The chickens provided to the saint are torn aside in a violent struggle between folks personified as hounds. The profitable canine runs away carrying the top of the chicken it has gained in its mouth. By means of his hounds, Bilibeu drinks cachaça, a sugarcane liquor, and eats pigs and fowl or the rest the proprietor of a house visited by the pack could supply. Through the race, the choices are thrown into the air or buried in order that the canine could dig them up with their paws.
‘Are they actually Indians?’
In recent times, the Akroá Gamella folks have chosen a unique date for the Bilibeu ritual that doesn’t fall throughout Carnaval week. Since 2018, they’ve held it on April 30 — a day marked by a lot ache, disappointment, and anger. It was on today in 2017 that two Akroá Gamella males had been maimed and one other two dozen wounded in a conflict with some 300 ranchers and alleged landowners within the area. “They needed it to be a day of grief, however we reworked it right into a day to struggle,” says group chief Kum’tum Akroá Gamella.
The assault occurred within the late afternoon of April 30, 2017. “It’s 5 p.m. proper now. It was kind of right now that we had been attacked precisely 5 years in the past,” Kum’tum says in a speech throughout one of many parades that the hounds held throughout the hunt. “At this time’s race is key for instructing our youth our methods. We solely struggle for the issues that we all know,” he declares to the younger folks round him.
On the time of the 2017 assault, it had been three years for the reason that Akroá Gamella had publicly declared themselves to be an Indigenous folks. By that point, they’d taken possession of a couple of dozen plots of land, sparking an outcry from the ostensible landowners, anti-Indigenous political teams, and native spiritual leaders. The “opposition,” as they consult with their political adversaries, started organizing themselves to reply to the Akroá Gamella’s repossession of land.
In keeping with the Akroá Gamella, the assault was deliberate throughout a collection of conferences at Protestant evangelical church buildings, the place spiritual leaders, together with one recognized solely as O.S., would ask for cash or weapons to reply to the repossession. “O.S. would go to the church buildings asking for cash or weapons. If [a person] didn’t have 300 reais [$55], they might donate a gun,” says an Akroá Gamella particular person who used to frequent one of many evangelical church buildings and requested to not be recognized or to provide the total names of these concerned for concern of retaliation.
Two days earlier than the assault, Brazilian congressman Aluisio Mendes, as we speak a member of the evangelical Christian Social Celebration (PSC), and the identical native spiritual leaders went on an area radio station to name folks to a protest known as the March for Peace. At a rally the next day, Mendes railed in opposition to the Indigenous folks. In one of many few movies obtainable on the web, he may be seen saying that “nobody right here has cockroach blood, nobody will settle for this provocation.” For a lot of, it was a foreshadowing of what would occur hours later.
“It was a very laborious time, I actually don’t like to consider it,” says Zé Canário Akroá Gamella, who misplaced the motion in his proper hand after it was almost severed with a machete throughout the assault.
“I used to be shot within the again, and minimize on my arm and on my leg,” says Aldeli Akroá Gamella, whose limbs had been additionally hacked. “They needed to function on my mouth and on my head. They didn’t beat me.”
The episode was so brutal that it drew world media consideration. The Akroá Gamella’s self-declared ethnic id was questioned principally by native media, society and authorities officers. “Are they actually Indians?” was the query that reverberated behind information reveals on April 30. Authorities officers strengthened the uncertainty by utilizing phrases like “supposed Indigenous folks” and “pseudo-Indigenous folks” to consult with them, and “supposedly Indigenous land” to consult with the land they had been claiming as their very own.
Most of the Akroá Gamella had been Protestant evangelicals. However once they declared themselves Indigenous, they’d to decide on between the evangelical group and their id as a folks. Some went a method and a few went the opposite. “So then, I declared that I’m an Indian, one of many Akroá Gamella folks,” says an ex-evangelical member of the group, who requested to not be recognized. “After I confirmed up with paint on, they thought it was unusual, and mentioned that this wasn’t one thing a believer would do, that it was of the satan.”
Bilibeu is just not the Akroá Gamella folks’s solely supernatural being; their territory is dwelling to many non secular entities. Actually, their repossession of conventional lands in 2017 was aimed toward recovering the Fragato, a sacred web site the place they consider a mermaid, or “Water Mom,” lives, who was susceptible to dying as a result of the land round it was being dried up by a farm.
However Bilibeu is probably the most iconic of the spirits. The wealthy particulars of his ritual have been maintained over the a long time, even throughout the time his folks had been thought-about extinct. “Bilibeu is neither right here nor there,” says Pjhcre Akroá Gamella. “Ask him softly in his ear the place he lives and he’ll let you know,” she teases, sidestepping questions concerning the ritual that, after her folks’s self-declaration, is gaining new which means amid the sacred traditions of the Akroá Gamella.
Banner picture of a Bilibeu “hound” carrying a masks fabricated from pindoba palm leaves, by Ana Mendes.
This story was reported by Mongabay’s Brazil crew and first revealed right here on our Brazil web site on July 4, 2022.
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