Lindsay Hale. Hearing the Mermaids Song: The Umbanda Religion in Rio De Janeiro. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009. 6 x 9 pp208. $26.95 paperback.
Umbanda is a complex and unique religion popular in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It involves mediums who summon spirits of old slaves, Indians, saints, and even young children through trance. It is a mixture of traditional African religious practices brought over by slaves, Catholicism, and sometimes the writings of Allen Kardec; full of African rituals and magic, it still manages to tie in Catholic ideas. Many Afro-Brazilians particularly identify with this religion because of its undeniable African roots. Recently, however, Brazilian people of European descent have begun to practice Umbanda. The spirits talk to members of Umbanda centers through the mediums and help them work through issues and problems they are experiencing. Mediums take on the full mannerisms of the spirit they are channeling during the trances. They talk, sing, move, and even eat like the spirit. There are multiple kinds of spirits that serve different purposes. Old slaves, or pretos velhos, are kind, gentle spirits who are wise and patient. Indian spirits, or Caboclos, are arrogant and brave. All spirits, however, serve the Orixas, or gods, and console people about how to live the right way. (more…)