Juca Rosa put a spell on Rio

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 10.06.43 AM“José Sebastião da Rosa, known as Juca Rosa, was one of the most important and notable black religious leaders that Rio de Janeiro ever had. Born in 1833, son of an African mother, he worked as a tailor and coachman before becoming the great Pai Quibombo, as he was also called.

In the 1860s, living in the center of the Court, on Senhor dos Passos street, almost on the corner of Núncio street, Rosa led a mysterious sect, which brought together many followers. Besides blacks, slave workers, free & freed, and the capoeiras, there were also, among his followers, politicians, rich merchants, members of the white economic and intellectual elite. Thanks to the prestige he acquired, Rosa established relations with important people in society and his cerimonies brought together members of the most varied social origins, who went to his home in search of his precious – and expensive – advice and vast cures.

In distinct ways, Juca Rosa became a notorious figure in Carioca society at the time. It wasn’t about a mere sorcerer or supplicant, just another among so many other practicioners of different religions and curative arts that inhabited the Court, competing with scientific doctors in a contest for patients. After all, in Rio de Janeiro at the end of the 19th century, the whole country was like this, where the most diverse curative arts existed side by side with the official medicine of the Empire.

Although against the law and arduously combatted by groups of medics and by sectors of the press, the illegal practice of medicine was strongly present in the daily life of all sorts of social sectors. But Juca Rosa, who concentrated the activities of a religious leader and healer, was a special case: his name became synonymous with black religious leader, or “black sorcerer”, as the publications of the era would write, and he was associated with the supersticious practices of ignorant people.

However, an anonymous accusation that accussed him of sexual involvement with several women, directed to the police chief of the Court, interrupted his activities, leaving him in prison. When Rosa’s trial began, on July 5th, 1871, he had already been in jail for 8 months, for the crime of fraud. Following that, he became a constant figure in the traditional newspapers and in the smaller humoristic publications, in one-offs, and even in a theater play; he became news even in other capitals, like Belém and Salvador.

All of them embellished the scandal adding involvement with prostitutes, seamstresses, poor and black women, but also with married white ones, from influential families in the political life of the Court – one of his serious lovers, according to the press speculations, was the wife of an important politician, possibly the author of the accusation. All of this contributed to the characterization of Rosa as an immoral and cruel monster. However, the women, who were the majority of his followers, recognized the leader as a “man of charms”, always well-dressed, using necklaces, rings and other jewels.”

Learn more here (PT)

I came across Mr. Rosa in a short piece by Revista da Semana, from February 14, 1925, which you can find here (in PT). The final part includes one of his expensive prescriptions, which includes how to get a man to marry his lover by boiling leaves, putting them in a bottle, and praying over the bottle then waiting until the wedding day.


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