Las Bolsas de Mandinga: Deconstructing Misconceptions of Traditional African Religions in the Luso-Atlantic World


From the period of Colonial Latin America until modern day, the Portuguese notion of "feitiçaria/magia negra" (festishism/ black magic) has sparked wide interest in not only religious scholars but also adherents to traditional African religions such as Santería, Candomblé, Vodun. The most notable case is the enigma of the Bolsa Mandinga(Mandinga Pouch). The contents inside of the bolsas mandinga not only sparked curiosity among the European elites but also among the Portuguese Inquisition Courts. 

Why were members of the African Portuguese Diaspora using the bolsas? Was it merely part of preserving the traditional West African religions or was it also a means to preserve themselves from evil and subvert colonial Portuguese power? To answer these questions, it is necessary to first understand the individual contents of these powerful talismans.

Based on the contents of the Bolsas de Mandinga, the notions of the Portuguese Inquisition Courts that deemed the mandinga bags as evil/ feiticaria (witchcraft) are misplaced and false due the inherent biases and racist ideologies of the Portuguese colonial powers. Instead of being considered a form of witchcraft, the mandinga pouches actually exemplify Catholic religious syncretism with traditional African religions. 


Maryam Ogunbiyi