South-South connections: Brazilian Pentecostalism in Mozambique and ‘cultural distancing’

By Linda van de Kamp In 2007, Madam Gracelina (45 years old) was going to open a business with her husband in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. She had managed to rent a nice building for their company at a central location in the city centre and had bought all the necessary equipment. There were also some possible future customers Dona Gracelina was in contact with and she was all ready to start. However, after having dealt with the right government department in Maputo for several months, government officials would not hand over the required licence. She suspected that the officials were waiting for her to pay them an additional sum of money to proceed, but she refused. In the Brazilian Pentecostal God is Love Church that she frequented, she handed over the project file with the company plans and copies of all the papers she had to arrange for the licence to a Brazilian pastor. He would take it with him on his travels until he was back in Brazil where the church’s founder was going to pray for her. During the service it was revealed that an evil spirit stood behind Dona Gracelina and this was following her wherever she went. The pastor expelled the spirit and proposed a programme of prayer, offerings and fasting to defeat the demon.

Studies on religious transnationalism have addressed the role of religion for migrants in maintaining the link between the home and host society. A central question is how transnational religion plays a role in preserving a sense of cultural continuity or in encouraging cultural change in contact between migrants and the new society in which migrants are subjected to a forceful public agenda that usually emphasizes integration. In this context, it has been argued that transnational Pentecostalism encourages stability in situations of mobility and provides for cultural continuity by offering migrants a ‘home away from home’.  

In the case of Brazilian Pentecostalism in Mozambique we are not, however, dealing with a migrant community. Mozambican converts continue to live in their own society while participating in a setting where relations are developed and maintained that link Brazilian and Mozambican societies. What exactly is the relevance of transnational religion and related questions on cultural (dis)continuity and (dis)integration in such an environment?

In the case of transnational Pentecostalism in Mozambique, converts’ cultural nearness to the local society appears critical. Brazilian Pentecostalism in Mozambique demonstrates the locally embedded meaning and development of transnationalism. Being part of the local society, unlike in situations of migration, many converts struggle to understand how their Pentecostal morality and spirituality can remain unaffected or even ‘uncaptured’ by local circumstances, powers or cultural realities. They want to become independent of locally binding forces, i.e. to become more culturally and socio-economically mobile and to cross boundaries. One example is the case of Dona Gracelina.

Madam Gracelina felt paralyzed because of the power the government officials had over her: she was being kept by ‘evil national powers’. It was through transnational Pentecostalism that she would be able to break out of this situation, something that was made real with the business papers that would leave the country to receive a blessing in Brazil. In this context Dona Gracelina was made aware of the negative impact of national spiritual connections: through her possible links with ancestral or other spirits her project was failing but by engaging in transnational Pentecostalism she could move away from these ‘origins’.

As outsiders, Brazilian pastors confront Mozambicans in a variety of ways with what their culture or life looks like. To question the power of local healers, the pastors mimic the behaviour of the healers when they are in a trance. They bring objects into church that local healers work with and show that they can touch them without any negative consequences. In the traditional Mozambican context this is considered offensive and dangerous but the pastors show that one should not be afraid if one is in the sphere of influence of the borderless power of the Holy Spirit. Another example is the so-called therapy of love (‘terapia do amor’). The therapy is a public meeting that resembles a church service but is dedicated to the subjects of marriage, love and sexuality. Thousands of people participate every week and most of them are young (aged 15-35). During one therapy session, the pastor imitated the behaviour of Mozambican couples who, according to Brazilians, are shy, do not have the courage to look each other in the eyes or to touch their partner in public spaces. Then the pastor held hands with his wife, embraced her and gave her a kiss to show what love is but also to demonstrate the shortcomings of local customs. By doing all this openly, the pastors want to force open cultural values as a way of bringing about transformation. They urge converts to cross cultural and spiritual boundaries, extending the tradition that spiritual practices involve boundaries that can be transcended.

Mozambicans do not travel literally to cross boundaries. Brazilian pastors have done so and it is their trajectory that creates a space of mobility. The dislocation by Brazilian pastors within and outside Brazil who leave their homes and families to preach the gospel  is valued as an important strategy of spiritual development because, by leaving one’s family, it is possible to be fully dedicated to the missionary project. The geographical journey facilitates a radical break with one’s former life and allows for the formation of a new person. During services in Mozambique, Brazilian pastors often used their personal journeys as an example of what faith looks like and what it can achieve. To transform, one has to travel and transcend the familiar, including one’s family and culture, and suffer hardships to create new possibilities. By participating in Brazilian Pentecostalism one embarks on a journey. Mozambican believers leave elements of local culture behind, begin to experience their lives differently and see things in a new light. Since converting, Dona Gracelina had started to walk through the city with a particular attitude, alert to all the (evil) influences that could affect her. Even though bodies remain in the same location physically, the subjective dislocation and the transnational positioning have the same effect as embarking on a real journey regarding social and cultural perceptions, values and practices.

Between 2005 and 2008, Linda van de Kamp did research in Mozambique as part of the research programme ‘Conversion Careers in Global Pentecostalism:  A Comparative Study in Four Continents’, funded by the ‘The Future of the Religious Past’ programme of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and hosted by the department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam and the African Studies Centre, Leiden. On September 16th, she successfully defended her thesis ‘Violent Conversion: Brazilian Pentecostalism and the Urban Pioneering of Women in Mozambique’. 

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