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Macumba (Portuguese pronunciation: [maˈkũᵐbɐ]) is a word of African (Bantu) origins. Various explanations of its meaning include "a musical instrument", the name of a Central African deity, and simply "magic". It was the name used for all Bantu religious practices mainly in Bahia Afro-Brazilian in the 19th century. In the 20th century, these practices re-aligned themselves into what are now called Umbanda, Quimbanda and Omoloko. The term "macumba" became common in some parts of Brazil and it is used by most people as a pejorative meaning "black witchcraft".
The word "macumba" is frequently used in Brazil to refer to any ritual or religion of African origin (as slang), and although its use by non-practitioners remains largely pejorative in intent (referring to all sorts of religious (or otherwise) superstitions and luck-related rituals and beliefs), and is considered offensive, its use among actual practitioners is not viewed negatively. In Brazil one can find expressions such as "chuta que é macumba!" ("kick it, for it be witchcraft!") to show disagreement with bad luck.
As referenced earlier, Macumba is practiced in Brazil. One symbol of Macumba in Amazonas is that of a black man wearing a white Fedora (a depiction of Exu, lord of the crossroads. There appears to be a relationship with the concept of the Boto (the fresh-water porpoise found in the Amazonas River and its tributaries) having shape-shifting abilities and then while in the form of a human male having sexual relations with young women. This belief was noted in several Indian villages along the Amazonas (Solimões) River, Rio Negro and Japurá River.
As an example of how Macumba functions, if a person desires to receive money, he/she visits a person or a shop specializing in Macumba. After paying a sum to the specialist, the person is then given a certain herb gathered in the jungle and is told to put the herb in bathwater and told to bathe in it daily for seven days. The person utilizing the herb is then supposed to receive money thereafter. In Brazil it appears that male adepts often are involved in the dispensing of Macumba knowledge/spells/materials.
In other states, Macumba stands as a strand of an Afro-Brazilian religion called Umbanda.
Macumba is considered an underground religion in Brazil but it is secretly practiced all over the world where there are Brazilian communities. Many Brazilians continue to practice their traditional religions (Christianity, Judaism, etc.) but also practice Macumba secretly, usually at night or the weekends. The spiritual leader of a Macumba center is usually a black woman wearing an all-white garment smoking a corn pipe. During the consultation, she speaks to the spirits in a proprietary language and dances to the spirits in a volatile manner.
Someone who has specific requests for the Macumbera (spiritual leader), such as seeking financial gains, spying on spouses, future predictions, etc., pays her a fee, and she will give tasks to complete in order to fulfill the requests. Some of these tasks are killing a chicken so that the Macumbera can drink its blood, buying large amounts of candy and leaving it on the side of the road for the spirits to consume, but there are many others.
People also use Macumba to inflict harm, financial failure, death, etc. on former spouses, friends, family members, etc. One request that a spiritual leader will ask if you want to inflict harm on a person is to bring a picture of that person to the center. This is one reason, culturally practiced throughout Brazil, that Brazilians do not like to give pictures of themselves to people unless they know the person very well. This is why Macumba is not something talked about publicly in Brazil or in Brazilian communities throughout the world.