Chair in History and Anthropology of Meso-American and South American Societies
My current work on Marranism in the Iberian world focuses on present-day Brazil.
Ethnographic enquiry into descendants of New Christians is hardly simple to pursue, since even today the Marrano phenomenon is by definition characterized by secrecy, and remains clandestine. This has, however, been a little less the case recently, so by following the tortuous paths of meetings sending me from one back to another, I have become acquainted with a certain number of informants willing to share their personal itineraries with me, as well as traits particular to their respective families. Over the past five or six years, in fact, especially in northeastern Brazil, a movement of “return” to Judaism has developed among many people claiming to be descendants of the “New Christians” of the colonial period.
Several of those with whom I spoke can trace extensive genealogies easily going back to the 18th century (or even far earlier). Moreover, the life stories which I've already gathered contain numerous and striking recurrent practices.
All of the families in question—Christian of course—have maintained customs (into the present) which attract our notice: respect of dietary rules (such as the prohibition against pork, fish without scales, etc.), candle-lighting on Friday evenings, reading only the Old Testament, specific funerary rites, etc.
All of these elements converge to suggest the survival, whether conscious or unconscious, of a Marrano memory.
It is for this reason that at this stage in my research I have opted for a more anthropological orientation, and to emphasize fieldwork. The latter is necessarily inscribed within a comparative perspective, since for several years I have been interested as well in the evolution of the Mexican community of Venta Prieta, near Pachuca, whose members also claim to be descended from the “New Christians” of the colonial period. Thus, while continuing this study, I now intend to concentrate my efforts on the new Brazilian terrain I have discovered. Hence my research brings me to the deep sertão, especially the states of Pernambuco, Paraiba and Rio Grande do Norte. My objective, for the medium-term, is to reconstruct the ties between past and present, that is, to continue to combine the problematics and the methods of the two disciplines of history and anthropology.