... in religion

San La Muerte

29 Jan 2006 | 736 words | religion popular culture argentina

Even though i cant really read Spanish (let alone speak it), i spend a fair amount of time in book stores in Buenos Aires which ultimaetely paid off as i found a very intreaguing book titled ‘San La Muerte – Una Voz Extraña‘ (also available via Amazon UK.

The book which combines numerous photographs with 6 essays (in Spanish and English) explores the rituals and practices of the worshippers of the ‘folk-saint’ San La Muerte (‘Saint Death’). The cult of San La Muerte originates from northeastern Argentina (the Corrientes & Chaco provinces which are among the poorest regions of the country) and the bordering regions of Paraguay, but has spread to other regions such as the poorer working class suburbs of Buenos Aires and other cities.

San La Muerte is worshipped through little statuettes carved out of wood, bone or lead: a skeleton sitting or standing, often bearing a scythe. Throughout the year he is worshipped in virtual secrecy, but on August 15 “messes” are being said before the altars of household shrines. Some devotees even chose to insert images of San La Muerte – chiseled on a bullet or a human phalanx – under their skin, a practice that is increasingly replaced by having images of the ‘Santito’ tattooed on one’s body for protection.

For some, San La Muerte offers an absolutely personal and non-transferable protection that will only be accessible to another when – after one’s own death – he or she is in the possession of the sculpture. Others – which doctors and payés – invoke the saint’s power on behalf of customers and patients , all the while concealing the image from sight. To some others, he is a household saint concealed in some corner of the house, bestowing his protection upon all family members with no distinction whatsoever.

He receives offerings in exchange for favors related to the main problems that plague human existence. The saint helps to restore love, health and fortune, protects worshipper from witchcraft, heals people upon whom somebody has cast the evil eye, he also grants good luck in gambling […] and may bring death upon th enemies off his devotees.

He is said to be the fairest of saints. according to some he is a fair saint because he allows for the recovery of stolen objects and punishes the misappropriators. Others refer to the justice inherent in death since it takes all humans without disctinction: rich and poor, powerful and powerless.

San La muerte sticks to a moral code that must be obeyed. In the cult of San La Muerte, even people who break the law and resort to violence have numerous obligation towards the saint, which they must honor in exchange for his protection. The cult is is based on punishment and submission; to be granted a grace the saint must even be threatened. The saint can be threatened with hunger or banishment to an uninhabited place until the favor is granted. When graces are granted, the siant must be rewarded and fed but never fully, so that he may soon be willing to grant another grace.

While one requests favors from the Gauchito (Gaucho Gil – or other saints for that matter) one must demand them from San La Muerte. [excerpted from the various essays in the book]

What i find particularly fascinating are the various requirements that seem to determine the powers of the individual representations of San La Muerte. The Saint is especially popular among criminals and the most powerful saints are made by prison inmates. While most figures are either carved from wood or human bone there are a couple of materials that have special powers. When it comes to wood the most intense, strongest images are carved from dead people’s coffins of from crucifixes of people who died recently, not more than seven years back.

Among devotees, fired bullets, those that wounded and, more specifically, killed a Christian man are regarded as the most powerful materials to be used for carving a saint figure.

Whatever the material according to orthodox requirements the completed saints must be consecrated by a catholic priest for seven times (this is mostly archived by hiding the figures in or under another object which is presented for consecration). if the saint is carved out of the bone of a christian man It only has to be consecrated 5 times as it ‘has already been consecrated twice’.

Born again camera

Among other things i dropped my camera (a canon powershot pro1) today. I had dropped it once before and nothing had happened then but today it broke. The 30 cm fall from a table on a stone floor resulted in parts of the casing coming of the body and the trigger casing being broken so that the trigger did not work anymore. (no pictures of the damage here as the camera is broken). Of course it sucks if you are far away from home and have 10 more days to explore the back alleys of Bangalore. But then the same back alleys can give new life to almost any piece of electronic equipment:

For the sake of comparison we first went to the official canon service center form digital cameras somewhere in the vast northwestern extensions of Bangalore city and there i got exactly the treatment i expected. They told me that my camera was broken and needed to be fixed and that they could not do that themselves but had to send it to Delhi which would at least take a week (knowing Canon, that means 6 weeks or more – my last experience with their service in europe concerned getting a replacement battery charger and that would have taken them 6 weeks even though it was a shipping model!). They also could not tell me how much it would cost but they were sure that the entire body needed to be replaced (read: will be very expensive). But as i said we only went to canon for comparison and after this everything else could only be better.

Next we went to national market which is your location in Bangalore if you want to get anything electronic and/or digital. From the latest Nokia phone to last week’s hollywood release on dvd (or last month’s bollywood release as the pirates respect the national entertainment industry slightly more than hollywood and give them a month or so of exclusivity for their theatrical releases). Lawrence had told me about a stall that where it should be possible to get the camera repaired, but the guy only sold cameras. he did however pointed me to a stall in another market around the corner where someone would be able to fix my camera.

At this stall there were two gentlemen sitting in the middle of a pile of cameras in all states of disassembly (and a framed picture of someone in a suit that was obviously taken during the middle of the last century but according to them it was nevertheless ‘the inventor of the camera’). Unfortunately they were to busy to repair my camera before monday but assured me that come monday morning i would get it repaired for rs. 250 and that it would take no more than two hours.

Ajith Camera Repair

We went back to national market in order to buy some DVDs but on the way back i noticed a sign stating ‘Ajith Camera Repair at the end of a narrow dark hallway. So went to see Ajith who was sitting in a 2 square meter room that was filled with cameras and other electronic equipment in advanced stages of disassembly. Nothing in the room looked like it had been produced in the 21st century, but Ajith was confident that he could fix my camera in 15 minutes for a ‘simple price’. So i left my Camera with him and in exchange he gave us a little booklet ‘Why you must be Born Again’ by Edmonds Owhorode. Shaina asked him if he was a Born Again Christian which he confirmed and i knew my camera would be born again to. Actually it took my camera 3 times 15 minutes to rise from the ashes but the price was indeed simple: a mere 200 rupees which is less than 4 euros.


Why you must be born again

update (12.11): Lawrence told me today that a friend of his has actually been commissioned a while back by a camera manufacturer to research why the cameras sold in India had fewer defects than the cameras sold elsewhere. They concluded that from the fact that the percentage of cameras brought in for repair is significantly lower than in other countries. I guess this is simply due to the fact that nobody brings them to the authorized service centers because they suck.

São Paulo 2001

25 Oct 2005 | 356 words | São Paulo urbanism religion future

Yesterday i seriously thought i would not like São Paulo. It seemed empty for a city with 16 million-or-so inhabitants. And the people who where on the streets where either selling incense, crystals and other hippie-shit (on the Praça Republica next to my hotel) or the seemed to be a bit too fond of tattoos and body manipulations for my taste (all the kids i ran into on the subway on their way to some kind of tattoo convention). But mostly they were simply absent.

The lack of people on the streets was apparently also due to the fact that it was sunday AND referendum-day and brazilians seem to take both their sundays and there referendums rather serious. As far as the latter are concerned it even seems that the police is not allowed to arrest anyone 3 days prior to any election/referendum as this would mean that the arrested cannot vote. apparently this law is a relic from a past when politicians would get supporters of their opponents arrested so they could not vote. As far as i understand this it is not that crimes in this period go unpunished but rather the arrests will be delayed.

Anyway i have changed my mind about the city. This place is absolutely mind boggling. It is pretty much what i would have imagined a 21st century megalopolis when i was a kid. The city center is an anarchic chaos of high rise buildings which seen as a whole has a heterogeneous beauty that surpasses the clinic beauty of places like Amsterdam by orders of magnitude. Combine this with science fiction attributes like heli-pads on top of lots of buildings (that people actually seem to use for helicopter travel within the city), lots of satellite dishes and other aerials, private properties surrounded by electric fences and churches that have their own parking garages underneath them (pay by credit card!) and i am sold to São Paulo.

Tonight on Avenida Paulista there was a open air screening of Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘. This is probably the most appropriate places to screen this movie i have seen so far.

Playboy == hijab?

12 Oct 2005 | 105 words | fashion religion islam london

Another trip to london another blurry phone-cam picture of girls in black (here is the last one). i was sitting on the Hammersmith tube on my way to the hotel when two college girls stepped in. One of them was wearing a black dress and a black headscarf quite obviously for religious reasons. Generally one would assume that women who dress this way do this to comply with the modesty that the Qur’an requires from muslims. However this girl was openly carrying a playboy branded notebook which – at least me – is hard to reconcile with the very concept of hijab…

schoolgirl in london

How to email the Hezbollah?

01 Jun 2005 | 158 words | lebanon social media politics religion security

Before meeting with a PLO representative who runs a youth center in Shabra. we had to send scans of our passports to Hezbollah so they could run a background check on us before our visit with one of their media representatives on thursday. After having had our passport scanned at an internet cafe in Beirut’s hamra district we were supposed to send them to a given @yahoo.com email adress. But how do yo write an email to hezbullah, how do you start? ‘inshallah’? ‘grüss gott’? in the end we settled for ‘to whom it may concern’ still asking ourselves if it would be wise to send this email via my work smtp server to an Hezbollah email adress that is registered with an US provider. In the end i never send the email as the uplink was way to slow for sending 9 passport scans and a journalist friend offered to send the files from his home instead.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

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