Karolyne Mendes Mendonça Moreira

PhD Researcher

Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Theory
Hansaallee 41
60323 Frankfurt am Main
+49 69 789 78 319

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Karolyne Mendes
© Karolyne Mendes

Academic Profile

Incarnated spirits: sorcery, mutual dependencies and normative production in southern Mozambique (1890-1940)

Sorcery is a constitutive element of reality in Mozambique. According to the local cosmogony, spiritual agents meet and interact within the context of everyday practices. From an ontological perspective, spirits are therefore incarnate. Spiritual entities thus do not act as mere external beings influencing people's lives, but rather constitute the very essence of humanity. The spirits of the dead, incorporated in the living, exert an "invisible" (but powerful) influence on society and the production of knowledge of normativity. Given this context, along Mozambican colonial history, especially between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the local social meanings involving the power of spell was fundamental aspect underlying the establishment of mutual (and asymmetric) dependencies.

Recently, studies have been demonstrating multiple African agencies around local beliefs. These reflections largely reveal the strategies of resistance and reinvention used by so-called “native” populations in the face of colonial imposition. This research, however, proposes a further look: our hypothesis is that the there was also an agency of these very beliefs by the Portuguese colonial agents. The faith in the spell, in the daily praxis, hence, was not relegated to the overlooked area of "savagery", but make it possible the emergence and manipulation of new power strategies by colonisers. This assertion relies not only on the fact that Portuguese benefited from this set of beliefs as a justification for exerting social control in different ways (either because of disagreements in daily life, or because of the need to recruit labor), but also in the awareness that such beliefs 1) could not be eradicated (since they were fundamental to local populations), and 2) should not be eradicated given their constitutive role in the new rearrangements of mimetic colonial governmentality. It is precisely in the incorporation and reproduction of the perception of the otherness of the so-called “native” populations that the mutuality of dependence is verified.

Thus, my research aims to examine and map the normative production resulting from the process of mutual dependencies established around spell and sorcery, specifically in the districts of Lourenço Marques, Gaza and Inhambane since the so-called 'effective occupation' campaigns, started in 1890. By means of analysing court cases, milandos (disputes), official correspondence, minutes and reports from administrative authorities, laws, treaties, newspapers, ethnographic accounts and oral interview, the research also aims to contribute to the overcoming of the traditional dichotomies between 'collaboration' and 'resistance' that have flourished in the last decades the field of the history of African colonisation.

Master in Law and Theory of the State, Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil. Summa cum laude.

Law degree, Universidade Federal do Ceará, Brazil. Summa cum laude.

Since September 2022
PhD researcher, Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory

Head of 'Postcolonial Thinking' Research Group, Centro Universitário Sociedade Educativa e Cultural Amélia, Brazil.

Professor of Legal History and Postcolonial Thinking, Centro Universitário Sociedade Educativa e Cultural Amélia, Brazil.

Member of 'History, Law and Subjectivity' Research Group. Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil.

Professor of Legal History and Legal Theory, Centro Universitário Unifacear, Brazil.


'A reinvenção do homem e os artifícios do discurso jurídico para a manutençãodas desigualdades: as Instituições de Direito Civil Brasileiro (1851- 1861) e a obra de Mello Freira'. In:RJLB – Revista Jurídica Luso-Brasileira. Lisboa: n° 1, Ano 8, 2020, p. 1279-1321.
Nascentes no deserto: pensamento jurídico, regulamentação do trabalho e legislação social no início da República (1889-1916). 2018. 230f. Dissertação (Mestrado em Direito) – Universidade Federal do Paraná, Curitiba.
Florianópolis: CONPEDI, 2017, p. 61-77. ‘Significados (e substratos) da Lei do Ventre Livre: os limites e os alcances do conceito de Estado na segunda metade do século XIX no Brasil’. In: NASCIMENTO, G.; SIQUEIRA, G.G.; FONSECA, R. M. (org.). História do Direito.
CHUEURI, V. K. (org.). A desigualdade e a reconstrução da democracia social. Belo Horizonte: Arraes, 2017, p. 19-37. 'Novo constitucionalismo latino-americano, pluralismo histórico e pluralismo comunitário participativo: a experiência boliviana'. In: KOZICK, K.; OLIVEIRA, M. A. C;BUSTAMANTE, T. R.;

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