Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Michael H. Logan

Committee Members

Euridice Silva, Benita J. Howell, Hector Qirko


The purpose of this dissertation is to explore the folk illness of encosto in the favela, or slum, of Pirambu in Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil. Encosto is a term used primarily within the religious tradition of Umbanda. To be encostado literally means that someone is being "leaned on unduly" or "bothered by" another person. In the case of the folk illness, that "person" is believed to be a disincarnate spirit and the victim is said to be suffering from encosto. The spirit may be a deceased relative, an Exu or trickster spirit, or an entity sent to attack the victim by another person practicing witchcraft. The influence of this spirit is believed to cause a wide range of problems for the victim including mental or emotional instability, physical illness, and/or failures in important social or personal endeavors. Although encosto reportedly receives significant attention from the Brazilian popular media, and is a well known term within the general population, it has garnered very little specific attention from the academic community. The aim of this project is to remedy this situation by beginning scientific inquiry into this very interesting, and apparently pervasive, folk illness.

The data for this dissertation are based on thirty-five personal interviews of patients who were treated for encosto by Umbanda healers in the favela. Some important findings of this study include: (1) all the encosto victims that were interviewed believed the Umbanda treatments were successful; (2) most of the encosto cases were believed to be caused by witchcraft; (3) the encosto patients displayed a decidedly external orientation for locus of illness control; (4)encosto provides an important explanation for illness and misfortune, as well as a coping mechanism to deal with harsh living conditions; (5) encosto often functions as an important tool for recruiting Umbanda followers; and (6) encosto often functions as an important method of social control in the favela. The dissertation also makes important contributions to the ethnographic literature on folk illnesses, as well as the growing body of theory on symbolic healing systems.

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