According to legend, Maria Lionza’s lived on Sorte Mountain in the 15th-century, after her Indian chief father sent her there for safety. One day, when staring into the river a giant anaconda ate her. But from within the anaconda Maria Lionza promised the mountain to disintegrate herself there if she were saved. When the mountain agreed, Maria Lionza and Sorte Mountain became one. On Sorte Mountain, near the town of Chivacoa in Yaracuy state, Venezuela, spirits, with one leading, are arranged into ‘courts’ with various identities – for example, Indian, African, Viking or Liberator. Different spirits appear in the courts – including farming spirits, criminals and Simon Bolivar – Venezuela’s nineteenth century liberator. Throughout the country altars are made as places of worship and healing in celebration and/or in honour of the courts.
What is so fascinating about the courts is how it is part religion, learning from Catholic saints mixed with indigenous spiritualism and cults of personality which talk as much about immigration as it does about composite cultures.
I visited one such place in Caracas (as you can see in the photos the site is a series of bamboo and tarpaulin make-shift shelters which house the different courts arranged on tiers accordingly i.e the Indian Court, the Viking court etc):