ABSTRACT

The night in question, while we were chopping away at our offerings, we could hear the telenovela blasting. Each season, the new telenovela is of intense national interest throughout Brazil. Generally, each new series launches the career of a new T.Y. Globo l babe-a sexy white actress handselected by the major network (the same network, incidentally, which makes or breaks virtually every political candidacy in the country as well), who will later be invited to crown one of the Rio carnival floats, and subsequently get a well-paid spread in the Brazilian Playboy. The babe of the season was a bouncy blonde named (on the telenovela) "Babalu."2 Her name already interested me. It could be read as one of the contractions of two "Christian" names so common in Brazil-as a shortened version of Barbara Lucia, or Barbara Luisa. But it could also be read as the shortened version of a distinctly non-Christian name-Babaluaiye, Obaluaiye, or most commonly in Brazil, Omolu. This is the same Babaluaiye with which my story began: the Yoruba god of epidemics, of contagious disease, so terrible and wonderful in his mortal power that his multiple praise names are each an acknowledgment of that power. Desi Arnez's infectious tune of the 1940s is the version of "Babalu" best remembered by U.S. audiences, who little suspected that they were swinging and finger-snapping to the praise name of an African god of epidemics.