Thug Life

I’ve watched Vice TV a few times and I am always impressed by the topics taken on by a magazine made famous for Dos and Don’ts. Right now they have an amazing video up about the Holy Thug Saints of Caracas, Venezuela. In a city where more than 100 murders are logged each weekend (14,000 were murdered last year alone) people flock in droves to the cemetery to pray for revenge, protection, freedom of a loved one from jail and other daily occurrences in such an extremely violent place. Predominately Catholic, but with a large dose of Spiritism or Santeria, people give offerings and pray to Santos Malandros (Holy Thugs) instead of worshiping traditional Catholic saints. The thugs are all once real-life gangsters immortalized in statue form wearing sideways baseball caps, sporting guns, scars and gold chains. The female saints rock sports bras, doorknockers and bandanas. They all look super familiar to the line of Homie Dolls that were popular in the late 90′s sold in gumball machines. The icons have holes built into their mouths so you can insert an offering of a cigarette or a joint to them. It is understandable that these figures are more identifiable to someone afraid of being shot every day than say, a white woman in flowy robes. I was a little upset when the narrator pokes fun at the dolls and the woman in the Santeria store, but I think it is probably hard to be too serious with the Vice audience especially when covering such heavy topics. Either way, I loved this video and thought it was an interesting look into how religions are formed when people find nothing to identify with that already exists. This practice of Thug worship, called Corte Malandra has already spread to Cuba and Spain and is now growing strong in many other Spanish speaking countries. It’s not so crazy if you think that not that long ago someone started Mormonism, too. Video below.

2 Comments

  1. Posted May 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Who told you ther are more than 100 people of murder each weekend in Caracas? that’s a wrong, wrong number… Yes Caracas is a violent city, in some places more than other. Is not a city in a war as you discribed in the post.
    Yes the Corte Malandra worship is something that sounds pretty crazy, not only for you guys (who lives outside) but for most of the venezuelan too.
    I recomend you to research a little more about my country.
    Saludos.

  2. Scope-1
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I just want to corroborate one detail of the story and suggest,with all good intent, that Fabricio is simply wrong when he denies the murder rate in Caracas. Look at the daily newspapers there after the weekend and the official rate of weekend violence (numbers provided by the police) is there for all to see. Most of the murders take place in the barrios, the poorest and least well-policed sectors of the city so it is highly localized and isolated primarily among those with the fewest resources available; in some cases the police won’t even go into the neighborhoods so the gangsters and other malandros run things. Praying to saints and making tallas (small statuettes of religious or cultural icons and pubic figures) is characteristic in the country as far as I have seen; this story seems plausible to me.

    The city actually is at war, but it is a complex combination of class-based warfare, ideological warfare, and the more violent and deadly conflict among desperate people who deem it necessary to do desperate things. Such a shame too because the city’s location has to be about the most beautiful place on earth (though poor urban design and obvious urban decline under Chavez produce some serious ugliness) and the culture is vibrant and cool.

    For an interesting and entertaining film about the gangster/class conflict, see the Venezuelan film “Secuestro Express” (Express Kidnapping) that portrays a common practice in Caracas of kidnapping and ATM robbery.

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