The story of the Pomba Gira (translated to English as “Whirling Dove”) known as Maria Quiteria, is not well known. There is an historic person, also named Maria Quiteria de Jesus (1782-1853) who was the first woman to become an officer in the Brazilian army and fought during the Brazilian war for independence. These are not the same person. The Pomba Gira named Maria Quiteria, was a woman who after her death, became a powerful entity in the Quimbanda and Umbanda spiritual systems, which are also part of the culture of Brazil. She was born in Lisbon, Portugal and lived there for the greater part of her life, but after having spent much time as a fugitive, was eventually forced to immigrate to Brazil.
As a very young woman in Lisbon, Maria Quiteria fell in love with and married a soldier. She soon was pregnant, and for a while the two were filled with love and happiness. It could not last. The King of Portugal decided that all productive lands should be directly owned by the Crown. The lands of Maria Quiteria’s family upon which the couple lived, and the lands of many other families who were not of the nobility were confiscated. In response to this land grab by the ruling class there were several uprisings, and in response to those the king ordered people who harbored resentment towards his decree to be turned out from their houses, and sometimes killed. There were several massacres. The family of Maria Quiteria from the Seven Crossroads, was the target of one of these attacks. The house was torched and her husband and family were all killed. She watched it happen. She was hidden by a servant woman who saved her life, but soon after she lost the unborn child. The servant woman decided it was too dangerous for Maria to remain in the area, and risking her own life, spirited the young fugitive away to a gypsy family. The family welcomed Maria, and took her in.
She lived among the gypsies for ten years, listening to their stories, immersed in their music and dance, and gaining insights into divination and magic. Then the cold-hearted King of Portugal, declared a persecution against the Gypsy people. The family she was among decided to flee, and took Maria Quiteria with them on the long voyage to Brazil, where they would be safe from the malicious edicts of the king. Three years later, the political situation in Portugal changed. The news came that the King had died, and it was much safer for gypsies to live there again. The family decided to return there, but Maria intrigued by the New World, and not seeing much for her to return to, decided to stay in Bahia, Brazil. She thought perhaps she could do something there to help poor people in need, but first she would have to learn to make it on her own. At first she would be homeless, but she was sure she had the intelligence and had learned enough cunning from the gypsies to raise herself up. This would soon after cost her life.
One day several weeks later in the side street of a village she saw an old woman being attacked by a vigarista who wanted to rob her. Maria pulled the dagger she kept hidden in her skirts and attacked, the man, driving him off, and saving the old woman. But the man had seen her face and determined he would take revenge. On a night soon after, the man found Maria Quiteria sleeping beneath a tree in the open, and murdered her. He watched with cold surprise as her soul separated from her now dead form. But the Sky Father Oxalá (also known as the father of the orishas - Obatala) was watching. He blessed her and made her one of the Spirits of Light. Exu also was watching that day, and while I don’t know what he did to punish her killer, you can imagine it wasn’t very nice. Since that day, Pomba Gira Maria Quiteria, struggles against injustices and suffering, particularly those experienced by the helpless and the poor. It has been said, she hates to see evil in a person’s eyes, and will not stand by and watch people suffer.