True funny history from the research field: the day when a respondent claimed to be interviewed while possessed by an entity

By Dolores Garcia

Very few people know the awkward funny situations that happen to our researchers and interviewers when we’re conducting a study in Brazil. If those cases were put together someday, probably a book could be published. The book subject would include not only research or marketing information, but also funny facts able to produce a whole movie screenplay based in true histories.

This one happened some years ago. The interviewer asked us not to reveal her actual age. It’s ok, we understand that she is trying to look younger. Lying is not permitted ere, but we’ll allow her to cover her age for self-esteem reasons.

It happened during a study we were conducting for a large company which produced and commercialized butter. A brand new butter was created, and they wanted to assess the general responsiveness to the product. Actually it was a product placement or IHUT – in home usage test. T

he brand was not printed on the pot, and respondents should use it for a week and, then, tell our interviewers their opinion about the butter. Respondents answered the screening questions and, after qualifying for the sample, they received a butter pot to be used for a week. After this week, our interviewer would come back to apply a second questionnaire and get results to be put on the database sent to the client.

Butter for the IHUT
Butter for the IHUT

One of the respondents was absolutely unique in terms of behavior. Actually, she seemed to behave as if she had two absolutely different personalities…something like “The Three Faces of Eve“.  Maybe, two different souls. But we’ll clarify that later on.

The initial interview was done with her. Things went smoothly, she qualified within the screener questions, and received the butter pot. In the second interview one week later, however, something must have happened.

Our interviewer came back as promised, but the first reaction from the respondent was asking:

What? Who the hell are you? Which butter pot are you referring to? Are you sure I received it? What interview? How come“?

Patiently and meekly our interviewer explained: “Calm down, madam. Don´t you remember me? I’ve been here last week, you received me in your house, you answered some questions and I gave you a butter pot for testing“. The respondent kept denying.

At this point, our interviewer was intrigued, wondering whether the respondent had any psychological problem. How knows? Maybe she had Alzheimer, pathological memory slips…whatever.

Our interviewer recalled that the madam looked just a bit tired during the first interview, as if recovering from a hangover, but nothing to be concerned about. By then, she answered all questions perfectly, and entirely qualified for sampling.

Our interviewer politely continued: “It´s ok. I´ll help you remember. Your name is so and so, your ID number is so and so, we were together for about 30 minutes, we talked and you even let me enter your house. Do you remember now“?

Out of the blue, the respondent showed some hope of remembering: “Oooooooow. Is it a white little pot, no brand, with some codes on the cover“?

Yes, yes, yes! That´s it! And according to my control, your code is B“!

Yes, it has a big ‘B’ letter” – respondent promptly recalled.

Our interviewer went in a bit afraid, sit on the living room, and the respondent kept explaining:

Wow! I remember now! I was wondering how come that butter pot had got into my refrigerator.  I even thought my husband had bought it and put there. Oh my goodness…nowadays I can’t tell anymore when it’s me speaking through my mouth or my guiding spirit, “Pomba-Gira”. You know that I’m involved with Candomblé and witchcraft? It makes my life so exciting nowadays! The only problem is when Pomba-Gira takes hold of me and I lose consciousness. She is so unpredictable! By the way, do you know Pomba-Gira“?

Shocked and perplexed as she was, our interviewer response was “NO, I DON´T KNOW POMBA-GIRA. WERE WE INTRODUCED IN THE FIRST INTERVIEW. THIS POMBA-GIRA that sometimes grabs a hold on you…does she use butter“?

Quick facts now, just for information. Candomblé is a kind of cult or religion based on ancient African spiritual traditions, with some elements derived from Christianity, practiced chiefly in Brazil. Candomblémay be called Macumbain some regions, and it involves witchcraft, spirit possession, “incorporation” of deities and entities along with some ritual sacrifices.

Now Pomba-Gira, which roughly translated means “twisting-pigeon”. Pomba-Gira is an entity herself, personified and allegedly able to possess people. It represents female beauty, lustful sexuality and desire. Pomba-Gira is also viewed as a beautiful woman who is insatiable.

Pomba-Gira Statuette
Pomba-Gira Statuette

Yes, our respondent was a Candomblé follower and claimed to be possessed by Pomba-Gira during the first interview. Of course it led us to believe that Pomba-Gira herself was interested in the research and was more than eager to test the brand new butter. The respondent affirmed she was not able to remember anything, once that the entity was in control.

Deceitful and tricky! That’s my guiding spirit, Pomba-Gira! She’s so funny”! – said the respondent, laughing out loud.

Of course this respondent was eliminated from the study, cut from the sample, and replaced with a more reliable participant.  We believe that methodologies must be innovative, but certainly we are not interviewing spiritual entities yet. Maybe in the near future, when some client ask us to conduct a research about possible consuming habits and usages that only deities have. On the meanwhile, let’s play it safe interviewing humans

Many lessons were learnt from this experience. First, always make sure that it´s the respondent herself answering questions. Second, when market research in Brazil is at stake, think about reaching absolutely new consumers, from human or spiritual realms. Third, it’s better interviewing respondents from the human realm. As long as results are accurate, we’ll be more than happy. Forth, never undermine cultural behavior. A spirit may be interested in participating….



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