Afro-Christian Festivals of the Americas | Abstracts & Biographies

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Saturday, February 21, 2015
9:00am to 5:00pm
Sterling Memorial Library Auditorium
128 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511


Abstracts & Biographies



Jeroen Dewulf

 Moors and Christians on Congo Square? The Afro-Iberian Roots of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indians

This paper presents a new perspective on the origins of the Mardi Gras Indians. It argues that New Orleans’ “black Indians” represent a specific variant of a broader phenomenon rather than a uniquely Louisianan product. By combining research data from Latin American Studies with data from African Studies, this paper demonstrates that the parallels between the dances of the Mardi Gras Indians and performances of “black Indians” elsewhere in the Americas become much clearer if they are related to the many variants of dances, parades and paratheatrical performances in honor of St. James the Greater that in the Hispanic world are known as Moros y Cristianos and in the Lusophone world as Mouros e Cristãos (Moors and Christians). 


Jeroen Dewulf is Associate Professor and Director of the Institute of European Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. In his research, he studies primarily Iberian and Dutch colonial history and transatlantic slavery, with a specific focus on performance culture. For his research on the early Dutch history of New York and the first slave community on Manhattan, he was distinguished with the Richard O. Collins Award in African Studies and the Hendricks Award in New Netherland Studies. His book The Pinkster King and the King of Kongo: African-American Performance Culture and the Master-Slave Relationship in Dutch-American Society from New Amsterdam to New York is forthcoming.


Junia Ferreira Furtado

Black Ceremonies in Perspective: Brazil and Dahomey in XVIII century

Between 1796 and 1798, two Luso-Brazilian Catholic priests Cipriano Pires Sardinha and Vicente Ferreira Pires made a trip to the Dahomey, in the Bight of Benin. Both were appointed ambassadors of Portugal and sent by the Prince Regent Dom João to convert this African kingdom to Catholicism. It also was their mission to produce an account of the journey, describing the parts of the continent that they traveled. Both were mulattos, African descendants, and lived in two cities (the village of Tejuco, in Minas Gerais captaincy, and Salvador da Bahia) where the culture and customs brought by recently-arrived slaves were strongly manifest, including their African music, their dances, their rituals, their drums, their ceremonies and their religions. However, despite the significant presence of traces of African culture in Brazil, and places like the village of Tejuco and the city of Salvador in particular, alterity and intolerance wind up marking the relationship between the author of Viagem de África em o Reino de Dahomé and the Africa of his forefathers. Of course, slave culture underwent permanent transformation, mixed through the cohabitation of people from different regions of Africa in the slave quarters and molded and constrained by the imposition of Portuguese culture and its inbuilt Catholicism. There are numerous accounts of the sharing of African traditions and customs in town-life, even if countless cultural assimilations meant they were no longer a simple reflection of the original practices. For example, every year, a King Congo and Queen Ginga were chosen in Brazilian cities for the Rosary Brotherhood celebrations in a clear throwback to the political organization of the African tribes and kingdoms. These Rosary Brotherhood festivals were examples of how Catholicism was embellished through the African encounter that also had an impact in the religiosity Brazil. Among the slave population this remembering of Africa costumes and political organization was used to empower their Christian conversion and their acceptance both to Catholicism and to slavery. However, despite the significant presence of traces of African culture in Brazil, and in Tejuco or Salvador in particular, alterity and intolerance are what mark the relationship between the author and the Africa of his forefathers: “so we began to observe the extravagant difference there was between our customs and those of the barbarians, and the savage ways of that unhappy race”.[i] This line, like pretty much the rest of the text, reveals a heavily negative vision of the continent, laced with intolerance toward the local habits and customs, always referred to in terms of a lack of civilization and theirs feasts and ceremonies, which are described in details, are indicatives of their barbarianism. The aim of this paper is to compare the descriptions of the Black festivals performed in Tejuco village and Salvador city and the ones witnessed and described by the two priests in Dahomey by the end of the XVIII century. 

Junia Furtado is Full Professor of Modern History at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais/Brazil. Master degree and Ph.D. in Social History, at Universidade de São Paulo/Brazil. Visiting scholar at Princeton University, year 2000; on History of Cartography at Newberry Library, September/October, 2007; and at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, year 2008.Visiting Professor in the History Department, at Princeton University, spring 2001 and at Instituto de Ciências Sociais/Universidade de Lisboa, from January to Mach 2010. In July 1998, was distinguished with VIII Award Ford Foundation and Carlos Chagas Foundation for Women and Gender Research, with the Project Chica da Silva: o avesso do mito” (“Chica da Silva: The myth of a Slave Woman”), and in 2004 with Érico Vanucci Mendes Award, Mention of Honor for Works related to race and gender, award by CNPq.Year Nominated to Joaquim Nabuco’s Chair, at Stanford University in 2012. Has books and articles on Slavery in Brazil as Chica da Silva: a Brazilian slave of the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2009), and History of Cartography as The map that invented Brazil (Versal Editors/2013- won Clarival do Prado Valadares Research Prize, 2011 and first place - Best book in Human Science - Jabuti Award 2014 by Brazilian Chamber of Books).

Linda Heywood

Queen Njinga in Brazilian Popular Culture: In Search of History and Memory

The presentation argues that although the name of Queen Njinga, Angola’s formidable 17th century ruler, was recorded in Afro-Brazilian congadas only in the early decades of the 19th century, the memory of Njinga’s exploits can be traced to enslaved Angolans and Kongos who entered Northeast Brazil beginning in the 1640s. Early Brazilian folklorists who left detailed records of these congadas and other Afro-Brazilian popular rituals did much to profile Njinga’s central role in some of the celebrations. Today, Queen Njinga is the only African ruler whose history and memory have a central place in Brazilian popular culture.


Linda Heywood is a professor of African History and the History of the African Diaspora and African American Studies at Boston University.  She is the author of Contested Power in Angola, editor of and contributor to Central Africans Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora, and co-author with John Thornton of Central African, Atlantic Creoles, and the Foundation of America (Cambridge University Press, July, 2007) which was the winner of the 2008 Melville Herskovits Award for the Best Book published in African Studies.  Her articles on Angola and the African Diaspora have appeared in The Journal of African History, Journal of Modern African Studies, Slavery and Abolition, and the Journal of Southern African Studies.  She has served as a consultant for numerous museum exhibitions, including African Voices at the Smithsonian Institution, Against Human Dignity sponsored by the Maritime Museum, the exhibit on 17th on Africa at the Jamestown and Yorktown Settlement Victory Center, and the recently opened exhibit “Spirits of the Passage” at the Frazier History Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. She was also one of the history consultants and appeared in Henry Louis Gates PBS series African American Lives (2006) and Finding Oprah’s Roots (2007). She was a consultant for Henry Louis Gates PBS series Blacks in Latin America and is also a consultant in Prof. Henry Louis Gates upcoming PBS series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.” Her completed manuscript Queen Njinga Mbandi of Angola: A Biography,  is now being considered for publication. She is working on another manuscript, Queen Njinga: History and Memory in Angola and the African Diaspora.


Glaura Lucas

The ‘immense universe’ of musical experience within Afro-Brazilian Congado

“A song is an immense universe”, said an important leader of Congado when referring to the way music is developed during its ritual performances. This Afro-Brazilian religious tradition is carried out by specific groups in festivals, where long periods of music and dance become a powerful means and context in and through which many actions are performed for different spiritual and social purposes. Based on ethnomusicological research, which includes traditional approaches and participative action research methodologies with Congado communities, this presentation aims at discussing the specific knowledge underlying participants’ musical experience as expressed by their musical and verbal discourse. It will focus on the creative updating of historical procedures developed to conceal and protect meanings and effects during slavery. By doing so, Congado’s participants face contemporary challenges in today’s performances  and reinforce resistance. Such practice highlights the central role of music in maintaining Congado’s vivacity and exuberance nowadays.


Suzel Ana Reily

Black Legacies in Popular Catholic Ritual Musicking of South-East Brazil

The Portuguese colonization of Brazil was founded on Catholicism and slavery. However, the relative weakness of the Church as an institution allowed for the emergence and development of a range of Catholicisms, leaving a popular Catholic legacy that is still evident in many parts of Brazil. The popular Catholic universe is marked by encounters between the Portuguese and the African slaves, and, in South-Eastern Brazil, this is especially true of those forms of popular Catholicism structured around participatory musical performance. The different contexts of encounter created distinct opportunities for Africans and their descendants to reconfigure their identities and religious practices within a colonial and post-colonial slave society, such that African legacies emerge in different ways across vernacular religious practice. Such popular Catholic ritual arenas as congados and moçambiques, the Saint Gonçalo dance, and the folias de reis are quite common in the South-Eastern regions of Brazil, and it appears that they developed more or less simultaneously, though against somewhat different social backgrounds. Yet the centrality of participatory musicking within their ritual practices facilitated inter-ethnic encounters, shaping religious understandings and experiences that required addressing intra- and inter-race relations within a moral framework. This paper assess the African legacies in popular Catholic musicking in terms of the moral discourses articulated within three distinct ritual settings.


Dianne M. Stewart

Afro-Catholic Ceremonies and Ritual Vocabularies of Sovereignty in Post-Emancipation Trinidad

In his published diary, Trinidad: Journal d’un missionaire dominicain des Antilles anglaises, Marie Bertrand Cothonay describes two Afro-Catholic rituals performed in 1882 and 1885 by ex-enslaved persons in Port of Spain. Hardly matched in English sources, this French account offers rare insight into the lesser-known religio-cultural world of a people whose spiritual traditions were often buried beneath the generic indictment of the colonial signifier “obeah.” The descriptions of both rituals suggest that sovereignty, not simply freedom or liberation, was a chief preocupation for enslaved and recently emancipated African descendants in Trinidad. My paper considers how Afro-Catholics in post-Emancipation Trinidad performed cultural understandings of sovereignty in Catholic ceremonial contexts and the significance those performaces played in resignifying sacred and political space. In so doing, it addresses Afro-Catholicism as a central arena for nurturing African understandings of nationhood, kinship, and social belonging in nineteenth century Trinidad.


Dianne M. Stewart is Associate Professor of Religion & African American Studies at Emory University

Dianne Marie Stewart was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up in Hartford, CT.  She has a B.A. degree from Colgate University in English and African American Studies, a M. Div. degree from Harvard Divinity School and a Ph.D. degree in systematic theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where she studied with well known scholars such as Delores Williams, the late James Washington and her advisor James Cone.  Dr. Stewart is an associate professor of Religion and African American Studies at Emory University.  There, she teaches courses and mentors students in the graduate and undergraduate programs.  Dr. Stewart is the author of Three Eyes for the Journey: African Dimensions of the Jamaican Religious Experience (Oxford University Press, 2005).  She is near completion of her second book manuscript, Religious Vocabularies of Africa: Obeah, Orisha and Identity in Trinidad and has also written a number of articles and essays on theologies and religious practices of the African diaspora.



Lisa Voigt

Public Performances of a Black Brotherhood in a Brazilian Mining Town

 Simão Ferreira Machado’s Triunfo Eucharistico (1734) describes the public festivities surrounding the ceremonial transfer of the Holy Sacrament from its temporary home at the Church of the Black Brotherhood of the Rosary to a newly-built parish church in Vila Rica, in the mining region of Minas Gerais, Brazil, in 1733.  The Black Brotherhood of the Rosary also sponsored the publication of Triunfo Eucharistico, compensating for the temporary presence of the Eucharist in their church by creating a permanent record of the events.  Through the public festival described in Triunfo Eucharistico as well as text’s publication, the Black Brotherhood of the Rosary performed a black Catholic identity with a privileged role—neither subservient nor subversive—in colonial society. 


Lisa Voigt is Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at The Ohio State University.  Her 2009 book, Writing Captivity in the Early Modern Atlantic: Circulations of Knowledge and Authority in the Iberian and English Imperial Worlds (Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture/University of North Carolina Press), won the Modern Language Association’s Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize.  She is currently completing a book entitled Spectacular Wealth: Festival Accounts in Colonial South American Mining Towns, for which she received an NEH Fellowship at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island, in 2012.

Miguel A. Valerio

Kings of the Kongo, Slaves of the Americas: Staging African Identity in a Renaissance Festival in Mexico City in 1539

In this talk, I analyze a passage from chapter 202 of Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s True History of the Conquest of New Spain (c. 1555) that describes the participation of a group of “more than fifty” Africans in New Spain’s first major civic festival.  I essay two main hypotheses: that the blacks in this festival probably belonged to the Americas’ first black confraternity; and that they staged their African identity by enacting an African practice known as sangamento, or dancing for the king. To support the first hypothesis, I draw on evidence from black confraternities in the Iberian peninsula, Spanish confraternities in the Americas, and Lima’s first black confraternity.  For the second hypothesis, I try to establish the possible place/s of origin of these African subjects.  Finally, I argue that given the fact that the blacks’ participation in the festival took place just two years after the first rebellion plot on the part of African slaves in New Spain was suppressed, these performers were both staging their African identity and showing their loyalty to the viceroy, and through him, to the Emperor. 


Miguel A. Valerio
Award winning poet and scholar. Has conducted research on race issues during the Avant-Garde in the Caribbean with a Tinker Foundation Field Research Grant. Working on a dissertation on Afro-Latino carnival performances and confraternities during the colonial period. Has published the poetry collection Los presentes de la muerte (Editorial Paroxismo, 2013), and La noche de Ohio is currently in press with Editorial Paroxismo. Studied Aymara language and culture with an U.S Dept. of Education FLAS Fellowship, in order to be able to study the Aymara of the first Lima 1583’s Catechism for Indians.

[i] Clado Ribeiro da Lessa, Viagem de África em o Reino de Dahomé, 53.



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