- Carolina Quiroga-Stultz
27 - Afro Latino Narrative
The lay Afro-Brazilian brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary has lost its king. The members insist on giving the regency to Francisco de Souza, but the widow of the deceased will do everything possible to prevent it. Later we talk about the Afro-Brazilian brotherhoods, how they operated and started, and the role of the Catholic Church and the Portuguese monarchy.
#brazilhistory #colonialbrazil #blackconfraternities #chicorei #afrobrazilian #afrobrazil #portuguesemonarchy #africantraditions #africainbrazil
1. Encyclopedia of African History and Culture Vol III. From Conquest to Colonization (1500 to 1850). Willie F. Page (Editor). Revised Edition by R. Hunt Davis, Jr. Editor. Published by The Learning Source, Ltd. 2005.
2. Afro-Latino Voices. Narratives from the Early Modern Ibero-Atlantic World, 1550-1812. Edited by Kathryn Joy McKnight and Leo J. Garofalo. Published by Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2009. Article: “The Regent, the secretary, and the Widow: Power, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Confraternity of Saints Elesbao and Iphigenia, Rio de Janeiro, 1784-1786” by Elizabeth W. Kiddy.
3. Afro-Latin America 1800-2000. George Reid Andrews. Published by Oxford University Press, 2014.
4. “Slave Confraternities in Brazil: Their Role in Colonial Society.” Patricia A. Mulvey. The Americas, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Jul. 1982), pp. 39-68. Published by Cambridge University Press
Told by Tamara Marie, Certified Neurolanguage Coach, host of the podcast Learning Spanish con Salsa #learningspanishconsalsa (visit her website: https://www.learnspanishconsalsa.com)
Legend has it that in 1740 a black man known in his ancestral lands as Galanga, but forced to take the Christian name Chico Rei, arrived in a slave ship to Brazil. He, his son, and another 110 slaves survived their crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. There were many fatalities including his wife and daughter. Soon he and his son found themselves sold to a mine owner in the town of Ouro Preto. Those were the times of Brazil’s gold rush.
By working every Sunday for himself and by saving pieces of gold in his hair, Chico Rei bought first his son’s freedom, then his own and, eventually, the mine. Under Chico’s leadership, the mine’s production increased, and this allowed him to purchase the freedom of many of the black men working there. But this was not the end of his work. In 1733 he embarked on a 52-year construction of the catholic church St. Iphigenia, a Nubian princess converted to the faith by the apostle Matthew.
Chico Rei died before seeing his dream finished, but his creation has thrived. More than two hundred years have passed, and St. Iphigenia’s church still stands on the highest hill of Ouro Preto, a piece of Africa’s spirit in Brazil.
The Regent, The Secretary, and the Widow
Adapted from the article: The Regent, the secretary, and the Widow: Power, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Confraternity of Saints Elesbão and Iphigenia, Rio de Janeiro, 1784-1786” by Elizabeth W. Kiddy. Based on historical documents reviewed by Mariza de Carvalho.
The speakers: Francisco Alves de Souza, Regent of the Maki Nation, and Second Lieutenant Gonçalo Cordeiro, secretary of the same nation.
The following dialogue relates the circumstances under which Francisco Alves de Souza became regent of the congregation of Mina Maki, which was a subgroup within the Confraternity of Saints Elesbão and Iphigenia.
Gonçalo Cordeiro, also Maki, is Souza’s childhood friend.
The antagonist of the story never speaks, nor is she named. She is only referred as “the widow.” The woman is the wife of the recently deceased king of the congregation Captain Ignacio Gonçalves do Monte.
The main narrative thrust of the “dialogue” is the escalating conflict between two factions, one led by Souza and Cordeiro and the other by the widow.
[A reluctant Souza Resists the Regency While the Widow of the late King Holds onto Power]
Cordeiro and Souza are at the Church of Saints Elesbão and Iphigenia sitting across from each other. Cordeiro is impatient and wants a response from Souza on the matter of his regency.
Cordeiro: Yesterday you said you could not give me a response, so now I am waiting for it.
Souza: Senhor Cordeiro, I find myself now less burdened by my passions, and thus more unencumbered to ask you what the reason is that you and the others want to elect me as regent of this congregation although among you there is no lack of qualified people with whole, true, and just capabilities, when I do not have these qualities?
Cordeiro: What obstinacy, I have never seen anything like it. To scheme for so long about one thing, it seems more like impertinence that anything else. I already told you what I have to say, and now you force me to say it again that we do not want any other leader than you, because in the time of the first regent, Captain Ignacio Conçalves do Monte, you already governed and when he was mortally ill he called you to his house and gave the regency to you, so that the association of our kinsmen, and its charity, would not be forsaken—and you promised to do it. Luis Rodrigues Silva da Costa Falcão, and Rosa de Souza de Andrade, and other credible people who are here now witnessed that promise.
Souza: I do not doubt that what you say is true, but now they tell me that after Monte’s death on December 25, 1783, and during the time I was away for fourteen days when I was sick with a skin infection, his widow convoked our kinsmen and ordered them to go to the meeting room of the church of the Glorious Saints Elesão and Iphigenia to ask for alms for the soul of her dead husband. And she had secretly taken measures beforehand with some of her faction, if it is permissible to say so, and taking everyone by surprise, in the meeting room, had them put a crown on her head, announcing that she was queen with such guile that everyone thought her manner of proceeding was strange and ran away from her the same day, because she called not only the Maki to go there but people from all over the Mina Coast and other nations. And everyone was astonished by such a calamity. And consider yourself whether or not this is abuse and superstition, and this is one of the reasons that I have insisted that I do not want to be regent because I know that the widow does not want me to be without her consent.
Cordeiro: All this is the plotting of the devil to pervert this good charity, but who consented to and approved this election?
Souza: I don’t know, but as you know I was sick on that occasion, so I would not have even known about this tragedy if worthy and zealous people hadn’t told me about it.
Cordeiro: What the widow should do is to govern her own house and take good care of the soul of her husband, fulfilling what his last will and testament commands and not meddling in other people’s business. And if she had done this, it is not by the will of all people. As you well know, this congregation consists of more than two hundred people, men and women. I see no proof that she has been made regent, because that would have to be by the election and will of all the people, and what is more, no woman can occupy this position, which is to govern and rule over men…
[The Congregation Brings in the Law to Force Souza to be Regent]
Despite Souza’s reluctance to assume the regency of the congregation, Cordeiro and his compatriots have found another way to make him take it: a formal petition.
Souza and Cordeiro are at the church when someone knocks on the door. Souza is surprised; he is not expecting visitors. Cordeiro acts as if he does not know what is going on.
Souza: Someone is knocking on the door.
Cordeiro: You can come in the door is open. Oh, it’s Senhor Luiz Antônio Ribeiro de Campos, secretary of the bailiff who is looking for you. I don’t know why.
Souza: What the…secretary of the bailiff, what business does he have with me? I am at a loss to know what he might want.
Cordeiro: I don’t know, but we will see—enter sir, and have a seat.
Bailiff: Senhor Francisco Alves de Souza
Souza: At your service.
Bailiff: I have come to notify you of the formal petition that Luiz Rodriguez Silva, Alexandre de Carvalho, and José da Silva, and other Mina Makino blacks made to the honorable magistrate, requesting that you be their regent and administrator of the alms and prayers for the souls of their kinsmen, and of charity for the living, and if you do not want the position. I will have to take you under guard to see the minister, as you see in the dispatch.
Souza: Such short notice! You can register that under guard I will not go speak to the minister.
Bailiff: Yes, sir, I will register the following: “ I certify that I subpoenaed the supplicant
Francisco Alves de Souza with this petition, which contains both an order and declaration, and by the same supplicant it was said that ‘I, without a doubt, accept the said post.’ In verification of which I enacted the present document. In Rio de Janeiro on the ninth of March 1784, the bailiff, Judge Antônio Ribeiro de Campos.”
Souza: Is there any more doubt?
Bailiff: No sir, your part is finished; but I have to take care of other business included in the same petition.
Souza: What business is that?
Bailiff: I must notify the widow of Captain Ignacio Gonçalves do Monte to turn in the safe where the money of the congregation is kept, together with other articles and books. The blacks of this congregation told me that these things belong to the congregation because they were bought with their contributions and alms; so they requested the safe be returned, but the widow does not want to return it, saying that Monte is her husband. That’s what the blacks told me.
Souza: As far as that goes, it is of little importance to me.
Bailiff: Goodbye, sir. You can feel at ease; this matter will not be a problem.
Souza: Goodbye, Senhor Luiz Antônio…
Cordeiro: Didn’t I tell you that we would obligate you to our regent, but you were so stubborn that things had to come to this point.
[The History of the Mina Maki Confraternity in Rio de Janeiro]
Souza and Cordeiro are at the church talking about the history of the congregation. Cordeiro encourages Souza to retell the story.
Souza: The blacks created this group, or corporation, because ever since the beginning of this land, they Portuguese forcibly brought African blacks from the Mina Coast and Angola, and some of the masters who brought the Africans were inhumane. When the blacks fell ill with incurable diseases or when they became aged, these masters just threw them away and left them to die of hunger and cold, naked on the beaches without having anyone to bury them unless the Santa Casa de Misericórdia sent to bury the bodies with their zeal and charity. Otherwise the abandoned corpses would just lie there. And for this reason the blacks themselves created this group, or corporation, in order to do good for their kinsmen, to let the community know when one of them died, to collect alms in order to bury them, and to order masses for their souls, and so that those who were poor could be assisted from time to time with a contribution.
Cordeiro: We are still missing some details.
Souza: Don’t be in such a hurry, as I have not yet finished.
Cordeiro: Excuse me, I thought that you had forgotten and so I reminded you.
Souza: I certainly have not forgotten.
Cordeiro: Have the kindness to continue.
Souza: Yes, Sir. Our practices are contrary to those of the blacks from Angola, who not only collect alms to bury their deceased kinsmen but have the indecency to drag the cadavers that are going to the tomb of the Santa Casa through the streets, placing them at the doors of their parishes in order to request alms from the faithful, to bury them with heathen and superstitious songs. However, when the worthiest criminal magistrate investigated this bad behavior, he imprisoned and punished them. And this is the reason that whites think that all of the blacks engage in the same practices as these individuals.
In 1748 I arrived in Rio de Janeiro from the city of Bahia, and I found this congregation already in existence, made up of Mina blacks from various nations from that coast, such as Dagome, Maki, Iano, Agolin, Sabaru, and they were united under their king Pedro da Costa Mimoxo, who was also from the nation. After he died, they named Clemente de Proença to occupy that position, which he held for many years. As time went by, the blacks began to elect leaders of nations among themselves and search for the preferences of the majority. Then there came the time when the nations of Maki, Agolin, Iano, and Sabaru left the rule of Dagome,
scandalized and affronted by some of the sharp words that the Dagomes had said to them, and decided to name their own king, which they did with the person of Captain Ignacio Gonçalves do Monte in 1762, because he was true Makino and he was the first that was entered officially into the book, and who improved and augmented this congregation.
Cordeiro: What I want is a continuation of the story.
Souza: I will continue it. With the passage of time, the other nations also distanced themselves—Maki, Agolin, and Sabaru each named their own king until the death of Ignacio Gonçalves on December 25, 1783, when you obligated me, using the law, to assume this position. And you never gave me the first thing that I requested: that this corporation never use the title of king.
Cordeiro: But you govern and administer us, and we treat you like a father as we should, and moreover, the title comes from the original founders.
Souza: It comes from where it comes from, but I am not responsible for this mistake of the founders, nor am I responsible in this matter. I am saying that this title will not be used anymore because it is dissonant in the ears of those who hear it, because it causes disruption in the harmony and devotion, we have with those close to us. We must give a title that is suitable to our devotion.
Cordeiro: What title can we give?
Souza: The title of regent is the appropriate one for what we are undertaking.
Cordeiro: I speak for the congregation when I say, all right but you should not take from us what is our right and our pleasure, that we have had for so many years.
Souza: What is the right that you say you have?
Cordeiro: To not rid ourselves of our positions and titles that are an imitation of the nobles of the Kingdom of Maki, that we use among ourselves to distinguish the important from the less important, between the noble and the artisan, so that we maintain respect among ourselves.
Souza: Fine, you may keep them.
[The Legal Record of Souza’s Installation]
Cordeiro reads and makes it official that Souza is their new regent.
Cordeiro: Official entry of obligation and inauguration of the freed blacks and subjects of the Maki nation, in which they elected Francisco Alves de Souza to be their regent and administrator, as we declare and sign below, and at the same time inaugurate him. The inauguration, obligation, and nomination have been done in the following way:
Captain Ignacio Gonçalves do Monte was our regent, and the administrator of the alms that we use to celebrate masses for the souls of our departed brothers of the Mina nation, and we subjected ourselves to all he decided. We elect to that position Francisco Alves de Souza, a freed black, married with possessions, and declare that he has all the necessary requisites to do a good job in the position, and also because he was second in command to the late king and substituted for him, demonstrating his ability with zeal and promptness, that we name him regent, and give to him all that the deceased had, subjecting ourselves to all that he determines and taking away all the power and dominion that the wife of the late king has or desires, because under no circumstances can she be regent and administrator, because it is against the laws. Nor can we ever ruled over by a woman. It is our wish to concede to Souza all of our powers that by law are conceded to us, without coercion from anyone. We do this on our own so that our election and inauguration will be known for all time. We name you Souza and recognize you as our regent and as the good administrator of the souls of our departed brethren. All of us sign and ask the clerk Antônio Francisco Soares that he sign as witness, Rio de Janeiro, March 20, 1784; and I, Gonçalo Cordeiro, secretary of the regent, wrote the entry and signed below.
[The Widow Wins the Case against Souza and Cordeiro’s Faction]
Two years have passed since Souza became regent against the wishes of the widow of Captain Monte.
Souza and Cordeiro are at the church discussing the unfortunate news about the lawsuit that the widow won. Souza also tells how he was brought before the viceroy, along with the king of the rosary, to defend himself against the widow’s claims that he was the leader of an uprising.
Cordeiro: I have come to give information to the regent that the lawsuit that we brought against the widow of Captain Monte came out in her favor. She does not have to return the safe or the other things that belong to our congregation, and I am appalled to see the hypocrisy that she practiced with us, knowing full well that it cost our money…
Souza: What happened at the high court?
Cordeiro: The sentence was confirmed but it does not give her any more power than to be a worthy treasurer, to guard the money that they gave her, and not to say that she is the empress of the Mina Coast, as you have been hearing. Nevertheless, she wanted to demand that we all contribute our alms, prohibiting us from going here and there without her consent, which put us in a great bind. In fact, she ordered a copy of the sentence and with it made a formal petition to the illustrious and excellent viceroy, saying that we did not want to fulfill the sentence of the high court and that our regent impeded us from going to her house to give her the money to put in the safe. Worse, she claimed that he was the head of an uprising and that the entire congregation wanted her to be regent. The petition was sent, and His Highness the viceroy sent for the King of Our Lady of the Rosary and our regent.
[Days later Souza recounts his experience]
Souza: I am astonished by the great imprudence of this widow and the sentence that she won against her brothers, as she could not act thus. As for me she has done all the harm that she can. She has fabricated lies with her hateful rancor. She sent me a summons various times without me having given her the least cause, to the extent that she did not want me to go to the church of Our Lady of the Rosary, nor to that of Saint Iphigenia, dressed and with my retinue. Tell me, is this a person who has reason?
At the same time this lady knew well the upbringing and education that I have and the respect with which her deceased husband regarded me—and that he did nothing without my counsel and blessing. But her maliciousness reached such a point that she sought any way possible to make me lose. She put together a lawsuit against her brothers and, as I said above, made the sinister formal petition to the Illustrious and Most Excellent Viceroy, complaining that I did not want to fulfill the sentence of the high court, accusing me to be the head of an uprising.
Seeing these complaints, His Excellency thought it well to call the King of our confraternity of Our Lady of the Rosary and me to come to a meeting. After we arrived that same gentleman ordered me to say that if I wanted to go to the rosary celebration, that I would have to go to the widow’s house, meaning that in order to participate in the feast day celebration of the rosary I would have to go talk with the widow. If I went with our talking to the widow, I would be arrested and punished. This is the order that I received in the meeting, which I fulfilled without the least discrepancy. You can see the falseness and the hatred with which she intended to beat me, and if not for the pure kindness and mercy of His Excellency, which I do not deserve, condescending to dispatch the formal petition—that they fulfill the sentence—perhaps imagining my insignificance and innocence, which everyone recognizes, perhaps would have had me punished…
Cordeiro: …Considering that you are not guilty of anything, nor can anyone place guilt on you, knowing full well that you are obligated by law to be regent of our congregation, and we all voted for you as you can see in our official record, it is ridiculous to accuse you of crimes. This congregation is a devotion made by the will of all, not an obligation, because there were never statues. For her to be regent it would have to be by the will of all and not by only four, because as we all see in the sacred and human stories, and even the heathen ones, whoever is king, is king by the will of the people.
In the end, the Portuguese state supported the widow’s bid for power, and, two years later the congregation of Mina Maki, with Souza as their regent, began its own confraternity dedicated to Our Lady of Remedies.
Very well, dear listeners, it is about time to speak more about the social and political aspects of our narrative. In sum, we will be talking about how the confraternities came to be, how they operated, the crown and church's role and the recurrent petition to be recognized as equal as the white Catholics.
Disclaimer: since none of the participants of today's episode, including myself, speak Portuguese, we have decided to pronounce the names of places and characters as we would do it in Spanish. However, in the transcript, you will find such names as they are written in Portuguese.
In addition, Elizabeth W. Kiddy, who wrote the article from which we extracted the dialogue, says that the entire text was primarily written in the form of a conversation. This type of format was common in the 16th to 18th century Portuguese Literature. Kiddy explains that the reason for it was that religious works used either dialogues or plays to help convert non-Christians. Also, the dialogue form was used in the 18th-century abolitionist pamphlets.
Last, and although this will not be part of today’s commentaries, I wanted to acknowledge that the text reflects a gender conflict. The widow of the former regent decided to take power. The characters clearly oppose that action, and it appears that part of that is because she is a woman. Talking further about it would imply to discuss gender expectations and the role of Afro Brazilian women in those times and in such environment. So, we will not be doing it but I wanted to put it out there, because that is another cuento, another story.
Confraternities, membership, responsibilities, and challenges
Let’s begin then. In the article “Slave Confraternities in Brazil: Their Role in Colonial Society,” Patricia A. Mulvey explains that these “black confraternities existed in major urban centers, where their population was large enough to encourage religious devotion to black saints (like St. Iphigenia) to support the development of Afro Brazilian cult houses and the preservation of African customs.” In consequence, Brazilian black brotherhoods had a more significant impact than similar groups in Latin America.
Thus, the lay confraternities were vital colonial institutions that linked the church and society. These confraternities were voluntary associations of laymen and women that organized themselves around fidelity to a saint or a particular devotion and charitable activities. Mulvey says that despite their common interests “there were separate lay associations for different races, although these racially suggested societies might parade together during religious festivals and share side altars in a common church.”
Also, since the white confraternities were exclusive and discriminatory, free blacks, mulattoes, and slaves organized and joined different associations. Over time this practice evolved. Mulvey tells us that black brotherhoods were based on “tribal distinctions, language, social condition, and the extent of assimilation in Portuguese America.”
Kiddy says that “Portuguese and African inhabitants recognized these divisions, and they called them nação or nations,” which roughly translates to ethnicities. Kiddy explains that “Different nations distinguished themselves by different clothing, hairstyles, and even scarification. In many cases, they retained the language, foods, and devotional practices of their homelands.”
Eventually, rivalries developed among Brazilian brotherhoods in things such as who could build the most beautiful church. As an example, in the third act of the dialogue it is clear that there is a conflict between two different African groups in Rio de Janeiro: the Angolans, and Minas. The Minas were the larger group. This could explain why they referred to the Angolans as the “others.” Kiddy reminds us that this conflict “exposes the reality that Africans from vastly different regions did not see each other as a single people but as competing groups interacting within the unequal slave society of colonial Brazil.”
On the other hand, the brotherhoods had rules and obligations. Part of the black membership responsibilities was to meet at church, to pray the rosary, attend Mass, receive the sacrament, participate in religious festivals, and receive religious instructions.
A member could be expelled for committing crimes or disobeying the law, being caught practicing the African cults, having mistresses, missing their dues, as well as nonattendance of funerals, masses, or religious festivities. In most cases, they would get a warning and were told to perform prayers and charitable work. But if they return to wrong behaviors, their membership would be terminated. For instance, the brotherhood that was portrayed in the dialogue, Our Lady of the Rosary, was an elite confraternity, and they were very strict and dogmatic.
Mulvey adds that “By the eighteen century many of the black brotherhoods admitted whites as members.” However, usually, their fees and dues were higher. And why were whites admitted? Because they could read and write. This was an advantage, but it was limited to performing the work of scribes or treasurers. They could not have a position on the governing board. And this was temporary since, by the end of the 18th century, there were enough literate blacks and mulattoes to do such jobs.
As we saw in the dialogue, in most confraternities, the members of the black brotherhoods would bring their earnings and savings in communal funds. These funds would be used to bury their dead, do charitable work, help a deserving slave purchase his freedom, make loans, and provide legal counsel, especially when a slave brought a lawsuit against his master demanding freedom papers.
The confraternities also provided needed social status and mobility for freedmen and slaves. With the brotherhood’s help, they could achieve higher education and even serve the priesthood in a modified role. To be part of one of these brotherhoods guaranteed access to mutual solidarity, death insurance, and meeting in groups away from the watchful eye of their masters.
Despite how good this sounds; it does not mean that the masters were on board with all of it. In some plantations in Brazil, for instance, the slaves did not have a free day, which kept them away from attending church and cultivating their fields. Mulvey cites that “In 1703 the Brotherhood of Nossa Senhora do Rosario of Bahia (Our Lady of the Rosary) sent a petition to the Chancellor of the High Court of Salvador in which they complained about the bad treatment their masters gave to their slaves.” Also, they demanded that the royal decree of one free day a week be enforced, so they could fulfill their Christian obligations and tend to their fields.
Black brotherhoods' celebrations
It is essential to make clear that these black associations were not outside the law. On the contrary, they had the support and encouragement of the Portuguese Monarchy and the Catholic Church. In time, the confraternities were a reflection of medieval Portuguese traditions and the festive nature of Portuguese Catholicism. In the spirit of their devotion, a considerable number of black brotherhoods, built from humble to beautiful churches, staged elaborate religious festivals and funeral processions. In other words, they were very enthusiastic when it came to participating in all Catholic feast days and civic celebrations.
Records of such festivities tell that the celebrations of black confraternities were just as elaborate and lavish as the white's celebrations, and their funerals were even more. The most significant example of it was the festival of the King of the Congo. This celebration had African origin and began in Brazil in the 17th century. Mostly it was a public procession that involved the crowning of the King and Queen of the Congo. This popular festival was part of the Rosary brotherhoods.
The first recorded election of an African king or queen was in 1674. It soon became a tradition. Mulvey explains that "The court of the kings and queens included governors of each tribal nation and a retinue of sub-delegates and military officers." These chosen elites exerted control and jurisdiction over their black urban population. In this way, the Kings of the Congo were creating a system of indirect African government that contributed to the preservation of African traditions, integration, and solidarity.
However, the local authorities' leniency and blessing would not last long. By the mid-eighteen century, the colonial authorities began to be concerned about the power of the black elites and began interfering with and controlling the elected King's activities, such as forbidding drumming and banning certain dances performed during the festivities.
So, you may ask. “how did these confraternities make money?” Well, there were entrance fees, annual dues, required contributions of officers, donations from benefactors, and rents on properties. Regarding properties, Mulvey says that when confraternities received land grants to build a church, in some cases the property would have mineral wealth. Still, despite local authorities’ best efforts to take the land away, it remained under the brotherhoods’ ownership because that was the will of the Crown.
Yet, such good luck did not apply to every confraternity. Most of the black associations' financial resources did not match those of the white confraternities. Still, several records indicate that that was not an impediment when it came to organizing impressive religious festivals and lavish funerals. In some cases, they would even have developed a social welfare program. The Afro-Brazilians were resourceful, and many talented freedmen and slaves could sell their goods in the marketplace.
As an example, in the book Afro-Latin America 1800-2000, George Andrews tells that in Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, “artisans sustained the Afro-Catholic religious brotherhoods and, in 1832, created what was destined to become the city’s longest-lasting workers’ mutual aid society, the Sociedade Protetora dos Desválidos (Protection Society of the Disabled).
Equality and heresy
Some listeners may ask, “how did these confraternities begin?” On this subject, Mulvey writes that “although the earliest brotherhoods were founded by missionaries and secular clergymen, the confraternities of the late colonial period were organized by pious laymen and women.”
For instance, the story we heard shows us that by the 18th century, these religious, social clubs were already managed and ruled by black lay men and women. At times the heads of these confraternities would engage in disputes of power, and debates, and petitions to the crown. One of the most repeated requests was the one asserting that all Christians were equal under the eyes of God. Therefore, black Catholics were not savages but good Christians spiritually equal to white Christians and equally worthy of all religious consolations.
Despite their claims, some of the black brotherhoods were still suspected to be nests of heresy and conspiracy. It is said that in some cases they practiced their African cults in secret at night on beaches and other places. Mulvey argues that some complaints were baseless. Then to dispute that their members were easily led astray, some black confraternities became quite orthodox and religious. They even banned members that exhibited fetishes at religious ceremonies.
Of course, some Africans held on to their roots fiercely and secretly, thriving in the shadows of the brotherhood churches, which in time gave rise to a mixed of African and Catholic beliefs. To white society, the most suspicious black associations were the African tribal congregations. Here Mulvey provides us with an example.
In 1765 the Gégé Confraria do Senhor Bom Jesus dos Martyrios of Bahia (Confraternity of the Good Lord Jesus of Martyrs) made a formal request for Portugal to approve their statues by the Mesa de Consciencia e Ordens (Table of Conscience and Orders). However, the local authorities advised the Portuguese authorities on the opposite. They warned that it was the opinion of the Crown’s attorney on the High Court that “These Gégé blacks are derived from the paganism of Africa, and it remains in them a propensity for superstitious things, and it is fitting to declare that they be made subject to the discipline of the bishop.” Curiously, against the reservation of the colonial authorities, the Mesa de Consciencia e Ordens in Lisbon approved most of the requested statues.
Nevertheless, this leniency did not necessarily reflect enthusiastic support from the church and monarchy. The business of converting souls had been around since the very conquest. In the 16th century, Pope Gregory XIII allowed the existence of these black organizations because they were doing the Christian work of indoctrinating the newly converted slaves in the customs and dogmas of Catholicism. But the pope was supported in this by Lisbon, for other reasons. Mulvey tells that “the Portuguese kings encouraged missionary work among the African slaves since the Christianization of Africans was one justification for the slave trade.”
Whether the black population knew about this or approved, it is unknown. But by at least in the second part of the 1800s, they knew they had the support of Emperor Pedro II. He reigned from 1840-89 and was popular among the slave and freed black population – in large part because he had been born in Brazil.
George Andrews tells us more about Emperor Pedro II; he says that the monarch was “Committed to the eventual abolition of slavery and was instrumental in ending the slave trade in1850.”
Now let’s remember that Brazil was the last country in Latin America to end slavery in 1888.
The slaves would appeal to Emperor Pedro for protection from the cruelty of their masters or when it came to raising a petition for a slave’s freedom. Pedro II treated everyone the same, regardless of their origin, background, or class. Andrews mentions that the Portuguese emperor even received with the same respect and courtesy shown to any other European ambassador, “the poverty-stricken Prince Obá II, self-proclaimed monarch of Rio de Janeiro’s African population.”
Very well, dear listeners, this all for today. Before I say goodbye and close with a poem, I would like you to know that we will be back in June with Latina Authors. For now, I will leave you with an extract of a poem by the Brazilian poet Conceição Evaristo translated from the Portuguese by Bruna Dantas Lobato. Until the next cuento, adios, adios.
As the inquisition
and belittles the blackness
of my body-word
in the semantics
of my verses,
I carry on
[ . . .]
I carry on in search
of other words,
words that are still damp,
Amor Chiquito – Quincas Moreira
Camaguey – Silent Partner
Quincas – Beto Villares
Ipanema_Daydream – Bird Creek
Rumba_Pa_Bailar – Jimmy Fontanez