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Article

Luis Nicolau Parés

Despite their diverse political and cultural backgrounds, West Africans and West Central Africans shared some basic religious orientations. With a strong pragmatic focus on solving problems in this world, the dynamism and flexibility of their religious practices were critical for their quick reactivation within Brazilian slave society. The Atlantic transfer, however, deprived African institutions of their structural social basis so a complex innovative process of re-institutionalization was necessary to allow new forms of Afro-Brazilian religions to emerge. Ritual associativism first occurred around the colonial Calundu, mostly concerned with interpersonal healing and divination interactions, but rapidly saw the formation of parallel religious congregations inspired by an ecclesiastical mode of organization based on the initiatory recruitment of novices and the worship of multiple deities. Despite common elements of healing, divination, sacrifice, spirit possession, initiation, and celebration, the genesis of Afro-Brazilian religions was marked by astounding pluralism and eclecticism that led to a wide range of regional variation. The demographics and cultural specificities of the enslaved in each place, as well as local historical circumstances, determined distinct processes of creative synthesis among the various African traditions and between these and hegemonic Iberian Catholicism, Amerindian healing practices, and others. The circulation of ideas and priests across the country and between Africa and Brazil after the end of the Atlantic slave trade also added to the 19th-century consolidation of an Afro-Brazilian religious field. Despite a history of continuous discrimination and persecution, alongside occasional selective tolerance, Afro-Brazilian religions offered a unique space for the transformative reproduction of African values, behaviors, and forms of sociability, which had a long-lasting effect on Brazilian national culture. The temples’ struggles for legitimacy and recognition was expressed in a latent tension between those which claimed an alleged African ritual purity and those accused of syncretism, a divide to which scholars greatly contributed to and which has oriented their classificatory efforts.

Article

The Afro-Brazilians of West Africa refers to a community of people that was born in the 18th century and matured the 19th century in the course of trade exchanges between Brazil and West Africa. This is not a racial group but one united by a mixture of racial, commercial, cultural, and familial ties with a range of African, European, and American ancestries. The original foundation of the community emerged through the shipment of enslaved West Africans to Brazilian plantations. Upon liberation, many of these men and women, wanting to avoid a life of bondage and racial discrimination in the Americas, returned home to Africa. Others too old to leave Brazil or unwilling to abandon their American families and investments sent their Brazilian-born children back to Africa to see long-lost families and for business and education. There were also those descended from Brazilian traders who made Africa their home, sometimes marrying African wives, as well as their descendants and associates, free and unfree. Whether born in Africa or the Americas and regardless of color, the presence of Afro-Brazilians on both sides of the Atlantic necessitated intercontinental travels and exchanges and the birth of a transoceanic community. The history of Afro-Brazilians in West Africa has been a long and widely studied subject with a focus on its political and cultural contributions to the subregion.

Article

Roquinaldo Ferreira

Central Africa became deeply intertwined in the Atlantic world with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1482, which opened up a new world of connections between African societies and European and American partners. As a region, central Africa stretches from Gabon to Mossamedes, near the border of the present nation of Namibia. Two distinct patterns of interaction marked the region’s integration into the wider Atlantic world. On the Loango coast, Atlantic trade by Dutch, British, and French merchants favored African kings in the short term but eventually paved the way for the rise of coastal rulers who seized upon wealth amassed through the slave trade to challenge kingship. After first playing out in the kingdom of Kongo, this dynamic unfolded in several other polities, such as the kingdom of Ngoyo and Ndongo. South of the Congo River, Portugal’s ability to carve out coastal enclaves in Luanda and Benguela powerfully shaped the relationship with the Atlantic world. Both cities developed sprawling trading networks with their immediate hinterlands as well as several cities across the Atlantic, particularly in Brazil but later also in Cuba. Although the slave trade formed the cornerstone of trading networks, a continuum of social, cultural, and political ties bridged the ocean. Portuguese institutional and economic presence was deeply dependent on Angola’s ties with Brazil. The two Portuguese colonies interacted bilaterally, and Brazil was not only the source of commodities for the trade in human beings but also in crops, food supplies, and military hardware. Distinct patterns of Afro-European interaction in Loango and Portuguese Angola should not hide the intense trade between these two regions. Since the 17th century, Luanda had depended on the Loango coast for palm-cloth currencies (libongos) that circulated widely in the capital city of Portuguese Angola. Cabinda men sailed to Luanda to purchase tobacco and sell slaves and other goods. As the French and then the British abandoned the slave trade, the direct slave trade with Brazil intensified and altered the structure of shipments of captives. In addition to the tightening Brazilian grip over central Africa’s slave trade, this development further integrated coastal trade between Loango and Portuguese Angola and set the stage for the continuation of shipments of captives until the 1860s.

Article

Lucilene Reginaldo

André do Couto Godinho was born in 1720 in the Brazilian captaincy of Minas Gerais, in the town of Mariana, and died in the Kingdom of Kongo, probably around 1790. Born not only a slave but the slave of a slave, he went on to obtain his freedom, becoming literate, later studying at a university, and finally going on to serve as a missionary in Africa. Between the beginning of his life, in Brazil, and its end, in Africa, he spent a number of years in Portugal, in the cities of Coimbra and Lisbon. While his life story is certainly extraordinary, it provides a window into the possibilities of, and strategies for, social and geographic mobility of free and freed black people in different parts of the Portuguese Empire during the second half of the 1700s. Retracing André Godinho’s footsteps is an exercise in micro-history, a technique that, when used as a counterpoint to a more global analysis, offers fresh insights into familiar subjects, with the seemingly insignificant details of an individual life raising questions that would have gone unnoticed in a strictly macroscopic analysis. André’s path in life, as a free man of color helps understand the larger historical contexts that defined the possibilities, choices, and limitations of his personal history. Godinho’s story provides insights into African descendants’ possibilities for social ascension, also clarifying the limitations imposed by emerging social hierarchies based on skin color and slave origin.

Article

Pieter Emmer and Henk den Heijer

The Dutch share in the Atlantic slave trade averaged about 5 to 6 percent of the total, but the volume differed sharply over time. The beginning of the Dutch transatlantic slave trade can be dated to 1636, after the Dutch West India Company (WIC) had acquired its own plantation colony around Recife in Brazil. In order to set up a regular trade in slaves, the WIC also took Elmina on the Gold Coast and Luanda in Angola from the Portuguese. The slave trade to Dutch Brazil was short-lived, and after the loss of Dutch Brazil and Luanda, the WIC as well as private merchants from Amsterdam started to sell slaves to colonists in the Spanish, English, and French Caribbean via Curaçao, the WIC trade hub in the region. In 1667, in addition to the small colonies of Berbice and Essequibo, the Dutch conquered Suriname and during the 18th century established Demerara. The Dutch slave trade became more and more focused on these plantation colonies. Between 1700 and 1725, after the Dutch had been banned from selling slaves in foreign colonies, the Dutch slave trade declined, but the volume increased again after 1730 when the WIC lost its monopoly and private shipping companies were allowed to enter the trade. In addition, Amsterdam-based investors poured money into the Dutch plantation colonies expecting windfall profits from a new cash crop: coffee. These profits did not materialize, and the majority of the planters in the Dutch plantation colonies went bankrupt. These bankruptcies, another war with Britain, and the French occupation caused the Dutch slave trade to decline sharply. The last Dutch slave ship sailed to Suriname in 1802. In 1814, the Dutch government yielded to British abolitionist pressure and abolished the slave trade in the hope of regaining its colonial possessions occupied by Britain.