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The Amistad Saga: A Transatlantic Dialogue  

Jorge Felipe-Gonzalez, Gibril R. Cole, and Benjamin N. Lawrance

The story of the slave ship La Amistad is one of the most celebrated and narrated 19th-century stories of the transatlantic slave trade. To fully appreciate the significance and impact of the events and circumstances of this fateful episode, it is important to examine its legacy from multiple points of the Atlantic world—vestiges of the triangular trade bequeathed by the Columbian Exchange. For a long time, the Amistad saga has been viewed from a very US-centric perspective because the dispute over the lives of the Africans rose to the US Supreme Court in 1840–1841. New archival and oral research in West Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean is rebalancing the narrative and revising the historical drama. Today, the Amistad story is widely recognized as a quintessentially Atlantic story, a story of mobility that moves back and forth across the Atlantic in multiple directions over many decades. The deployment of the phrase “Amistad saga” provides a vehicle with which to critique the socio-legal battles about transatlantic slave trading in Caribbean, North American, and West African history. The Amistad story is often described as pre-incidental to the US Civil War. The victory of African defendants is often framed as a self-congratulatory vindication of the successful resistance of enslaved Africans. The celebrated figure of “Joseph Cinqué” or Sengbe Pieh, the self-appointed leader of the Africans, and a replica of the ship itself are part of an Amistad memory industry that attempts to narrate the slave trade and its abolition. A new framework for teaching and understanding the history of the Amistad saga and its memory and forgetting through an Atlantic lens must combine historical and contemporary perspectives from the United States, Europe, Cuba, and Sierra Leone.

Article

Capoeira: From Slave Combat Game to Global Martial Art  

Matthias Röhrig Assunção

Capoeira is a martial art that developed from combat games enslaved Africans brought to Brazil. It is systematically documented since the beginning of the 19th century in Rio de Janeiro and later in other port cities. During the 19th century capoeira was increasingly practiced by the poor free people, black and of mixed ancestry, and also by white immigrants. Capoeira gangs controlled their territories against intruders and allied with political parties until the Republican purge of 1890. Capoeira survived best in Bahia, where it remained more associated with other forms of Afro-Brazilian culture and acquired many of its features still extant in present-day capoeira. From the 1930s onward, capoeira masters such as Bimba and Pastinha modernized capoeira, leading to the emergence of the Regional and Angola styles. Bahian capoeiristas migrated to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in search of better opportunities during the 1950–1970s. There they and their students developed what later became known as “Contemporary capoeira” (Capoeira Contemporânea) which is the most practiced style today. Capoeira was and is practiced in various ways: as a friendly game or as a fight, as a combat sport, or as an Afro-Brazilian cultural activity. Since the 1980s, capoeira has undergone a process of globalization and is now practiced in many countries around the world. Capoeira is the only martial art of the African Diaspora that is known and practiced worldwide. Writing on Capoeira has rapidly grown in a number of disciplines, leading to the constitution of its own interdisciplinary field of study.

Article

Fernando Ortiz on Afro-Cuban Music  

Robin Moore

Fernando Ortiz is recognized today as one of the most influential Latin American authors of the 20th century. Amazingly prolific, his publications written between the 1890s and the mid-1950s engage with a vast array of subjects and disciplines. Perhaps Ortiz’s most significant accomplishments were the creation of the field of Afro-Cuban studies and major early contributions to the emergent field of Afro-diasporic studies. Almost everyone else associated with similar research began their investigations decades after Ortiz and in dialogue with his work. Ortiz was one of the first to seriously examine slave and post-abolition black cultures in Cuba. His studies became central to new and more positive discourses surrounding African-derived expression in the mid-20th century that embraced it as national expression for the first time in Latin America. This essay considers Ortiz’s academic career and legacy as regards Afro-Cuban musical study beginning in the early 20th century (when his views were quite dated, even racist) and gradual, progressive changes in his attitudes. Ortiz’s work on music and dance have been underrepresented in existing academic literature, despite the fact that most of his late publications focus on such topics and are considered among his most valuable works. His writings on black heritage provide insight into the struggles within New World societies to overcome the racial/evolutionist ideologies that justified colonial subjugation. His scholarship resonates with broader debates throughout the Americas over the meanings of racial pluralism and the legacy of slavery. And his changing views over the years outline the trajectory of modern Western thought as regards Africa and race, specifically the contributions of Afro-diasporic peoples, histories, and cultures to New World societies.

Article

Music and Eastern Cuban Identity  

Rebecca Bodenheimer

On the one hand, Cubans from Havana tend to paint themselves as the quintessential representation of Cubanidad (Cubanness) and often enjoy all the visibility, especially from a global perspective. This trend has become even more pronounced since the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States in December 2014. On the other hand, eastern Cubans often view their culture and history as absolutely crucial to the development and identity of the nation. The central role of Oriente (eastern Cuba) in both the late 19th-century Wars of Independence and the 1959 Cuban Revolution buttresses this alternative discourse. In terms of Cuba’s musical history, Oriente has contributed in major ways to the development of national genres, particularly with son, but also in terms of the 19th-century social dance contradanza and the Haitian influence in popular and folkloric Cuban music. The most recent contribution has been the introduction of reggaeton into the Cuban context by a Santiago-based rapper. In this study of the discourse of eastern Cuban musicians, as well as the work of Cuban and foreign scholars, the centrality of regional traditions to the development of national genres is considered. Unlike hegemonic representations of Cuban musical history, these narratives often foreground the links to and influences from other Caribbean islands, particularly Haiti. This discursive emplacement of eastern Cuba at the center of Cuban musical creativity is clearly a reaction to the common marginalization of the region within the national production of knowledge, represented by scholars from the capital and some foreign researchers. Havana-centric perspectives are counterbalanced by foregrounding those of eastern Cuba.

Article

Palm Oil and Afro-Brazilian Cultures  

Case Watkins

Palm oil is fundamental in Afro-Brazilian cultures, economies, and ecologies. Perhaps no other single material is as essential to Afro-Brazilian identities and cosmologies as is palm oil. Known in Brazil as dendê, or more precisely, azeite de dendê, palm oil exemplifies the intricate relations linking cultures and environments in the African diaspora. During colonial overseas expansion, the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) crossed the Atlantic to become a transformative but underappreciated African contribution to cultures and ecologies in the Americas. In Brazil, the palm interspersed within mangrove ecosystems, secondary forests, shifting agriculture, and diversified agroforests on the coasts of Bahia, creating complex landscapes and economies that supplied palm oil for a variety of Afro-Brazilian cultural expressions. In complement to those landscapes of domestically produced dendê, by the 18th century, transatlantic commercial networks had begun importing palm oil in bulk from West and Central Africa to Bahia. Along with a range of other ancestral goods, including colorful West African textiles and stimulating kola nuts, African palm oil served as an essential base material in growing Afro-Brazilian foodways, aesthetics, and religions. When these trades fell into decline in the late 19th century, demand for locally produced palm oil spiked, and Bahia’s domestic economy consolidated regional dendê cultures, ecologies, and markets. In the 21st century, palm oil remains integral in Afro-Brazilian identities and cultures, and complex traditional landscapes continue to supply local and national markets. Enduring as a living monument to resistance in the African diaspora, dendê provides livelihoods for rural communities, the unmistakeable flavor of Afro-Brazilian foodways, and a sacred symbol and ritual element in Afro-Brazilian religions.

Article

The Paraguayan Illustrated Press during the War of the Triple Alliance  

Leonardo de Oliveira Silva

The War of the Triple Alliance converted Paraguay into a scene of devastation. The conflict with Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay—the Triple Alliance—resulted in innumerous killings and the destruction of Paraguay’s economy as well as its natural and urban spaces. Halfway through the war, when the imminent collapse of the country was evident, Paraguayan president Francisco Solano López brought together a group of intellectuals to establish an illustrated press to boost the troops’ morale while criticizing and ridiculing the enemy. In only a few months, Paraguay saw the creation of three illustrated periodicals: El Centinela (April 1867–February 1868), Cabichuí (May 1867–August 1868), and Cacique Lambaré (July 1867–September 1868). Publishing texts and cartoons, these newspapers played a crucial role in engaging the heterogenous Paraguayan population while solidifying racial discrimination against Afrodescendants. The legacy of these illustrated publications was the increased valorization of the Paraguayan identity (which was fundamental during the reconstruction years). On the other hand, this state-controlled press promoted discrimination against groups portrayed as not belonging to the Paraguayan self-image.

Article

Toward a History of Carnival  

Martha Abreu and Eric Brasil

Carnival is one of the most powerful images of Brazil in the contemporary world, a party marketed by tourism agencies as a unique spectacle, filled with rhythm, humor, fun, and free spirits that brings the entire population together, marked by infectious joy, sensuality, and irresistible samba. This perception of the party, however, is far from its history since colonial times. While Carnival has always been present in large cities and small towns from one end of Brazil to the other, it has taken many forms and included many sounds, meanings, traditions, and social subjects. To understand the history of Carnival in Brazil, one must take another approach: the celebration of Carnival as an expression of many differences, a variety of forms, and numerous conflicts. For many years, interpretations viewed Carnival as a space in which Brazilians come together to celebrate commonly held cultural traditions or as an effective escape valve allowing common people to forget the woes of everyday life. More recently, historians and anthropologists have studied Carnival celebrations as windows that offer a glimpse of the tensions, rivalries, and alliances of an entire year, brought to the fore, magnified and played out in public on the festival days. Whether through masks, costumes, and individual hijinks or through Carnival associations, various social groups have taken advantage of Carnival in various historical contexts of Brazilian society to assert their identity and take action on various political projects that aim to transform (or subvert) current reality and debate the very history of Brazil. The study of the history of Brazilian Carnival, or rather Carnivals, thus provides an innovative and original epistemological approach to understanding social transformations and the meanings of Carnival revelers’ political actions at various times in history, whether they be members of the economic and intellectual elite or urban workers, enslaved people, freed people, and free people. The article prioritizes the period between the late 19th century and the early 20th century, when Carnivals came to more closely resemble their modern form through intense disputes between those who sought to civilize the festivities and revelers who sought to act out their traditions and customs. The history of Carnival the article intends to tell engages in intense dialogue with struggles for black people’s citizenship before and after the abolition of slavery, stretching into the second half of the 20th century, when Samba Schools emerged as one of the principal features of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and, by extension, throughout Brazil.