Black confraternities or lay Catholic brotherhoods were colonial Afro-Latin Americans’ main site of social action and expression, striking a balance between rebellion and flight and assimilation. Modeled on the Roman collegia, burial of deceased members was a central preoccupation. Black brothers and sisters cared for infirm cofrades (confraternity members) in their own hospitals and other hospitals of colonial Latin America. They commissioned, fashioned, and maintained ornate altars and shrines for their saints, thereby engaging in artistic patronage and art collecting. They staged lavish festivities for their patron’s feast and other holidays, so dazzling that they were incorporated into local public festivities. But their festive practices were also seen by colonial authorities as unorthodox and even subversive. Yet, despite all opposition, colonial Afro-Latin Americans managed to avail themselves of religious brotherhoods to fashion meaningful existence in the diaspora through community formation, mutual aid, and religious and festive expression. Brotherhoods thus allowed Afro-Latin Americans to fashion group cohesion and a sense of belonging they would translate into political action in future generations. As colonial Afro-Latin Americans’ principal site of social action, confraternities offer us important avenues for studying black subjectivities and ways to account for black vocality in Latin America.
Black Brotherhoods in the Iberian Atlantic
Miguel A. Valerio
Black Brotherhoods in the Portuguese Atlantic
Alicia L. Monroe
Lay Catholic brotherhoods constituted important religious, social, and civic associations among African-origin and African-descended people in Portugal, West Central Africa, and Portuguese America in the early modern period (1450–1850). Lay Catholic brotherhoods (irmandades), also known as confraternities (confrarias) and sodalities, functioned as spaces of devotion oriented around one or more patron saints. In the Portuguese Atlantic world, free and enslaved people of African origin and descent utilized the associations to prioritize collective devotion, mutual aid, and burial rites for members. Mutual aid could include small payments during illness, assistance with manumission process completion, and internment of deceased members under the auspices of the sodality. Lay Catholic brotherhoods functioned as critical sites of transculturation and belonging for people of African origin and descent in the 1490s in Portugal, by the early 1500s in areas of West Central Africa with an entrenched Portuguese presence, and in Brazil beginning in the colonial period (1500–1822). Confraternities became a common facet of lived experience and religiosity for African and African-descended Catholic devotees across the Portuguese-speaking Atlantic world. Associations were governed by organizational charters generated by founding or elected directorate members that required approval from Catholic Church leaders, the Crown, and provincial-level state authorities. Confraternities had juridical personality and recognition from ecclesial and state officials as semi-autonomous entities or corporate bodies. Members could exercise and experience limited levels of autonomy, even in slave-holding colonial environments. Within brotherhoods in Portugal and in its overseas imperial territories, ethnic and racial stratification was predominant, but not absolute. Confraternities acted as institutional sites where West, West Central, and Southeastern African ethnic group identities held importance and deep social meaning across several centuries. Confraternity participants engaged baroque Catholicism, which emphasized collective action including celebration of the saints and related rites relying on music, movement, and festivities. Brotherhoods functioned as critical sites of proselytization, but also came to serve as spaces for local member imperatives that incorporated African cultural expression, esthetics, and worldviews.
Black Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods: Participatory Christianity in New Spain’s Mining Towns
Nicole von Germeten
Free and enslaved Africans played an important role in developing a unique form of participatory Christianity in New Spain’s mining towns, especially Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, and Parral. Afro-Mexicans founded, organized, and led religious organizations, called cofradías, shaping them to their own needs and understandings of the sacred and its connections to social ties, gatherings, and celebrations. The practical goals of cofradías included helping sick members and paying for burials and funerals. Historians observe a kind of Latin American African-influenced Baroque piety in cofradías, with embodied practices concentrating on annual flagellant processions held during Holy Week, and an evolving internal gender dynamic, which suggests assimilative goals, even as cofradías strengthened Afro-Mexican communities.