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Black Brotherhoods in the Iberian Atlantic  

Miguel A. Valerio

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.