Black Brotherhoods in North America: Afro-Iberian and West-Central African Influences


  • Jeroen Dewulf


Building on the acknowledgement that many Africans, predominantly in West-Central Africa, had already adopted certain Portuguese cultural and religious elements before they were shipped to the Americas as slaves, this article argues that syncretic Afro-Iberian elements must also have existed among slave communities outside of the Iberian realm in the American diaspora. It explores this possibility with a focus on Afro-Iberian brotherhoods. While it was long assumed that these so-called “black brotherhoods” were associated with slave culture on the Iberian Peninsula and in Latin America only, it can now be confirmed that Afro-Catholic fraternities also flourished in parts of Africa during the Atlantic slave trade era. A comparative analysis of king celebrations in Afro-Iberian brotherhoods with those at Pinkster and Election Day festivals in New York and New England reveals a surprising number of parallels, which leads to the conclusion that these African-American performances may have been rooted in Afro-Iberian traditions brought to North America by the Charter Generations.