CXXI -- Central African and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora, by Linda M. Heywood (coord.), Jan Vansina, Joseph C. Miller, John K. Thornton, Mary C. Karasch, Elizabeth W. Kiddy & Robert W. Slenes - comments by André Bandeira

Very interesting, and enlightening, collection of essays on the African diaspora in the Americas and, particularly, in Brazil. What strikes me most is that the data available, clearly points out to a majority of  central african stock. I would count about 50% among those who made it to brazilian shores, after the great crossing. There are many cultures mixed up in this demographic tragedy. Bob Marley sings of «redemption songs» to emerge alive from under the decks. How did they manage, though, rooted out of their own homeland as they were, through tribal wars and the the slave industry, to tune together the same «redemption melody»? The authors tell us that, despite the diversity and the estrangement of many central african languages which gathered in the heart of Africa, freshly or for far long, by demography and geopolitics, they also had glued together thanks to a non-african culture. That culture was portuguese. But no «portuguese culture» comes to matter, here, as one could get  to argue, in the chase for any portuguese specificity within an imperial Europe. This portuguese culture, which was no way «iberian», was forged since the maritime expansion by means of the alliance of the portuguese King with the King of Congo and, then, with the Queen Dzinga, northwards of the Kwanza river. The conversion of the congolese aristocracy to Christianity was not superficial, although it was the result of an open native theology, where the magic value of Christianity added up to the animist and islamic blend. One author gives us a very good testimony: at a certain point, a warlord was sentenced to death by the portuguese. Apparently, he decided to convert to Christianity before being executed, because it considered it a good safe-conduct to the other world. But one has more: the portuguese culture was already pregnant of african spirits when it got to Brazil. Maybe -- this is purely my guess -- that is why the portuguese language finally came over the guarany, which was the language already spoken, both by the people and the rulers in Brazil. Portuguese was the river where the different african dialects could transfer their own meanings and make them flow, even if it was to resist, for decades, the slave-traders in the woods of Brazil, as Zumbi did in Palmares. As a matter of fact, the dream of an Empire of their own, in a tiny kingdom such as Portugal, had to be, specially after the defeats in North Africa, black african. And the congolese empire found there a very good opportunity to strengthen its position in central Africa. When the african traditions got to Brazil and managed to recognize, through the slave chains and bars, they also rebuilt, in a way, the portuguese-congolese kingdom. Sooner than expected, the white people were already under the spell of that powerful underground kingdom. They could call it superstition but it was already a mutually interesting fusion of peoples which met by seeway. And one cannot understimate the hidden survival code  and strength of any superstition.

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