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Blacks of the Rosary: Memory and History in Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Blacks of the Rosary: Memory and History in Minas Gerais, Brazil, by Elizabeth W. Kiddy. University Park, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005. xvi, 287 pp. $55.00 US (cloth) $27.00 US (paper).

Blacks of the Rosary reconstructs the history of the brotherhoods of Our Lady of the Rosary and the experiences of the congadeiros in Minas Gerais, Brazil from the early colonial time into the late twentieth century. Elizabeth Kiddy presents the brotherhoods as a space of community, where Afro-Brazilians constructed and recreated a common identity and a sense of belonging based on a shared history of being black in Brazil. As she explores the ways in which the brotherhoods, their membership, and rituals changed from the 1690s to the 1990s, Kiddy demonstrates that they were flexible institutions that incorporated and adapted to the economic, political, religious, and demographic transformations of Minas Gerais. The book also shows the permanent negotiations and conflicts between the brotherhoods and political and religious authorities in Brazil, suggesting the struggles of Afro-Brazilians to maintain their history, memory, and community.

The book is chronologically organized in three parts. The first section of the book (chapters one and two) looks at the origins of the brotherhoods in Europe and Africa. Chapter one examines the history of the brotherhoods and the devotion to the Virgin Mary in Europe and Portugal. Kiddy specifically looks at the presence and meaning of beads and the rosary in European Catholicism. Based on the analysis of the importance of Marian devotion in fifteenth-century Portugal, Kiddy argues that the Portuguese encouraged the brotherhoods as part of their colonial expansion in Africa, and later in Brazil, because these institutions were part of their own religious traditions. Yet, they would encourage a separation between black and white brotherhoods. The author concludes that the brotherhoods were the "most significant organizations in the daily life of most Portuguese, in both the metropolis and the colonies" (p. 37). In her second chapter, Kiddy describes the experiences of Africans in joining and forming brotherhoods in Brazil. The rosary brotherhoods became important institutions as they incorporated the diversity of African beliefs and people's shared past in Africa and their own experience in Brazil. In these brotherhoods, Afro-Brazilians (both slaves and free blacks) found a place in which to recreate their worldview and create a new community of blacks. Despite changes over time, the author argues, this worldview remained very stable.

The second part of the book (chapters three through five) is the most interesting and well-researched section of the work. In these chapters, Kiddy traces the continuities and changes affecting the brotherhoods of the rosary from the 1690s to the end of the Brazilian empire in 1889, looking at how national and regional economic, political, and demographic changes affected the composition, role, and influence of the brotherhoods in Minas Gerais. Chapter three focuses on the period between 1690 and 1750. During these decades, the brotherhoods were central to the religious experience in Minas Gerais. They were complex institutions, incorporating the diversity of the regional black population (slaves and free, men and women). Through a detailed description of the internal structures of the brotherhoods, their everyday life, and their annual rituals and celebrations, the author demonstrates the important presence of the brotherhood in early colonial Minas Gerais. The next chapter focuses on the changes occurring in the late colonial period, and especially the conflict between the colonial state, the church, and the brotherhoods, as the state and church attempted to exert greater control over the brotherhoods and, more specifically, over their economic resources. While the brotherhoods continued to incorporate the diversity of the black experience with their rituals, celebrations remained stable, and by the end of the colonial period they were less autonomous and less powerful. Chapter five analyzes the brotherhoods during the period of the Brazilian Empire. While there are few sources for this period, the author is able to document the increasing presence of the state and religious authorities at the local level and the existence of new regulations, such as the new limits on the rote of women within the religious organizations.

The third part (chapters six and seven) looks at the brotherhood following the abolition of slavery and the end of the empire into the 1990s. This section is less rich in details than the previous one, and it reads more as a general historical overview of what happened with and within the brotherhoods during the twentieth century. Chapter six chronologically examines the struggle of the brotherhoods as they experienced political and religious repression. Despite the repression, the author shows that the devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary, the festivals, and the rituals survived and continued being a central element in the life and identity of Afro-Brazilians. In her last chapter, Kiddy brings up the voices of late-twentieth-century congadeiros, demonstrating the ways in which they have maintained the history and memory of their community and themselves (as congadeiros).

Overall, this is an engaging and well-researched book. It clearly explains the ways in which Afro-Brazilians have appropriated the brotherhoods to create a community in Minas Gerais since the colonial times. By incorporating a wide range of sources, such as the brotherhoods' documents, oral interviews, and personal observations, Kiddy provides a vivid image of the brotherhoods and the devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary. While her analysis of the twentieth century is less detailed, she raises critical questions for scholars studying the Afro-Brazilian community during these important decades. In general, Blacks of the Rosary is an important book for scholars working on the African Diaspora, the history of Afro-Brazilians, and religious practices.

Angela Vergara

California State University, Los Angeles
COPYRIGHT 2007 Canadian Journal of History
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Vergara, Angela
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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