Kongo King Festivals in Brazil: From Kings of Nations to Kings of Kongo

by Marina de Mello e Souza


Popular culture in Brazil owes a great deal to African cultural elements that have been reorganized and reassembled through various and multiple historical processes. One particular festivity that takes place in many regions and has occurred since the beginning of Portuguese colonization consists of the coronation and celebration of black kings. This happened under the veil of Catholic brotherhoods that congregated groups of Africans and their descendants, who were slaves, freed or free born individuals. In the eighteenth century these were known as “black king celebrations.” The celebrated individuals were identified as “kings of nations” and represented specific ethnic or multi-ethnic groups. The designation congada appeared for the first time at the beginning of the nineteenth century to refer to such celebrations, and as time went by the ethnic black kings gradually turned into “kings of Kongo.” In the course of the nineteenth century, the king of Kongo festivals became, as a result of historical processes that had begun in the sixteenth century, the place of an affirmation of a black Catholic identity and a reinforcement of communitarian links, mainly among groups of Central African ancestry. Today the congadas are still performed by black and racially mixed groups, mainly in the southeast of Brazil.

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Marina de Mello e Souza is Professor of History, University of São Paulo. Her specialization includes the history of Central Africa, Catholicism in Kongo and Angola, Afro-Brazilian culture, and African religions and has led to significant scholarly publications in Portuguese and English on African cultural heritage in Brazil.