Religion and Empire

Revaluating Minorities: The Poetry of Black Africans in Early Modern Spain

The research project Revaluating Minorities focuses on the cultural role played by the black African diaspora in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain, not only as an object of representation but, above all, as an active subject and creative agent of its own cultural heritage. This project aims to update the perception of the Spanish literary panorama of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries based on the extensive recovery of documents from international archives and libraries, and to rescue the intangible legacy of a forgotten community in the social and cultural history of Spain.

Revaluating Minorities also analyzes the Spanish literature of the Golden Age from below, in other words, by taking into account the contribution made by the black African diaspora to mainstream cultural productions, and, especially, the genre of villancicos de negro (popular African Christmas songs).

The participation of black Africans in the cultural life of Spain derived, on the one hand, from the needs of the Spanish nobility, but also reflected the need of the black communities to open up new spaces of negotiation in which they could produce their own music, dance and poetry. The first aspect is relatively well attested in historical documents, and consists of the training and hiring of black African musicians in the Spanish courts, which mirrors and reproduces the slave-owner relationship; the second facet, much less visible, but documented in a wide range of sources, accounts for the cultural contributions of the African diaspora in Spain, as shown, for example, in the requests of black African confraternities to participate in religious festivities, the creative strategies used by African descendants to obtain money to pay for their manumission, and the demands and concerns of the black African diaspora that we can read in the lyrics of the villancicos de negro.

Line of research team