Afro-Venezuelans - Sociopolitical Organization

The existence of cofradías (brotherhoods) since colonial times has played an important role in the social and political organization of Afro-Venezuelans. Derived in part from various forms of African communal associations, the cofradías were incorporated around patron saints. Comprised of slaves, free Blacks, and Pardos, cofradías provided a vehicle for cooperation and collective work. Unlike the Black cofradías and cabildos (guilds) of Cuba and Brazil, membership in these groups was not organized along the lines of distinct African ethnic identities. Cofradías existed in the major towns and cities of colonial Venezuela; at the beginning of the nineteenth century, thirteen cofradías existed in Caracas alone. As the only sanctioned form of Black collectivity, cofradías were subject to strict legislation and became the focus of attempts by the church to pacify potential Black opposition and assimilate Afro-Venezuelans into the colonial political structure. Despite such tactics, Black cofradías remained a vehicle for organized resistance. Cofradías, which are still organized around the celebration of patron saints, continue to serve as welfare and burial societies for their members.

Cofradías also find contemporary counterparts in the emergence of local community groups and cultural centers. Many of these groups were initially organized in response to the encroachment by tourism and business interests on Afro-Venezuelan religious fiestas. The reappropriation of the Fiesta of San Juan in Curiepe, for example, was aimed at keeping profits within the community and counteracting the effects of exoticized commercialization. A group known as the Centro Deportivo y Cultural de Curiepe sought to "re-Africanize" the festival, coordinating various cultural and educational programs in conjunction with the festival. In the late 1980s, members of this group, now known as the Centro de Investigación y Documentación de la Cultura Barloventeña (CIDICUB), in cooperation with the state of Miranda, initiated an official program to promote the study of regional history and identity. They established cultural centers, published school textbooks about local history, and began a series of radio programs, television documentaries, theater companies, and music and dance workshops, all focused on Afro-Venezuelan history and culture. Community centers and cultural workshops such as these have also been established in other areas, including Chuao, Aragua, and Bobures, and Zulia.

Migrant regional associations have played an important role in Afro-Venezuelan life in the cities, providing a vehicle through which contacts are maintained with rural communities. Some groups have actively promoted the cultural events of their home communities. The nationally publicized week of cultural presentations organized around the Fiesta of San Juan in 1970, for example, was initiated by Curiepe migrants living in Caracas. The municipal government of Caracas also supports, through FUNDARTE, the maintenance of Afro-Venezuelan culture in many of the barrios of Caracas with centers, concerts, competitions, and the celebration of various festivals.

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