Beyond Babel: Translations of blackness in colonial Peru and New Granada

Larissa Brewer-Garcia, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation questions the prevalent assumption that Juan Francisco Manzano's autobiography (1840) was the first and one of the only texts produced by a black man or woman in colonial Latin America. Drawing on printed and archival sources from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Peru and New Granada, this dissertation argues that black men and women influenced the composition of texts as interpreters and Christian subjects more than two centuries earlier. The first chapter provides a typology of archetypes of blackness circulating in Peru and New Granada in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in literary, legal, and religious texts, analyzing them in the context of Renaissance Humanism. Chapter two examines Jesuit letters, travel narratives, and multilingual catechisms composed in Peru to outline how evangelical processes in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries included or excluded mestizos and blacks as interpreters. This chapter highlights the unique position of black interpreters in Jesuit evangelical projects in a diasporic context where the diversity of African languages required priests to rely on their black lenguas to an unprecedented degree. Chapter three analyzes a corpus of Jesuit texts produced with the assistance of black interpreters in seventeenth-century Cartagena de Indias. This chapter foregrounds the role of black language specialists in the creation and circulation of positive and powerful notions of Christian blackness. Chapter four studies the life writings of San Martín de Porres and Ursula de Jesús as examples of black religious mediators and mediums in seventeenth-century Lima. Their texts demonstrate notions of blackness strategically transformed into a religious virtue at the service of evangelization. By analyzing the unacknowledged variety of notions of blackness in colonial Latin American texts, this dissertation provides insight into representations of black men and women in the early modern period that have been ignored by scholarship due to the predominance of projecting contemporary models of race onto interpretations of the past.^

Subject Area

Latin American literature|Latin American history|Latin American studies

Recommended Citation

Brewer-Garcia, Larissa, "Beyond Babel: Translations of blackness in colonial Peru and New Granada" (2013). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10289891.