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Unfollow Follow Unblock. Since blackface is Since blackface is so widely associated with the nineteenth-century US blackface minstrel tradition, this article develops the concept of "hemispheric blackface" to expand common understandings of the form. It historicizes Sambos' deployment of blackface within an Andean performance tradition known as the Tundique, and then traces the way multiple hemispheric performance traditions can converge in a single blackface act.
It underscores the amorphous nature of blackface itself and critically assesses its role in producing anti-blackness in the performance. Doi: Save to Library. View on hemisphericinstitute.
Remember me on this computer. As this dancing army moves forward, the sounds of the bells on their boots reverberate in our seats and on the stadium floor: Shhhhaaakkka shaakkka! The chained men in blackface dance just ahead of the caporales. From the distance, I can see the giant balls of the silver chains hanging around their necks sway to and fro. Their bright red lipstick gleams as the blackface performers grin wildly and excitedly stomp their feet to the beat.
They hop and skip, moving their left feet twice and their right feet twice. The stadium erupts with laughter and applause. As the caporales move forward, they raise their whips above their heads, punch their fists in the air and three or four rows of hundreds of caporales move to encircle the enslaved Africans. The dancing slaves in blackface skip and hop happily to the one-two beat. The American tourists in front of me laugh heartily and one points to an unchained slave carrying his watermelon. Three cameramen surround him. He stomps his feet delightfully, takes his watermelon to his face and bites into it wildly Figure 4.
The laughter and cheers grow louder. What ideas of blackness are animated in their act of impersonation? Blackface is a mode of racial conjuring that is present in performance traditions across the Americas. Even though blackface is a part of indigenous performance traditions, it is more common for performers of the Danza de Caporales to briefly incorporate a black mask in theatrical scenes of their performances.
Hemispheric blackface is about the encounter of various performance traditions of the Americas in individual acts of impersonation. The creators of the Danza de Caporales, for example, were inspired by Afro-Bolivian performance, the Argentine gaucho, the popular Afro-Cuban image from the mambo craze of the s, and the Catholic tradition of the Baile de los Negritos. A blackface performance such as this one is hemispheric in that it signifies on the images and tropes that circulate in the transnational web of exchange between the US and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Hemispheric blackface is not a universalizing claim about the function of all blackface representation in the Americas, for meaning is always contingent and contextual. In this study, I argue that their performance enacts a power fantasy that relies on the subjugation of an enslaved black body.
Restored behavior treats living behavior as strips of film that are revised and reworked. No two performances are exactly alike, and the meaning of each is always co-constructed by practitioners and spectators through their engagement with the devices operating before them Elam , 5. Performance and cultural studies treat embodied forms and cultural artifacts as epistemic practices that serve both as objects of analysis and as constitutive sites of knowledge production Taylor ; West ; Hall So while members of the performance troupe indicated to me that they defined blackface as a US tradition and that their performance was an expression of their admiration, respect for, and fascination with blackness personal communication, , I am ultimately asking this question: How does blackface—as a central device of racial play—activate and organize the racialized and gendered relations of power that are enacted in embodied form onstage?
The second claim on which hemispheric blackface is grounded is that as performances travel, they shape and impact other performance practice and traditions Taylor Since conversations about blackface are often centered around the export of US blackface minstrel archetypes to sites of the global South Cole ; Thelwell ; Hill , 8 blackface is often theorized as moving from the North to the South. While I use hemispheric blackface to place the Americas in a single critical frame, I decenter US minstrelsy as the presumed progenitor for blackface, opting instead to highlight an indigenous blackface tradition.
These traditions predate US blackface minstrelsy, and they have always traveled across national borders to neighboring countries. The Andes region functions as its own site of export because carnivals are mediatized tourist spectacles produced for a global audience, retransmitted via mass media. Blackface characters are usually marked by the distortion of black vernacular or the incorporation of malapropisms Lane Blackface is an act of substitution Roach , where one stands in for the other.
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It is a form of cross-racial identification or an act of occupation where one takes figurative possession of the other Hartman ; Lane and Godoy-Anativia Blackface is a game of artifice whereby blackness is made present as racial distortion. Theorists have also affirmed the global nature of this practice of racial conjuring and the legibility of the tropes itself, and there are studies of blackface in varied sites including Korea Han , South Africa Coplan , Japan Yellin , Cuba Lane , Britain Pickering , and Iran Baghoolizadeh When the performer holding a watermelon told me he had always seen a crazy black man with watermelon, I quickly discovered that the watermelon man was not a stock figure of indigenous dances; rather he was emphasizing the ubiquity of the image signaling blackface tropes as racial codes that have global weight.
In this context, through hemispheric blackface I expand the meaning of the term affirming this mode of stylizing the body as a global practice. Their performance enables us to conceive of acts of impersonation both as archives of racialization and as racial projects through which contemporary process of racial formation are realized and maintained. While carnivals are often seen as sites of social inversion Bakhtin , theorists have cautioned against simplistic approaches that define carnival as inherently liberatory or purely as sites of resistance Stam ; Goldstein and instead propose to treat them as polysemic sites of contested meaning Guss Studies of Andean fiestas affirm that they have always been arenas of fierce negotiation of dynamics of power between colonizers, or later, the state and indigenous people Poole ; Rockefeller The temporary suspension of normative boundaries of race and gender does not magically erase the complex dynamics of power at play at a fiesta.
While black cultural forms enjoy some visibility, Afro-Peruvians themselves have had to fight for social recognition and inclusion. Moreover, the state did not conduct a racial census from to , which furthered the invisibility of Afro-Peruvians. This was an obstacle to black activists seeking to identify and define the needs of the black population and to combat racism. Media portrayals of blacks as criminals, buffoons or as unkempt are also commonplace Becerra In what follows, I situate the Danza de Caporales within the Tundique tradition to read blackface as part of an indigenous tradition of performance and to also affirm blackface as a porous form that absorbs transnational images of blackness.
As an Andean traditional dance of impersonation, the Tundique is the perfect example of how blackface functions as a form that fuses multiple traditions. The history of the Tundique is contradictory and nebulous, for the dance has multiple genealogies. It is associated with religious rites, popular culture, music, and carnivalesque representations of enslavement in the Andes. The purpose here is not to engage in what would be a doomed search for an original Tundique but instead to trace how the representation of blackness from a Catholic religious rite of the colonial era has been inflected by multiple performance traditions over time.
The Tundique belongs to the tradition of the Baile de los Negritos, which emerges from Catholic religious rites and the celebration of the figure of the negrito. One of the central stories of the Catholic faith is the story of the three wise men or three kings who visit baby Jesus.
Each character represents a nation or race of the world. One of them is a black figure referred to in Bolivia as Balthasar. Through performances and theatre at Christmas time, colonizers presented a world where everyone—regardless of their ethnic or racial difference—would bow down and worship baby Jesus. The Spanish tradition of racial cross-dressing in representations of Balthasar was fused with indigenous traditions of masquerade in the colonies.
As a blackface tradition embedded in religious practices, the Tundique is a fusion of Spanish and indigenous traditions of masquerade that emerged from the colonial encounter.
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The tradition has always been characterized by the fusion of different performance traditions. The term hacer tundique or bailar tundique now refers simply to the act of blacking up, and by the turn of the twentieth century, the Tundique encompassed general imitations of Afro-Bolivian popular dances. Men of color introduced to the colonies as slaves had various dances which were particular to their customs and ways of being. Of these, only the tundique and mururatas remain and have become so popular that even mestizos imitate them with applause and fascination [translation mine].
The Tundique ceased to simply refer to religious rites and came to be the general term for mestizo or indigenous imitations of black popular forms. At the time of writing, it remains unclear when the Tundique came to represent African enslavement in Bolivia. Since the term refers to general imitations of blackness, new and varying stories about the origins of the dance frequently emerge. Some contend that the Tundique was historically an Aymara imitation of enslaved blacks who used to work in the mines Templeman ; Godinez-Quinteros Some theorists and practitioners describe this Tundique as a dance that commemorates the history of enslavement in the Bolivian subtropical zone known as the Yungas.
Others claim the Tundique was an imitation of the Afro-Bolivian Saya dance. The notion that the Tundique is an indigenous imitation of black dance or grounded in the actual history of black enslavement remains the subject of contention among local practitioners, activists, and experts in Bolivia and Peru. This controversy notwithstanding, the Tundique is also known as a dance that represents African enslavement in the Andes.
Despite its nebulous origins, the Tundique has remained a popular feature of street carnivals in Bolivia. It represents both the negrito of Catholic religious rites and imitations of popular black dances. The Tundique gradually became more formalized as a dance at carnivals between the s and the s. As the Tundique dance became more formalized, its blackface representation was quickly inflected by transnational images of blackness. Mimicking the image of the Afro-Cuban dancer, the Negritos del Pagador danced in blackface, painted their lips bright red, wore mambo shirts with guarachas large, colorful ruffles , and carried small drums in their hands which they beat as they danced Figure 5.
Some would also wear large Afro wigs and adorn their ears with fruits as a reference to the tropical images of Cuba. By the s, women dancers of the Tundique created a new set of characters including a negrita with a baby on her back. Sometimes performers wore masks, but many times they would simply black up.
The blackface representation in the Tundique had now been revamped to accommodate transnational tropical images of blackness circulating the hemisphere. By the s, the Tundique was an amorphous form fusing colonial and modern, local and transnational images of blackness. This is a modern derivative of the Tundique dance. Photos by the author. The song became a local and international hit at the height of the New Song Movement in Latin America. They exported the Tundique beat from Bolivia to other parts of the hemisphere.
They would use the Tundique beat as the foundational rhythm of a new dance called the Danza de Caporales. The Tundique emerges from Catholic practices, popular culture, street carnivals, and imitations of black popular forms. Today, representations of slavery and imitations of black people in the Tundique are currently the subject of controversy in Bolivia. In contemporary performances, people represent black people with gorilla masks or they will black up, don chains, and play out a master and slave scene Figure 6. Afro-Bolivian groups have recently launched a campaign decrying such representations as racist and have called for the prohibition of racist representations in the Tundique.
They rightly claim these representations distort the Saya, humiliate black people, and mock black cultural forms Luizaga As a porous form, blackface representation in the Tundique is the confluence of colonial and contemporary, local and transnational, popular and religious representations of blackness in the hemisphere. This new controversy also underscores how blackface enables the articulation of racist fantasies of blackness and of black subjugation and ultimately produces anti-black racism in a local context.
Male cross-dressed as a black woman with her baby, and a performer wearing a costume mixing the caporal boots with the tropical images from the negrito dance. If the Tundique facilitated the articulation of fantasies of blackness then the Danza de Caporales, as its progeny, marries ideas of blackness to fantasies of male power. The Estrada family from La Paz, Bolivia, had a performance troupe called Urus de Gran Poder that specialized in folkloric dance, including the Tundique, and they invented the Danza de Caporales in While the entire family played a role in its invention, Victor Estrada is recognized as the main founder.
He and his brothers debuted the dance in at La Fiesta de Gran Poder, and it was an instant hit Sigl The Estrada brothers propagated various myths about its invention that have since been debunked by scholars. In the Saya, a caporal or capataz marks the rhythm with a bell, and Estrada claimed to have been inspired by the town caporal Mendoza-Salazar He described this caporal as an older black man who wore a straw hat, large belt, and bells on his boots Sigl and Salazar Scholars, however, have debunked the notion that the dance is tethered to an actual black man.
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The Estrada brothers built on preexisting representations of blackness in carnival to ultimately create an open-ended figure of male power. Theorist Eveline Sigl explains that the caporal symbolizes a violent oppressor and the backwardness of an ethnic or racial other Sigl and Mendoza Salazar , While Tundique and folkloric dances would represent blackness by black masks with African features, neither masking nor blacking up is a feature of the Danza de Caporales.
The caporal is therefore an authoritarian oppressor of racial ambiguity. The caporal operates at the intersection of male power and racial difference. The Danza de Caporales may have emerged from an amalgam of representations of the negrito in the Tundique, but its aesthetic style drew from other traditions in the hemisphere. When I first saw this image, I was surprised that his outfit looked so much like that of an Argentinian gaucho.
He wears a hat on his head and he looks off into the distance with his arms crossed. The vibrant aesthetic and the defiant posture in the photograph of Victor Estrada dressed as the first caporal captures the bravado that has come to characterize the dance. The Danza de Caporales consisted of high kicks and displays of athleticism emphasizing masculine virility. This was the image of the macho male sex symbol. But the machita character has only really emerged in recent times.
For the most part, the Danza de Caporales was imagined as a decidedly masculine space, and the macho aesthetic that inaugurated the first caporal was that of the gaucho—a masculine or cowboy figure epitomizing strength and virility. Victor Estrada, the first caporal. Photo dated from the family collection of Carlos Estrada.
Reproduced by permission of Alejandro Estrada. Hemispheric blackface is about the interarticulation of constructs of race, gender, and sexuality through performances of impersonation, and a site where transnational images of blackness and masculinity converge.
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The Danza de Caporales therefore emerges from a variety of traditions including European Catholic rites, indigenous tradition of masquerade, the negrito as baby Jesus or the Black Magus, imitations of Afro-Bolivian performance, Cuban mambo, and the Argentinian gaucho. After Victor Estrada debuted the Danza de Caporales, it took on a life of its own, traveled across the hemisphere, and incorporated new traditions.
By , the dance had arrived in Peru. While its blackface origins disappear, as is the case in the performance by Sambos Illimani that I witnessed at the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria, some performers find ways to represent its Tundique origins and to incorporate other blackface traditions in the hemisphere. When the performer from Sambos Illimani said he had always seen a crazy little black with his watermelon, I initially wondered if the watermelon man was a part of the Tundique tradition, only to discover that it was not.
When I inquired about the watermelon man, they claimed it was the idea of one of the participants and they had decided to keep the figure in the dance. The questions I posed have since remained unanswered: Why the association of blackness with the watermelon? Is there a historical relationship between black people and watermelons in Peru? A search for a historical referent of a black man with his watermelon in Peru has yielded no answers.
In the absence of a historical referent for the trope in Peru, one can only ask: What exactly is the watermelon man being made to do in this instance? For those of us familiar with the US blackface minstrel tradition, the blackface figure with his watermelon may easily be read as a riff on the US minstrel Sambo. While hemispheric blackface aims to theorize blackface within the specificity of its historical context, it is a mistake to pretend that indigenous traditions of blackface are somehow isolated from the global reach of US blackface minstrelsy. The very nature of the blackface form is that it travels.
Just as the dance incorporates different Latin American traditions, so too does it incorporate US performance practices.
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Theorist Miguel Becerra has noted how the arrival of minstrel archetypes to Peru impacted representations of black people in popular culture. Their performance exemplifies the encounter of performative idioms within the network of hemispheric blackface. It recycles tropes from different coordinates of the hemisphere, blending two Sambos from the Americas: the Latin American zambo , an intermediate racial archetype, and the infantile US minstrel Sambo, buffoon who carries a watermelon. The irony of the homonym aside, this performance is a moment where the Latin American zambo signifies on the US minstrel Sambo archetype, masquerading as a childlike, infantile buffoon Boskin Hemispheric blackface is a site of racial doubles where spectators may read the representation of blackness in one blackface tradition through the valence of another.
In these moments, the specific historical context of a given representation will be lost, but the racial sign of blackness will remain legible to the audience. Its legibility is not only grounded in the shared tropes of blackness, but also, in their representation of the enslaved body, they underscore a shared hemispheric history of black enslavement. Therefore, the question at hand is not, Which Sambo is this? Since the Danza de Caporales is a power fantasy, Sambos Illimani stages a scene where power is constituted through racial subjugation.
In self-identifying as Sambos, the performers are authorized to live out their own fantasies about blackness and its relationship to slavery. While the performers masquerade under the auspices of a racially ambiguous figure, blackface operates as a differentiating marker between the enslaved black body or the black buffoon, and the racially unmarked slave driver or caporal.
For even if they are all sambos, the power fantasy being enacted stages a scene of consensual subjugation whereby black subjects are complicit in their own oppression either as slave drivers or as happy, dancing slaves. Indeed, the presentation of the black buffoon wildly eating his watermelon alongside happy, dancing slaves presents black subjects who are content in their own subjugation. Even with slavery in the backdrop, the black buffoon is impervious to his own pain and engaged in unadulterated fun.
Here the black subject—configured as a crazy child—is endearing, but ultimately different. His difference lies in his purported craziness, his infantilism, and his capacity to operate outside normative models of behavior. Moreover, if black subjects are imagined as socially invisible in Peru, then blackness becomes visible only to be fixed within the idiom of servitude, and black subjects are complicit in their own oppression. This performance also captures the paradoxes of investing a scene of anti-black violence with humor.
While it is certainly common in Andean performance traditions to represent black enslavement through masking or the donning of chains and to do so humorously, my contention is that unlike other dances, the Danza de Caporales is designed to celebrate the agent of violent oppression. In this study, I have developed the concept of hemispheric blackface to illuminate how performance traditions across different geographical coordinates of the hemisphere can converge and be referenced in a single blackface performance. I have done so to decenter the US minstrel tradition and to refrain from reading the origins of the dance in purely nationalist terms.
I emphasize instead how blackface functions as an amorphous form that incorporates, recycles, and reworks tropes circulating across the hemisphere. While the performance ought to be understood within its own history, it is not isolated from global images of blackness. That blackface performances in the Andes are always subject to revision and are always moving is in keeping with the way performance itself is theorized as a system of knowledge production.
Even as it decenters US blackface minstrelsy as the presumed progenitor of blackface, hemispheric blackface is about the way tropes are shared, reworked, and resignified. It also exemplifies how other sites in the Americas can function as the center of export and innovation for the performance.
The group now has chapters in Ecuador, Chile, and other parts of the Americas. Some chapters use blackface and others do not, but we can be sure that blackface as it emerges from the Tundique will continue to float from one site to another. That blackface was used to mark the enslaved body in the performance shows how blackface can fix blackness within the idiom of servitude. Hemispheric blackface also demonstrates how a shared history of slavery underwrites and connects the presence of black bodies in the Americas.