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The Black Virgin: Santa Efigenia, Popular Religion, and the African Diaspora in Peru

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 August 2012


This article sketches an archeology of the apocryphal myth of Santa Efigenia, the Ethiopian virgin saint celebrated in the southern coastal of valley of Cañete, Peru. The history of Santa Efigenia is used to analyze the invention of popular myths and processions in a rural community in contrast to the cornerstone of popular national religiosity in Peru, the Lord of the Miracles (Señor de los Milagros). The popular worship and diffusion of these devotions and processions intersect with the contested formation of national identity in early and late twentieth century Peru. Moreover, they speak to how traditional and popular forms of religious worship are valued and devalued.

The African diaspora in Peru and the Pacific coast of South America has been difficult to historicize because of the scant cultural evidence for an Afro-Andean nostalgia or separation from an African homeland. The rediscovery and devotion of Santa Efigenia and her emergent popularity in Peru and larger presence in Brazil and Cuba is compelling evidence that Afro-Peruvians have a direct connection with African culture and history and the early religious history of Catholic saints and virgins.

Research Article
Copyright © American Society of Church History 2012

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13 Their confraternity, established by slaves of Angolan descent, was officially sanctioned by the Viceroy Amat in 1766, however, its original founding dates back to 1651. B., Jorge Donayre and Villanueva, Lorenzo, Señor de los Milagros: Padre Nuestro (Lima: Latina S. A., 1987), 1623Google Scholar.

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39 Affluent limeños have always financially supported the procession. Banchero and Rostworowski both point out that las zahumadoras during the colonial era were the favorite slaves of affluent families who sponsored expensive clothes and borrowed jewelry to indirectly promote their own status.

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48 PromPerú was established by the government during this period to promote international and national tourism. One of their successful projects was to recreate the image of Ayacucho from an area known as a center of political violence and terrorism to one of religious celebrations.

49 The following websites contain informational and promotional material, as well as links to related interest sites on municipalities and Afro-Peruvian topics. The official website of the Municipality of Cañete,, and one that focuses on Afro-Peruvian culture,

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