Brotherhood, sisterhood, community formation, even allyship… the history of indigenous and African-descent Catholic organizations in the Iberian Empires illuminates twenty-first century readers on all of the above. On the less positive side, archival documentation generated by these groups, known as cofradías and hermandades, also exposes stories of racialized embodiment, imperial religious proselytization, and the divide and conquer strategy so effective for maintaining a massive transoceanic empire in an era of slow communication. This collection of essays has brought together scholars of Portuguese and Spanish America with amazing breadth, all discussing this fundamental institution, in locations as far-flung as Santiago de Chile, Lima, Mexico City, and Salvador de Bahia. Many of the excellent essays in this volume help complicate traditional interpretations of religious organizations and push us to go further. For example, Ximena Gómez evoked visual and material aspects of cofradía life to stress the cofrades and cofradas as active participants in their own pious display, which most likely sought to impress their peers. The common conflicts caused by jockeying for prominent positions in processions backs up this competitiveness among urban castas. In this Afterword, while acknowledging the contributors’ deep and incisive scholarship, I take advantage of their ideas as a springboard to jump in a less examined area: multiethnic African, African-descent, and indigenous brother/sisterhoods as political organizations.
For decades, scholars have noticed the political aspects of both indigenous cofradías and Afro-Brazilian brotherhoods. As noted throughout this volume, sodalities and confraternities of various kinds represented a reaction to the conditions of imperialism and enslavement, often based on colonial identities relating to race and place of origin. While they helped their members survive, these organizations also provided opportunities for celebrations, socializing, and the promise of a “good death,” which was interpreted as a communal remembrance of one's life and a coming together of friends and acquaintances to honor one's path to the afterlife and pray for the eternal fate of members’ souls. It is somewhat less common to discuss these groups as a kind of training for citizenship within nineteenth-century nation states, although for centuries, cofrades and cofradas organized elections, enjoyed a variable degree of autonomy, and both raised and managed their own funds.