Religion & Mortuary Practices

  • African Slaves Say the Catholic Rosary, Peru, 1600-1615

    Title of drawing, translated: Devout black Christians from the stock of unacculturated black slaves from Africa ('Guinea') say the rosary before an image of the Virgin Mary; shows a man (left) and woman, in full clothing, kneeling before an image of the Virgin Mary. Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala was a native Andean from southern Peru who addressed his lengthy critique of Spanish colonial rule to King Philip III of Spain. It was written between 1600 and 1615, and is composed of 1,200 pages, including 398 full-page drawings seven of which show blacks or Africans. The original manuscript is in the Danish Royal Library (Copenhagen); a complete and searchable digital facsimile, which includes the drawings, is available on the Internet as The Guaman Poma Website. The title translations we use are taken fromthe website. The drawing is in Chapter 25, image 275, of the original manuscript. (See Frederick P. Bowser, The African Slave in Colonial Peru, 1524-1650 [Stanford University Press, 1974], passim, for the historical context of this drawing.)
  • Skeleton, late 17th-early 18th cent., Newton Plantation Slave Cemetery, Barbados

    Detail of torso and pelvic area of burial in situ; visible are copper bracelets on each arm and pipe bowl on pelvic area. See also other images, Newton Plantation and burial 72_extended on this site). For details on this burial and its associated artifacts see Handler, An African-Type Healer/Diviner and his Grave Goods, International Journal of Historical Archaeology (1997), Vol. 1, pp. 91-130. See also, image reference B72_extended.
  • Funeral and Divination, Jamaica, 1843

    Caption, Heathen Practices at Funerals, depicts post-mortem divination practices with the remains of the deceased used to determine the causes of death, among other questions; in this case, the entire body is used for divination. Phillippo provides a detailed but very ethnocentric description of the West African custom of carrying the corpse. Although this engraving was published approximately ten years after the period of slavery in Jamaica, starting in 1823 Phillippo was a Baptist missionary on the island and resided there for twenty years; it is quite likely that the scene depicted reflects the later slave period as well. (We are grateful to Ken Bilby for his assistance with this illustration and for providing a slide of it).
  • Cemetery, Paramaribo, Suriname, ca. 1831

    View of Orange Cemetery, at the outskirts of the city. The priest, the gravedigger, enslaved men and women in mourning clothes; barely visible in the background is a funeral procession with participants dressed in white. Benoit (1782-1854), a Belgian artist, visited Suriname around 1831 and apparently stayed for several months. The 100 lithographs in his book (hand colored in the John Carter Brown copy), accompanied by textual descriptions of varying detail, are derived from drawings he made during his visit, which included time in Paramaribo, the capital, as well as trips into the interior visiting Maroons and Amerindians. Forty of his lithographs, with our translations from the French text, are shown on this website.
  • Funeral of a European, Paramaribo, Suriname, ca. 1831

    The funeral procession of an important/wealthy European. The procession is preceded and followed by slaves; two hold umbrellas over the chief mourners. When a rich person dies, Benoit writes, his coffin is carried by a dozen blacks. Family and friends follow, dressed in black. Their heads are covered with a sort of hat that entirely hides their face; a black veil is attached to the coffin and the slaves who walk behind each one carry a large green umbrella over the heads of the persons who accompany the coffin (p. 23). Benoit (1782-1854), a Belgian artist, visited Suriname around 1831 and apparently stayed for several months. The 100 lithographs in his book (hand colored in the John Carter Brown copy), accompanied by textual descriptions of varying detail, are derived from drawings he made during his visit, which included time in Paramaribo, the capital, as well as trips into the interior visiting Maroons and Amerindians. Forty of his lithographs, with our translations from the French text, are shown on this website.
  • A Spiritual Healer, Paramaribo, Suriname, ca. 1831

    Using her spiritual powers, a healer is helping to cure a child who is not present. After engaging in certain ritualistic behaviors, she gives the mother, who stands before her, a herbal decoction, made in the pot in front of her; the mother is told to drink the decoction several times and then is given some herbs which she is to give her child. These healers, who are regarded as oracles by the Negroes, are usually older black women who are called Mama Snekie, Mother of Serpents, or Water Mama. The author observed one of these women at work, and describes (p. 26) the scene he witnessed, including the furnishings of her house. Although his description is relatively brief and sparse in ethnographic detail, it nonetheless represents a rather unique first-hand account of an African-type spiritual practitioner (what might have been called an obeah practitioner in the British Caribbean) at an early date. Benoit (1782-1854), a Belgian artist, visited Suriname around 1831 and apparently stayed for several months. The 100 lithographs in his book (hand colored in the John Carter Brown copy), accompanied by textual descriptions of varying detail, are derived from drawings he made during his visit, which included time in Paramaribo, the capital, as well as trips into the interior visiting Maroons and Amerindians. Forty of his lithographs, with our translations from the French text, are shown on this website.
  • Church Meeting, Chicago, 1859

    Caption, sunday meeting of colored people at Chicago; the scene is sketched from life, and represents the interior of an African church. . . during a prayer meeting.... (p. 208). The same image appeared six years earlier in the London Illustrated News (April 30, 1853, p. 276); however, with the caption Meeting in the African Church, Cincinnati, Ohio (see image reference LOC-A on this website)........
  • Wire Bracelet, late 17th-early 18th cent., Newton Plantation Slave Cemetery, Barbados

    For details on this brass artifact, its associated burial, and the archaeological research in Barbados, see Handler, An African-Type Healer/Diviner and his Grave Goods, International Journal of Historical Archaeology (1997), Vol. 1, pp. 91-130 and Handler and F. W. Lange, Plantation Slavery in Barbados (Harvard Univ. Press, 1978). See also, other images Newton Plantation on this website.
  • African Short Stemmed-Clay Pipe, late 17th-early 18th cent., Newton Plantation Slave Cemetery, Barbados

    Found in association with a burial (see also related images under Newton Plantation), this pipe, a unique New World find, was of Gold Coast origin and probably came to Barbados on a slaving ship. For details on this artifact and its associated burial, see Handler and N. Norman, From West Africa to Barbados: A Rare Pipe from a Planation Slave Cemetery, The African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter (September 2007) and Handler, An African-Type Healer/Diviner and his Grave Goods, International Journal of Historical Archaeology (1997), Vol. 1, pp. 91-130.
  • African-Type Necklace, late 17th-early 18th cent., Newton Plantation Slave Cemetery, Barbados

    Found associated with a burial, this unique archaeological find of an African-type necklace was composed of dog's teeth, money cowry shells, fish vertebrae, glass beads; and a large reddish-orange carnelian bead (center). When excavated the exact pattern of the components of this necklace could be not be ascertained but all items were found on or near the area of the burial's neck. For details on this artifact and its associated burial, see Handler, An African-Type Healer/Diviner and his Grave Goods, International Journal of Historical Archaeology (1997), Vol. 1, pp. 91-130 and Handler, From Cambay in India to Barbados in the Caribbean: Two Unique Beads from a Plantation Slave Cemetery, The African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter (March 2007).
  • African-Type Brass Bracelet, late 17th-early 18th cent., Newton Plantation Slave Cemetery, Barbados

    For details on this artifact, its associated burial, and archaeological research in Barbados, see Handler, An African-Type Healer/Diviner and his Grave Goods, International Journal of Historical Archaeology (1997), Vol. 1, pp. 91-130 and Handler and F. W. Lange, Plantation Slavery in Barbados (Harvard Univ. Press, 1978).
  • Slave Burial, late 17th-early 18th cent., Newton Plantation Slave Cemetery, Barbados

    View of Burial 72 skeleton extended on its back in situ; copper bracelets on each arm and pipe bowl on pelvic area are visible; possibly an Obeah man/medicine man. For details on this burial and its associated artifacts, see Handler, An African-Type Healer/Diviner and his Grave Goods, International Journal of Historical Archaeology (1997), Vol. 1, pp. 91-130.
  • African-Type Coiled Bracelet, late 17th-early 18th cent., Newton Plantation Slave Cemetery, Barbados

    For details on this artifact, its associated burial, and archaeological research in Barbados, see Handler, An African-Type Healer/Diviner and his Grave Goods, International Journal of Historical Archaeology (1997), Vol. 1, pp. 91-130; and Handler and F. W. Lange, Plantation Slavery in Barbados (Harvard Univ. Press, 1978).
  • United Brethren (Moravian) Mission Station, Antigua, British West Indies, 1830

    Caption: Vue de l'etablissement des missions a St. John dans l'isle de Antigoa aux Indes Occidentales; mission buildings in background; people in foreground. One of a set of 4 separately published engravings, made from Stobwasser drawings. The drawings may have been executed by John Henry Lewis Stobwasser, probably the son of Johann H. Stobwasser, who was a Moravian missionary in Antigua from 1812 until 1822; he died in Berlin in 1832 (information courtesy of Perry Miles, derived from research in Moravian Archives, London).
  • Methodist Prayer Meeting, Philadelphia, 1811-1813

    Engraving titled,
  • Funeral for a Child, Venezuela, 1826

    Caption,
  • Cemetery, Wilmington, North Carolina, early 1890s

    Captioned Negro cemetery at Wilmington, numerous headstones are visible. Although several decades after emancipation this cemetery may resemble some during the late ante-bellum period.
  • Funeral, South Carolina, early 1890s

    A funeral procession, men and women lined up in pairs following the horse/mule-drawn hearse. Although several decades after emanciption, this scene may have bearing on the late ante-bellum period.
  • Moravian (United Brethren) Mission Station, St. Croix, Danish West Indies, 1768

    Caption, Friedensthal on St. Croix on a Prayer Day. Woodcut engraving of the Moravian Mission Station at Friedensthal, St. Croix. The church is to the left, the living quarters of the missionaries in the background; a Negro hut is shown on the right. Black congregants are seen entering the mission for a religious service. Oldendorp was in the West Indies in 1767-1769. For a modern edition that is copiously indexed, edited by J. J. Bossard and translated into English by A. R. Highfield and V. Barac, see C.G.A. Oldendorp's History of the mission of the evangelical brethren on the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John (Karoma Publishers, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1987).
  • Carnelian Bead, Newton Plantation Slave Cemetery, Barbados

    An unusual archaeological find from a New World site, this bead was associated with other artifacts that at one time had formed a necklace (see image B72_necklace ). It was probably manufactured in Cambay, India, and came to Barbados through the Atlantic slave trade via Africa. For details on this artifact and its associated burial, see Handler, From Cambay in India to Barbados in the Caribbean: Two Unique Beads from a Plantation Slave Cemetery, The African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter (March 2007) and Handler, An African-Type Healer/Diviner and his Grave Goods, International Journal of Historical Archaeology (1997), Vol. 1, pp. 91-130.
  • An Obeah Practitioner at Work, Trinidad, 1836

    Caption, Negro superstition, the Doo di Doo bush, or which is the thief. Bridgens describes this scene, which passed under the eye of the author, as a kind of ordeal . . . among the Negroes, for extorting a confession of guilt from persons suspected of theft or other crime .. . . The injured party communicates his suspicions to the Dadie (as the reputed sorcerer is called), who appoints a time for the trial. A refusal of the suspected person to accept the challenge is considered an admission of guilt . . . . The Dadie twists a band out of the branches of a common shrub, at intervals sprinkling salt on it, and accompanying the operation with some incantation . . . . thus formed, it is passed round the neck of the supposed culprit, who is then called upon to clear himself by oath of the imputed crime. The Negroes . . . . believe that if they perjure themselves .. . the band would remain immovably twisted round the neck, and, by gradually tightening itself, ring from the party an acknowledgment of his guilt . . . . the sketch here given was taken from a scene which passed under the eye of the author (Bridgens). The ordeal described by Bridgens is clearly based on African oath-taking practices, and the so-called Dadie was an obeah man. Throughout the British Caribbean during the period of slavery (and afterward), obeah practitioners were sought to help discover lost or stolen objects and identify the persons responsible for alleged theft (see Jerome Handler and Kenneth Bilby, Enacting Power, the criminalization of Obeah in the Anglophone Caribbean [university of the West Indies Press, 2012]; the image is discussed on pp. 34-36). The Library of Congress has a black/white copy as well as a colored lithograph, shown here; in other copies of the Bridgens book, the image is in black/white. A sculptor, furniture designer and architect, Richard Bridgens was born in England in 1785, but in 1826 he moved to Trinidad where his wife had inherited a sugar plantation, St. Clair. Although he occasionally returned to England, he ultimately lived in Trinidad for seven years and died in Port of Spain in 1846. Bridgens' book contains 27 plates, thirteen of which are shown on this website. The plates were based on drawings made from life and were done between 1825, when Bridgens arrived in Trinidad, and 1836, when his book was published. Although his work is undated, the title page of a copy held by the Beinecke Rare Book Room at Yale University has a front cover with a publication date of 1836, the date usually assigned to this work by major libraries whose copies lack a title page. Bridgens' racist perspectives on enslaved Africans and his defense of slavery are discussed in T. Barringer, G. Forrester, and B. Martinez-Ruiz, Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and his Worlds (Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 460-461. Bridgensí life is discussed extensively along with discussion of his drawings and presentation of many details on slave life in Trinidad in Judy Raymond, The Colour of Shadows: Images of Caribbean Slavery (Coconut Beach, Florida: Caribbean Studies Press, 2016). Raymondís book, which is an essential source for any study of Bridgens, also includes a number of unpublished sketches of Trinidadian slave life. See also Brian Austen, Richard Hicks Bridgens (Oxford Art Online/Grove Art Online).
  • Moravian Congregation, St. Thomas, West Indies, 1757

    Moravian (United Brethren) congregation of blacks with white ministers, shows congregation witnessing the ceremony in which newly baptized slaves prostrated themselves and were then embraced by their previously converted fellows. Caption (translated): Excorcism-Baptism of the Negroes. A) the pastor leading the ceremony; B) the deacons who assist him; C) three [male] baptismal candidates; D) four female baptismal candidates; E) the Negro congregation. The geographical area is not identified in the illustration, but it was St. Thomas (see Jon Sensbach, Rebeccaís Revival [Harvard Univ. Press, 2005], p. 97).
  • Funeral, Antebellum U.S. South, 19th cent.

    Caption, an old-time midnight slave funeral, casket being carried to gravesite; scene lit by torches. In those portions of the South where the plantations were largest, and the slaves most numerous, they were very fond of burying their dead at night, and as near midnight as possible (Pierson,p. 284).
  • Church Service at Plantation, South Carolina, 1863

    A slave preaching to a congregation of slaves and the plantation owner and his family. The preacher was a house slave who could read but not write. This illustration is from a sketch made in a rude chapel erected for the slaves on this cotton plantation, near Port Royal, South Carolina. The Methodist persuasion is the one which finds most favour among the slaves in the Southern as well as among the free Negroes in the Northern States ( p. 574).
  • Prayer Meeting, Georgia, 1873-74

    Published earlier in Edward King, The Great South . . . profusely illustrated from original sketches by J. Wells Champney (Hartford, Conn., 1875), p. 520. King (pp. 521-522) identifies this scene as taking place on a Sunday in a log cabin in Clarksville, Georgia.
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