[PAST EVENT] Africana First Friday Lecture with R. Benedito Ferrao

March 6, 2015
12pm - 1pm
Morton Hall, Room 314
100 Ukrop Way
Williamsburg, VA 23185Map this location
R. Benedito Ferrao is a Mellon Faculty Fellow in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. He completed his Ph.D. at Birkbeck College, University of London, where he was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. As an Endeavour Postdoctoral Fellow at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, he researched literary representations of African slavery in the Indian Ocean world. His other research and teaching interests include the literary representations of Goans in transnational contexts, including Africa, South Asia, and the West. A writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, op-eds, and literary criticism, Ferrao's work has been published internationally. In 2014, he was awarded the Analysis Prize by the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club. Find his writing at thenightchild.blogspot.com.

While Portugal and its former colonies are unique in their lack of geographic contiguity with one another, the less visible connective tissue between them is the affective cartography of lore and religious belief.

On 25 November, 1510, Afonso de Albuquerque took Goa. It was the feast day of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The daughter of a Pagan Roman governor, Saint Catherine was famously martyred in the fourth century for refusing to recant her faith in Christ. While a shared faith is the most evident connection between Saint Catherine and the Portuguese, Africa is another less examined one. Saint Catherine's continental location was also that from which sprung the Moors: Muslims who ruled over Iberia for several centuries. What influence does this bear on the religious purposes of Portuguese colonization and how might it have functioned alongside the creation of racialized identities via colonial contact?

To delve into these questions, I look to the novel Skin by Goan American writer Margaret Mascarenhas, in which a descendant of Kimpa Vita, a 17th century Angolan prophetess, is captured and brought to Goa as part of the Portuguese slave trade. Historically, Kimpa Vita's version of Catholicism, both Afro-centric and gender equitable, was created in the service of re-uniting a colonially war-torn Portuguese colony.

Like Saint Catherine, she was also martyred for her beliefs. The comparison between the two women ends in the difference between how their ideas of faith were conversely employed in anti/colonial practice. By continuing Kimpa Vita's lineage in Goa, Mascarenhas intertwines the colonial legacies of Portugal, India, and Africa, bridging the regions through myth, magical realism, and the lives of her female characters. Thereby, Skin offers a re-conception of Goan identity, emphasizing hybridity and dissimilarity as inherent to the postcolonial condition.

[[ksperling, Kristen Sperling]]