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Yesenia Barragan

Death, Slavery, and Spiritual Justice on the Colombian Black Pacific (1837)

[11/06/2015]

Résumés

Quibdó, the frontier, majority-black capital of Chocó on the Pacific Coast of New Granada (present-day Colombia), was declared to be in a state of “general alarm” when a free black woman launched a street protest after her enslaved grandson, Justo, was murdered by his Italian master in August 1836. This article explores the contending spiritual politics that emerged in the wake of Justo’s death, and how his death became a point of political confluence between the province’s black underclass and a local elite opposition.

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Entrées d’index

Keywords :

slavery, death, rituals, war, justice

Palabras claves :

esclavitud, muerte, rituales, guerra, justicia
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Texte intégral

  • 1 Catalina González Zambrano, “Música, identidad y muerte entre los grupos negros del Pacífico sur co (...)

Vete, vete, palomita Go now, go now, little dove
Vete, vete, a tu morada Go now, go now, back home
Que ya murió el que tenía Now that he who had that light
La luz que nos alumbraba. That shines on all of us
Has passed on.”
--Alabao (funerary song) from Pacific Coast of Colombia, 19991

  • 2 Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), 1837, Sección República (SR), Fondo Gobernaciones Varias (FGV), (...)

1On a humid August evening in 1836, the city of Quibdó, the capital of the gold-mining Pacific costal province of Chocó, Colombia, was in a state of “general alarm.”2 Earlier that day, an older black woman named Petrona Cordova had reportedly run through the main streets of the city, shouting that her enslaved grandson Justo had been brutally murdered by his master, Nicolas Bonoli, an Italian slaveholder and one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the region. Cordova demanded not only justice for her grandson, but pleaded specifically for the exhumation of his body that had been buried earlier that morning immediately after Justo’s death. Circumventing provincial officials, several threatening, anonymous letters were sent to the central government in Bogotá in the weeks and months after his death, alerting officials of the case and a potential cover-up. Authorities in Bogotá indeed responded demanding a full investigation. Cordova’s public street protest and the anonymous letters following it were not for naught, for all had unquestionably forced officials across the country to investigate the circumstances of Justo’s undignified death which would have otherwise remained silenced.

  • 3 Vincent Brown, The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery, Cambridge, Ha (...)

2This article explores the contending power politics that emerged in the wake of Justo’s death, and particularly how his death became a point of political confluence between the province’s black underclass and a local elite opposition who penned the anonymous letters denouncing the provincial government’s response. First, I examine the unspoken religious motivations behind Cordova’s demand to exhume Justo’s body – a request that is left unaddressed in the entire court case – and argue that Cordova was engaging in what historian Vincent Brown calls a “mortuary politics”3 in her protest. As I show, Cordova’s campaign of spiritual justice afforded an unusual political opening for a small but powerful elite opposition in Chocó who would lead a revolt alongside slaves in the nation’s first post-colonial civil war just a few years later in 1839.

Justo’s Death and a Grandmother’s Right

  • 4 Notaría Primera de Quibdó (NPQ), 1831: 88r-v. There is another promissory note that year from Septe (...)
  • 5 NPQ, 1835: 113v. This sale included Justo, Pedro, Agustina, and Maria de Jesus for the amount of 90 (...)
  • 6 Other relatives included Justo’s uncle Aniceso and his wife, and Joaquin Palomeque, who were presen (...)

3Like the thousands of slaves and poor before and after him, little is known about Justo’s life prior to his murder at the hands of his master, Nicolas Bonoli. Notarial records provide just a small indication of this past life, however limited, as one promissory note from 1831 specifies that a man named Fernando Ortiz, who was heavily indebted to Bonoli, mortgaged four slaves named Maria de Jesus, Juan, Agustina, and Justo to him.4 Ortiz was based out the gold-mining town of San Juan, some hours south of the provincial capital via canoe, which meant that Justo and the three other slaves eventually made the trek up north to the capital on Chocó’s windings rivers. It is unclear whether Justo and the others arrived to Quibdó in 1831 or sometime thereafter, but what is known is that Bonoli legally acquired all four from Ortiz in 1835.5 Previously living in southern Chocó, Justo could have arrived in Quibdó, where his free black grandmother and other relatives resided, anytime between 1831 and 1835.6 A year later, in 1836, Justo would die in the capital.

  • 7 William Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier: The Colombian Chocó, 1680-1810, Norman, University (...)
  • 8 AGN, 1833, SR, FGV, l. 37, f. 841r.

4By the late 1830s, the capital of Quibdó was a bustling frontier slave society in the tropical, lowlands of the Pacific province of Chocó, home to a majority free-black community and one of the smallest resident white populations in the young republic of New Granada, composed of Spanish-descended New Granadian slaveholding families and a new class of English, French, and Italian merchants like Justo’s master who settled into the region immediately after Independence in 1821. According to a colonial census from 1808, the last to document the free black population in Chocó, the province was composed of 15,184 libres (74%), 4,968 slaves (24%), and 400 whites (2%).7 Years later, an 1833 census recorded 3,066 slaves in Chocó, who now constituted 16% of the population.8 Although his enslavement without question disrupted his kinship relations, Justo would be able to rely on his free black extended family like his uncle and grandmother who resided in the capital among the majority free black underclass. Indeed, they would both take center stage as the fateful events leading to Justo’s death unfolded in August 1836.

  • 9 AGN, 1838, SR, FGV, l. 56, f. 286r.
  • 10 AGN, 1837, SR, FGV, l. 50, f. 655r-v.
  • 11 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 69r-v.
  • 12 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 67r, 115v.

5According to two witnesses, night had fallen when Justo’s long and harsh punishment began in early August. Both witnesses testified to have first heard his moans around 9:30 in the evening, moans that did not cease until 1:00 in the morning. The following day, they saw Justo working in his master’s shed “with a chain on his neck, which was full of sores caused by the whippings [Bonoli] had given him.”9 Others also confirmed sightings of Justo “with his buttocks and testicles covered in sores,” while another claimed they had seen lacerations “from his back to his testicles.”10 He continued to be punished for several consecutive days. The city’s public representative (personero público) Juan Arrunategui testified that one evening Justo went to his home with a chain on his neck, imploring Arrunategui to “speak on his behalf so as to reduce the imprisonment and punishment [Bonoli] was giving him.”11 When asked why Bonoli was punishing him, Justo responded that he had previously run away in fear of Bonoli’s abuse. Arrunategui requested that Justo return early the next morning to move forward on the case, but later discovered that Justo had run away yet again. When apprehended, the torture undoubtedly continued. Witnesses stated that Justo was at some point forced to take a cold shower, causing him to fall ill with pasmo, a heavy fever. Despite alleged assistance from a medical doctor and a nurse, Bonoli’s close friends, Justo died a few weeks later in his master’s home at around 5 or 6 in the morning on August 18. Shrouded and lying on the kitchen floor, his body was taken to the cemetery a few hours later at around noon.12

  • 13 Ibid., 48v, 66r-v.
  • 14 Ibid., 90v.

6The scorching sun would have been at its highest point, perhaps with an occasional midday drizzle typical of the Pacific lowlands, when Justo’s body was carried out of Bonoli’s home, located in the center of town across the busy Atrato River. But as his body passed by the houses of Quibdó’s elite and governmental offices, including the home of the Governor Joaquin Rodríguez who would later become the target of the anonymous letters, Justo’s grandmother Petrona Cordova began “yelling through the streets until he was buried, denouncing the author of the murder,” followed by other “mourners [who] yelled throughout the streets that his master Bonoli had killed him with whippings, and that they recognized the body because it had many wounds and a ripped testicle.”13 A man named Ricardo Olaechea, who would later defend Petrona as her legal representative, stated that as Justo’s body passed by the Governor’s home “in the middle of the outcries and shouting, the mourners demanded justice for Justo.”14 Justo’s death was no longer a private matter, as Petrona’s street protest forcibly publicized Bonoli’s crime.

7Yet, apart from a criminal investigation, Petrona and the mourners, many of who were family members, demanded an exhumation of Justo’s body. The array of judicial officials who examined this case – which was read by authorities across the nation, from Quibdó on the Pacific Coast to Palmira, in the interior Cauca Valley, from Popayán, the judicial capital of Greater Cauca to the nation’s capital of Bogotá – rationalized this request by stating that Petrona and her family members desired Justo’s body to be reexamined for the purpose of a new investigation. While this certainly may have been part of their motivation, especially as Petrona and others moved forward to launching a case in the days and weeks ahead, a closer analysis of Petrona’s actions and Justo’s family’s requests point to a spiritual urgency beyond the bureaucratic grasp of the judges and political authorities.

Vete, Vete, Palomita: Cordova’s Mortuary Politics and Spiritual Justice

  • 15 Ibid., 8v, 120v.
  • 16 NPQ, 1831: 2r. However, a note of sale from 1835 states that Bonoli purchased an enslaved woman nam (...)
  • 17 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 67r, 115v.
  • 18 Ibid., 120v.
  • 19 Ibid., 2v.

8Described as “miserably poor” and “a woman in her eighties,”15 Justo’s grandmother Petrona Cordova likely worked the Royal Gold Mines of San José de Murrí just north of Quibdó, as her name is listed in an inventory from 1831 alongside other known relatives who joined the mourners that hot August afternoon.16 Every person interrogated about the case confirmed that Petrona Cordova led the protest. The city’s public representative Juan Arrunategui, who Justo had petitioned before his death, also stated that Cordova appeared before him carrying a mining tool called a barretón, a large bar used to hammer and lever ore from the ground, requesting his help after Justo’s death.17 The Governor, unquestionably aiming to discredit Cordvoa’s petition, further asserted that Cordova appeared to have consumed “liquor putting her in a complete state of drunkenness, [as she] began to publicly yell that the master had killed the slave.”18 Lastly, the anonymous letters informed judicial authorities that Justo’s relatives “were going to bury him ten hours after his death.”19 These are the fragmentary pieces of information left in the archival holdings that offer a few critical facts surrounding Cordova and Justo’s family’s actions. Read through the bureaucratic gaze, these details present the image of a recalcitrant, intoxicated, elderly black woman, angered at the brutal death of her grandson. However, an examination of traditional Afro-Pacific funerary rituals allows us to see that Cordova requested the exhumation of Justo’s body in part because she was leading la novena, a nine-day long funerary ritual necessary to put the souls of the deceased to rest.

  • 20 Joseph Hilgers, “Novena”. In The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York, Robert Appleton Company, 1911, Nu (...)
  • 21 González Zambrano, “Música, identidad y muerte”, p. 33.
  • 22 Anne Marie Losonczy, “El luto de sí mismo: cuerpo sombra y muerte entre los negro-colombianos del C (...)
  • 23 José Fernando Serrano Amaya, “‘Hemo de mori cantando, porque llorando naci’. Ritos fúnebres como fo (...)
  • 24 Ibid.

9The ritual of la novena is certainly not unique to the Afro-Colombian spiritual tradition. Practiced across the Catholic world, la novena consists of nine days of mourning after the death of a loved one, typically accompanied by private or public prayers, rosary devotions, and a feast in honor of the deceased. After a person’s death, the shrouded body of the deceased is displayed in the home for several hours so that relatives, friends, and other loved ones can say their last good-byes to the dead as their soul gradually transitions to the afterlife. They are then buried that evening, and the loved ones return to the home for eight more consecutive days to continue the devotional funerary ritual.20 In black communities along the Pacific in Colombia, the oldest woman of the family, known as la gran madre, leads the singing of the alabaos, or funerary songs, to aid this transition and honor the deceased’s soul.21 With influences from popular Catholicism, Emberá (the largest indigenous community of Chocó) shamanism, and Afro-Colombian traditions, the collective consumption of aguardiente, a popular liquor produced from sugar cane, is critical for la novena’s rituals, as the combination of singing and drinking of aguardiente is said to heighten memory and spiritual understanding.22 Along with aguardiente consumption, high-pitched lamentations by the gran madre and female relatives are necessary for the ritual, which requires expressive emotions from them such as excessive crying, groaning, and at times convulsions.23 On the day of the death, the relatives are responsible for organizing the funerary arrangements, informing and waiting for absent relatives and indigenous compadres to arrive and say their blessings to the deceased before their body is carried to the cemetery for burial typically in the evening.24

  • 25 González Zambrano, “Música, identidad y muerte”, 27.
  • 26 Serrano Amaya, “‘Hemo de mori cantando, porque llorando naci’”.
  • 27 Ibid.

10Given that “death is considered as the beginning of a journey and not as the annihilation of the person”25 in the Afro-Pacific spiritual tradition, and that la novena was not properly carried out due to the immediate burial of Justo’s body, it is clear that Cordova’s protest and her family’s requests for exhumation were more than just an outcry for legal justice; they were demands for spiritual justice. In this tradition, it is believed that failure to properly attend to the requisite parts of the funerary ritual – the wake, the alabaos, and la novena – could “endanger the journey of the deceased’s soul”26 with severe consequences on both living and dead. If the ritualistic process is interrupted, the soul is said to remain in permanent contact with the dead. Contemporary accounts of funerary rites from the southern Pacific coast of Colombia state that the dead will appear occasionally and on certain times of day if the process is interrupted. Not only can they at times appear in dreams, they can also return to sleep alongside their spouses if the soul has not rested.27

  • 28 González Zambrano, “Música, identidad y muerte”, 21; Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier; Orián (...)

11Thus, it is no surprise that Cordova, as the gran madre, was leading the protest, since the eldest woman in the family organized these funerary rituals. The barretón, or an iron bar used for mining, she was carrying also could have been part of the ritual, as the mining family was a predominant form of social organization for the enslaved and black underclass in colonial and republican Colombia. Along with other ritualistic items, the bar could have been used to affirm these social and familial bonds of labor.28 Placing the Governor’s undeniable attempt to smear Cordova by referring to her intoxication aside, it is possible that Cordova indeed consumed aguardiente, given that it was a requirement for the ritual. In fact, her yelling on the way to the burial, while politically motivated, could have been part of her singing the alabaos, marked for their piercing, deeply expressive tones.

  • 29 María Cristina Navarrete, Prácticas religiosas de los negros en la colonia: Cartagena, siglo XVII, (...)
  • 30 Serrano Amaya, “‘Hemo de mori cantando, porque llorando naci’”.

12However, the request by her relatives to bury Justo ten hours after his death unquestionably points that this was one of the primary motivations for the protest and demands for exhumation. As Colombian historian María Cristina Navarrete writes, slaves in seventeenth-century Cartagena preferred to have the wake at night, given that this would allow time for loved ones who lived far away to attend the ceremony. This was especially necessary for the enslaved because of the difficulties they faced for taking time away from work, restrictions by authorities, and African spiritual customs of celebrations at night.29 Though not ideal, ten hours alone with Justo’s body before its burial would allow some time for Cordova to proceed over the rituals, while giving the opportunity for loved ones to gather from afar before his final good-bye. Indeed, “one of the conditions of a good death [in this tradition] is the largest possible presence of people,”30 which was no longer possible after the authorities forced his burial at noon.

  • 31 Brown, The Reaper’s Garden, p. 6.
  • 32 As Louise Tilly argues, “If politics is conceived at the formal level and at the center of the nati (...)
  • 33 Vincent Brown, “Spiritual Terror and Sacred Authority in Jamaican Slave Society”, Slavery and Aboli (...)

13Armed with her body and voice, Cordova’s protest and call to exhume the body were part of a “mortuary politics,” defined “as intense disputes about custom, authority, and religion play out within final rites of passage.”31But Cordova’s act was also part of a larger, vernacular politics expressed by enslaved and free black communities across the Diaspora, who yielded their small but commanding degrees of power in the streets, homes, churches, and other everyday places.32 As the gran madre, Cordova was the spiritual leader of her family (and perhaps of a larger Afro-Pacific spiritual community) and the fate of Justo’s soul lay solely in her hands. The stakes of the case spanned far beyond the everyday world of the living, as Justo’s soul could be perpetually trapped, never reaching final peace. The living, Cordova and her family especially, would have to constantly confront his haunting spirit, which could continue to wander the world of the living if not properly attended to. In pushing for the exhumation of Justo’s body, Cordova was therefore mobilizing an ethics of spiritual justice and campaign of “sacred authority”33 that exceeded the domains of the present world. But in order to fulfill the spiritual requests of the afterlife, she needed to battle with the living authorities and urge them to carry out the exhumation.

  • 34 Pamela Voekel, Alone Before God: The Religious Origins of Modernity Mexico, Durham, Duke University (...)

14As death was part of the everyday life of the enslaved on the brutal gold mines of the Pacific lowlands of Colombia, it is likely that the authorities were familiar with the funerary rites of Afro-Colombian communities. Why did they nevertheless proceed to immediately bury Justo? In the late eighteenth and nineteenth-century, perceptions on death and funerary arrangements were undergoing profound transformations in late Bourbon and post-Bourbon Europe and the Americas. Across the Atlantic, concerns over sanitation, regulation, and social order motivated by a modernizing impulse led to the shutting down of parish churches and construction of suburban cemeteries on the outskirts of main towns and cities.34 Though situated in a peripheral, frontier region on the Pacific coast of Colombia, officials in Chocó were equally attuned to these broader social shifts.

  • 35 El Indígena Chocoano, 10 Feb. 1835, no. 35, Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Bogotá.
  • 36 Ibid.
  • 37 AGN, 1838, SR, FGV, l. 56, f. 94v.

15The main concern in Quibdó surrounded the informalization of the province’s cemetery system. For example, in a letter written by an anonymous padre de familia to the editors of the local newspaper in early 1835, the author lamented the state of the city’s informal cemetery, “located today, as always, in the middle of a muddy and impenetrable hill.”35 Worse than the physical geography of the cemetery, the writer complained that there was no way to secure the remains of the dead after the burial from the wandering pigs left to graze around the city. According to the author, this occurred often, and he reported that the local butcher found pieces of a blue funerary shroud inside a pig. “How many times,” he asked, “do we eat or have eaten pig mixed with that of our fellow human beings, which is undoubtedly incredibly damaging to our health?”36 Performing his duty as a responsible citizen, the author inquired city officials to investigate the matter, requesting funds to build a wooden fence to keep out the pigs. Three years later, in 1838, a governor’s report on the state of the region confirmed that there were no formal cemeteries in the province, and that “the bodies are buried in a piece of uncultivated land; and remain there to be grazed upon by animals, which happens frequently.”37

  • 38 Rogerio Velásquez, “Ritos de la muerte en el alto y bajo Chocó”, Revista Colombiana del Folclor, 2, (...)

16In light of these growing official “concerns” about public health in the 1830s, it is possible that city authorities forced Justo’s immediate burial due to anxieties concerning sanitation with the delayed presence of his decaying corpse in the tropical heat. As one of wealthiest figures in Chocó whom many people were indebted to, Bonoli could have easily requested or paid officials to take away the body, which would otherwise remain on his kitchen floor. Furthermore, a deep-seated anti-black racism could have also played a role in the interruption of la novena, whose rituals, including the use of loud singing, liquor, and funerary games, were deemed “uncivilized” by white officials in Chocó even up to the early twentieth-century.38

  • 39 Reis, Death is a Festival.

17Regardless of the particular circumstances leading to the decision to immediately bury Justo’s body, the action occurred in a larger transnational wave of religious transformations and repression against popular religiosity in the Atlantic world. Just a month after Justo’s death in 1836, a large rebellion involving slaves, free blacks brotherhoods and confraternities in the predominantly black city of Salvador, Brazil began against the prohibition of traditional church burials and the construction of a new cemetery on the outskirts of the city.39 Though concerning vastly distinct circumstances, both events were popular movements demanding spiritual justice, aided and led at times by an oppositional class of elites. In Quibdó, this group of elites utilized Justo’s death and Cordova’s ill treatment to leverage their own campaign against the local government, with radical political consequences as the region and nation headed to civil war for the first time in the late 1830s.

Of Conspiratorial Letters and Political Openings

  • 40 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 93v.
  • 41 Ibid., 2v, 8v, 40v.

18Cordova’s actions set off a large popular explosion in Quibdó, but her protest would have not reached the attention of officials in Bogotá (and therefore the archive) had it not been for the three anonymous letters exposing the crime. Written in the weeks and months after Justo’s death, the targets of these letters were Bonoli and the Governor of Chocó, Joaquín Rodríguez, who was accused of being paid off by Bonoli and thus covering up the case. Despite the fact that Cordova and her relatives went to the Governor’s home, imploring him to investigate the death and exhume the body, the anonymous writers claimed that he completely ignored them (and, as witnesses in the case later stated, the Governor angrily evicted them from his home).40 The writers further accused the Governor of arriving “to Chocó under the patronage of Bonoli.” Meanwhile, they decried that Bonoli continued “to walk through the public streets, showing off his influence with his wealth, sending presents to the Governor everyday” and other judicial officials involved in the case.41

  • 42 Pastor Restrepo Lince, Genealogía de Cartagena de Indias, Bogotá, Instituto Colombiano de Cultura, (...)
  • 43 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 2r. For more on Atlantic travelers and the winding pull of revoluti (...)
  • 44 Gaceta de Colombia (Bogotá), 31 Oct. 1829, no. 156, Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Bogotá.
  • 45 NPQ, 1828: 106v. For just a sampling of these many debts, see NPQ, 1829: 24r; NPQ, 1830: 99r-v; NPQ (...)
  • 46 For a sampling of his activities in the local slave trade, see NPQ, 1830: 136r; NPQ, 1830: 188v; NP (...)
  • 47 NPQ, 1830: 43r; NPQ, 1830: 179v; NPQ, 1842: 109r.

19Bonoli was indeed a force to be reckoned with in the small but bustling city of Quibdó. Originally from Ravenna, Italy on the northern Adriatic coast, he settled in Jamaica sometime in the late eighteenth or early-nineteenth century where he married and had daughters with an English woman, likely trading wine and other commodities as he later did in Chocó.42 Like many men of his era, the tides of the Wars of Independence in the Spanish Caribbean engulfed him and he soon found himself in Cartagena where, according to the anonymous letters, he began to accumulate his wealth “through the blood of the miserable Cartageneros, during the siege of the barbarian Morillo,”43 the royalist leader who led the reconquest of New Granada in 1815. Perhaps hearing about the potential business opportunities available to him in the frontier province of Chocó, home to Colombia’s famous gold mines, he made his way down to Quibdó in the late 1820s, eventually acquiring his naturalization from the Colombian government in 1829.44 After settling into the city in 1828, the year he purchased a house, Bonoli immediately began to become one of the city’s main moneylenders, forming an extensive network of debt among the local elite, regularly loaning hundreds and thousands of pesos at a time.45 Apart from this, he was both an active slaver in the local slave trade and a merchant, trading in wine, sabers, and gold along with the Pacific coast and Caribbean.46 Bonoli also held governmental posts in Quibdó, including the position of official administrator of the city’s alcabalas (tribute) and the collector of gold in the city, and was given a license to monopolize the production and distribution of aguardiente in Quibdó.47 Given Bonoli’s financial chokehold on Quibdó, which clearly infuriated the anonymous writers, the letters served to expose Bonoli’s abuse of power and the Governor’s corruption.

  • 48 For more on Key, see Charles Stuart Cochrane, Journal of a Residence and Travels in Colombia During (...)
  • 49 NPQ, 1833: 45v-46v.
  • 50 NPQ, 1832: 19r-v; NPQ, 1833: 52r. Carlos Ferrer was the son of Don Carlos Ferrer y Xiques, a wealth (...)
  • 51 El Indígena Chocoano, 30 Jan. 1835, no. 34, Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Bogotá.
  • 52 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 112v.

20In the weeks that followed, however, the names of the anonymous writers were finally revealed, in part, as the third letter stated, because of a campaign of persecution launched by the authorities after the letters were sent to Bogotá. Three men came forward as the writers: an older Englishman named Robert Marshall Key, former surgeon to General San Martín in the Wars of Independence in Peru and a gold mining prospector;48 Ricardo Olaechea, Cordova’s legal representative in her suit against Bonoli and the Administrator of Customs in the city port;49 and Carlos Ferrer, a young man who held various important governmental positions in the city. Ferrer was the captain of the provincial army in 1832, the collector of taxes and post-master of southern Chocó, was actively involved in the local slave trade, and inherited a large amount of wealth as the prosperous son of a Spanish merchant and government official.50 Apart from their high financial standings, the three men were occupied in important legal positions in Quibdó as they were all judges in 1835.51 Specifically, the Governor laid blame on Carlos Ferrer because he was his “personal enemy.”52 As the Governor rightfully argued, the men used Cordova and Justo’s death as an opportunity to tarnish his public image, and considered his actions as an attack on the local government and the republican system.

  • 53 David Bushnell, Colombia: The Making of Modern Colombia, A Nation in Spite of Itself, Berkeley, Uni (...)
  • 54 AGN, 1841, SR, FGV, l. 73, f. 108r-109v.

21Sure enough, it was among the first wave of attacks against the government, culminating in the War of the Supremes (1839-1842), Colombia’s first civil war after Independence. Launched in protest of the Congress’s repression of several monasteries in the devoutly Catholic and conservative town of Pasto in southern Colombia, the war quickly transformed into a regional rebellion against the centralizing policies of the New Granadian government, and was led by the popular liberal caudillo José María Obando based in the interior Cauca Valley. In an attempt to strengthen their troops, Obando and other high-ranking liberal officers (jéfes supremos) successfully garnered the support of free blacks and slaves in the region, offering freedom if they joined their forces.53 Though far from the main theater of war in the interior, a local oppositional elite in Chocó utilized the national wave of rebellion to stage their own coup against government officials in Quibdó in 1841, and the leader of the rebellion was the Governor’s archenemy, Carlos Ferrer, who was declared President of the new Council. Ironically, Nicolas Bonoli was among the signatories in support of the new governmental body.54 More than four years had passed since Cordova’s protest, and perhaps Bonoli placed his bets on Ferrer, eyeing potentially lucrative business opportunities with the new political order.

22As in the interior Cauca Valley and the Caribbean coast, the local opposition in Quibdó also sought the military assistance of slaves in the province in their struggle against the local government. Writing to the Secretary of Domestic and Foreign Affairs in Bogotá, the new Governor José Vicente López informed the central government that the city of Quibdó

  • 55 Ibid., f. 69r-v.

finds itself in great danger due to the following event. Last night, there were various reports that a solitary official and his accomplice brought many slaves under their control in order to take the barracks in the name of Obando [and] assassinate the Governor, while offering [the slaves] freedom, money, and consequently the power to do as they please in return.55

  • 56 Ibid., 69v.
  • 57 AGN, 1842, SR, FGV, l. 78, f. 839r.
  • 58 Ibid., f. 842v.

23López went on to inform the central authorities that the armed forces were able to “catch the [unnamed] ringleader,” who in all likelihood was Ferrer given his prior position as captain of the army and leader of the conspiracy, and that the city’s defensive measures were enough to “rapidly dissolve the groups of slaves that had positioned themselves throughout various points [of the city]…”56 A year later, Governor López reiterated his alarm that oppositional forces were “seducing the slaves with the hellish proclamations of that bandit Obando,” who was now attracting commoners, “la gente rústica to the most wicked faction that could ever exist.”57 He further expressed his anxiety that Obando’s call to arms would excite the black underclasses and that “the united slave-gangs would rise up in rebellion following the example of their great friend…”58 An alliance of slaves, free blacks, and white underclasses united under Obando’s banner, whether real or fictional, rattled authorities in Quibdó.

  • 59 After the rebellion, many family members of the accused, especially those of the elite or with soci (...)

24In the end, Ferrer and the oppositional elite were defeated, many of them forced into exile in even remoter parts of the republic.59 Nevertheless, the fact that Ferrer’s rebellion could garner the popular support of the city’s enslaved population in his military campaign is in part a testament to his longstanding relationship to the city’s enslaved and black community.

25Supporting Cordova’s protest and denouncing Justo’s death in 1836 may have been part of a broader plan of building political rapport with Chocó’s black underclass, who composed the majority of the population. Cordova’s campaign for spiritual justice served as just one political opening for Ferrer’s conspiracy against the local government.

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Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), Bogotá

Archivo Central del Cauca (ACC), Popayán

Notaría Primera de Quibdó (NPQ), Quibdó

Newspapers

El Indígena Chocoano (Quibdó), Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Bogotá

Secondary Sources

Brown, Vincent, “Spiritual Terror and Sacred Authority in Jamaican Slave Society”, Slavery and Abolition, 24, 2003, 1, p. 24-53.

Brown, Vincent, The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2008.

Bushnell, David, Colombia: The Making of Modern Colombia, A Nation in Spite of Itself, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993.

Camp, Stephanie M. H., Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South, Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

González Zambrano, Catalina, “Música, identidad y muerte entre los grupos negros del Pacífico sur colombiano”, La Colección de Babel, 27, abril 2003, p. 5-48.

Jiménez, Orián, El Chocó: un paraíso del demonio. Nóvita, Citará y El Baudó, siglo XVIII, Medellín, Editorial Universidad de Antioquia-Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Sede Medellín, 2004.

Losonczy, Anne Marie, “El luto de sí mismo: cuerpo sombra y muerte entre los negro-colombianos del Chocó”, América Negra, 2, 1991, p. 43-61.

Mosquera, Sergio, De esclavizadores y esclavizados en la provincia de Citará: ensayo etno-histórico, siglo XIX, Chocó, Colombia, Promotora Editorial de Autores Chocoanos, 1991.

Reis, João José, Death is a Festival: Funeral Rites and Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Brazil, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2003

Serrano Amaya, José Fernando, “‘Hemo de mori cantando, porque llorando naci’. Ritos fúnebres como forma de cimarronaje”. In Geografía humana de Colombia: los Afrocolombianos, Tomo VI, Bogotá, Instituto Colombiano de Cultura Hispánica, 2000.

Sharp, William, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier: The Colombian Chocó, 1680-1810, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1967.

Velásquez, Rogerio, “Ritos de la muerte en el alto y bajo Chocó”, Revista Colombiana del Folclor, 2, 1961, 6, p. 9-76.

Voekel, Pamela, Alone Before God: The Religious Origins of Modernity Mexico, Durham, Duke University Press, 2002.

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Notes

1 Catalina González Zambrano, “Música, identidad y muerte entre los grupos negros del Pacífico sur colombiano”, La Colección de Babel, 27, abril 2003, pp. 32.

2 Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), 1837, Sección República (SR), Fondo Gobernaciones Varias (FGV), l. 50, f. 487v.

3 Vincent Brown, The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2008, p. 5.

4 Notaría Primera de Quibdó (NPQ), 1831: 88r-v. There is another promissory note that year from September 15 increasing the debt, and including one more slave named Pedro in the mortgage. Ortiz was previously indebted to Bonoli in 1829, see NPQ, 1829: 59v.

5 NPQ, 1835: 113v. This sale included Justo, Pedro, Agustina, and Maria de Jesus for the amount of 900 pesos. Given the previous promissory notes, it’s likely that Ortiz gave Bonoli the slaves because he could not pay off his debt.

6 Other relatives included Justo’s uncle Aniceso and his wife, and Joaquin Palomeque, who were present during the wake and who joined his grandmother, Petrona Mena or Petrona Cordova (alias Pitico), in speaking to several judges and officials throughout the city, demanding the exhumation of Justo’s body. See Archivo Central del Cauca (ACC), 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 66r-v, 115v. Aniceso’s (or Aniesto) name is found in the inventory of the Royal Gold Mines of San José de Murri in 1831, physically described as “useless” and 27 years old, along with an enslaved woman named Petrona, who may be Justo’s grandmother, with no economic value listed, reflecting her poor health, and 39 years old. See NPQ, 1831: 2r. Joaquin Palomeque and his wife purchased their freedom papers together in 1831, meaning they were free blacks at the time of Justo’s death. See NPQ, 1831: 84v-85r. These relatives reflect the extensive family networks that Justo could rely on.

7 William Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier: The Colombian Chocó, 1680-1810, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1967, p. 199.

8 AGN, 1833, SR, FGV, l. 37, f. 841r.

9 AGN, 1838, SR, FGV, l. 56, f. 286r.

10 AGN, 1837, SR, FGV, l. 50, f. 655r-v.

11 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 69r-v.

12 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 67r, 115v.

13 Ibid., 48v, 66r-v.

14 Ibid., 90v.

15 Ibid., 8v, 120v.

16 NPQ, 1831: 2r. However, a note of sale from 1835 states that Bonoli purchased an enslaved woman named Petrona for 200 patacones, see NPQ, 1835: 102v-103r. This could have been Justo’s grandmother, but likely not given that Cordova was never referred to as a “slave” in the lawsuit (which would be necessary for the proceedings), and the fact that an older enslaved woman would not normally be purchased for that amount, a high economic value.

17 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 67r, 115v.

18 Ibid., 120v.

19 Ibid., 2v.

20 Joseph Hilgers, “Novena”. In The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York, Robert Appleton Company, 1911, Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos, BAC – Biblioteca de Autores del Centro, 2015, [online], uploaded in 2012, consulted on September 10, 2014, URL: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11141b.htm; Kenneth G. Davis, “Dead Reckoning or Reckoning with the Dead: Hispanic Catholic Funeral Customs”, Liturgy, 21, 2006, 1, p. 21-27.

21 González Zambrano, “Música, identidad y muerte”, p. 33.

22 Anne Marie Losonczy, “El luto de sí mismo: cuerpo sombra y muerte entre los negro-colombianos del Chocó”, América Negra, 2, 1991, p. 49.

23 José Fernando Serrano Amaya, “‘Hemo de mori cantando, porque llorando naci’. Ritos fúnebres como forma de cimarronaje”. In Geografía humana de Colombia: los Afrocolombianos, Tomo VI, Bogotá, Instituto Colombiano de Cultura Hispánica, 2000, Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos, BAC – Biblioteca de Autores del Centro, 2015, [online], consulted on September 10, 2014. URL: http://www.banrepcultural.org/blaavirtual/geografia/afro/hemodemo#1.

24 Ibid.

25 González Zambrano, “Música, identidad y muerte”, 27.

26 Serrano Amaya, “‘Hemo de mori cantando, porque llorando naci’”.

27 Ibid.

28 González Zambrano, “Música, identidad y muerte”, 21; Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier; Orián Jiménez, El Chocó, un paraíso del demonio: Nóvita, Citará y el Baudó, siglo XVIII, Medellín, Editorial Universidad de Antioquia-Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Sede Medellín, 2004.

29 María Cristina Navarrete, Prácticas religiosas de los negros en la colonia: Cartagena, siglo XVII, Santiago de Cali, Universidad del Valle, 1995, pp. 91. For more on this practice of nighttime slave burials in North America, see Betty Wood, Slavery in Colonial America, 1619-1776, Lanham, Maryland, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005, p. 50.

30 Serrano Amaya, “‘Hemo de mori cantando, porque llorando naci’”.

31 Brown, The Reaper’s Garden, p. 6.

32 As Louise Tilly argues, “If politics is conceived at the formal level and at the center of the nation state, women enter the political arena only when they are demanding rights in that arena, and then act in it. This largely leaves women out of politics. Politics must be reconceptualized so we can talk about the politics of those without formal rights. Using new categories or definitions is not willful obfuscation or blithe innovation: it comes out of a serious effort at conceptualization.” See “Social History and Its Critics”, Theory and Society 9.5, Sep. 1980, pp. 668-670. Also see Ranajit Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1983; James Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1990; Stephanie M. H. Camp, Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South, Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

33 Vincent Brown, “Spiritual Terror and Sacred Authority in Jamaican Slave Society”, Slavery and Abolition, 24, 2003, 1, p. 24-53.

34 Pamela Voekel, Alone Before God: The Religious Origins of Modernity Mexico, Durham, Duke University Press, 2002; João José Reis, Death is a Festival: Funeral Rites and Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Brazil, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2003; Mercedes Granjel, Antonio Carreras Panchón, “Extremadura y el debate sobre la creación de cementerios: un problema de salud pública en la Ilustración”, Norba. Revista de Historia, 17, 2004, pp. 69-91; José E. Serrano Catzim, Jorge I. Castillo Canché, “La reforma de los cementerios y el conflicto civil-eclesiástico por su administración: Yucatán, 1787-1825”, Ketzalcalli, 2, 2006, pp. 68-80; Diego A. Bernal Botero, “La Real Cédula de Carlos III y la construcción de los primeros cementerios en el Virreinato del Nuevo Reino de Granada (1786-1808),” Masters Thesis, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Medellín, 2013.

35 El Indígena Chocoano, 10 Feb. 1835, no. 35, Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Bogotá.

36 Ibid.

37 AGN, 1838, SR, FGV, l. 56, f. 94v.

38 Rogerio Velásquez, “Ritos de la muerte en el alto y bajo Chocó”, Revista Colombiana del Folclor, 2, 1961, 6, p. 9-76.

39 Reis, Death is a Festival.

40 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 93v.

41 Ibid., 2v, 8v, 40v.

42 Pastor Restrepo Lince, Genealogía de Cartagena de Indias, Bogotá, Instituto Colombiano de Cultura, 1993, pp. 88.

43 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 2r. For more on Atlantic travelers and the winding pull of revolutionary Colombia during the Wars of Independence, see Edgardo Pérez Morales, “Itineraries of Freedom: Revolutionary Travels and Slave Emancipation in Colombia and the Greater Caribbean, 1789-1830”, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Michigan, 2013.

44 Gaceta de Colombia (Bogotá), 31 Oct. 1829, no. 156, Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Bogotá.

45 NPQ, 1828: 106v. For just a sampling of these many debts, see NPQ, 1829: 24r; NPQ, 1830: 99r-v; NPQ, 1832: 19v; NPQ, 1837: 8r-v; NPQ, 1843: 23r-v.

46 For a sampling of his activities in the local slave trade, see NPQ, 1830: 136r; NPQ, 1830: 188v; NPQ, 1832: 138r; NPQ, 1835: 120v. According to the notarial records, Bonoli never sold a slave, but merely purchased slaves. Concerning his saber and wine business, see NPQ, 1829: 49r; ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 24r-v.

47 NPQ, 1830: 43r; NPQ, 1830: 179v; NPQ, 1842: 109r.

48 For more on Key, see Charles Stuart Cochrane, Journal of a Residence and Travels in Colombia During The Years 1823 and 1824, Volume II, London, Henry Colburn, New Burlington Street, 1825, pp. 438-439; Sergio Mosquera, De esclavizadores y esclavizados en la provincia de Citará: ensayo etno-histórico, siglo XIX, Chocó, Colombia, Promotora Editorial de Autores Chocoanos, 1991, pp. 93. Key formed a gold mining company along with a Frenchman named Guillermo Eduardo Coutín, who was charged with “overthrowing the public order as an enemy of the republic with the blacks” in the 1820s. See ACC, 1827, Independencia, JI-3cr 2948, 107r.

49 NPQ, 1833: 45v-46v.

50 NPQ, 1832: 19r-v; NPQ, 1833: 52r. Carlos Ferrer was the son of Don Carlos Ferrer y Xiques, a wealthy Spanish merchant who set up a trading company, sending goods from Castille to the Provinces of Chocó, and was active in the trading networks along Cartagena and Jamaica, see NPQ, 1810: 101v-103v; NPQ, 1815: 414r-v. Don Ferrer y Xiques left Chocó in 1815 to fight for the royalists in Cartagena, returning to the province by 1818.

51 El Indígena Chocoano, 30 Jan. 1835, no. 34, Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Bogotá.

52 ACC, 1837, República JI 3cr 84, 112v.

53 David Bushnell, Colombia: The Making of Modern Colombia, A Nation in Spite of Itself, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993, pp. 91, 98; Victor Uribe-Urán, Honorable Lives: Lawyers, Families, and Politics in Colombia, 1780-1850, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000, pp. 118-119; James Sanders, Contentious Republicans: Popular Politics, Race, and Class in Nineteenth-Century Colombia, Durham, Duke University Press, 2004, pp. 19; Álvaro Pone Muriel, La rebelión de las provincias: relatos sobre la Revolución de los Conventillos y la Guerra de los Supremos, Bogotá, Colombia, Intermedio, 2003; Luis Ervin Prado Arellano, Rebeliones en la provincia: la guerra de los supremos en las provincias suroccidentales y nororientales granadinas, Cali, Universidad del Valle, 2007; Fernán González, “La Guerra de los Supremos (1839-1841) y los orígenes del bipartidismo,” Boletín de Historia y Antigüedades 97, Enero-Mayo 2001, 848, pp. 5-63; Rigoberto Rueda Santos, “Federalismo y formación estatal en los antecedentes de la Revolución de la Costa. La Provincia de Santa Marta entre 1830 y 1842”, Fronteras de la historia, 13, Enero-Junio 2008, 1, p. 163-194.

54 AGN, 1841, SR, FGV, l. 73, f. 108r-109v.

55 Ibid., f. 69r-v.

56 Ibid., 69v.

57 AGN, 1842, SR, FGV, l. 78, f. 839r.

58 Ibid., f. 842v.

59 After the rebellion, many family members of the accused, especially those of the elite or with social connections, submitted clemency petitions to Bogotá to pardon their sons, husbands, and brothers, some who were condemned to years of forced labor or banishment. To see Carlos Ferer’s petition on behalf of José Henrique Isaacs, see AGN, 1842, SR, FGV, l. 73, f. 101r-v.

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Référence électronique

Yesenia Barragan, « Death, Slavery, and Spiritual Justice on the Colombian Black Pacific (1837) », Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [En ligne], Débats, mis en ligne le 11 juin 2015, consulté le 19 novembre 2017. URL : http://nuevomundo.revues.org/68186 ; DOI : 10.4000/nuevomundo.68186

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Auteur

Yesenia Barragan

Ph.D. Candidate, Latin American History, Columbia University
yb2221@columbia.edu

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