The Pinkster King and the King of Kongo
The Forgotten History of America's Dutch-Owned Slaves
A recovery of the transformative significance of Pentecost celebrations and fraternal orders on African American identity
Winner of the New Netherland Institute Hendricks Award
The Pinkster King and the King of Kongo presents the history of the nation’s forgotten Dutch slave community and free Dutch-speaking African Americans from seventeenth-century New Amsterdam to nineteenth-century New York and New Jersey. It also develops a provocative new interpretation of one of America’s most intriguing black folkloric traditions, Pinkster. Jeroen Dewulf rejects the usual interpretation of this celebration of a “slave king” as a form of carnival. Instead, he shows that it is a ritual rooted in mutual-aid and slave brotherhood traditions. By placing these traditions in an Atlantic context, Dewulf identifies striking parallels to royal election rituals in slave communities elsewhere in the Americas, and he traces these rituals to the ancient Kingdom of Kongo and the impact of Portuguese culture in West-Central Africa.
Dewulf’s focus on the social capital of slaves follows the mutual aid to seventeenth-century Manhattan. He suggests a much stronger impact of Manhattan’s first slave community on the development of African American identity in New York and New Jersey than hitherto assumed.
While the earliest works on slave culture in a North American context concentrated on an assumed process of assimilation according to European standards, later studies pointed out the need to look for indigenous African continuities. The Pinkster King and the King of Kongo suggests the necessity for an increased focus on the substantial contact that many Africans had with European—primarily Portuguese—cultures before they were shipped as slaves to the Americas. Dewulf’s research has already garnered honors as the winner of the Robert O. Collins Award in African Studies, the New Netherland Institute Hendricks Award, and the Clague and Carol Van Slyke Prize.
Pinkster (Pentecost) was one of the great but seldom recalled early African American holidays. Jeroen Dewulf's rich, deeply researched, nuanced study will revive its memory. The Pinkster King and the King of Kongo is a significant addition to understanding black American culture and is important for any student of American folklore.- Graham Russell Gao Hodges, George Dorland Langdon Jr. Professor of History and Africana & Latin American Studies, Colgate University
Jeroen Dewulf has created an attractive new paradigm for the historical analysis of slavery in North America. It rejects the traditional view that the process of cultural assimilation of Blacks to European standards occurred exclusively within the North American context. It also contradicts the thesis of all earlier experts that the Pinkster festival--the most prominent ritual in African American slave communities from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century--had its roots in Holland and had been a syncretic Dutch-African American phenomenon forged in the Hudson Valley. This is a work of solid erudition and of exhaustive and extremely difficult research.- Walter Prevenier, coauthor of Honor, Vengeance, and Social Trouble: Pardon Letters in the Burgundian Low Countries