When the Devil Knocks

The Congo Tradition and the Politics of Blackness in Twentieth-Century Panama

Renée Alexander Craft

Black Performance and Cultural Criticism


LITERARY CRITICISM / Caribbean & Latin American
288 pp. 6x9

$69.95 cloth 978-0-8142-1270-7
Add cloth to shopping cart

$27.95 paper 978-0-8142-5210-9
Add paper to shopping cart

$27.95 Ebook 978-0-8142-7556-6
Add PDF ebook to shopping cart

Shopping Cart Instructions
Review/Change Shopping Cart & Check-out

Table of Contents

Explore More
The author recommends the following links:

Digital Portobelo: Art + Scholarship + Cultural Preservation

Creative Currents: Art + Culture + Collaboration

The Afro-Latin American Research Institute at Harvard University

Voices from Our America

Center for Imaginative Ethnography

The Institute of African American Research


“This beautifully written book focuses on contemporary Panamanian Congo performance in the town of Portobelo and the community‘s negotiations across local, national, and transnational scales of political, economic, social, and cultural interests and pressures. In attending to these contemporary negotiations, Alexander Craft relates the history of the Portobelo Congo community to the broader history and politics of blackness in Panama. It is this balance between the macro-level history of race in Panama and the micro-level stories of training, rehearsing, and performing Congo that makes When the Devil Knocks exemplary of the very best that performance studies scholarship can achieve.” —Ramon H. Rivera-Servera, Northwestern University

“With When the Devil Knocks, Renée Alexander Craft focuses her keenly crafted ethnographic eye on how various kinds of circulation—geopolitical, intra-regional, and continental—have shaped the ways Afro-Panamanians have imagined and represented themselves over time. Hersis a model of engaged and collaborative ethnography, of performative witnessing that is sensitive to historical depth and the generational shifts catalyzed by contemporary neoliberalism. Craft shows us a politics of scholarly practice that truly makes a difference in the world.” —Deborah A. Thomas, University of Pennsylvania

Despite its long history of encounters with colonialism, slavery, and neocolonialism, Panama continues to be an under-researched site of African Diaspora identity, culture, and performance. To address this void, Renée Alexander Craft examines an Afro-Latin Carnival performance tradition called “Congo” as it is enacted in the town of Portobelo, Panama—the nexus of trade in the Spanish colonial world. In When the Devil Knocks: The Congo Tradition and the Politics of Blackness in Twentieth-Century Panama, Alexander Craft draws on over a decade of critical ethnographic research to argue that Congo traditions tell the story of cimarronaje, charting self-liberated Africans’ triumph over enslavement, their parody of the Spanish Crown and Catholic Church, their central values of communalism and self-determination, and their hard-won victories toward national inclusion and belonging.

When the Devil Knocks analyzes the Congo tradition as a dynamic cultural, ritual, and identity performance that tells an important story about a Black cultural past while continuing to create itself in a Black cultural present. This book examines “Congo” within the history of twentieth-century Panamanian etnia negra culture, politics, and representation, including its circulation within the political economy of contemporary tourism.

Renée Alexander Craft is associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Curriculum in Global Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.