When the Devil Knocks

wtdk book cover largeDespite 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.


Congo Performer and Visual Artist Yaneca Esquina
Congo Performer and Visual Artist Yaneca Esquina

“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. Hers is a model of engaged and collaborative ethnography, of performative witnessing that is sensitive to historical depth and the generational shifts catalyzed by contemporary neoliberalism. Alexander Craft shows us a politics of scholarly practice that truly makes a difference in the world.” —Deborah A. Thomas, University of Pennsylvania


WTDK flyer

The Ohio State University Press

180 Pressey Hall
1070 Carmack Rd.
Columbus, Ohio 43210

Part of the Black Performance and Cultural Criticism series,
edited by Valerie Lee and E. Patrick Johnson

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