35th Bienal de São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec 2023
Free Admission
35th Bienal de
São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec
Installation view of the work of Xica Manicongo during the 35th Bienal de São Paulo – choreographies of the impossible © Levi Fanan / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo

Xica Manicongo

This document should enable us to imagine a face, but we are presented only with a tomb. it is History that lies in the tomb. the archive of the history of transatlantic slavery is the record of a disappearance. these documents are therefore nothing more than ashes. why choose to preserve the account of a European colonizer, and not the life of a Black star? the answer to this question is irrelevant. the damage has already been done. we are too late.

What matters, however, is that after more than four hundred years, we don’t even know the name of the man…. but we remember with great fondness the name of Xica Manicongo, a name that is also a fable. Manicongo is a distorted way of saying Mwene Kongo, lord of the Congo; Xica was a way that gender dissidents, especially Black women, used to rescue her from a violent naming that the world of slavery had addressed to her: Francisco. thus, Xica Manicongo is a way of fabulating the sonic signature of this creature whose unfathomable beauty we will never know.

Xica was forcibly brought to Salvador at the end of the 16th century. according to reports, a 

Man named…, a man… was reportedly disturbed by Xica’s radically free gender and sexuality performativity, denouncing her to the Holy Inquisition. Xica defended her refusal, choosing to remain free. finally, to avoid death, she decided to retreat, to deceive the usurpers using her man costumes. would this have been the first record of a Drag King in the history of the invaded territory called Brazil?

What can we imagine before these crooked letters arranged on this moldy paper? a memory. the memory that even oblivion is never absolute. the memory of unpredictability, in which what should have been annihilated resurfaces in another way, in another place: Sertransneja, Coletiva Xica Manicongo, Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus, Bixarte, Xica a peça, Xica Manicongo… the memory of the loud laugh, the serene gingado, the brute force and the indomitable courage of the one we now call Xica Manicongo.

Ashes have long been used in Africa and Abya Yala as a component of soil fertilization. there, then, we are summoned to imagine, before this tomb, new wild fruits of the African diaspora in Brazil that erupt and stir a different way of writing to traverse time.

abigail Campos Leal
translated from Portuguese by Mariana nacif mendes

Xica Manicongo (c. 1600, Congo – Salvador, BA, Brazil, c. 1600) is considered the first transgender person in Brazil. She was enslaved and worked as a shoemaker in the city of Salvador. Xica Manicongo refused to wear clothing considered masculine and to behave according to societal expectations of a man, which led to accusations of sodomy and being part of a group of sodomite sorcerers. She was judged by the Holy Inquisition Court and sentenced to be burned at the stake in public and to have her descendants dishonored for three generations. Manicongo relinquished her feminine identity.