Black History Month: Africans in Latin America

February 22, 2011 at 12:02 PM | Posted in Abs Fab, Don't be a Dummy, Education | 1 Comment

“In 1570, enslaved Africans outnumbered Spaniards in Mexico three to one, but were reduced to only 10 percent of the population by 1810. On the Caribbean islands, Blacks outnumbered Whites by as many as 23 to 1.”

In this installment of the the Black History Month series, I explore Africa’s role in creating an ethnic group whose identity is normally confused, and sometimes hidden or entirely wiped out. Without Africans, the entire Latino ethnic group would not even exist today. Aside from the human aspect of it, the entire culture—food, music, customs would not exist. Latinos are a result of conquest, “exploration” and slavery. MOST Latinos are of or have African descent in their lineage. It is oftentimes rejected in favor of a more “whitewashed” image, but the truth remains that Latinos are a result of the African Diaspora. With Black Latinos in the media consistently and ferociously battling what they are, a la skin Sammy Sosa skin bleaching, it is no surprise the same conditioning and brainwashing and self hatred that has been shopped in the United States to Black Americans is mirrored in Latin America. But the reality is we are here, a lot of us are proud and we will be seen.

The first town of freed African slaves in the Americas is not exactly where you would expect to find it — and it isn’t exactly what you’d expect to find either. First, it’s not in the United States. Yanga, on Mexico’s Gulf Coast, is a sleepy pueblito founded by its namesake, Gaspar Yanga, an African slave who led a rebellion against his Spanish colonial masters in the late 16th century and fought off attempts to retake the settlement. The second thing that is immediately evident to vistors who reach the town’s rustic central plaza: there are virtually no blacks among the few hundred residents milling around the center of town.

Source: NewsOne: Black Mexicans Seek Recognition and Equality

Black Mexicans

If you have not heard of Mexico’s native blacks, you are not alone. The story that has been passed down through generations is that their ancestors arrived on a slave boat filled with Cubans and Haitians, which sank off Mexico’s Pacific coast. The survivors hid away in fishing villages on the shore. The story is a myth: Spanish colonialists trafficked African slaves into ports on the opposite Gulf coast, and slaves were distributed further inland. The persistence of this story explains the reluctance of many black Mexicans to embrace the label “Afro”, and why many Mexicans assume black nationals hail from the Caribbean. Colonial records show that around 200,000 African slaves were imported into Mexico in the 16th and 17th centuries to work in silver mines, sugar plantations and cattle ranches. But after Mexico won its independence from Spain, the needs of these black Mexicans were ignored. Some Afro-Mexican activists identify themselves as part of the African diaspora. Given their rejection from Mexican culture, this offers a more empowering cultural reference. But with no collective memory of slavery (it was officially abolished in Mexico in 1822), or of any time in Africa before then, Afro-Mexicans are considerably removed from their African roots.

Source: Mexico’s hidden Blacks

The Islands
The 18th century brought about a turning point in Caribbean history when slavery was brought to the islands. European importers demanded high quantities of sugar, the product of sugarcane, which grew easily in the Caribbean’s temperate weather. As demand for sugar increased, so did the demand for plantation labor.

The indigenous Arawaks were the Europeans’ original slaves but they were quickly dying out. By this time slavery was a fixture in European and Arab countries. To continue the grievous trend in the Caribbean, then-friar Bartoleme de las Casas of Hispaniola suggested enslaving Africans. Hence, many new slaves came from Africa’s Guinea coast. They were taken from their homes by slave-raiding parties, which were often endorsed by the local government.

Black Latinos

They were shipped to the West Indies via the notorious Middle Passage–a horrendous mode of transport in which slaves were packed into the ship’s hold so tightly that they could not move freely and sometimes suffocated to death. On average, 12 percent of slaves died on the trip; those who survived were fed, “oiled”, and paraded through the streets to the slave market where they were auctioned off and traded for liquor, guns, and other goods.

They were pawns in the infamous Triangular Trade: European ships set sail for the Caribbean colonies with bartering goods, arms, and liquor for African slave traders; slaves were captured and shipped from Africa to the islands; and in the final step, sugar and rum were exported from the Caribbean back to Europe.

The average life expectancy for an imported slave was only seven years, but history tells that many died within the first year after they arrived. The acclimation period, or “seasoning” as it was called, was a time of brutal adjustment for the new slaves. They were forced to adopt new cultural customs and language.

On the plantations, owners demanded slaves sever every tie to their homeland and kept slaves of the same culture apart. Rebellion was common, and slave owners exercised harsh punishments for disobedience or acts of will; indeed, it was not illegal to kill an African man in the British colonies until the beginning of the 19th century.

In the 1770s, anti-slavery movements began to take shape in Europe. The Society for the Abolition of Slavery was established in 1787 to raise public awareness of the inhumane treatment of slaves. It wasn’t until 1807, however, that a law was passed banning the trade of slaves on British ships.

Soon after the law was passed, many other countries enacted similar laws; in 1831, a massive anti-slavery rebellion in Jamaica destroyed many sugar estates, motivating Parliament to sanction the Emancipation Act of 1834. After a four-year “apprenticeship” during which the slaves were still bound to plantation life, they were released unconditionally.

Cuba was still importing slaves until 1865, and did not officially abolish slavery until 1888. The French possessions did not free their slaves until 1848, followed by the Dutch in 1863 and Puerto Rico in 1873. Many freed slaves purchased parcels of land for subsistence farming. On some of the smaller Caribbean islands, however, there was little land left to buy, so they had to return to plantation work.

Source: Caribbean Guide: From High Seas to High Life

Dominican Republic

According to a study by the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, about 90% of the contemporary Dominican population has West African ancestry to varying degrees. However, most Dominicans do not self-identify as black, in contrast to people of West African ancestry in other countries. Interesting.

Source: Wikipedia: Dominican Republic

Dominicans of African descent

Central and South America

A few African servants accompanying the early Spanish or Portuguese explorers were the first slaves to enter the continent. Larger-scale importation of slaves from Africa developed after the slave trade was established early in the 16th century, though reliable quantitative information is lacking. Estimates of the number of Africans brought to South America are four million for Brazil and three million for all of Spanish America, of which most went to areas of present-day Venezuela, Colombia, coastal Ecuador and Peru, and northwestern Argentina; a number also went to the large Spanish colonial cities as urban servants. In addition, many Africans were brought to the British and Dutch Guianas (present-day Guyana and Suriname, respectively). African slaves were considered to be more resistant than American Indians to tropical diseases, especially in plantation areas. Most of the slaves imported into South America came from Portuguese or Spanish trading posts along the west coast of Africa, including areas near present-day Angola. The slave trade ceased in the early 19th century as most of the new republics banned slavery.

Source: Encyclopedia Britanica

Music, culture, and customs derived from Africa
The tango dance of Argentina was developed from dual African ancestries. One source is undoubtedly the Spanish fandango, but the fandango is really Moorish. The other source is a Black dance called the candombe, the feature attraction of Afro-Argentine festivals during and after the period of slavery. Latin American music has always been deeply influenced by the vibrant rhythms and melodies that Blacks brought with them from their African homeland.

This is particularly true of Brazil; in fact, the first real music school in that country was founded by a Black priest. Brazilian music is thoroughly filled with African themes, and well-known composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos have long found inspiration in the Black musical heritage. Many Caribbean musical styles have become widely known, including the mambo from Cuba, salsa from Puerto Rico, reggae from Jamaica, and calypso from Trinidad.

Source: African American Registry: Blacks in Latin America, A Brief History

Brazil is home to the world’s second largest population of African descent. Brazilians regularly eat foods and use words that originated in Africa, their history books talk almost exclusively about the deeds of white heroes, said Emanoel Araujo, a renowned black sculptor and the curator of the Afro Brasil Museum in Sao Paulo.

Brazil's current goalkeepers: Black Brazilian athletes often face discrimination despite awe-inspiring talents and skills

“We need to redo the history of this country,” Araujo said, “and work around the premise and the perspective of the African not only as a slave but as the one who changed Brazilian society, the one who constructed Brazilian society, who constructed the wealth of Brazil.”

That day of acknowledgment is still far off, and Brazil, a country with one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor in the world, is sharply divided between its whites and non-whites.

Source: Miami Herald: A Rising Voice Series: Afro-Latin Americans

Related: I’m not African-American, I’m Black
Related: My Girl Crush
Related: Dude, the whole concept of race is made-up :rolls eyes and walks away:
Related: Black Americans DO Have Culture
Related: The problem with stereotypes, is not the stereotype at all


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  1. […] Black History Month: Africans in Latin America Related: Black Americans DO have a culture Related: I’m not African-American, I’m Black. […]

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