Strong African presence in Peru

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FOR many years, there was a general scholarly belief that there was not enough knowledge of the African presence in Peru.
Not anymore.
In the 1990s a scholarship was introduced that focused on Africans and their lives in Peru.
Peru has now occupied a place in the study of the African Diaspora.
In doing so, the study also looks at the way African religion and cultural practices were transported to the ‘new world’.
The first African slaves in Peru came with the Spanish conquistadors.
There is an enormous wealth of records written by scholars who looked at notaries, the church, civil and criminal courts and other entities.
Lolita Gutierrez Brockington wrote an essay titled, ‘The African Diaspora in the Eastern Andes: Adaptation, Agency, and Fugitive Action, 1573-1677’, Volume 57, Number Two, in October 2000 .
She went deep into notarial records including contracts, marriage documents, dowry agreements, wills, and sales records and other archival sources to show how slaves played a significant role in the economic development of Peru from the coast in the highlands and throughout many areas of 16th century Peru. Brockington also documented the miners’ strike in Peru which occurred in 1545. The miners found silver and this was to become the biggest mine in the ‘new world’ near Cerro Rico of Potosí, in the Andean highlands of Peru.
Flores Galindo, in 1984, presented Africans within a broader social context, noting that they were part of a class of ‘plebeians’ that included lower-status Spaniards and other free people of African, Indian, and mixed-racial ancestry. 
The Africans served as military auxiliaries in expeditions and as intermediaries between Spaniards and Indians.
They also worked as builders of cities.
Overall, the African Diaspora was largely influenced by external and internal economic forces going inland to a place called Charcas and Mizque where there was confrontation with the incursions from indigenous Indians, the Chiriguanos.
In their war against white domination the Chiriguanos massacred the Spanish and also the Africans.
This went on till the earlier part of the 17th century.
Spanish military operation by Fernando Cazorla and the Gabriel Paniagua Loaysa led campaigns against the Chiriguano.
Meanwhile, around 1560, Catholic priests brought religion and preached ‘salvation’ to the Indians.
Religion was therefore another way of indoctrination and mental colonisation of the local Indians.
At first, the only miners were the Spanish and the indigenous people who were already suffering from the new diseases and unable to work in the mine shafts. Galindo has argued that, “the indigenous population, like its counterparts throughout the Americas, plummeted.
“The catastrophic 87 percent population loss had left the jurisdiction particularly vulnerable to labour shortages early on, just when the Spaniards were exploring means by which to adapt existing native land and labour systems to meet the rapidly increasing market demands.”
Many Africans were then imported to the vast lucrative silver mining industry in Potosí to add to Indian labourers.
Upon arrival, the Africans died from the new diseases caused by severe weather conditions of the Andes Mountains.
Slave masters decided to move the Africans from the harsh weather conditions and place them in the cotton and sugar cane plantations along the Pacific coast.
Later on they worked in the Mizque Valley in the production of wheat, corn, barley and other grains, fruits, beans, potatoes, cotton, lumber, cheeses, honey, sugar, thousands of heads of livestock especially cattle and sheep and most important, coca and wine.
Slavery was abolished in Peru on December 4 1854.
You can still find the ruins of the old plantations with the inhuman dungeons where the slaves were confined.
You will also find the punishment cells including the chains and shackles, testimony to one of the most cruel crimes against Africans in Peru.
From the days of slavery to the present, the black presence in Peru continued to be visible.
In a town called Chincha along the Pacific coast a cotton plantation housed 30 000 African slaves.
Today, Chincha has Peru’s largest black communities and it is a major cultural centre.
There are two million Africans in Peru in a country of 23 million people.
But, like black people in many parts of Latin America, Africans in Peru suffer from racism.
One African Peruvian has written that there are hardly any African professionals in positions of power within government or in business circles or the military.
Luis Bilbao Guadalupe, a black activist in Peru wrote the following: “Racial discrimination in Peru is structural, not an anecdotal or isolated phenomenon.
“And the proof of this can be seen not only in the lack of real participation and representation of black communities, but also in their invisibility.
“A black person is welcome only up to a certain point.
“The darker you are, the lower you are socially and economically.”
The African women are often found in the fields of entertainment and sports and the men work as chauffeurs, cooks, doormen, butlers and maids.
Sometimes advertisements still have a preference for ‘negros’ or ‘morenos’, as the black people are called in Peru.
At hotels, black men are the doormen and at funerals, “the pallbearers are typically the only black faces among the affluent mourners.
“The Peruvian society reserved, these and other menial jobs almost exclusively for blacks, and their skin colour is considered to bring an ‘aura of prestige’ to the work.”
And yet, despite the racism, the most popular soccer club in Peru is called Alianza Lima and it has traditionally been comprised of black players.
In religion, the biggest event called ‘Our Lord of Miracles’ was founded by African slaves.
At the same time, there is a strong African influence in the music of Peru.
Chincha in Southern Perú is the centre of Afro-Peruvian culture.
In February people from all over gather to celebrate the black presence in Peru. Over the years, there have been interracial marriages and gradually, the African presence is not as strong as before.
Many Afro-Peruvians have also moved from Chincha to Lima and Cusco seeking better job opportunities.
In one district of El Carmen, you can still find a heavy black population.
In the regions of Piura and Lambayeque, you will also find large communities of Afro-Caribbean where they grow rice and mango fields.
In Piura alone there are 7 000 Afro-Peruvian farmers who are known to be descendants of Africans from the Malagasy Republic.
An Afro Peruvian museum is also found in Lima.
Here you can trace the tortuous history of Africans in Peru from the time they arrived as slaves to the present.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for this very informative article about Africans in Peru. Having lived in South Africa and in Colombia, where I unfortunately noticed similar racism against Africans, I have a personal interest in history and migration (I’m just a world-citizen, originally and ironically from The Netherlands, without any particular academic background).
    However, I also have no pride in the link to my ancestry. Some of them were perpetrators in one of the most horrendous crimes on earth, the slavery referred to in this article. And still many people today don’t realise the rich and beautiful influence of the Africans all over the world and particular in South America, through their music, dance, language expressions, spirituality and so on!

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