Saturday, May 21, 2011

Afrocolombians' Day

A celebration in Bogotá's La Candelaria neighborhood. 
Today AfroColombians celebrated the 160th anniversary of the pohibition of slavery in Colombia, in 1851.

Women gold miners in El Chocó
People of African descent make up about ten percent of Colombia's population, most of them concentrated along the Pacific and Carribean coasts. Many highly Afro regions are very poor, particularly El Chocó, which has become allegorical for poverty. 

The fact that Colombia waited decades after independence to abolish slavery suggests that Colombia's revolutionaries were not all that revolutionary in eliminating forms of colonial exploitation when they benefited themselves. (And, slavery persisted for years more, in at least some forms, long after legal emancipation. In his autobiography, Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes that around 1900 his family 'purchased' a Wayuu Indian woman to work in their home.)

Benkos Biohó, with chains still on.
Colombia never imposed racial segregation. However, prejudice does exist, and I've heard reports of black people being barred from elite dancing clubs in Bogotá and other cities. I've also heard 'culturalism,' which can be difficult to distinguish from racism. For example, people make comments like 'Those guys on the coast don't like to work and have lots of women.' (Of course, the heat and humidity on the coast could drain the energy from anybody.)

Raúl Cuero at work.
Probably Colombia's most famous AfroColombian community are the Palenqueros, who have preserved some African words, music and other cultural traits. Today, the Palenque community ceremoniously cut the chains off of a statue of Benkos Biohó, an African who rebelled against slavery four centuries ago and founded the Palenque community.

Despite poverty and discrimination, AfroColombians have contributed greatly to Colombian culture both as a people and thru extraordinary individuals. One of the best-known living AfroColombians is Raúl Cuero, a microbiology researcher with NASA.

Another is Delia Zapata, who worked to find the African roots of AfroColombian dances. She lived in the Bogotá's La Candelaria neighborhood, where her old home is still a dance studio/school.









On Sunday the 22nd AfroColombian and indigenous groups marched down Bogotá's Seventh Ave.



By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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