Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African ancestry. They constitute about 26% of the Colombian population today, about 11 million people. However, 20% of the Afro-Colombian population self-identifies as having African descendants according to the PERLA (Project on Ethnicity and Race in Latin America) study.
They make up the second largest African descendant population in Latin America, after Brazil. Afro-Colombians have impacted immensely on Colombian culture and the general socio-economic milieu. The largest populations of Afro-Colombians live in the departments on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts where they constitute as much as 80% of the populace (DANE, Colombia: una nación multicultural). Afro-Colombians are the African descendants whose diverse culture reflect almost every black African ethnic group.
Nevertheless, as anthropologist Nina de Friedemann argues, Afro-Colombians remain ‘invisible’ in national public life, their self-affirmation as a group complicated by numerous long-term historical, cultural and geographic factors. This invisibility also extends to spheres of cultural production and self-representation, where Afro-Colombians have either occupied reified positions or lived an absence as presence in the national cultural imaginary.Notable Afro-Colombians include Colombian scientists like Raul Cuero, writers like Manuel Zapata Olivella and politicians: Piedad Córdoba, Paula Marcela Moreno Zapata, and Luis Gilberto Murillo, Miss Colombia 2001 winner and fashion model Vanessa Alexandra Mendoza Bustos, first Olympic gold medal winner for the country Maria Isabel Urrutia, and Major League Baseball player Edgar Rentería.
Afro-Colombian dance troupe from Bogota
Despite their significant contributions and population numbers it was not until 1991 that Afro-Colombians were, for the first time, recognized as an ethnic group by the Colombian Constitution through Transitory Article 55 of 1991 (T55). Afro-descendants can be found in regions such as Choco, Buenaventura, Cali, Cartegena, San Andres Island, and throughout the country.
Afro-Colombian scientist Dr. Raul Cuero, Ph.D in Microbiology, President and Research Director of international Park Of Creativity. International Consultant on Sciense and Biotechnology. (From 1988 through 2012 he was a professor at Prairie View A&M University researching biological resistance to ultraviolet light. The work was supported in part by NASA and led to at least one publication and patent. During this period, Colombian media portrayed Cuero as "one of the greatest scientists in the world" who was internationally acknowledged as one of the greatest Colombian inventors, stated he had over 100 publications in scientific journals,)
Black people in Colombia are difficult to define. Colombians do not define race as black or white, but degrees of Black, White, and Indian, with numerous constructs in between. Blacks in the island of San Andres, Providencis, Santa Catalina are oriented to Caribbean cultures. The term "negro" is rarely used in Colombia and can be taken as disparaging. Moreno (brown), gente de color (people of color), libres (free people), costeno (coastal dwellers) are terms used to describe Afro-Colombians. After increased political gains in the 1980s the terms Afro-Colombiano, La Comuniado Negras ( black community) are used by the government. 61% of Afro-Colombians live below the poverty line,
The country’s African diaspora is descended from slaves that began to be brought to what was then called Nueva Granada in the early sixteenth century. Enslaved Africans were made to toil in industrial sectors ranging from plantations and ranches to gold mines and commercial fishing boats. 'The Colombian government through its National Department of Statistics (DANE), has identified four representative groups of Afro-descendants in the country: Afro-Colombians from the Pacific who mainly are peasants, fishermen, and traditional miners mainly located on collectively owned territories; Raizal communities from the Caribbean Islands of San Andres and Providence; Afro-Colombians from the “palenque” of San Basilio in the Bolivar Department; and Afro-Colombians living in municipalities and Colombian cities."
Historically, Afro-Colombians have been socially marginalized and politically excluded. Beginning in the early 1500s, African slave labor was applied to cattle raising, transportation, construction, and domestic service (Arocha 1998, p. 73-4), with a later a focus on gold and platinum mining. Due to the scattering of slave concentrations throughout the country, ethnic reconstruction was limited until the early 1900s, when the rise of sugar plantations sparked consolidation efforts for enslaved Afro-descended populations –though it is still difficult to trace ethnic identity formations. Arocha notes that Afro-Colombians were made invisible by the Christianization of African slaves, wherein names were altered or replaced to match masters’ family names. Additionally, a shift towards a new caste system abandoned racial terminology, instead tying in whiteness directly to authenticity and “rationality”. The concept of progress became inextricably tied to race, with Afro-Colombians at the far end of the spectrum. To this day, some academics and political officials still consider Afro-Colombian history as being “fake” or invented when compared to that of indigenous peoples, mestizos, and Spanish inhabitants. It should be noted that in Colombia, Afro-descended populations outnumber indigenous populations, and have been living in the country since the sixteenth century. Out of the roughly 15 million Afro-descendants living in Colombia, over one million reside in the Pacific coastal region, the majority being in Quibdó, Buenaventura, Tumaco, and Guapi with around forty percent living in smaller, more rural areas.
The Pacific coastal region of Colombia covers ten million hectares, eighty percent of which is still covered by tropical rainforests. The region is isolated from the rest of the country by the Western Andean mountain chain, with little more than three roads leading to the area. In the early 1990s, paramilitaries had yet to infiltrate the Pacific coast (Asher 2007, p. 13). In fact, the government had considered Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups on the coast to be “guardians” of the rainforests. However, the idea of protection that was prominent in the early 1990s was soon transformed by the intrusion of paramilitary forces seeking to establish African palm oil plantations (Oslender 2007, p. 758). Since then, thousands of Afro-Colombians have been driven out by armed groups. The first in a series of violent attacks happened on December 20th, 1996. Under the pretense that they were combating FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the Colombian army and paramilitaries carried out an offensive attack in the area of Northern Chocó. It is important to note that the national media outlets and journalists never addressed nor confirmed the impetus behind this offensive. As a result of these attacks, over twenty thousand Afro-Colombians were forcibly displaced from their homes during January and February of 1997. The purported reasoning behind the attacks is misguided at best. Evidence found in the wake of the offensive points to displacement as a development strategy for African palm oil production, which flourishes in the bio-diverse region of the Pacific coast. Because of paramilitary encroachments, Afro-Colombians have become one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world.
The Evidence of Africa in Afro-Colombian culture can be visibly seen in their music. In Colombian music there are many evidences of African heritage. It is understood that currulao, abosao, champeta, bullerengue and mapale are African-based musical genres, but there is evidence of Africa in other music genres. The word cumbia comes from the Bantu word nkumbi, which means drums. Porro comes from a secret society in western Africa. Bambuco has a format that resembles music from the Bambuko region in Senegal. Villancicos are musical adaptations of African chants. In vallenato two of the rhythms have pronounced African influences. Merengue brings its name and rhythm from the Muserengue, an African culture in Colombia. Puya, the most difficult rhythm in vallenato, is surely structured on African rhythms.
Palenquera in Cartagena, Colombia
All Black people in Colombia speak Colombian Spanish. Others speak San Andres Creole and Caribbean English. In certain areas, such as the Pacific region, there are specific features of accent, vocabulary, and syntax that make the Spanish spoken there distinctive.
In Palenque de San Basilio, a single village in the Caribbean region, palenquero is also spoken (often as a first language); migrants from this village to other areas may also speak it. It is a Spanish-based creole language with African and Portuguese elements; in the early 1990s the Ministry of Education began to finance an ethno-education program aimed at reversing the apparent trend toward the loss of palenquero.
Female stylists from across Colombia celebrated the 9th annual Afro-Colombian hair contest on Monday, May 13, 2013 to commemorate black culture. [Photo: Chinanews.com]
The origin of the slaves brought to the Virreinato de Nueva Granada (Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador) is hard to determine as no records were kept to identify African slaves’ origins. For colonial authorities, keeping records of Africans origin was irrelevant as they were mainly considered objects - “tools for physical work and non-carriers of culture” (Nina Friedemann, 1993, 20, citing Roger Bastide).
Afro-Colombian actress Indhira Rosa Serrano Redondo. She was born in 1976, in Barranquilla, Colombia and is a well known Colombian actress and model. She participated in grand telenovelas such as "La Traición" and "El Clon" of Telemundo.
The congress hammered the nail to slavery by declaring on January 1, 1852 all servitude in Colombia, abolished. This change in status, among others socio-economic and political aspects, triggered a relocation of mine and slave owners from the Pacific coast to the closest urban areas in the region - “the large slave owners of the Pacific coast experienced a crisis due to loss of workers, and a subsequently critical situation from a depression of the mine industry along with the outbreak of political conflicts provoking the civil wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century. These negative factors finally compelled former mine and slave owners to abandon gold mining and to move to cities such as Cali, Popayan, Pasto, Tumaco and Medellin”
Afro-Colombian actress Indhira Rosa Serrano Redondo.