Afro-Mexicans (mexicanos negros) are Mexicans who are mostly of African ancestry. Afro-Mexicans who used to be found in every part of Mexico now exists in certain parts of Mexico such as the Costa Chica of Oaxaca and Guerrero, Veracruz and in some cities in northern Mexico.
They now constitute about only 2% of Mexico`s total population and numbering about 900,000.
This paltry figure of blacks in Mexico is shocking because as University of Minnesota demographer Robert McCaa wrote, "Afro-Mexicans, who numbered one-half million in 1810, more or less vanished, thoroughly intermingled and unidentifiable by 1895 if the official discourse is accepted at face value."
In Terms of History of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the early African presence in the Americas is normally associated with the slave trade in the United States, the Caribbean, Brazil, Central America, Colombia and Peru. What is not generally taught in history textbooks is that Mexico was also a key port of entry for slave ships and consequently had a large African population. In fact, during the colonial era, there were more Africans than Europeans in Mexico, according to Aguirre Beltrán's pioneering 1946 book, "The Black Population in Mexico." And he said they didn't disappear, but in fact took part in forging the great racial mixture that is today Mexico. "Because of race mixture, much of the African presence is no longer discernible except in a few places such as Veracruz and the Costa Chica in Guerrero and Oaxaca," wrote Aguirre Beltrán.
Afro-Mexican woman holding her daughter at La Coast Chica in Oaxaca, Mexico. http://zkahlina.ca/
What most people do not know is that Afro-Mexicans were the first enslaved Africans in the Latin America to form the first community of free blacks. This settlement called Yanga (formerly San Lorenzo de los Negros) was formed out of the rebellion which occurred in Veracruz in 1537. Runaway slaves (cimarrones), who mostly fled to the highlands between Veracruz and Puebla with others made their way to the Costa Chica region in what are now Guerrero and Oaxaca. The Runaways in Veracruz formed settlements called “palenques” led by the famous Gaspar Yanga (Nyanga), a Gabon slave who fought off Spanish authorities for forty years until the Spanish recognized their autonomy in 1608, making San Lorenzo de los Negros (today Yanga) the first community of free blacks in the Americas.
The existence of blacks in Mexico is deliberately made unknown, denied or diminished in both Mexico and abroad for a number of reasons: their small numbers, heavy intermarriage with other ethnic groups and Mexico’s tradition of defining itself as a “mestizaje” or mixing.
What many ignorant racist and avid supporters of ""mestizo" people -- a mixture of Spaniards and Indians -- officially referred to as "La Raza" or "The Race, do not know is that the early Mexican governments appreciated the role of Africans in their independence struggles and abhorred any form of slavery thereby given sanctuaries to runaway slaves from United states. "Colonial Mexico had the highest numbers of African slaves. Of the over one million casualties during the Mexican war of independence, most of them were Afro-Mexicans. It was in the view of this that Mexico’s commitment to harbor Black fugitive slaves triggered the Mexican-American war; which Mexico lost nearly 50 percent of her territory. After the war, Mexico undeterred, included in her constitution and continued her commitment to harbor fugitive slave."
In fact, when in 1857 James Frisby, a “Negro” seaman jumped ship in Veracruz and claimed to have been a slave in New Orleans “whose master had signed him on board the Metacomet as crew;” the port captain refused to turn him over. U.S. Representative in Mexico John Forsyth resorted to arm-twisting Mexico even to the point of declaring that Mexico extended a privilege to the seaman because of the “ebony color of his skin.” Forsyth berated Mexico for letting a Black get away with what those of “pure white blood … the master blood of the earth … blood which has conquered and civilized and Christianized the world.” Forsyth in his rage declared, “If Mexico is so deeply imbued with the mania of negrophilism [love of “Negroes”] … imprisoning our White Citizens and making free our Slaves, as fast as they put foot on Mexican soil, cannot long endure consistently with peace and harmony between the two countries.” Forsyth failed to intimidate Mexico, and she remained adamant in her defense and protection of fugitive Black slaves.
The real history of Mexico which now pride itself as a "mestizo" people -- a mixture of Spaniards and Indians -- officially referred to as "La Raza" or "The Race," is that African ancestors were on the Mexican land even before the Mayan and Aztec civilization. The Olmec civilization (1200-400 BC) which was founded by Africans and had its capital in La Venta in Mexico affirms a prolonged presence of African ancestors who laid the ancient foundation of America long before Christopher Columbus’ great, great, great, grandfather whom Mexicans claim to have mixed ancestry with was born. Columbus is said in European history to have discovered America in 1492.
Afro-Mexican dancing group from Yanga, Mexico
Without going deep into Olmec civilization and African presence in America before Columbus, it must be emphasized that the first blacks (Africans) to have landed in Mexico were free men (Moors) from Spain, who came along with the Spanish Conquistadors and explorers. Later, many slaves were imported from Africa through the Portuguese slave traders. These dark skinned slaves "the first true blacks were extracted from Arguin," i.e Maure people of Anguin in Mauritania, West Africa. In the sixteenth century black slaves (Africans) were also brought from Bran (Bono, and other Akan people of Ghana and Ivory Coast), biafadas (Mandika and other Senegambians), Gelofe (Wolofs of Cape Verde) and later Bantu people were also extracted from Angola and Canary Islands. Other blacks from United States also fled from slave states to seek sanctuary in Mexico. In fact, in the summer of 1850, the Mascogos, composed of runaway slaves and free blacks from Florida, along with Seminoles and Kikapus, fled south from the United States, to the Mexican border state of Coahuila. Accompanying the Seminoles were also 'Black Seminoles' -- slaves who had been freed by the tribe after battles against white settlers in Florida. The three groups eventually settled the town of El Nacimiento, Coahuila, where many of their descendants remained.
Afro-Mexicans in Costa Chica. Courtesy alexisokeowo.wordpress
“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. It was clear from colonial records that the black population in the early colony was by far larger than that of the Spanish. In 1570 the black population was about 3 times that of the Spanish. In 1646, it was about 2.5 times as large, and in 1742, blacks still outnumbered the Spanish. It is not until 1810 that Spaniards are more numerous.
Below: is table of steadily growth and decline of African in Mexico between 1570-1742
Population Estimate of Colonial Mexico
Afro-Mexicans and Gene pool of Mestizo
So what happened to the reduction of African population? The answer is that, the Africans committed themselves to fight the Mexican wars of independence that freed mexico from the shackles of the Spanish imperialists. " Hundreds of thousands died in the war of independence fertilizing Mexican soil, the rest has been absorbed in the genetic pool of the Mexican mestizo" (Diogenes Mohammed, 2014). It must be emphasized here that out of over one million casualties during the Mexican war of independence, most of them were Afro-Mexicans. Again many years and generations of intermarriage, discrimination against blacks making more blacks of mixed ancestry to identify themselves as either Mestizo or white culminated in no more than 2 percent of the Mexican population identifying themselves as blacks or moreno (brown).
Kalimba Marichal, Afro-Mexican singer and actor
Despite the fact that Afro-Mexicans have a small population, the truth however, is that most of the so-called Mestizo or "La Raza" ("The Race") or white Latinos of Mexico have more black ancestry in their gene pool than they ever know. During the war of independence 1810- 1821, about 30 to 40 percent of mixed race Mexicans had African in their mix and were more likely to be militant.
The apparent assimilation of Mexico's ex-slaves into the overall gene pool is in marked contrast to America's experience, where the black race has remained relatively distinct. In the average self-declared white American's family tree, there is only the equivalent of one black out of every 128 ancestors, according to the ongoing research of molecular anthropologist Mark D. Shriver of Penn State University and his colleagues.
In fact, Mexico even differs from the rest of Latin America, where distinct black populations remain genetically unassimilated. "Mexico is unique in this regard," commented population geneticist Ricardo M. Cerda-Flores of the Mexico's Autonomous University in Nuevo Leon.
Cerda-Flores' team found that a sample of Mexicans living around Monterrey in Northeast Mexico averaged around 5 percent African by ancestry, according to its genetic markers. In other words, if you could accurately trace the typical family tree back until before the first Spaniards and their African slaves arrived in Mexico in 1519, you would find that about one out of twenty of the subjects' forebears were Africans.
Cerda-Flores and his colleagues also examined the DNA of Mexican-Americans in Texas, who came out as about 6 percent black. Other studies of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans by molecular anthropologists have come up with black admixture rates ranging from 3 percent to 8 percent.
Afro-Mexican girl in Costa Chica
By way of contrast, this appears to be, very roughly, something like half of the black ancestry level of the overall American population, as implied by Shriver's studies. Of course, most of the African ancestors of Americans are visibly concentrated among African-Americans, who average 82 percent to 83 percent black, according to Shriver. Among Mexicans, however, African genes appeared to be spread more broadly and evenly.
Recently, Mexican-American TV host and comedian George Lopez was handed his DNA ancestry results by Mariah Carey – after the question was posed as to whether he would fall under the proverbial one-drop (African) racial classification. Lopez’s results showed a 4 percent African blood. “Texican” actress and a member of hit TV series Desperate Housewives, Eva Longoria’s 3 percent African ancestry surfaced in DNA taken by PBS series Faces of America (Henry Louis Gates, Jr.). And National Geographic’s Genographic Mexican-American reference population attributes a 4 percent African contribution to the “La Raza” pool. The “Mestizo” – the proverbial “La Raza” Mexicano – customarily extols his Indian roots, and laments and or praises his Spanish roots – but rarely is the African part acknowledged.
AfroMexican women standing in front the Hotel Marin in the town of El Ciruelo, Oaxaca
Nevertheless, the official ideology of Mexico has been that the Mexicans are simply a "mestizo" people -- a mixture of Spaniards and Indians -- officially referred to as "La Raza" or "The Race." Since 1928, Mexico has celebrated Oct. 12 as "The Day of The Race." On Oct. 12, 1946, Mexican politician José Vasconcelos famously declared mestizos to be "the cosmic race."
However, the existence of Afro-Mexicans was officially affirmed in the 1990s when the Mexican government acknowledged Africa as Mexico’s “third root”. The Mexican populace's African "third root" is occasionally honored, but Mexican officials have generally ignored it. In fact, the black contribution to Mexico's "cosmic race" has been so forgotten that in last November's race for governor of the state of Michoacán, Alfredo Anaya of the former ruling party PRI hammered away at his opponent Lázaro Cárdenas, the scion of Mexico's most famous leftist dynasty, for having a part-black Cuban wife and son.
Anaya argued, "There is a great feeling that we want to be governed by our own race, by our own people."
One of his supporters said, "It's one thing to be brown. The black race is something different."
Ultimately, this strategy failed, as Anaya lost. Still, he came within five percentage points of beating the son of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the man who is widely believed to have been cheated out of Mexico's presidency in 1988 by massive PRI vote fraud. Further, this Lázaro Cárdenas is the grandson of the Lázaro Cárdenas, Mexico's most popular president, who is still adored for triumphing over the United States by nationalizing American-owned oil companies in 1938. So, considering the vast name recognition enjoyed by Cardenas, Anaya's pro-mestizo and anti-black ploy cannot be dismissed as wholly ineffectual.
As a Roberto Rodriguez and Patrisia Gonzales sagely wrote in their article in "Chronicle Features" in 1996, "In times of racial discord between Latinos and African Americans, this historical confluence of cultures should serve as a reminder that both communities share common ancestors. In fact, if we probe far enough, we're all related."
Though African-descended people have been a part of Mexican history from the very beginnings of the colony, but life can be difficult for black Mexicans, because they are often assumed to be illegal immigrants from elsewhere in Latin America, such as Panama. The Mexican police often treat illegal aliens harshly. Mexico's obliviousness to its black roots is slowly changing.
Throughout the centuries, Afro-Mexicans have made enormous contributions to the country and deserve recognition for their many accomplishments. Afro-Mexicans share a rich history and count heroes and presidents amongst their ancestors.
Vicente Guerrero, Afro-Mexican, abolitionist, war hero and second president of Mexico
Vicente Guerrero, a mulatto and Mexico`s 2nd president, was a hero in Mexico`s War of Independence from Spain. The state of Guerrero in Mexico was named in his honor. His grandson, Vicente Riva Palacio y Guerrero, was one of Mexico`s most influential politicians and novelists. In addition, one of the most prestigious generals in Mexican`s War of Independence, Jose Maria Teclo Morelos y Pavon, was a mulatto as well.
Afro-Mexican Emiliano Zapata was perhaps the noblest figure in 20th century Mexican politics, a peasant revolutionary still beloved as a martyred man of the people. Although Marlon Brando played him in the 1952 movie "Viva Zapata!" the best-known photograph of the illiterate idealist shows him with clearly part-African hair. His village had long been home to many descendants of freed slaves.
Afro-Mexicans have also greatly contributed to Mexico`s rich heritage of dance, music and song. The famous carnival celebrated in Coyolillo in Veracruz has African origins. Mexico`s food, language and spiritual practices have been influenced by the descendants of black slaves. Black immigrants to the country must be recognized and included in this equation as well.
Mexican music, for example, has deep roots in West Africa. "La Bamba," the famous Mexican folk song that was given a rock beat by Ritchie Valens and a classic interpretation by Los Lobos, has been traced back to the Bamba district of Angola.
Afro-Colombians speak Spanish and can be found in certain parts of Mexico such as the Costa Chica of Oaxaca and Guerrero, Veracruz and in some cities in northern Mexico.
For the purposes of Blacks that came to Mexico as a result of Slavery, this historical accounts of Olmec civilization of African presence in America is omitted.
Afro-Mexicans were first brought by the Spanish Conquistadors and explorers. These blacks (moors) were from Spain and did not arrived in any slave ship. They were free men whilst some them were also personal servants of their Spanish masters. One of the earliest Africans brought to Mexico is said to be Juan Garrido, a free man who probably took part in the “Conquest” led by the famous Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1519. Another of these early arrivals was Estebanico, a slave who took part in various expeditions in the 1520s and 1530s, including treks through what is now Florida, Texas, and New Mexico.
The slave trade that changed the demographic face of Mexico began when King Carlos V began issuing more and more asientos, or contracts between the Crown and private slavers, in order to expedite the Trans-Atlantic Trade. At this point, after 1519, the New World received bozales, or slaves brought directly from Africa without being Christianized. The Spanish Crown would issue these contracts to foreign slavers, who would then make deals with the Portuguese, for they controlled the slave posts on the West African coast. In addition, the Crown would grant slaving licenses to merchants, government officials, conquistadores, and settlers who requested the privilege of importing slaves to the Americas.
The crown granted the right for importation of slaves following the devastation brought about by the inherent diseases of the Europeans, which infected and almost completely wiped out indigenous Mexicans. Having no natural immunity against smallpox, measles, typhoid, venereal diseases and other infectious maladies, natives were victims of ferocious epidemics in 1520, 1548, 1576-1579, and 1595-1596. Another Spanish conquistador, Pánfilo de Narváez, is said to have brought an African slave who was blamed for the smallpox epidemic of 1520.
Pay day for African American and Mexican workers, ca. 1930s.
It is estimated that when Conquistador Hernan Cortes arrived in Mexico in 1519, the indigenous population was about 27.6 million inhabitants. By 1605 only 1.7 million indigenous people had survived, a population decrease mulattoes; 15,000 Spaniards, and 80,000 Indians. Slaves were therefore imported from Africa through the Portuguese slave traders to replace the disappearing indigenous Indians. These dark skinned slaves "the first true blacks were extracted from Arguin," i.e Maure people of Anguin in Mauritania, West Africa. In the sixteenth century black slaves (Africans) were also brought from Bran (Bono, and other Akan people of Ghana and Ivory Coast), biafadas (Mandika and other Senegambians), Gelofe (Wolofs of Cape Verde) and later Bantu people were also extracted from Angola and Canary Islands. Soon the Mexico had a lot of black workforce. Blacks slaves were classified into several types, depending on their abundance, origin and mostly physical characteristics. The first, called Retintos, also called swarthy, came from Sudan and the Guinea Coast. The second type were amulatados or amembrillados of lighter skin color, when compared with other blacks were indistinguishable in their skin yellow hues.
The slaves were involved in an important economic sectors such as sugar production and mining. Most slaves worked in sugar production and textile mills, which were the two sectors that needed a large, stable workforce, which could not pay enough to attract free laborers to its arduous work. Other sector of slave labor was generally restricted to Mexico City, where they were domestic servants such as maids, coachmen, personal service or armed bodyguards. However, they were more of a status symbol rather than an economic necessity.
The hardship faced by the slaves for their unpaid labour coupled with maltreatment from their masters led to slave rebellions in Mexico and other parts of the Americas, with the first in slave rebellion occurring in Mexican town of Veracruz in 1537. The slaves after rebelling fled and became runaway slaves, commonly referred to as cimarrones. Most of these cimarrones fled to the highlands between Veracruz and Puebla and having received other runaway slaves joining their ranks made their way to the Costa Chica region in what are now Guerrero and Oaxaca. The Runaways in Veracruz formed settlements called “palenques” and started fighting off Spanish authorities. The most famous of these was led by Gaspar Yanga, who fought the Spanish for forty years until the Spanish recognized their autonomy in 1608, making San Lorenzo de los Negros (today Yanga) the first community of free blacks in the Americas. Chronicling the life of africans in the "palenque, in 1591 Spanish Viceroy Don Luis de Velasco reported the existence of a group of cimarrones (Maroons) who had resided for the previous 30 years on a mountain called Coyula who “live as if they were actually in Guinea.
The Afro-Mestizo was predominant in Morelos’ independence army, which was another reason for targeting, otherwise Morelos would not have viewed this threat as a cancer.
The Mexican war of independence claimed as many as one million lives, many of them Afro-Mexicans. The tragic massacre that took place during Mexico’s war of independence is vividly recounted by one scholar: “The Creole officers, faithful to their gachipin (Spaniard) generals, were willing to massacre the insurgents, and the mestizos and mulattos who formed the rank and file of the army were blindly obedient … when they met the Spaniards in battle, some of them tried to put the Spanish cannon out of action by throwing sombreros over their mouths.”
Abilene (R) and her sisters Diana (L), Maria Esther (2nd L) and Ana Cristina Olmedo pose for a photograph at Punta Maldonado beach in Costa Chica, southern Guerrero state. This region is populated by a majority of AfroMexican people. Photo by heribertorodriguez
When Mexico achieved independence, Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña, one of the leading revolutionary generals of the Mexican War of Independence and an Afro-Mexican at first collaborated with Agustín de Iturbide, who proposed that the two join forces under what he referred to as the Three Guarantees or El plan de Iguala. This plan gave civil rights to Indians but not to African Mexicans. Guerrero refused to sign the plan unless equal rights were also given to African Mexicans and mulattoes. Clause 12 was then incorporated into the plan. It read: "All inhabitants . . . without distinction of their European, African or Indian origins are citizens . . . with full freedom to pursue their livelihoods according to their merits and virtues."
Iturbide and Guerrero eventually agreed on these ideological mandates – that Mexico be made an independent constitutional monarchy, the abolition of class distinctions between Spaniards, creoles, mestizos and Indians, and that Catholicism be made the state religion – earned Guerrero's support, and, after marching into the capital on 27 September 1821, Iturbide was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico by Congress. However, when Iturbide's policies supported the interests of Mexico's wealthy landowners through continued economic exploitation of the poor and working classes, Guerrero turned against him and came out in favor of a Republic with the Plan of Casa Mata
By 1827 hardly any “Negro” slaves were left in Mexico. The whole slavery issue would have been history were it not for the fact that Texas, in the Northern part of Mexico, was being encroached upon by slave holding Anglos who brought slaves with them to settle unoccupied areas of Texas.
Mexico’s effort to end slavery throughout her territory met with opposition and by the fall of 1825 almost one out of five persons in Texas was a “Negro” slave.
When the general Manuel Gómez Pedraza won the election to succeed Guadalupe Victoria as president, Guerrero, with the aid of general Antonio López de Santa Anna and politician Lorenzo de Zavala, staged a coup d'état and took the presidency on 1 April 1829. Guerrero was elected the second president of Mexico in 1829. As president, Guerrero went on to champion the cause not only of the racially oppressed but also of the economically oppressed. The most notable achievement of Guerrero's short term as president was ordering an immediate abolition of slavery on September 16th of 1829. and emancipation of all slaves. During Guerrero's presidency the Spanish tried to reconquer Mexico, however, the Spanish failed and were defeated at the Battle of Tampico. Stephen Fuller Austin, 1829, in his letter to his sister described Guerrero's Government of Mexico (and Texas) in these words: "This is the most liberal and munificent Government on earth to emigrants – after being here one year you will oppose a change even to Uncle Sam.”
Guerrero was deposed in a rebellion under Vice-President Anastasio Bustamante that began on 4 December 1829. He left the capital to fight the rebels, but was deposed by the Mexico City garrison in his absence on 17 December 1829. Guerrero hoped to come back to power, but General Bustamante captured him from his home through bribery and a group of reactionaries had him executed. After his death, Mexicans loyal to Guerrero revolted, driving Bustamante from his presidency and forcing him to flee for his life. Picaluga, a former friend of Guerrero, who conspired with Bustamante to capture Guerrero, was executed.
Benigno Gallardo, leader in the Guerrero teacher union and Afro-Mexican activist.
To better understand the music’s origins, researcher and expert on Mexican percussive instruments Arturo Chamorro states: "African traces are not present in an obvious manner in traditional Mexican music and those that have such traces are found in levels less obvious. One can argue that through traditional oral music, the panorama of African heritage is much more optimistic than that of strong documents."
Even though the African presence in Mexico’s folk music has not been greatly promoted tantamount to that of European and Amerindian populations, there is evidence that music of the Costa Chica region has been impacted by African influence that dates back to slavery. This influence is prevalent in today’s music in the Costa Chica region as well as other states in Mexico. Until the pioneering investigation of Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán in 1946,there was not much research done in regards to the African diaspora and its influence in general and even less in the Costa Chica region. Even though there is supportive evidence of an African past in Mexico’s folk music history,some investigators share contrasting viewpoints. For example, “surprisingly, Vicente Teódulo Mendoza, the most prominent scholar of folk music in Mexico, dedicated minimum attention to the African contribution in traditional music.”
Conversely, other scholars such as Robert Stevenson (1952) and much later Gabriel Moedano (1980) both concur that there is significant African influence in some genres of Mexican music. Within the music of the Costa Chica region, there are specific instruments of African origin that are also particular to the regional sound. Many of these instruments such as the marímbola (finger piano), quijada (jawbone), and tambores de fricción (friction drums) are documented in Chamorro’s Los instrumentos de percusión de México (1984).
A boy plays a donkey's jawbone for the anual Afro-Mexican Dance of the Devils in Cuajinicuilapa community, Guerrero state, Mexico
Instruments: The friction drum (tambor de fricción) isa percussion instrument consisting of a single membrane stretched over an open-ended hollow sound box. The player produces sound by causing the membrane to vibrate by friction. The membrane vibrates by 1) being rubbed with the fingers or with the use of acloth, stick or cord that is attached to its center, or by 2) spinning the drum around a pivot to produce friction. To vary the pitch, the membrane may be depressed with the thumb while playing. The friction drum was primarily used for religious ceremonies and associated with groups descending from the Yoruba and Bantu cultures. The tambor de fricciónis also known as the bote de diabloor tirera in Mexico. As Chamorro states: “Theuse of the friction drum, which is recognized as also having African aspects in its manufacture, appears to have extended itself among various indigenous and mixed communities from the Costa Chica region.”
Afro-Mexican Abraham-Laboriel-Sr “The most widely used session bassist of our time” according to Guitar Player magazine.
Among these communities is the Amuzgo, the Amerindians who called the instrument teconte. Bill Jenkinsconcurs with Chamorro’s statements,that “many friction drums in the New World were of Africa origin.”The marimbais currently a prominent folk instrument in the state of Oaxaca and also apparent in the state of Veracruz(Jenkins). The instrument has been manifested in different parts of the world and is referred to by different names. Marimba, which means “voice of wood,” is a wood or metal instrument whose sound is generated by thin tongues known as lamellae. A derivative of the gyil, the marimba has fourteen wooden keys that are fastened by leather and antelope sinew with calabash gourds beneath the keys. The marimba is not used as a solo instrument, but functions as an accompanying instrument. It also provides the harmonic background in addition to setting the tempo for the band.
From the state of Guerrero, the song “La Llorona,” which features the marimba is a good example of the instrument’s prominence in contemporary music. It also exists in other countries within the African diaspora, such as Guatemala, Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia.
Also in Guerrero, the marímbola (similar to the marimba),is used in a style known as chilena. This genre of music got its name from the immigrants who came to Mexico in search of gold on their way to California. The chilena is also a famous couples’dance with Afro-Hispanic rhythms and Spanish stanzas. It is the product of the African influenced cueca, a folk dance popular in various Hispano-american countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. The marímbola has ties to the balafon in Mali, and the balaphone,balani and balangiin Sierra Leone. Palauk and mahogany wood from Africa gives the instrument its distinct sound. In 1980, a study carried out by André Fara from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)published findings that established the marimbol[a] as being clearly of African origin as well as being linked to the history of the sanza,which is currently known by its modern name mbira.
The quijada (jaw bone of a donkey, cow or horse) is an instrument that is also called by other names in different countries (e.g.,charrasca in Venezuela, cacharaina in Chile,or quijada quina). The jawbone is weathered until the molars rattle in place. Methodsof playing involve striking the large end of the jawbone with the palm which rattles the teeth, and/or scraping the instrument with a stick.When analyzing the song “Hurra cachucha y los enanos” a song specifically used in the danza de “los diablos,”(the dance of the devil),the use of the quijadais recognized as being dominant. This dance is a celebration that takes place most often during El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) in Mexico. In countries where the quijada is known, there tends to be a large population of African descendants. According to the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, among the African influenced instruments of Mexico, the quijada de burrois one of the Mixtec(indigenous Mesoamerican) idiophones with African influence.
Afro-Mexican population in the Costa Chica
The Costa Chica (“small coast” in Spanish) extends from Acapulco to the town of Puerto Ángel in Oaxaca in Mexico’s Pacific coast. The Costa Chica is not well known to travelers, with few attractions, especially where Afro-Mexicans live. Exceptions to this are the beaches of Marquelia and Punta Maldonado in Guerrero and the wildlife reserve in Chacahua, Oaxaca . The area was very isolated from the rest of Mexico, which prompted runaway slaves to find refuge here.
However, this has changed to a large extent with the building of Highway 200 which connects the area to Acapulco and other cities on the Pacific coast. African identity and physical features are stronger here than elsewhere in Mexico as the slaves here did not intermarry to the extent that others did. Not only is black skin and African features more prominent, there are strong examples of African based song, dance and other art forms. Until recently, homes in the area were round mud and thatch huts, the construction of which can be traced back to what are now the Ghana and Ivory Coast. Origin tales often center on slavery.
Afro-Mexican round settlement of African origin at La Coasta Chica, Oaxaca in Mexico
Many relate to a shipwreck (often a slave ship) where the survivors settle here or that they are the descendents of slaves freed for fighting in the Mexican War of Independence. The region has a distinct African-influenced dance called the Danza de los Diablos (Dance of the Devils) which is performed for Day of the Dead. They dance in the streets with wild costumes and masks accompanied by rhythmic music. It is considered to be a syncretism of Mexican Catholic tradition and West African ritual. Traditionally the dance is accompanied by a West African instrument called a bote, but it is dying out as the younger generations have not learned how to play it.
There are a number of “pueblos negros” or black towns in the region such as Corralero and El Ciruelo in Oaxaca, and the largest being Cuajinicuilapa in Guerrero. The latter is home to a museum called the Museo de las Culturas Afromestizos which documents the history and culture of the region.
The Afro-Mexicans here live among mestizos (indigenous/white) and various indigenous groups such as the Amuzgos, Mixtecs, Tlalpanecs and Chatinos . Terms used to denote them vary. White and mestizos in the Costa Chica call them “morenos” (dark-skinned) and the indigenous call them “negros” (black). A survey done in the region determined that the Afro-Mexicans in this region themselves preferred the term “negro,” although some prefer “moreno” and a number still use “mestizo.” Relations between Afro-Mexican and indigenous populations are strained as there is a long history of hostility. Afro-Mexicans are as indigenous to Mexico as the palest Mexican with strictly European ancestry. However, the social stigma and internalized racism associated with blackness and dark skin causes many Afro-Mexicans to feel shame and deny their negritude instead of finding self-acceptance and pride in their dark skin, kinky hair, and African features
afro mexican from costa chica
Afro-Mexican population in Veracruz
Like the Costa Chica, the state of Veracruz has a number of pueblos negros, notably the African named towns of Mandinga, Matamba, Mozambique and Mozomboa as well as Chacalapa, Coyolillo, Yanga and Tamiahua . The town of Mandinga, about forty five minutes south of Veracruz city, is particularly known for the restaurants that line its main street. Coyolillo hosts an annual Carnival with Afro-Caribbean dance and other African elements.
However, tribal and family group were separated and dispersed to a greater extent around the sugar cane growing areas in Veracruz. This had the effect of intermarriage and the loss or absorption of most elements of African culture in a few generations. This intermarriage means that while Veracruz remains “blackest” in Mexico’s popular imagination, those with black skin are mistaken for those from the Caribbean and/or not “truly Mexican". The total population of people of African Descent including people with one or more black ancestors remains very low, at less than 2 percent, the highest of any Mexican state.
Statue of Gaspar Yanga
The phenomena of runaways and slave rebellions began early in Veracruz with many escaping to the mountainous areas in the west of the state, near Orizaba and the Puebla border. Here groups of escaped slaves established defiant communities called “palenques” to resist Spanish authorities. The most important Palenque was established in 1570 by Gaspar Yanga and stood against the Spanish for about forty years until the Spanish were forced to recognize it as a free community in 1609, with the name of San Lorenzo de los Negros. It was renamed Yanga in 1932. Yanga was the first municipality of freed slaves in the Americas. However, the town proper has almost no people of obvious African heritage. These live in the smaller, more rural communities.
Afro-Mexican population in northern Mexico
There are some towns with few blacks in them, far north of Mexico, especially in Coahuila and the country’s border with Texas. Some ex slaves and free blacks came into northern Mexico in the 19th century from the United States. One particular group was the Mascogos, which consisted of runaway slaves and free blacks from Florida, along with Seminoles and Kickapoos. Many of these settled in and around the town of El Nacimiento, Coahuila, where their descendents remain.
Ray Dalton - Afro-Mexican American singer-songwriter. His mother is an Afro-Mexican
Africa’s Lost Tribe In Mexico
NEW AFRICAN MAGAZINE
1 OCTOBER 2012
"The existence of Afro-Mexicans was officially affirmed in the 1990s when the Mexican government acknowledged Africa as Mexico’s “third root”. But Mexico’s real history shows the African presence in the country going back thousands of years. Despite the official recognition of the contribution of Africa and Afro-Mexicans to Mexican society throughout the ages, the plight of African-descended people in Mexico is still desperate, reports Miriam Jimenez Roman. (Additional reporting by Tom Mbakwe)"
Last year, a bilingual exhibition, The African Presence in México: Yanga to the Present, was mounted by the Oakland Museum and the DuSable Museum on both sides of the Mexican border – in the US and Mexico itself. It traced how Africans – fewer than 2% of colonial Mexico’s (1521-1810) population – significantly enriched Mexican culture through their art, music, language, cuisine, and dance. The African Presence in México invited Mexican-Americans and African-Americans to look at their identities in light of their shared histories in Mexico and the United States.
The Spanish first brought Africans to Mexico in 1519 to work in the agrarian and silver industries, under often brutal conditions. There were constant slave protests and runaways (cimarrónes) who established settlements in the mountains of Orizaba. In January 1609, Gasper Yanga, a runaway slave elder, led the cimarrónes (or maroons) to a successful resistance against a special army sent by the Spanish Crown to crush their uprising. After several cimarrón victories, the Spanish acquiesced to the slaves’ demand for land and freedom. Yanga founded the first free African township in the Americas, San Lorenzo de los Negros, near Veracruz. It was renamed in his honour in the 1930s.
Slavery in Mexico was abolished in 1810 by Jose María Morelos y Pavón, leader of the Mexican War of Independence. As a mulatto (Spanish and African), Morelos was directly affected by Mexico’s prejudices. Racial mixes were seen as undesirable by a society that aspired to purity of race and blood (ie, Spanish only).
In 1992, as part of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish in the Americas, the Mexican government officially acknowledged that African culture in the country represented la tercera raiz (the third root) of Mexican culture, with the Spanish and indigenous peoples. But the plight of Afro-Mexicans has not improved much since the recognition of 1992.
As Alexis Okeowo, a black journalist in the Mexican capital, Mexico City, attests, when she visited Yanga, her heart broke. “As I arrived in town,” she reported, “I peered out of my taxi window at the pastel-painted storefronts and the brown-skinned residents walking along the wide streets. ‘Where are the black Mexicans?’ I wondered. A central sign proclaimed Yanga’s role as the first Mexican town to be free from slavery, yet the descendants of these former slaves were nowhere to be found. I would later learn that most live in dilapidated settlements outside of town.”
The next morning when she went searching for the Afro-Mexicans, Okeowo found that though she had grown used to the rarity of black people in Mexico City, it was different at Yanga, where she was not only stared at but also pointed at.
“The stares were cold and unfriendly, and especially unnerving in a town named for an African revolutionary,” Okeowo recalled. “ ‘Mira, una negra,’ I heard people whisper to one another. ‘Look, a black woman.’ ‘Negra! Negra!’, taunted an old man with a shock of white hair under a tan sombrero.
“Surrounded by a group of men, [the old man] gazed at me with a big, toothy grin. He seemed to be waiting for me to come over and talk to him. Shocked, I shot him a dirty look and headed into [a] library’s courtyard.”
Okeowo continued: “The notion of race in Mexico is frustratingly complex. This is a country where many are proud to claim African blood, yet discriminate against their darker countrymen. Black Mexicans complain that such bigotry makes it especially hard for them to find work. Still, I was surprised to feel like such an alien intruder in a town where I had hoped to feel something like familiarity. Afro-Mexicans are among the poorest in the nation. Many are shunted to remote shantytowns, well out of reach of basic public services, such as schools and hospitals.
“Activists for Afro-Mexicans face an uphill battle for government recognition and economic development. They have long petitioned to be counted in Mexico’s national census, alongside the country’s 56 other official ethnic groups, but to little avail. Unofficial records put their number at one million.”
Monument 1, one of the four Olmec colossal heads at La Venta. This one measures nearly 3 meters (9 ft.) tall.
Fidel Herrera, Afro-Mexican and Former governor of Mexican state of Veracruz 2004-2010
Joaquín Hendricks Díaz- Afro-Mexican and Former governor of Quintana Roo
Miscegenation and Racism: Afro-Mexicans in Colonial New Spain
by Ellen Yvonne Simms, M.A.
Most students of Mexican history would be surprised to know that an extensive Black population, which will be referred to as Afro-Mexicans, existed during the colonial period. Though only a small percentage of Blacks went to Mexico in comparison to other parts of the Americas, Afro-Mexicans, both enslaved and free, at one time outnumbered the current dominant so-called mestizo population in Mexico. In addition, scholars have neglected studying Afro-Mexicans despite the fact that they made a great deal of contributions to the birth, growth, and development of Mexico. Thus, they should be examined for the important roles they played in Mexican history.
Mexico had an extensive Black population which eventually assimilated into the dominant so-called mestizo majority by the late eighteenth century. Although the Afro-Mexicans were a large population during the colonial period, by the late eighteenth century, they became a negligible group supplanted by Indians, Whites, and mixed groups known as castas, later called mestizos. What accounted for the Afro-Mexican demographic decline by late colonial Mexican society? Certainly, many reasons accounted for the demise of Blacks in Mexico. For example, many died from wars, diseases, captivity, bondage, abuses, shocks, malnutrition, as well as other causes. However, this paper will concentrate on two salient factors that caused the decline of the Afro-Mexican population in Mexico from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries: the prevalent miscegenation ethos and pernicious racism.
Nobody knows when the first enslaved Africans came to Mexico or New Spain as it was called during the colonial period, but their numbers grew in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 1501 marked the earliest recorded date of the Black enslaved arriving in the Americas from Spain; Blacks served as companions, servants, and auxiliaries to the Spanish explorers and conquistadors. Not till 1519, notwithstanding, when Hernan Cortes first began his conquest of the Aztec empire, which he accomplished by 1521, did the Black enslaved come to New Spain. He brought the Black enslaved with him, including those that played prominent roles in the conquest, such as Juan Cortes and Juan Garrido. Historical records purported Hernan Cortes to be the first Spaniard to introduce the Black enslaved to the region. Though most Blacks in New Spain came as enslaved persons, a few came as free people (other historians a la Ivan Van Sertima claimed that Blacks lived in this region before the advent of Europeans). Cortes, himself, used the Black enslaved for military reasons not only in the conquest but for labor purposes on his plantations.
The conquest of the Aztec empire caused the demographic collapse of the indigenous populations (misnomer Indians). In 1519, New Spain had estimated the indigenous populations to be 27,650,000, but by 1532, they declined to 16,800,600; in 1580, the indigenous populations had decreased rapidly to 1,900,000; and in 1595, they dwindled to 1,375,000. Epidemics destroyed major indigenous populations in 1520, 1548, 1576-1579, and 1595-1598. By 1605, the indigenous populations had reached to 1,075,000. Epidemics, diseases, enslavement, and hard work caused the demographic collapse of the indigenous populations of the region. They had no immunity against such European diseases as smallpox, measles, yellow fever, malaria, and typhus. Other reasons for the decline of the indigenous populations included poor living conditions, low birth rates, destructive wars, harsh labor, and mass suicides. The average indigenous family declined to only four people:
mother, father and two children.
As a result of the demographic collapse of the indigenous populations, clerics pressured the Spanish Crown to enact the New Laws in 1542-1543 to protect them from exploitation, hence Spanish intellectuals and clerics, most notably Bartholome de Las Casas, attacked Spanish abuse of the indigenous population. The New Laws, a series of decrees, banned their use in dangerous labor. In 1601, Philip IV barred the use of the indigenous populations in textiles and sugar mills because they suffered high mortality rates. The New Laws also sought to prevent the genocide of the indigenous populations that occurred throughout the West Indian islands through diseases, slaughters, wars and enslavement among other reasons. From those earliest experiences and to rationalize through racist stereotypes their insatiable need for labor, the Spaniards came to regard the indigenous populations, especially in New Spain, as inferior and too weak to endure the long and arduous labor. Thus, the Spanish Crown enacted many laws to "protect" them, but in reality, they fared no better than the Black enslaved because the avaricious Spaniards always found reasons to enslave the indigenous populations to their detriment.
An Afro-Mexican walks at his home's backyard in San Nicolas in the coast of Guerrero state, July 6, 2005.
Ironically, the demographic collapse of the indigenous populations caused African enslavement to be introduced in New Spain in the early colonial period. Being the first advocate of African enslavement in the Americas, Las Casas wanted to stop the genocide of the indigenous populations, and at the time, he genuinely believed that the Black enslaved would serve as better sources of labor than them; thus, he called for the African enslaved to replace the dying indigenous populations who the Spaniards forced to work for them. However, before his death, Las Casas realized that "it was as unjust to enslave Negroes as Indians and for the same reasons." In addition, the Spanish Crown abolished the enslavement of indigenous populations in 1542, and thus they could not be sold as chattel. However, Spanish colonists and officials still needed a reliable source of labor to meet the demands of a nascent colonial society being unwilling to do it themselves. Because a demographic collapse had occurred to the indigenous populations to the extent that few people survived to do the arduous labor, Europeans and Spaniards looked to Africa to acquire African labor via the transatlantic trade of the enslaved. Through racist rationalizations, the Spaniards justified the use of the Black enslaved by attributing to their superhuman strength, believing that one Black enslaved person was worth four indigenous persons and maintaining that enslaved Blacks were able to survive demanding labor that both the indigenous populations and Whites could not.
The introduction, growth, and development of African enslavement in New Spain can be divided in three main periods: 1519 to 1580, 1580-1650, 1650-1827. The first period, 1519 to 1780, saw that the Black enslaved were brought with the Spanish conquistadors and ended with the typhus epidemic. The Black enslaved populations increased but the indigenous populations declined. The second period, 1580-1650, witnessed a strong rise in the demand for African enslavement. From 1570-1650, the annual African imports of the enslaved averaged 30, 000 to 45,000. After 1580, the enslavement trade in African people expanded, especially between the years 1595 and 1640. The third period, 1650 to 1827, experienced a decline of both the enslavement trade in African people and the enslaved Black population. During this period, the indigenous populations had recovered and the mixed populations, later misnamed the mestizo grew. Thus, Spanish officials had people other than Blacks to fulfill their labor demands. By its abolition, about 200,000 enslaved Africans had been imported to New Spain; with the total African enslaved importation into Spanish America at approximately 1,552,000.
Hence, the peak years of the African enslaved presence were 1606,1608,1609,1610 and 1616-1621. Up to 1640, New Spain received the largest number of enslaved Africans sent to Spanish America. New Spain and Peru became the two largest importers of the African enslaved during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The following table indicated the importation of the African enslaved to the Indies and New Spain:
Period Total to the Indies Total to New Spain
1521-1594 73,000 36,500
1595-1622 104,205 50,525
1623-1639 47,000 110,525
It demonstrated that the Spaniards and the colonial economies of New Spain and the Indies relied heavily on enslaved Blacks with many being imported in the Spanish colonial empire, which included New Spain, Central America, Peru , Gran Colombia , Puerto Rico, Hispaniola , Cuba , and other colonies. It also showed the development of the transatlantic slave trade in importing thousands of Africans to be enslaved in these regions. There existed constant and insatiable demands for supply-- that is the African labor.
The Spanish Crown granted to individual companies a monopoly, called the asiento, of transporting enslaved Africans to the Americas. It regulated every part of the transatlantic trade, including the enslaved, and the ages, sexes, numbers, origins, destinations and duties were paid on each Black enslaved person that entered New Spain. According to the asiento agreement, the enslaved African had to be between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five (youthful ages for extracting as much labor as possible). In addition, a ratio of two to three African male to every one African female was common in the colonial period. The Spaniards justified the exploitation and mistreatment of Blacks because they regarded them as a mala raza, an inferior race. The average life of the Black male was calculated as fifteen working years from the time he arrived in New Spain. The Spaniards believed that it was cheaper to work an African to death in a few years, ergo the need for constant new laborers, and their replacement rather than to keep them in a good state of health, so they would survive their bondage. The enslaved African came from many parts in Africa, but mostly from West Africa (Senegambia and Guinea-Bissau) in the early periods and Central Africa (Angola and the Congo) in the latter periods, because of the English, Dutch and French challenges and incursions to the Portuguese monopoly of enslavement along the coast of West Africa coast. Hence, the enslaved Black person born in colonial New Spain was called Creole; and those born in Africa were called bozales.
The enslaved Afro-Mexican worked in many parts in the colony of New Spain. They labored in sugar plantations, silver mines, and textile obrajes to name some of the prominent places. In the urban centers, which received a greater proportion of enslaved Africans than the rural areas, who worked as domestics, servants, and artisans and many other important occupations? Not surprisingly, as a result, as early as 1570, there were a large number of enslaved Blacks who lived in urban areas. For example, in Mexico city, the capital of the colony of New Spain and the heart of the Spanish empire, 50,000 Blacks and mulattos, a sizable proportion, slave and free, lived there. Thus the Afro-Mexican performed the most onerous and demanding work of all the exploited groups, and endured the brunt of hard labor and physical punishment. And interestingly, the enslaved Afro-Mexican occupied an unenviable position in society because they were the most despised, discriminated against, and hated of all peoples as they spent their entire lives being exploited, and additionally, the Spaniards had no conscience as they exploited Blacks and the indigenous peoples.
Consequently, the Spaniards developed an elaborate and contradictory ideological notions based on their racialist concepts of race. And primarily, their essentialistic notion of Limpieza de Sangre, a Spanish doctrine designed to discriminate against anyone without “pure blood” and not descended from Old Christian stock. Thus, the Spaniards viewed anyone without this pure blood-- meaning the absence of Jewish, Muslim or Black ancestors in their blood-- as inferior. In the colonial period, Europeans, including the Spaniards, believed that individuals inherited their physical and mental traits via their blood. They utilized this racialist concept based on their racism to structure Spanish colonial societies, including New Spain. Morner states that three main types of social stratification existed in colonial New Spain: a caste system, a society in which membership was fixed at birth; the estate system, an hierarchic society in which the strata was strictly determined by laws and customs; and finally a system of classes based mainly on economic differences without legal restrictions that allowed vertical social mobility. In addition, classes interacted in two main ways: acculturation meant the mixture of cultural elements; and assimilation meant the absorption of a people into another culture. Miscegenation, the process of race mixture, became an important tool in the dual processes of acculturation and assimilation. This racialist ideology allowed the Spaniards to erect colonial New Spain according to race. A clearly defined social and racial structure existed of three distinct groups: a White Spanish elite minority exercising economic, social, civil, legal and political domination, a large vanquished indigenous population and a mass of enslaved Blacks that remained at the lowest rungs of the social hierarchy.
Thus the society of colonial New Spain held White blood in high prestige, and as a result; social mobility, political power, and economic prosperity in colonial New Spain depended upon how one approximated Whiteness in physical appearance (phenotype), at least in theory (but in some cases not in practice). The Spanish notion of race thus became an entirely fictitious ideology and social construction they applied and imposed on diverse people as being distinct and separate species with clearly defined physical, social, mental abilities among other attributes, imbedded in their concept of “purity of blood.”
And notably, after the conquest of the Aztec empire, the Spaniards consolidated their power via their fair skinned descendants (not the Black or indigenous looking ones) who enjoyed privileged positions in the political, religious, legal, societal, and economic echelons the society. Hence, Alexander Von Humboldt, a contemporary at the time who visited the colony, remarked that Whites had the greatest power and privileges in colonial New Spain wherein society honored those inhabitants of New Spain that did not have any appreciable Black or mulatto blood, although most did have some racial admixtures. And in fact, the Spanish notion of so-called racial purity was so important, that in Spain, not to descend from Jewish or Moorish blood earned one a title of nobility. In many respects, although not exclusive in colonial New Spain, one’s skin color governed what one’s status would be in society, and served as the basis of society in colonial New Spain.
Eventually, the Spaniards enacted elaborate racial categories to distinguish among diverse peoples and to maintain their privileged positions in colonial New Spain. Thus Whites categorized their society according to racial groups in order of power. i.e.,: peninsular, creole, castizo, mestizo, mulatto, negro, and indigenous. Pi-Sunyer explicates that the racial hierarchy also delineated racial, economic, social, and political privileges. First, the peninsular Spaniards and criollos ruled in the colony of New Spain: the peninsulars were Spanish born Whites; the criollos were American born Whites who enjoyed the best and highest economic, social, political, and civil offices as well as controlled commerce; next, came the castas (castizos), a compilation of mixed groups (mulattos, mestizos and zambos); then the mestizo, a mixture of indigenous and Spanish, who worked as artisans and skilled non-professionals, and the mulattos, a byproduct of Black and White which constituted most of the proletariat of the towns. In this mix, Blacks suffered the most severe racial discrimination, and since they belonged to an enslaved class, they received the most menial jobs. And not surprisingly, Whites relegated the indigenous populations to their villages, where they worked their lands, but even more interesting, the above racial categorizations only represented a very simplified version of the many racial sub-classifications they established to describe the diverse peoples of colonial New Spain, such as:
Negro Pure Black
Mulato Blanco Spanish and Negro
Mulato Prieto Negro and Pardo
Mulato Lobo Pardo and Indian
Morisco Spanish and Mulato
Mestizo Spanish and Indian
Castizo Spanish and Mestizo
Indian Ladino Indians: adopted Spanish language/customs
Lobo Same as Mulato Lobo
Chino Negro and Indian
Pardo Negro and Indian
Moreno African descent person
Diggs (1953) observes that race, and to a lesser extent, color, determined acceptance into colonial New Spain. And as a society obsessed with pigmentocracy, race and skin color determined one’s position in society, yet they (the Spaniards) also employed other criteria to determine race, such as hair texture, hair color, eye color, body structure, and face width among other variables wherein the society became consumed with racial and color nomenclatures to describe diverse peoples as the subclassifications above indicated. From generation to generation, the continued miscegenation between diverse peoples made describing them more and more complex, and in fact, precise descriptions and classifications became difficult-- if not impossible by the maturation of colonial New Spain, as many Spaniards applied names to describe mixed peoples out of mockery, scorn, and contempt wherein some of the Afro-Mexican names had zoological origins that could mean mule, coyote, wolf, or cow to apply to human beings. For example, zambo meant an African monkey, which Spaniards used to call the offspring of Afro-Mexicans and indigenous peoples; as other labels to describe mixed peoples showed contempt as well, such as “no te entiendo” (I do not understand you). Imagine describing and referring to somebody with such demeaning phrases and terms as “I do not understand you,” or as a cow, mule, wolf, monkey, or cow.
Nevertheless, the Spaniards highly encouraged race mixture to control the different diverse peoples in colonial New Spain. Hence, ‘whitening up’ was one of the few means of social mobility which allowed darker skinned individuals to intermarry with lighter skinned individuals to improve their chances for living a better life in an extremely racist and sexist colonial society. And as the mixed groups became in color, i.e. appearance more “White” and less African, Indian, or mestizo after generations of miscegenation, they passed into the casta category, and eventually joined the White group. Thus, the basic function of the sistema de castas, the elaborate racialist system of classification, served to maintain the power base of the Spaniards in the colony wherein White skin (and blood) served as the prerequisite for acquiring most prestigious and influential posts, positions, occupations, and offices. Therefore, race functioned as an inscriptive characteristic that ostensibly could not be changed, but in reality, many mixed groups became “White” through racial intermixture.
In this process, Afro-Mexicans ironically contributed to the demographic decline and racial dilution of their group by intermarrying with indigenous population. Afro-Mexican males, both enslaved and free acquired indigenous girls and women as concubines because of the imbalance of many Black male to few females. Thus Afro-Mexican males saw advantages of having children by indigenous girls and women, because according to Spanish law, children of free mothers would inherit their status and would be considered free as well. Similarly, many indigenous girls and women would marry Black males rather than their fellow men because they were sexually attracted to Black men, who had a reputation of being "boundlessly voluptuous."
The byproduct of this Afro-indigenous unions could thus live with their indigenous mothers, and still be regarded as indigenous. However, the Spanish Crown became alarmed at this growing Zambo population and sought without success to destroy them, thus Spanish colonial authorities (both church and state officials) discouraged Afro-indigenous unions and viewed Zambos along with other mixed groups as inferior to them. In addition, Zambos had a precarious status in colonial New Spain as a byproduct of two of the most despised peoples (Black and indigenous) in society as Spaniards subjected them to paying tribute, among other humiliating burdens. Yet, Zambos could consider themselves indigenous, a status even inferior to the enslaved Blacks, but the Spaniards exploited and killed many of the indigenous peoples in notorious institutions via encomiendas, repartimentos, and debt peonage among many other ways. And those Zambos that identified with their Black heritage would live a marginal existence and always be subjected to exploitation and ultimately, endured the same discrimination that applied to the Afro-Mexican population.
The Afro-Mexican population became further racially diluted with the growth of the mulatto population. White males found numerous opportunities to sexually abuse and exploit Afro-Mexican girls and women, whether enslaved or free. Travelers remarked how Spanish males preferred Blacks females over their own White women; some remarked that White males had a great attraction for Black females. The society of colonial of New Spain condoned, fostered, and encouraged the sexual exploitation and abuse of Black females. In fact, rarely would White males marry Afro-Spanish females, nor recognize their Black illegitimate children, called mulattos, or Afro-Spaniards. The Afro-Mexican mulatto inherited the status of their mothers, most of who were enslaved; although some Spanish males would sometimes free their mulatto children, and at other times, the Black mothers found other sponsors to free their offspring and themselves. However, if the mulattos appeared White, most would be freed (many mulattos thus became free), but still suffered from the invidious forms of discrimination steeped in illegitimacy and racism. Hence a series of things happened: both Black and White parents might abandon their mulatto children; rarely if ever, did Afro-Spaniards inherit their White fathers’ wealth; whites regarded the mulatto or the mixed Afro-Spaniards negatively, attributing them to negative traits, and thus rank them below the mestizos in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Furthermore, based on their racist attitudes, the Spaniards imposed severe burdens on the mulattos, such as restricting their dress, movement, weapons, and preventing them from joining religious confraternities, barring them from assembling in large groups, and even banning them from owning their own homes. And still not content, mulatto women could not dress in silk, jewelry, gold, silver or pearls, the unemployed mulatto had to work as household servant for a ‘Spanish master’ or suffer 200 lashes and serve five years of forced labor in the Philippines.
The free Afro-Mexicans population continually increased throughout the colonial period, and thus they originated in the urban areas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Most of them lived primarily in Mexico City, Puebla and Veracruz . By 1650, they numbered between 15,000 and 20,000 because of natural increase. Evidence indicated that the free Afro-Mexican population was predominantly female and mulattos. As a result, Spaniards sometimes freed them because they believed the mulatto to be genetically superior to his pure African counterpart. Spanish racism encouraged mulattos to take advantage of social mobility in their racially and sexually stratified society, and they identified with their White Spanish ancestry and rejected their African roots. The Spaniards employed a pernicious racism aimed at eradicating people of African descent by pitting lighter skinned Blacks against darker skinned ones to name just one of the many means. Through miscegenation, the caste system based on race prevented Afro-Mexicans from maintaining their distinct African heritage, especially in physical characteristics:
"This pattern also implies an assimilation process, as Negroes
lost almost all their original culture, retaining only some
physical characteristics which were greatly diluted by
their mixing. The assimilation of Negroes is due, among
other reasons, to their compulsory role of mixing with
others to create the colonial caste system."
The frequent miscegenation and racial dilution of the Afro-Mexican population resulted in many mixed, illegitimate children. Mulattos outnumbered the Blacks three to one of the Afro-Mexican population.
Miscegenation served as a tool of social and racial mobility. Whites had all the social, political, economic, legal, and religious (to name a few) advantages in colonial New Spain. Because of the many privileges and power that Whites enjoyed, not surprisingly, many Blacks desired to be Whites. Successive racial intermixture generations after generations with Whites, indigenous, and mixed peoples transformed the Afro-Mexican population into a mixed people, forming part of the castas, who also consisted of other mixed groups. Afro-Mexicans preferred to be mestizos or Whites and tried to approximate the White physical ideal in appearance, trying to pass for Whites, at least through miscegenation with lighter people. Those that accomplished this escaped racial discrimination and oppression by passing the color line from the Afro-Mexican caste (dark) to a Euro-Mexican one (White), constituting one of the general integration patterns during the colonial period. Along with other groups, Afro-Mexicans became assimilated into the caste system of compulsory mixing.
If some Afro-Mexicans could not pass for White because they were too dark, they could buy a certificate title of Blanco (White) gracias al sacar to pass the color bar, or have the audiencia declare them “que se tengan por blancos” (they may regard themselves as Whites); the certificate served as the means to denote legal White washing for Afro-Mexicans and other mixed groups. However, not all Afro-Mexicans could buy their way into “whiteness” since some were poor, and could not afford the exorbitant fee. However, it did not stop mixed groups from bribing officials and priests to declare them “Whites” on baptismal records. Many mixed families often petitioned the courts to be declared they belonged to “Whites” despite their sometime dark skinned physical appearance to the contrary of actual reality; it was a problematical statement "that such and such individual may consider themselves as whites." Thus, dark skinned mulattos experienced obstacles to passing as White or had to be audacious to challenge “ la linea de color.”
Many Afro-Mexicans realized that “whitening” held the key to their socioeconomic advancement. They jealously guarded their racially mixed classifications (mulattos, octoroons, mestizos, and so on); mixed Afro-Mexicans held on to their positions and status selfishly, they sought to marry always lighter than themselves, and not surprisingly, they did everything to dissociate themselves form the stigma of slavery and illegitimacy or in other words, their Black roots; many refused to identify with their Black enslaved counterparts, who remained at the bottom of society’s ladder. Those that could pass did so without a backward glance at their unfortunate poorer or Black enslaved counterparts; free Afro-Mexicans concerned themselves only with personal advancement rather than Black racial solidarity. Not to mention that the very process and byproduct of miscegenation undermined Black racial solidarity and encouraged the dilution of this group into many castes.
Gradual miscegenation resulted in the racial dilution and decline of Afro-Mexicans in colonial New Spain. By the late eighteenth century, many within the Afro-Mexican population had become lighter physically than in the early colonial period when most had dark skins. The most renown expert on Afro-Mexicans, Dr. Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran contends that Blacks integrated into colonial New Spain by the formation of the national society, and became caught up in the process of racial mixing which accounted for the Afro-Mexican population’s decline and racial dilution:
The integration of the Negro population into the national society is, in fact, a process which began with the transfer of Negroes to the European colonies in America. This process continued during the three centuries of foreign domination and the first century of the national era, and today it is in its final stage. It took place in three centuries where Negroes were an important segment of the total population and in certain other countries, such as Mexico , where miscegenation has blurred the original difference, but where a few isolated nuclei of Negroes can still be identified by their racial characteristics.
Because of incessant miscegenation of the Afro-Mexican population, they never formed more than two percent of the total colonial society during the colonial period, thus the Afro-Mexican population declined by the late eighteenth century through pervasive racial mixture. And though a large number of African enslaved had been imported, by the 1790s they numbered at the most ten thousand, most of whom lived in Acapulco and Veracruz. Beltran (1972) states that race mixture of Afro-Mexicans caused their disappearance: "the majority (Negroes) had diluted their blood by union with the aborigines and Whites, thus giving rise to the mixture of bloods that form the biological basis of Mexican nationality."
In order for the Afro-Mexican population to have remained racially distinct, a group of factors had to have existed. Two conditions for a group to remain racially or ethnically distinct constituted the following: 1) the minority must have a set of differing characteristics that call for cohesion; 2) a set of obstacles that force it to remain separate. The lack of the above factors contributed to the immersion of Afro-Mexicans into the larger caste population. Miscegenation and enslavement became interrelated because the latter fostered the former. The Spaniards, along with other males in the racist and sexist society, had the power, opportunity and means to sexually abuse and exploit Black females who had no means of defending themselves. Moreover, factors such as racism and miscegenation encouraged the Afro-Mexicans to intermarry with lighter groups to improve their socio-economic status.
Pernicious racism also accounted for the decline of the Afro-Mexican population in the colonial period in New Spain. Whites imposed on Afro-Mexicans severe social, legal, economic, political, and religious restrictions to name a few. Afro-Mexicans experienced a hostile colonial society in New Spain. Viewing Afro-Mexicans as inferior evil people of mal raza (bad race) and mala casta (bad caste), the Spaniards constantly referred and treated them as barbaric, vicious, bestial, and other derogatory labels and stereotypes to legitimize their exploitation, abuse and oppression of them. The Spaniards regarded themselves as gente de razon (people of reason), who established a social system geared to maintain their alleged "purity of blood" to protect their elitist, hegemonial positions. They relegated people of color at the lowest rung of the ladder in the colony. Not all Afro-Mexicans followed the laws; some found ways to circumvent or ignore the discriminatory legislation; and other Afro-Mexicans openly defied the laws. Still others petitioned or sued the colonial government to be exempted from tribute or other restrictions.
The Afro-Mexican population experienced virulent and pernicious racism which made it difficult--if not impossible--for their existence as a viable group. Free Afro-Mexicans had to register with the Caja de Negro for the payment of tribute. They realized that their "free" status did not mean they would get better treatment than their Black enslaved counterparts. In general, the Afro-Mexican experience was similar for both enslaved and free because most of the exploitation, abuse, discrimination, and restrictions on the free Afro-Mexicans applied to the Black enslaved as well.
The free Afro-Mexican population fared little better than their enslaved counterparts; the free Afro-Mexican existed as a “marginal man” in a hostile and repressive society. But he had a restricted freedom where he existed in the interstice of being neither enslaved nor free; the free Afro-Mexican occupied a precarious intermediary position in society. Fearing their illegitimacy and inferiority, the Spaniards prevented them from access to the social, economic, legal, religious, and political domains of power to name a few in the colony. Even the colonial Spanish Church discriminated against Afro-Mexicans by preventing them from becoming priests and joining their religious orders among other things.
Free Afro-Mexicans experienced severe racism in the economic life of society, which made it difficult to exist as a viable group. Spanish artisans, merchants, and professionals denied them membership in their organizations known as the guilds, which barred free Afro-Mexicans from obtaining honest occupations. Though restricted from most guilds, a few of them admitted Afro-Mexicans but prevented them from becoming masters, only journeymen; only two guilds allowed Afro-Mexicans to obtain the status of masters: the candle makers and leather dresses. Thus, Afro-Mexicans had very limited economic options, and thus many flocked to the urban centers, where they worked as domestic servants, skilled artisans, and common laborers. In addition, most of the Afro-Mexicans earned very meager wages because Spaniards could always exploited enslaved labor (at the expense of wage labor) which they did not have to pay wages. Most Afro-Mexicans, enslaved and free, worked under Spaniards. The free Blacks and mulattos had to compete with the Afro-Mexican enslaved for the scarce skilled and unskilled jobs available; ironically, though having liberty, free Afro-Mexicans worked longer, harder and cheaper their Black enslaved counterparts. Despite racism, a few Afro-Mexicans accrued modest fortunes for themselves and their children; nevertheless, the vast majority of the Afro-Mexican population born and died in poverty.
Miguel , Afro-Mexican American singer-songwriter.
Free Afro-Mexican women faced even more severe discrimination because of their gender and race, having to deal with both sexism and racism, unlike Afro-Mexican men in colonial society. Afro-Mexican women could not participate in the crafts because Spaniards dominated them. Most free Afro-Mexican women worked as vendors, housekeepers, servants, domestics and wet nurses.
Because of the pernicious racism, Afro-Mexicans had an inevitable and precarious position in colonial New Spain. The Spaniards developed ingenious and invidious means for the oppression, exploitation and domination of Blacks. Despite the highly oppressive and repressive hostile dominant society, some Afro-Mexicans revealed their alienation by defying societal rules and laws in not following the expectations of conventions of colony. This defiance took the form of deviant behaviors, such as robbery, theft, and vandalism against the property of Spaniards and some indigenous peoples. The Spaniards refused to grant Afro-Mexicans full participation in the socio-economic, political, religious, and civil affairs of the society. Barred from many occupations, professions, positions, offices, among other things, some Afro-Mexicans retaliated by plaguing the racist and sexist hostile colonial society through acts of vandalism, robbery, and theft, which the Spaniards incorrectly called “criminal behavior” of Afro-Mexicans.
They rationalized and used such actions as showing further proof of their racist notions of the inferiority of Blacks as a race. Rarely if ever did the Spaniards grant privileges to Afro-Mexicans as a group, only to individual Blacks who had Spanish sponsors to attest to their characters.
Pernicious racism in the political realm also caused the decline of the Afro-Mexican population in the colonial period. Being extremely petrified to the point of paranoia, the Spaniards feared Black and indigenous revolts, rebellions, conspiracies and other uprising to their colonial rule. In consequence, they not only barred them from engaging in political affairs, but ostensibly forced many free Afro-Mexican males into military service to put down revolts, rebellions, and conspiracies, mostly indigenous in colonial New Spain. To illustrate an example of extreme Spanish fear of Blacks, they cruelly crushed so-called slave plot (based on hearsay) of 1537 in Mexico City, to demonstrate how petrified the Spaniards were of them. After 1537, for eight years, the Spaniards banned the importation of the African enslaved to the colony despite doing so in previous years. The Spaniards also crushed the enslaved plots of 1546 and the insurrections throughout New Spain. In 1609 and 1612, they discovered conspiracies of the enslaved in 1616, another uprising occurred; and revolts took place in the 1620s and 1630s. In colonial New Spain, many rebellions, insurrections and conspiracies occurred; in fact, well over 100 of them took place during the period 1523 to 1823. These revolts, rebellions, and conspiracies incited a rebellion spirit among the oppressed classes, who comprised Blacks, mixed and indigenous peoples. Afro-Mexicans did not participate in most of these rebellions, but they affected them, making them more rebellious and therefore difficult to control. New Spain became one of the first places in America to fight against slavery.
Pernicious racism also accounted for the abolition of the transatlantic trade of the enslaved, which caused the Afro-Mexican population to decline. Though initially the Spaniards relied on Afro-Mexican labor for their survival in the early colonial period because the indigenous population had declined, they recovered and a mixed group emerged and supplanted all the other peoples in the colony. Therefore, the Spaniards no longer needed massive numbers of the African enslaved because now they had a large amount of labor consisting of mixed groups in the colony. In addition, in the late eighteenth century, New Spain declined as a slave based economy, but instead became a wage based society, where it was more profitable and competitive to pay wages to reliable, effective laborers rather than rely upon unreliable, inefficient slave labor. As a result, Spaniards now turned to the indigenous and mixed groups to fulfill their labor demands. Contrary to other societies in the Americas, such as Cuba and Brazil, New Spain relied less on enslaved labor which lasted a shorter duration; Cuba and Brazil depended on African enslaved labor much longer.
In fact, the Afro-Mexican enslaved population was quite small in comparison to other societies: Jamaica had 345,000 in 1817; Cuba had 375,000 in 1853; United States had 3,953,760 in 1860; and Brazil had 1,510,806 in 1872. New Spain had a much larger indigenous population than other societies in the Americas, who had recovered to fulfill the labor demands in the mines, textiles and plantations. New Spain abolished its slave trade in 1817. In 1829, Mexico abolished all slavery, at least on paper, except for its far-flung territory of Texas.
Finally, the political maturation of a colonial society into the birth of a modern nation witnessed the decline of Afro-Mexican population and racial dilution during the early nineteenth century. After the war of independence, the victorious Mexican local criollos who had wrested power from the dominant Spanish peninsulars enacted legislation that declared the equality of all inhabitants of Mexico--no longer called New Spain because they had achieved their independence as a republic and modern nation, freeing themselves from the vestiges of colonial status and domination. On September 27, 1822, the Mexican Congress enacted the Plan de Igualo, which barred the classification of persons by races in official government documents. The Mexican criollo dominated the new government and incorporated to the prevailing Spanish racialist ideology of “whitening,” that later became buttressed by European pseudo-scientific notions of racial superiority and misconceptions about national progress based on approximating Whiteness. Thus, they favored miscegenation like their Spanish former rulers, so that one single race, preferably White, would replace all the others, by seeking to "whiten" the entire Mexican population, including the Blacks, mixed and indigenous peoples in the new republic.
Furthermore, the criollos encouraged European immigration and barred Asians and Blacks and other so-called inferior races from immigrating to Mexico . They failed in their racist objectives and came to a compromise: the castes or mixed groups, as their “racial ideal” which became the so-called the mestizo. Not surprisingly, because of this racially hostile society, the indigenous and Black populations declined in absolute numbers in Mexico. The descendants of Afro-Mexicans lost their African heritage and became absorbed into the larger caste groups; however they played a major role in the evolution of the castes, and today are incorrectly called the mestizos. By 1810, the assimilation of Afro-Mexicans became almost complete with only 0.1 percent full blooded Blacks and 10.1 (624,000) percent of the Afro-mestizos merging into the larger caste Mexican population of 6,125,000.
In conclusion, several factors caused the Afro-Mexican population to decline: miscegenation ethos and pernicious racism. The Afro-Mexican population changed from an enslaved to a free colored population. Most of the free Afro-Mexican population tended to be mixed, urban, and skilled. Prejudice and racism limited the access of Afro-Mexicans, unless they passed as “Whites,” to the advantages of the larger society. Economic security could be obtained through strategic marital alliances with lighter skinned members of the caste society. The racialist ideology of sistema de castas encouraged strongly the racial dilution of the Afro-Mexican population into the lighter castes.
The Spaniards employed the sistema de castas in their racist ideology to control the different oppressed peoples, primarily the Blacks, indigenous, and their admixtures. Miscegenation served as a tool to create racial dilution of these groups, which destroyed any racial solidarity among the Afro-Mexican population. By pitting lighter skinned Blacks against darker skinned ones by giving them preferential treatment and privileges, the Spaniards successfully curtailed the racial solidarity and ethnic cohesion of the Afro-Mexicans as a unified group. For example, the lighter skinned Afro-Mexicans had achieved their freedom and could move up the racial gradations of the sistema de castas to enjoy privileges and escape discrimination. The Spaniards strongly encouraged Afro-Mexicans to dilute racially and to be as fair skinned (preferably White) as possible; therefore, the sistema de castas eroded the racial solidarity and ethnic cohesion of Afro-Mexicans. In consequence, Afro-Mexicans merged into the more populous castes.
Though not the focus of this paper, the Afro-Mexican population did not disappear or become extinct even though it declined in population with the maturation of colonial society. On the contrary, Afro-Mexicans still exist in contemporary Mexican society. The last racial census that the Mexican government took was in 1921. Estimates taken from marital records in 1930s and 1940s showed that Afro-Mexicans numbered 120,000 to 300,000 of the Mexican population. Rout (1976) estimates that they represent one percent of the current Mexican population which is a considerable amount. They also exist in the southern Mexican states of Veracruz, Guerrero, and Oaxaca. For the Afro-Mexicans of today, their history remains to be written….
Afro-Mexican Dance of the Devil
.The Dance of the Devils (La danza de los diablos) is a dance performed in Costa Chica, the Pacific coast of Guerrero and Oaxaca in Mexico. Men dressed in rags and high boots perform the Dance of the Devils in Afro-Mexican communities. Their faces are covered with a mask made of leather or paper with long beards and hair. A small pair of goat or deer horns crowns the mask.
The men dance through different villages on All Souls Day, making noise and playing with children and young people by flogging them with a whip. An elder diablo called el Terron, and a female diabla called la Minga, who carries a baby doll, lead the dancers. The elder diablo plays and whips the other diablos into dancing and chases la Minga around with the whip because she interrupts the concentration of the devil dancers. One way that la Minga attempts to disrupt the other dancers is by seduction, the Minga also tries to give her doll, which is a symbol of her productive power, to the dancers or to anyone in the audience. In some African dance rituals dedicated to ancestral spirits, when a major spirit, like the Terron, whips a woman, in this case the Minga, he does it to increase her sexual productivity. (Adedeji 1983) Moedano refers to the Minga as Nana Minga (Moedano 1981, 2). The word Nana is a title for an elder who has live an ethical life and is in line to become an ancestor. Nana is also a title the Akan used to refer to God, Nana Nyame (Babayemi 1980).
It has been suggested that the presence of the whip is a reference to the relationship between the former slaves and their overseers. "…The dance's origins appear to be in part of African origin, and its speculated that in the colonial era it was overtly part of an African cult to the God Ruja. While no mention of Ruja or religious cults exists in the way the dance is performed, today, it certainly dramatizes the more recent historical conflicts between Black workers and cruel overseers. While the son jarocho is danced by Veracruzanos irrespective of ethnic heritage, the Danza de los diablos is not performed, neither in indigenous, nor in mestizo communities, but is essentially an Afro-Mexican tradition." (Vaughn 2001, 5) However, the presence of flogging in the egungun dances of West Africa, juxtaposed to Nana Minga and her baby, suggests that flogging is another African retention and bears its original symbolic meaning of fertility and protection against evil spiritual energy.
The mention of the god Ruja appears in the commentary on the dance which is part of a video recording of such dances, Festival Costeño de la Danza (2000). In the performance of the Dance of the Devils which appears on the recording, the dancers do say the name "Ruja" at one point in the dance.
The word "devil" does not have the same connotation in this context, that it may have elsewhere, because of the identification of traditional religion with "devil worship", as a means of discouraging and denigrating it. The "devils" of the dance are actually ancestral spirits whose presence is celebrated and encouraged (Morales Cozier 2001, 106).
According to Moedano the Dance of the Devils can be traced to Europe during the Middle Ages, but during his interviews with an Afro-Mestizo elder she informed him that the devils are spirits of the dead and not devils in search of souls (Moedano 1981, 31). Similar to a dance performed by the Abakua in Cuba, dressing as a diablo (devil) symbolizes the willingness to allow the spirit to possess your body. Moedano also recognizes the instruments utilized during the dance as another connection to their African heritage, one such instrument is the horse or donkey jaw, which appears in other places showing African influence.
The drumbeats and dance steps used in the Dance of the Devils are similar to those used in other African-influenced dances, especially a widespread and characteristic step in which the dancer stomps firmly on the ground with knees bent while swinging their arms. The drum used, the boite or bute, is a large gourd with a goatskin head; the drum is played by moving a stick through a hole in the center to create a vibration, not by striking. It is very similar to a drum used by the Abakua, an all-male secret society in Cuba (Morales Cozier 2001), and is described in a similar fashion, as having the voice of a big cat, a leopard or jaguar, because of the roaring sound it makes (Ortiz 1993). Antonio Machuca and Arturo Motta (1993) were told by an informant that this type of drum was used to hunt such big cats. A similar drum is used by people of African descent in Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia, in other parts of the African Diaspora and in west and east Africa (Moedano 1981).
Machuca and Motta state that the dancers in the Dance of the Devils are a representation of the supernatural world (Machuca and Motta 1993). The dance being performed on the Day of the Dead leads one to think that the dance relates to the supernatural world of the spirits. The fact that the dancers dress in cowboy clothes and wear masks made of horse hair may be interpreted to mean that the dance represents the spirits of dead cowboys, the employment of many of the Afro-Mestizos cimarron ancestors (Machuca and Motta 1993, 24-38). However, the masks, which appear animal-like, may in fact represent the tono spirits of ancestors, an idea supported by the presence of the boite drum. When attempting to heal someone of sickness Afro-Mestizos call the animal tono of the sick person. Finding the person's tono is a way to determine if the sickness is caused by the animal's death (Aguirre 1958). Aguirre Beltran reports in his ethnography that healers in attempt to cure a person called the leopard, using the roaring sound of the boite drum to simulate the voice of the big cat. (Aguirre 1970)
Marimba (1993) states that African aesthetics are guided by the power of the African spirit, which can be interpreted as representation of spiritual responsibilities utilized to maintain social and supernatural order, this spiritual responsibility is exhibited in the Dance of the Devils. The function of the Dance of the Devils, from a social aspect, is to cleanse and protect the community from spirits that carry evil energy. It can be viewed a way to control evil. In a sense, the dance is used to call the tono spirits of the ancestors to heal the community similar to the way an individual might be healed; the masks and the boite drum call the spirits and the dance is the mode of healing. Trance possession, another traditional healing mode, is also part of these dances, as a means to form a connection between the spiritual and material. According to Betty Romaña Nieto (2001), who is a dancer who has learned the Dance of the Devils even though women do not perform the dance on stage, the dance invokes the spirits of the dead. The dancers use their bodies to bring the spirits and form a bond between them and the community. "As they dance, they create an aura, which begins to rise and cover everyone who is sitting there. " Even the children will come and sit quietly and watch. The force, she says, starts in the dancers' hands and continues through their feet, legs, hips, shoulders, and faces until they are entirely transformed. The wearing of the tono masks allows them to achieve a more powerful transformation.
Adriana Sage, is Afro-Mexican actress
Egungun are regarded as the collective spirits of the ancestors who occupy a space in heaven, hence they are called Ara Orun (Dwellers of heaven). These ancestral spirits are believed to be in constant watch over their descendents on earth. The Ara Orun bless, protect, warn and punish their earthly relatives depending on how they neglect or remember them. Collectively, the Ara Orun protect the community from evil spirits, epidemics, famine, witchcraft and evil doers, ensuring the well-being, prosperity and productivity of the entire community. These spirits can be invoked collectively or individually in times of need. The place of call can be either on the graves of the ancestors, Oju Orori, the family shrines called Ile run, or the community grove, Igbale. In essence, the Yoruba maintain constant communication with their ancestors, whose spirits are believed to be closer to them than the orisha or deities. (Babayemi 1980, 1)
According to Fernando Ortiz, Africans in the Diaspora, as in Africa, have used the dance as a way to commemorate major events. Ortiz states that in Cuba African traditions especially the Yoruba celebration of the return of the spirits, are represented by traditional dance. The secret societies in Africa also had important political, social, religious and educational functions. In particular, states Ortiz and other scholars who have specialized in African dance, the dances to honor the dead were the foundation of theater. In African ritual ceremonies to honor the dead, performances are of dance dramas where the dancers appear as ancestral spirits who return to instill terror in the community. However the principal function of these ancestral dances is to entertain and demonstrate the power of the spirits of the dead. As Ortiz illustrates the utilization of masks within these drama to symbolize the spiritual world and to further reinforce the belief in justice and reciprocity among the members of the community. The spirits of the dead have great mystical power and will punish any person who does not believe in their ability to demand justice. (Ortiz 1993, 36)
La danza de los diablos is a similar kind of dance drama performed for similar reasons. Its purpose is not so much to terrify however as to amuse and draw the community together while paying reverence to the spirits of the dead on the Day of the Dead.