The Black African presence in Colombia
dates back to the Hispanic colonial period, but some sources talk
about African presence in the Caribbean long before the European
invasion. Black African slaves began being imported by the
Hispanics in the first decade of the 16th century. By the 1520s,
Blacks were being imported into Colombia steadily to replace the
rapidly declining native American population. Blacks were forced to
work in gold mines, on sugar cane plantations, cattle ranches, and
large haciendas. Black African labor was essential in all the
regions of Colombia, even until modern times.
Black Africans manufactured textiles in commercial mills. Emerald
mines, outside Bogotá, were wholly dependent upon African laborers.
Also, other sectors of the Colombian economy like tobacco, cotton,
artisanry and domestic work would have been impossible without
Black labor. In pre-abolition Colombian society, many
Afro-Colombian slaves fought for their freedom as soon as they
arrived in Colombia. It is clear that there were strong free Black
African towns called palenques, where Blacks could live as
cimarrones, that is, they who escaped from their oppressors.
Afro Panamanians are also related to Afro Colombians.Black people
played key roles in the independence struggle against Spain.
Historians note that three of every five soldiers in Simon
Bolívar's army were African. Not only that, Afro-Colombians also
participated at all levels of military and political life.
Slavery was not abolished until 1851, and even after emancipation,
the life of the African Colombians was very difficult. African
Colombians were forced to live in jungle areas as a mechanism of
self-protection. There, they learned to have a harmonious
relationship with the jungle environment and to share the territory
with Colombia's indigenous communities.
From 1851, the Colombian State promoted the ideology of mestizaje,
or miscegenation. This whitening of the Black African population
was an attempt by the Colombian government to minimize or, if
possible, totally eliminate any traces of Black African or
indigenous descent among the Spaniards. So in order to maintain
their cultural traditions, many Blacks and indigenous peoples went
deep into the isolated jungles. Afro-Colombians and indigenous
people were, and continue to be, the targets of the armed actors
who want to displace them in order to take their lands for sugar
cane plantations, for coffee and banana plantations, for mining and
wood exploitation, and so forth.
In 1945 the department of El Chocó was created; it was the first
predominantly Black political-administrative division. El Chocó
gave Black people the possibility of building a Black territorial
identity and some autonomous decision-making power. Very powerful
people in the national government, though, were determined to see
the destruction of the new political-administrative unit.
Therefore, El Chocó was not given very much attention by the
national government, and was instead characterized by a constant
pattern of displacement and natural resource exploitation, which
continues to this day.
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