Today's Articles

People, Locations, Episodes

Thu, 11.08.1500

Afro Argentines, a brief story

*Afro Argentines are celebrated on this date in 1500. They are Argentine people of Sub-Saharan African descent. We chose this date because it is the National Day of Afro Argentines and African Culture.

According to the Argentine national census of 2010, the total population of Argentines was 40,117,096, of whom 149,493 (0.37%) identified as Afro Argentine. The Afro Argentine community is the result of the Middle Passage transatlantic slave trade. In the case of Argentina, the influx of African slaves began in the colonies of the Rio de la Plata in 1588. Slave traders kidnapped Africans, who were then sold and shipped from West Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean. Trafficking flourished through the port of Buenos Aires when the city allowed English traders to import slaves.

To provide slaves to the East Indies, the Spanish crown granted contracts known as Asientos to various companies from other countries, mainly Portuguese, English, Dutch and French. By 1713 Britain, victorious in the War of the Spanish Succession, had the monopoly of this trade. The last Asiento was drawn up with the Royal Society of the Philippines in 1787. Until the 1784 ban, African slaves were measured and then branded. It is estimated that 12 million African slaves reached Latin America, mainly arriving at the ports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, with many transshipped to other regions through Valparaíso and Rio de Janeiro.

An estimated 10-15% of slaves died during the passage across the Atlantic. However, many more died during the process of enslavement, travel through the interior of Africa, and while awaiting shipment, with an estimated 40 deaths for every 100 slaves who reached the New World. Studies have shown that owing to their immunological isolation from the peoples of the Old World before the first contacts with Europeans from 1492 onwards, some 50-90% of the indigenous population throughout the Americas died from epidemic diseases exacerbated by the stresses brought on by violent conquest, dispossession, and exploitation.

The Spaniards supplemented aboriginal manpower with slaves from sub-Saharan Africa. Well into the 19th century, mining and agriculture accounted for the bulk of economic activity in the Americas. African slave labor held the advantage of having already been exposed to European diseases through geographical proximity, and African laborers readily adapted to the tropical climate of the colonies. Before the 16th-century slaves had arrived in relatively small numbers from the Cape Verde islands. Thereafter the majority of Africans brought to Argentina were from ethnic groups speaking Bantu languages, from the territories now comprising Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of the Congo.

Relatively few Yoruba and Ewe were taken to Argentina; larger numbers of these groups were taken to Brazil. The slaves were forced to work in agriculture, livestock, domestic work, and to a lesser extent craft. In urban areas, many slaves made handicrafts for sale, while revenues went to their masters. The Buenos Aires neighborhood of San Telmo and Monserrat housed a large number of slaves, although most were sent to the interior provinces. The 1778 census showed a very high concentration of Africans in provinces where agricultural production was greatest. An important part of the African population also inhabited other provinces. Today one of the slums of the city of Corrientes is still known as "Camba Cuá" meaning "cave of the Blacks".

Although most of the gauchos were mestizos some were also of African ancestry. In 1806-1807 the city of Buenos Aires had 15,708 Europeans, 347 indigenous, and 6,650 Africans and mulattoes, while in 1810 there were 22,793 whites, 9,615 Africans and mulattoes, and only 150 indigenous and cholos. The area most densely populated by Africans was located in the neighborhood of Monserrat, just a few blocks from the Congressional Palace. Slaves would group themselves in societies they called nations, some of which were Conga, Cabunda, African Argentine, Mozambique, etc. During the centuries of Spanish domination of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, which had a major role in Argentine history.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, they accounted for up to fifty percent of the population in certain provinces and had a deep impact on Argentine culture and still do. Some theories hold that in the 19th century the Afro Argentine population declined sharply due to the Argentine War of Independence (c. 1810–1818), high infant mortality rates, low numbers of married couples who were both Afro-Argentine, the War of the Triple Alliance, cholera epidemics in 1861 and 1864, and a yellow fever epidemic in 1871.

By the late 19th century, the Afro Argentine population consisted mainly of women, who mixed with the large numbers of European immigrants After the abolition of slavery, many Afro Argentines lived in miserable conditions and faced widespread discrimination. The fourteen schools in Buenos Aires in 1857, only admitted two black children, although 15% of students that year were of color. In Córdoba in 1829 Afro-Argentine children were entitled to only two years' secondary schooling, while white Argentine children studied for four years. Universities did not admit Blacks until 1853. 

Afro Argentines began to publish newspapers and to organize for their rights. One paper, The Unionist, published in 1877 a statement of equal rights and justice for all people regardless of skin color was published.  Other newspapers were The African Race, the Black Democrat, and The Proletarian, all published in 1858. By the 1880s there were about twenty such Afro-Argentine-published newspapers in Buenos Aires, and some researchers consider these social movements integral to the introduction of socialism and the idea of social justice in Argentine culture.

Some Afro Argentines entered politics. José María Morales and Domingo Sosa were in action as senior military officers and held significant political posts. By the late 19th century, the Afro Argentine population consisted mainly of women, who mixed with the large numbers of European men. Even though in the 1960s it was calculated that Argentina owed two-thirds of the volume of its population to European immigration, over 5% of Argentines state they have at least one black ancestor, and a further 20% state they do not know whether or not they have any black ancestors. Genetic studies carried out in 2005 showed that the average level of African genetic contribution in the population of Buenos Aires is 2.2%, but that this component is concentrated in 10% of the population who display notably higher levels of African ancestry.

Today there is still a notable Afro-Argentine community in the Buenos Aires districts of San Telmo and La Boca. There are also quite a few African-descended Argentines in Merlo and Ciudad Evita cities, in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area. Since 2013, November 8th has been celebrated as the National Day of Afro-Argentines and African Culture. The date was chosen to commemorate the recorded date for the death of María Remedios del Valle, a rabona and guerrilla fighter, who served with the Army of the North in the War of Independence. In the 21st century, there is still a notable Afro Argentine community in the Buenos Aires districts of San Telmo and La Boca. There are also quite a few African-descended Argentines in Merlo and Ciudad Evita cities, in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area.

Today in Argentina, the Afro-Argentine community has reemerged. There have been Black organizations such as "Grupo Cultural Afro," "SOS Racismo," and perhaps the most important group "Africa Vive" that help to rekindle interest into the African heritage of Argentina. There are also Afro-Uruguayan and Afro-Brazilian migrants who have helped to expand the African culture. Afro-Uruguayan migrants have brought candombe to Argentina, while Afro Brazilians teach capoeira, orisha, and other African derived secular. It has been well over a century since Argentina has reflected the African racial ancestry in its census count. Therefore, calculating the exact number of Afro-descendants is very difficult; however, Africa Vive calculates that there are about 1,000,000 Afro-descendants in Argentina. The last census carried on October 27, 2010, introduced the African ancestry survey.

New Poem Each Day

Poetry Corner

Black is what the prisons are, The stagnant vortex of the hours Swept into totality, Creeping in the perjured heart, Bitter in the vulgar rhyme, Bitter on the walls; Black is where the devils... THE AFRICAN AFFAIR by Bruce M. Wright.
Read More