By: Enric Llopis / Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / July 31, 2017
There are around 200 million Afro-descendants living in the Americas today, according to the broad estimates of the United Nations. Of that number, 90 million live in Brazil.
The documentary “Afro-Latinos: the story we were never told” (Afrolatinos: La historia que nunca nos contaron), produced by Alicia Anabel Santos and directed by Renzo Revia, brings back the untold history of the African peoples that came to Latin America, and their descendants.
Numerous researchers have dug into the history of slavery —from the Afro-Latin point of view— in the United States. But there hasn’t been the same amount of studies on Afro-Latin population. Filling this vacuum in knowledge was the goal of the seven hour-long chapters that make up this documentary, which was made between 2008 and 2017. Over 200 hours of interviews were taped and the topics include religion, cuisine, music, society, the role of women and identities.
Historians have often argued about the specific numbers, which vary from source to source. The documentary states that between the 15th and 19th centuries, at least 12 million Africans were enslaved and taken to America—half a million of them, to the United States. An estimated hundred million Africans were trafficked to other continents. It was a history of oppression by white Europeans, but other dynamics unfolded as well. Some African kingdoms, like the Ashanti, Dahomey, Oyo, Benin and Kongo, dominated and enslaved smaller groups, and took their lands and resources. “When trading with the Europeans began, these kingdoms were benefitted and some African elites became more powerful”, the documentary explains.
Slave workers were picked among the young and able: most of the African people deported to Latin America were between 15 and 45 years old, says anthropologist Jesús Palomino. “Those who remained in Africa were mostly children and the elderly; they sought after Central and Western Africa”. Ethnic groups such as the Mandingo, Ashanti, Ewe, Mina, Fon, Nagbo and Igbo were forced to work for the Europeans. The case of Cuba exemplifies the importance and the consequences of slavery. Between the 18th and 19th centuries, the documentary explains, 240,000 Carabilis, 400,000 Kongolese and 200,000 Arara were taken to the island. And between 1820 and 1875 alone, 275,000 Yoruba slaves were deported to the Caribbean island.These massive population displacement accelerated the fall of certain African kingdoms. Slave traffickers intentionally avoided having slaves of the same ethnicity, in order to have linguistic and cultural differences prevent them to revolt.
Writer, activist and producer of the documentary Alicia Anabel Santos has presented this work at the Rector Peset High College of the University of Valencia, in an screening organized by the Movement for Peace and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Born in New York to a Dominican father, Santos gives workshops at several universities and is currently touring with the documentary around the world. Sometimes she gets asked whether it wouldn’t be best to forget the slavist era and focus on the struggles of the present, and she replies: “we come from a very painful history that we must acknowledge, if not, how are we going to know where we are going?”. And sometimes she hears that current social struggles come before folklore, to which she answers: “folklore has been a salvation for black people; it has been used to connect with our ancestors, to celebrate or honor the dead; to do lots of things”.
A lesser-known part of the history of Afro-Latinos is the history of their revolts. Besides religion, folklore was one of the elements that significantly contributed to resistance. The documentary reveals that ethnic groups like the Bantu were one of the most affected by slavery. This group included ethnicities like the Bakongo, and lived in the regions currently known as Angola, Mozambique and Congo. The Bantu were displaced throughout the Americas, from Mexico to Argentina—where the Bantu chants are part of the roots of music—. In Uruguay, 65% of Africans deported to Montevideo were Bantu. The Bantu footprint is present in Haitian voodoo, and in Panama and Dominican Republic “congo” music—that once sparked the struggle for freedom— is still played and danced.
One of the most characteristic methods of Afro-descendants to break free from slavery was maroonage. Fugitive slaves were called “maroons”, and they would frequently create new communities in inaccessible places. Anthropologist Carlos Andújar distinguishes between Afro-latin slaves based on their origin: “The most rebel groups in America are the Ashanti, who were royalty and had their own slaves in Africa”. One of the most famous maroon leaders was Sebastian Lemba, an Afro-Dominican hero, who after rebelling against his masters ran away to the mountains with his followers in 1532. They attacked towns and plantations in La Española, in a battle that lasted until 1547. That was the year in which he was caught and murdered. When captured, maroons were severely punished. In Mexico, another maroon leader, Gaspar Yanga, remained a fugitive for three decades. Yanga, who came from African royalty, founded a town near Veracruz in 1570.
The documentary also explores the long and convoluted process of abolition of slavery, which wasn’t declared once and for all, since many slavers continued their activity in the black market.
Watch the trailer: