Friday, October 22, 2010


I can still smell the spray of the sea they made me cross.
That night, I can not remember it.
Not even the ocean itself could remember.
But I do not forget the first seagull I saw.
The clouds above, like innocent witnesses.
I have not forgotten my lost coast, nor my ancestral language
They brought me here and here I have lived.
And because I worked like a beast, here I was born again.
Many a Mandingo legend have I used
I rebelled.

The Master bought me in the square.
I embroidered the Master's coat and I gave birth to his son.
My son did not have a name.
And the Master died by the hand of an impeccable English lord.
I wandered.

This is the land where I suffered the whippings and degradation.
I traveled the length of its rivers
Under its sun I planted and gathered harvests I did not eat.
My home was a barracoon/hut
I myself carried the stones to build it.
Yet I sang the song of the native birds.
I rebelled.

In this land I touched the damp blood and the rotting bones of many others,
Some brought to this place like me, others not.
And I never again thought of the road to Guinea.
Was it to Guinea? Or Benin? Was it to Madagascar? Or Cape Verde?
I worked harder.

Here I built my world.
I established my ancient song and my hope

From the poem Black Woman by Nancy Morejón published 1975

Nancy Morejón was born in Havana, Cuba on August 7, 1944 and is the first African Cuban woman to gain a BA from the island’s post secondary education system. Morejón’s poem could come from the experience of an enslaved African woman from any country whether the enslavers were British, Danes, French, Portuguese or Spanish. Usually the images of the population of Spanish speaking countries like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the countries of Central and South America do not contain much if any representations of Africans. Even in Brazil (former Portuguese colony) with its large population of Africans there is not much representation in that country’s popular culture (including soap operas) of an African presence. So much so that one of the many “Bushisms” attributed to former US president George W. Bush is that he reportedly asked Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso in November 2001 "Do you have blacks, too?" Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice reportedly came to Bush’s rescue by replying: "Mr. President, Brazil probably has more blacks than the USA. Some say it's the country with the most blacks outside Africa." Some reports have the Brazilian president commenting later that: regarding Latin America, Bush was still in his "learning phase." While it may have been surprising that the man who was then leader of “the most powerful country in the world” did not know of an African presence in Brazil he has lots of company. Unlike the documented African presence in the USA and the Caribbean islands that were colonized by the British, the Africans who were enslaved by Spaniards in the New World (which includes islands in the Caribbean and countries in North, South and Central America) have been rendered invisible.

The fact that Africans were enslaved in every territory colonized by the Spanish is a surprise to many people who are astonished when they encounter Africans from places like Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay etc., In Paraguay there was official denial of an African presence in spite of the fact that Africans were enslaved by the Spanish in Paraguay until a gradual emancipation beginning in 1842 with the Law of Free Womb in 1842. The Law of Free Womb was supposed to free any children born to enslaved African women in Paraguay after 1842. However those children, classified as Libertos were not free because they were compelled by law to work for their mothers’ owners until age 25 if they were male and 24 if they were female. In 1862 there were approximately 17,000 enslaved Africans and 20,000 Libertos in Paraguay. Slavery in Paraguay was declared abolished on October 1869 and Africans in Paraguay were finally freed in 1870. It is therefore strange that the official story was that there were no Africans in Paraguay until a group of Afro-Paraguayan activists led by Lazaro Medina and Jose Carlos Medina organized a census of Paraguayan Afro-descendents in 2007.

The census which was supported by the Interamerican Foundation of the United States and Mundo Afro from Uruguay focused on three communities with an acknowledged African population: Camba Cua, just outside of greater Asuncion; Kamba Kokue, on the outskirts of Paraguari and the city of Emboscada. The census, which was formally presented to and accepted by the Paraguayan government and representatives of the United Nations in Asuncion identified 8,013 acknowledged African Paraguayans in the three communities. This figure is not entirely accurate since the census did not reach everyone, especially in Emboscada where some individuals approached by the census takers preferred not to identify as African Paraguayan. There are other groups of African Paraguayans scattered throughout the country that were not reached by the census takers. It is impossible to estimate the total number of African Paraguayans but Lazaro Medina feels that the figure of around 8000 presented in the 2007 census could easily be doubled. Rodolfo Monge Oviedo identified a much higher number, 156,000, in his article Are we or aren't we? published in the February 1992 NACLA Report on the Americas: Black Americas 1492-1992 volume 25, number 4.

Argentina is another country that has officially denied the presence of Africans in spite of historical documentation of enslaved Africans in the country. Africans were taken to Argentina beginning in 1534 and colonial Argentina was largely dependent on slave labour. Census information compiled between the years 1778 and 1836 shows Africans as 29% of the population. Slavery in Argentina was finally abolished in 1853 after a law similar to that in Paraguay which gave limited freedom beginning in 1813 to the children born to enslaved African women. The Law of Free Womb in Argentina compelled the children of enslaved African women to work for the mother’s owner until they were 20 years old. The much publicized disappearance of Africans from Argentina after 1865 is a myth engineered by the government and upper class white population who wanted Argentina to become a white country. The history books eliminated the presence of Africans to such an extent that African Argentineans were told that they did not exist.

In 2001 when Maria Lamadrid presented her new Argentine passport at Ezeiza International Airport (located in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city) she was detained with accusations that her passport was a fake because according to the immigration officials at Ezeiza International Airport: “This can’t be your passport. There are no blacks in Argentina.” The immigration officials did not know that the African Argentine woman they detained for six hours was the President of Africa Vive (Africa Lives) an organization founded in 1997 by Lamadrid to “defend the rights of African descendants.” Africa Vive was also founded: “to combat poverty, lobby for jobs and educational opportunities in the black community and raise awareness of African culture and history in South America’s ‘whitest’ nation.”

In spite of Argentina’s attempt to whiteout African history and presence in the country, information from Africa Vive puts the population of African Argentineans at approximately 1 million. In 2001, “Grupo Cultural Afro”, "SOS Racismo", and "Africa Vive" united and persuaded a national deputy to organize a ceremony in memory of the African soldiers who died fighting for Argentina’s independence. On 18 December 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the year beginning on 1 January 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent (résolution 64/169.) If you do not already know of the history and contributions of Africans from the African continent and those of us in the Diaspora, now is a good time to start in preparation for 2011.

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