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Friday, February 17, 2012

Black Heritage: Perú

Afro-Peruvian writer, poet, and musician Nicomedes Santa 

While African-Americans are celebrating Black Heritage during the month of February, Afro-Peruvians begin their Black Heritage celebrations in late February and into March. They celebrate with music, dance, poetry, and Afro-Peruvian cuisine. ¡VAMOS PA' CHINCHA, FAMILIA! (LET'S GO TO CHINCHA, BROTHERS and SISTERS!) is the slogan for Perú's celebration known as Black Summer as February is a hot summer month in Perú.. The word, familia, which literally means family is a colloquial expression for Afro-Peruvian.

Afro-Peruvian dance
Afro-Peruvian Dance Performance

Chincha, located on the Southern Pacific coast of Perú, is recognized as the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture where Blacks have been living since 1521 when Black soldiers arrived with Spanish Conquistadors. African slaves didn't start arriving to work the cotton fields and sugar plantations until 1529, and that all ended in 1856. However, it was in the late 1950s to1970s when a cultural revival brought back old, forgotten African music that inadvertently merged with Spanish and indigenous music resulting in a whole new genre--Afro Peruvian music. By the end of the 19th century, music and dance had become the principal expression of Black Peruvian culture.


 
Percussionist and dancer Ronal Illescas

I've been visiting Chincha annually since 2005 to immerse myself in the Spanish language and to explore the black experience. I stayed with a prominent black family of the late, great maestro, Amador Ballumbrosio, the Godfather of Afro-Peruvian music and dance. Today, his adult children and grandchildren are carrying on his cultural legacy. During my visits, I have the pleasure of eating home cooked Afro-Peruvian meals as well as meals served at the famous Mamainé Restaurant. This “soul food,” if you will, is prepared with recipes that only black women have saved since the time of slavery.

 Restaurant owner Mamainé and me at her famous 
restaurant in Chincha's District of El Carmen


According to unofficial estimates, 10-15% of Peruvians have African ancestry and face perceptual racism and discrimination. Monica Carrillo, head of the civil rights organization LUNDÚ is pushing for Peru’s rich African heritage to be an equal part of Perú's national identity. Some of the well-known Blacks who contributed to Peruvian society include St. Martin de Porres and his tireless work on behalf of the poor; Nicomedes Santa Cruz, a writer, poet, and musician who helped raise public awareness of Afro-Peruvian culture. Then we have Teófilo Cubillas, Perú's greatest soccer player ever, and of course, the world renown singer Susana Baca, the Peruvian Minister of Culture. In 1969, a man by the name of Ronaldo Campos founded the world famous dance troupe, Perú Negro, which is billed as the Cultural Ambassadors of Black Perú.