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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

African Heritage in Chile


Historically, the nation of Chile has been portrayed as a country of European descent, where the African presence and their contributions have been ignored. In 2001, a Chilean organization called Oro Negro (Black Gold) was formed to alter this false perception.

An estimated 5,000-20,000 enslaved Africans were brought to Chile during the mid-16th century, which became the second country in the so-called New World to abolish slavery. 


By the early eighteenth century, there were only 4,000 freed slaves living in Chile. Some historians say that the missing former slaves fought and died as solders in the revolutionary war against Spain. Interracial marriages caused changes in census statistics as well. Many Africans began to mix with Europeans, shaping a whole new ethnic and cultural identity for Chile.
However, the Black population in the city of Arica was considerably high. The city was part of Perú until 1880, when it was taken by Chilean forces during the War of the Pacific. 

At the beginning of the colonial era, Perú was one of the frequent destinations for Blacks who worked in rural and domestic occupations. Most of the Black people that came to Peru were from the Antilles or regions of the Kongo and Angola on the African continent. 

The Black majority of Arica made their presence felt in 1620, when a free Black man named Anzúrez and his friend, also a Black man, were elected as Mayors of Arica. Six months later, an order by Peru's viceroy declared these elections void.
It is documented that the Chilean national dance, the cueca, originating from the Afro-Peruvian zamacueca, had Black elements in its original concept. Also, the famous Historian Francisco Antonio Encina once wrote that 13 percent of the explorers that came to Chile with Deigo de Almagro were Black.

A specific group of Blacks in Chilean history were members of the 8th Regiment of The Andean Liberation Army that fought the Spaniards for independence. That was the Army organized in Argentinian territory where Black slaves fought in exchange for their freedom. As members of the infantry they were exposed to the higher risks during battles. This is seldom mentioned in history books, and that group of Blacks never received any recognition for their contribution to the liberation of Chile.