Thursday, July 28, 2011

Black Bolivia

I plan my vacation to two or more Latin-American countries every year, and have been thinking about Bolivia. Since Perú, is always my main stop, I thought it might be a good idea to stop in neighboring Bolivia on my way home for a few days and explore its African heritage. Afro-Bolivans are found in all of Bolivia's major cities. In La Paz, the nation's capital, black Bolivians live on the outskirts of town.  

After some research, however, I learned that Bolivia is one of the few countries that require US citizens to get a visa. the cost is more than 100 dollars along with another fee adding up to a total of almost 200 dollars. This would not be worth the money if I'm only going to be staying a few days. All I can do is research now and visit later.

The history of Blacks in Bolivia dates to the 1600s, when Africans slaves were brought in to work in the silver mines, and under horrific and toxic conditions. Such conditions killed as many as eight million Africans and Natives (the Aymara people). Africans were also brought in to work coca-leaf plantations. The slaves were emancipated by legislation in 1827, but due to political debates, the emancipation was not enforced until more than 20 years later.

The African legacy in Bolivian culture is Saya music, which is gaining in popularity even though the music is very misunderstood. Only the black Bolivians can understand and explain the message in Saya music. It involves instruments of the Aymara people along with African percussion instruments. A very important aspect of Afro-Bolvian life is social activities, which involves music. Saya is the traditional music, which serves to maintain and communicate black Bolivian oral history. The greatest part of Afro-Bolivian music is singing.


Jorge Medina broadcasts Afro-Bolivian issues on his radio show before becoming the first black Bolivian senator.

Because Bolivian census figures do not include race, the exact black Bolivian population is debatable. For example, some sources argue that the Afro-Bolivians population is as low as 6,000, and if you count the one-drop rule, the population can be as high as 158,000 or better. Although black Bolivians speak mostly Spanish, the Spanish spoken by those living in rural areas includes a small vocabulary of African languages. Blacks in Bolivia take such pride in their history and culture that they are taking extensive measures to preserve it.

Black Bolivia


  1. Peace Brother,

    I enjoy reading about your journeys and experiences. I am a Black American who lives in Brazil with my wife and four kids (all born in the USA except for our youngest).

    We live in the state of Bahia, which has the largest percentage of Afro Brazilians in the country.

    I wanted to share some footage with you of a festival earlier this year for the Orisha Yemaya that I attended with my family.

    Check out this link from my website:

    Peace and Blessings!

  2. Sharif,
    Thanks for sharing that site and that video. Wow. It is my understanding that in the Eastern part of Bolivia there is some connection with Afro-Bolivian and Afro-Brazilian culture.

    My younger brotherwas in Bahia years back and loved it. How is your Portuguese?

  3. I have to make a border run by the end of August to be able to stay in Perú for another 6 months. My top two choices for a country to enter into were Colombia and Brazil, but due to the distance of those places from Arequipa, it's cost prohibitive to go there. I was told I should go to Bolivia, that it's a nice place to visit, and EVEN cheaper than Perú. I would go but it's the cost of the VISA and fees that's stopping me. I have heard that you can bribe immigration to get around it but I'd rather not try to. Instead, I'll most likely go to (Arica) Chile, which is much more expensive, but closer to where I am. I won't be staying long, just pop in and pop out probably.

  4. JB,
    Exactly how expensive is Arica? I heard Chile was expensive. I was thinking about checking it out myself on my last trip, but chose Colombia instead. Let me know how your trip to Arica turns out. Please. In fact, you are welcome to post your experience on my blog.

  5. Peace Bill
    I speak Portuguese pretty well. My wife speaks fluently. She's Puerto Rican and Haitian so it was easier for her to pick up on the language than for me. We studied before moving out here but it was nothing like hearing the brothers and sisters hear actually speak the language.

  6. I'll give you an update if/when I go to Arica, Chile. My plan was to go during these few days feriados but that didn't work out. I MUST go by the end of August though. From Arequipa, I'll catch a bus to Tacna. I've been told that Tacna is nice because it's tax-free (for some reason) and you can get a lot of cheap things there (clothing, electronics, etc.) From there, I'll catch a colectivo to the border. It's a pretty straightforward process from what I'm told.

  7. Sharif,

    My name is Corey and ran across your post on Bill's blog and I'd like to chat with you directly about living in brazil as an american. I've had a great interest in brazil ever since I visited 5 years ago and look forward to going back and possibly living there one day. You can reach me via email - Hope to hear from you.

  8. Hi Corey,
    You might be able to contact Sharif directly through his blog. See link below:

  9. be JB.
    Be very careful in chile and argentina, racism has reach supremacist levels over there.


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