Monday, May 6, 2013

May is Black Heritage Month in Colombia, South America

The US celebrates African Heritage in February, as does Perú. Ecuadorians celebrate African Heritage in October, and in Colombia, they celebrate African heritage in the month of May. In the year 2000, Colombia's black civil rights (or human rights) movement came up with the month of May as Afro-Colombian Heritage Month to plant seeds in the hearts of the Black community and spark a consciousness with pride in their identity; it's past and present with a focus on the struggles for civil and human rights. Cali, the Afro-Colombian capital offers social gatherings, music performances, fashion shows, Afro-Colombian cuisine, and artifacts to commemorate this event.

Historically, since the 16th century, Africans were being imported into Colombia steadily to replace the rapidly declining native population to work in gold mines, on sugar cane plantations, cattle ranches, and large haciendas. Slavery in Colombia was finally abolished in1851, and even after emancipation, the life of African-Colombians was very difficult due to racism and discrimination. Blacks were forced to live in jungle areas for self-protection and developed harmonious relationships with the indigenous peoples. Since 1851, the Colombian government began promoting mestizaje, i.e., the whitening of the African population to minimize or better yet, eliminate traces of Black African or indigenous heritage. So in order to maintain their cultural traditions, many Africans and Indigenous peoples went deep into the isolated jungles.

In 1945 the department (state/province) of El Chocó was created, being the first predominantly African division in Colombia giving Blacks the possibility of building an African territorial identity and some autonomous decision-making power. However, in the 1970s, there was a major influx of Afro Colombians into the urban areas in search of greater economic and social opportunities for their children. This led to an increase in the number of urban poor in the marginal areas of big cities like Cali, Medellín and Bogotá.

Black Colombians make up 21% of their country's population ranging from 4.4 to as high as 10.5 million, if you count the one-drop rule, making Blacks in Colombia the third largest Black population in the Western world behind Brazil and the US. Most Afro-Colombians are concentrated on the northwest Caribbean coast and the Pacific coast.

African-Colombians have played a role in contributing to the development of certain aspects of Colombian culture. For example, several of Colombia's musical genres, such as Cumbia, Champeta, Salsa, and Vallenato, which like the African-American blues,. have African origins or influences.

Famous Afro-Colombians

The late Jairo Varela 
Leader of the world's famous Salsa Band... Grupo Niche

Piedad Cordoba
Columbia's First Black Senator

Colombia's First Black Army General

Former World Middleweight Boxing Champion

African slave liberator who defeated the Spanish over 200 years before the rest of Colombia won their interdependence.

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