Afro-Colombians refers to Colombians of African ancestry, and the great impact they have had on Colombian culture. Notable Afro-Colombians include Colombian scientists like Raul Cuero, writers like Manuel Zapata Olivella and politicians: Piedad Córdoba, Paula Marcela Moreno Zapata, and Luis Gilberto Murillo, Miss Colombia 2001 winner and fashion model Vanessa Alexandra Mendoza Bustos, and Major League Baseball player Edgar Rentería.
African slaves first began being imported into Colombia by the Spaniards in the first decade of the 16th century. By the 1520s, Africans were being imported into Colombia steadily to replace the rapidly declining native American population. Africans were forced to work in gold mines, on sugar cane plantations, cattle ranches, and large haciendas. African labor was essential in all the regions of Colombia, even until modern times. African workers pioneered the extracting of alluvial gold deposits and the growing of sugar cane in the areas that correspond to the modern day departments of Chocó, Antioquia, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Nariño in western Colombia.
In eastern Colombia, near the cities of Vélez, Cúcuta, Socorro, and Tunja, Africans manufactured textiles in commercial mills. Emerald mines, outside Bogotá, were wholly dependent upon African laborers. Also, other sectors of the Colombian economy like tobacco, cotton, artisanry and domestic work would have been impossible without African labor. In pre-abolition Colombian society, many Afro-Colombian slaves fought for their freedom as soon as they arrived in Colombia. It is clear that there were strong free Black African towns called palenques, where Africans could live as cimarrones, that is, they who escaped from their oppressors. Afro Panamanians are also related to Afro Colombians, some historians consider that Chocó was a very big palenque, with a large population of cimarrones, especially in the areas of the Baudó River. Very popular cimarrón leaders like Benkos Biojó and Barule fought for freedom. African people played key roles in the independence struggle against Spain. Historians note that three of every five soldiers in Simon Bolívar's army were African. Not only that, Afro-Colombians also participated at all levels of military and political life.
Slavery was not abolished until 1851, and even after emancipation, the life of the African Colombians was very difficult. African Colombians were forced to live in jungle areas as a mechanism of self-protection. There, they learned to have a harmonious relationship with the jungle environment and to share the territory with Colombia's indigenous.
From 1851, the Colombian State promoted the ideology of mestizaje, or miscegenation. This whitening of the African population was an attempt by the Colombian government to minimize or, if possible, totally eliminate any traces of Black African or indigenous descent among the Criollos. So in order to maintain their cultural traditions, many Africans and indigenous peoples went deep into the isolated jungles. Afro-Colombians and indigenous people were, and continue to be, the targets of the armed actors who want to displace them in order to take their lands for sugar cane plantations, for coffee and banana plantations, for mining and wood exploitation.
In 1945 the department of El Chocó was created; it was the first predominantly African political-administrative division. El Chocó gave African people the possibility of building an African territorial identity and some autonomous decision-making power.
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. Most Afro-Colombians are currently living in urban areas. Only around 25%, or 3 million people, are based in rural areas, compared to 75%, or 9 million people in urban zones. The 1991 Colombian Constitution gave them the right to collective ownership of traditional Pacific coastal lands and special cultural development protections. Critics argue that this important legal instrument has not been enough to completely address their social and developmental needs.
Available estimates range from 4.4 to 10.5 million Afro-Colombians. Afro-Colombians make up approximately 21% (9,154,537) of the population according to a projection of the National Administration Department of Statistics (DANE), most of whom are concentrated on the northwest Caribbean coast and the Pacific coast in such departments as Chocó, whose capital, Quibdó, is 95.3% Afro-Colombian as opposed to just 2.3% mestizo or white. Considerable numbers are also in Cali, Cartagena, and Barranquilla. Colombia is considered to have the third largest Black/African-descent population in the western hemisphere, following Brazil and the USA.
It has been estimated that only 4.4 million Afro-Colombians actively recognize their own black ancestry, while many other African Colombians do not, as a result of inter-racial relations with white and indigenous Colombians. Afro-Colombians may often encounter a noticeable degree of racial discrimination and prejudice, as a socio-cultural leftover from colonial times. They have been historically absent from high level government positions. Many of their long-established settlements around the Pacific coast have remained underdeveloped. In Colombia's ongoing internal conflict, Afro-Colombians are both victims of violence or displacement and members of armed factions, such as the FARC and the AUC. 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, have African origins or influences. Some African Colombians have also been successful in sports.
The Raizal ethnic group is an Afro Caribbean group, speaking the San Andrés-Providencia Creole.
- AfroColombiany.org AfroColombian News in English.
- CNN video of Afro-Colombian community
- Colombian 2005 Census Television Commercial Orgullosamente Afrocolombiano
- The World Bank's Sector Report "The Gap Matters: poverty and well-being of Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples" Click here for the report
- African-Diasporic Regions of Colombia plus more COLOMBIAFRICA
- Documentary 150 years after abolition Libertad En Colombia (Liberty In Colombia)
- Colombia contra el racismo
- "Law 70: English Translation of Ley 70"