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Afro-Venezuelans are descendants of Africans in Venezuela. Much work has been done studying the culture, tradition, folklore of Afro-Venezuelans, beginning with Miguel Acosta Saignes, in the 1960s.[1] According to the final results of the "XIV Censo Nacional de Población y Vivienda" at least 181.157 inhabitants (2.8%) are considered Blacks and Afro-Descendants.[2]


Ethnic Africans first arrived in Venezuela with the Spanish Conquistadors. They were referred to as Ladinos, hispanicized slaves, some of whom had lived in Spain for a time, as opposed to bozales, slaves straight from Africa. Most of the Atlantic Creole generations were mixed-race descendants of African women and Iberian men, as Portuguese operated in Africa as slave traders and had unions with local women. Most slaves were used as farm hands on subsistence farms. The slaves were also used as divers for pearls, a job that run the risk of being attacked by sharks. The slaves came primarily from Cape Verde and Guinea in Africa. Some slaves purchased their freedom from earnings in pearl mining. Gold was later discovered in the latter part of the 1500s. Numerous slaves perished in the gold mines, which made it necessary to import more slaves. By the 1600s, Venezuela had 13,000 slaves.

Mining was not the primary source of wealth for Venezuela, but farming in wheat, tobacco, cotton, and cocoa. Numerous cocoa plantations were developed in central Venezuela, away from the more established regions. These more isolated and distant regions, the frontier, were places where slaves could own and farm canucos, small homesteads. Most slaves were purchased from markets in the Caribbean, as in Cuba, because it was too expensive for planters to buy them directly from Africa. With plantations located in isolated central regions, black people intermarried with Indians, resulting in numerous mixed-race children known as Zambos by Spanish colonists. The European men had relationships with slave women and free black women over time, resulting in another type of mixed-race children, known as Pardo (mulatto, brown) population. As plantations became prosperous and land became scarce, planters began eyeing the canucos farmed by Afro-Venezuelans. Canucos would be taken. Slaves would run away and formed cumbes, communities in mountainous and isolated areas.

By 1830, Venezuela sought independence from Colombia. Simon Bolivar initially refused to accept Afro-Venezuelans into his army but realized he could not be victorious without the blacks, Zambos, and mulattoes.

Abolition of slavery occurred gradually; first the nation freed newly born children. Slavery was not abolished until 1845 and planters feared revolt. In 1881, the nation passed an anti-discrimination law. Most Afro-Venezuelans continued to work on their small subsistence farms.

After the 1860s, Afro-Caribbean workers were recruited to work the gold mines. The presence of these Afro-Caribbeans stirred racial tension. In 1929, the country prohibited people of African descent from immigrating, in an effort to discriminate against them and prevent growth in the number of ethnic Africans.[3]

During the 1930s, oil was discovered. The latter caused increased urbanization of Afro-Venezuelans, in search of work in oil refineries. Afro-Venezuelans found themselves at the lowest rung of the society, occupying most of the slums and lowest economic strata. During 1945-1948, known as the trienio, an attempt to address disparities was made by providing education, health care, trade union formation, and land reform. This was aborted by the dictatorship of Perez Jemenez.

It was not until the 1960s that the government began to work to address the problems of Afro-Venezuelans. Reform laws were passed that increased black representation in farm societies, trade unions, and oil unions. Numerous positions were acquired by blacks. The ban on black immigration was removed in 1966. Universities were subsidized to study Afro-Venezuelan art, history, music, and dance. Even with these reforms, blacks still remained at the bottom of economic ladder into the 1990s.[4]

Religion and Culture[edit]

Afro-Venezuelan religion fused with Catholicism, creating a creolized religion. The worship of saints would correspond to African deities, healers and priest would become one, mass would be held with drumbeats. Corpus Christie a Catholic celebration would be celebrated with drumbeats and masked, traced to Congo.

Recently celebrations like Fiesta de San Juan, has emerge to re-assert Afro-Venezuelan culture.

Notable Afro-Venezuelans[edit]

See also[edit]