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Afro-Argentine family of Buenos Aires, 1908.
Total population
149,493 (2010 Census)
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly Rioplatense Spanish
Roman Catholicism and Protestantism
Related ethnic groups

Afro-Argentines are Argentine people of Sub-Saharan African descent. According to the Argentine national census of 2010, the total population of Argentines was 40,117,096,[1] of whom 149,493[2][3] (0.37%) identified as Afro-Argentine.

The Afro-Argentine population is the result of being brought over during the transatlantic slave trade during the centuries of Spanish domination of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, which had a major role in Argentine history.[4][5] During the 18th and 19th centuries they accounted for up to fifty percent of the population in certain provinces, and had a deep impact on Argentine culture. Some theories hold it that in the 19th century the Afro-Argentine population declined sharply due to several factors, such as the Argentine War of Independence (c. 1810–1818), high infant mortality rates, low numbers of married couples who were both Afro-Argentine, the War of the Triple Alliance, cholera epidemics in 1861 and 1864, and a yellow fever epidemic in 1871. By the late 19th century the Afro-Argentine population consisted mainly of women, who mixed with the large numbers of European immigrants.[6][7]

Despite the fact that in the 1960s it was calculated that Argentina owed two thirds of the volume of its population to European immigration,[8] over 5% of Argentines state they have at least one black ancestor, and a further 20% state they do not know whether or not they have any black ancestors.[9][10] Genetic studies carried out in 2005 showed that the average level of African genetic contribution in the population of Buenos Aires is 2.2%, but that this component is concentrated in 10% of the population who display notably higher levels of African ancestry.[11] Today there is still a notable Afro-Argentine community in the Buenos Aires districts of San Telmo and La Boca. There are also quite a few African-descended Argentines in Merlo and Ciudad Evita cities, in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area.

Since 2013, November 8th has been celebrated as the National Day of Afro-Argentines and African Culture. The date was chosen to commemorate the recorded date for the death of María Remedios del Valle, a rabona and guerrilla fighter, who served with the Army of the North in the war of Independence.[12][13]

Importation of African slaves during colonial period[edit]

Statue of "Slavery" also known as "The Slave", Francisco Cafferata, Sicily in Parque Tres de Febrero, Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

As part of the process of conquest, the economic regimes of the European colonies in the Americas developed various forms of forced labor exploitation of the indigenous peoples. However, the relatively low population density of some of the South American territories, resistance by some aboriginal groups to acculturation, and especially the high rate of mortality caused by the diseases introduced by Europeans caused the decline of the native population. Studies have shown that owing to their immunological isolation from the peoples of the Old World prior to the first contacts with Europeans from 1492 onwards, some 50-90% of the indigenous population throughout the Americas died from epidemic diseases,[14] exacerbated by the stresses brought on by violent conquest, dispossession and exploitation. This led the Spaniards to supplement aboriginal manpower with slaves from sub-Saharan Africa.[15]

Well into the 19th century, mining and agriculture accounted for the bulk of economic activity in the Americas. African slave labor held the advantage of having already been exposed to European diseases through geographical proximity, and African laborers readily adapted to the tropical climate of the colonies. In the case of Argentina, the influx of African slaves began in the colonies of the Rio de la Plata in 1588. European slave traders purchased African slaves, who were then shipped from West Africa across the Atlantic to the Americas and the Caribbean. The slave trade flourished through the port of Buenos Aires, where thousands of African slaves arrived to be sold. To provide slaves to the East Indies, the Spanish crown granted contracts known as Asientos to various slave trading companies, both from Spain and other European nations.[15]

Before the 16th century slaves had arrived in relatively small numbers from the Cape Verde islands. Thereafter the majority of Africans brought to Argentina were from ethnic groups speaking Bantu languages, from the territories now comprising Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. Relatively few Yoruba and Ewe were taken to Argentina; larger numbers of these groups were taken to Brazil.[15]

It is estimated that 12 million African slaves reached Latin America, mainly arriving at the ports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, with many transported via slave ships to other regions through Valparaíso and Rio de Janeiro. An estimated 10-15% of slaves died during passage across the Atlantic.[16] However, many more died during the process of enslavement, travel through the interior of Africa, and while awaiting shipment, with an estimated 40 deaths for every 100 slaves who reached the New World.[17][16]

The slaves were forced to work in agriculture, livestock, domestic work and to a lesser extent crafts. In urban areas, many slaves made handicrafts for sale, while revenues went to their masters. The Buenos Aires neighborhood of San Telmo and Monserrat housed a large quantity of slaves, although most were sent to the interior provinces. The 1778 census conducted by Juan José Salcedo of Vértiz showed very high concentration of Africans in provinces where agricultural production was greatest: 54% in Santiago del Estero Province, 52% in Catamarca Province, 46% in Salta Province, 44% in Córdoba Province, 64% in the Tucumán Province, 24% in Mendoza Province, 20% in La Rioja Province, 16% in San Juan Province, 13% in Jujuy Province and 9% in San Luis Province. An important part of the African population also inhabited other provinces. Today one of the slums of the city of Corrientes is still known as "Camba Cuá", from the Guarani kamba kua, meaning "cave of the Blacks".[18]

Although most of the gauchos were mestizos (of mixed indigenous and Spanish ancestry), some were also of African ancestry.

In 1806-1807 the city of Buenos Aires had 15,708 Europeans, 347 indigenous and cholos (mestizos), and 6,650 Africans and mulattoes, while in 1810 there were 22,793 whites, 9,615 Africans and mulattoes, and only 150 indigenous and cholos. The area most densely populated by Africans was located in the neighborhood of Monserrat, also known as Barrio del Tambor (Drumtown), just a few blocks from the Congressional Palace.[citation needed]

The nations[edit]

The Casa Mínima, built by freedmen following the 1812 abolition of slavery in Argentina

Slaves would group themselves in societies they called nations, some of which were Conga, Cabunda, African Argentine, Mozambique, etc.[citation needed]

The commonalities among the meeting places of the nations included artificially flattened and sanded opened spaces for dancing; others were closed in with interior free space. In some cases the rooms were carpeted, and curtained, having been provided these items by the slave owner. The nation had its king and queen, previously chosen by democratic election, and a throne was erected where the flag of a particular nation was displayed. Every nation had a flag. There was also a platform, or dais, which among other things was used to receive great dignitaries such as Juan Manuel de Rosas, his wife, and his daughter, as portrayed in a painting by Martín Boneo. The headquarters was the site of social gatherings and dances.[citation needed]

Often the Afro-Argentine societies centered around the barrios, such as the del Mondongo nation or the del Tambor society. The Mondongo nation was one of the most important in Buenos Aires and was composed of 16 blocks in the barrio of Monserrat. Its name derived from the large quantity of tripe (mondongo) consumed by its members. The name Tambor was quite common in many towns, as the drum was the favored African instrument for dances and songs.[citation needed]

Sometimes slaves were purchased individually from abroad through an agent. For example, a letter sent from Rio de Janeiro says:[citation needed]

My dear sir: on behalf of the schooner Ávila I send you the negro girl that you charged me with purchasing here. She is thirteen or fourteen years old, was born in the Congo, and is called María. I will put on record that I have received the five hundred peso price. Greetings to you.

Africans in the independence and early history of Argentina[edit]

Despite the institution of slavery being widepsread, testimonies of the time argued that in Buenos Aires and in Montevideo slaves were treated with less cruelty than elsewhere. José Antonio Wilde, in Buenos Aires during Argentina's early independence period (1810–1880) said that:[citation needed]

the slaves had been treated with genuine affection by their masters, having no point of comparison with the treatment given to other colonies.

However, Wilde goes onto acknowledge that:[citation needed]

the tormented love more or less at this hapless fraction of the human genus (and that) between us were usually very badly dressed.

Alexander Gillespie, a British captain who participated in the British invasion of the Rio del Plata, noted the treatment of African slaves in Argentina:[citation needed]

"When these unhappy exiles from their country are bought in Buenos Aires, the first care was to instruct the master's lead slave in the native language of the place, and the same in the general principles and beliefs of their faith... The masters, as I have observed, were equally attentive to their morals. Every morning before they were to leave to Mass, they congregated in a black circle on the floor, young and old, giving them work of needle and fabric, each according to their abilities. Everyone seemed jovial and I have no doubt that the reprimand also entered the circle. Before and after lunch and dinner in one of the latter was presented to ask for blessings and give thanks, what we were taught to regard as prominent duties and always complied with solemnity.

— Alexander Gillespie, Captain of the British Army, 1998

In 1801 the first Afro-Argentine militias were organised, under the auspices of the Compañía de Granaderos de Pardos libres de Buenos Aires and Compañía de Granaderos de Morenos libres de Buenos Aires. The pardos were free people of mixed European, African, and Native American, particularly Guaraní, descent, whereas the "morenos" seem to have been composed of soldiers of largely African ancestry. [19] These forces were unified into the Batallón de Pardos y Morenos, also known as the Batallón Castas, at a strength of 9 companies, plus 4 auxiliary slave companies, at the time of the first British invasion of the Rio del Plata.[20] Regimental status was gained in 1810, and the new Regimento de Pardos y Morenos participated in the Argentine War of Independence. [21]

In 1812, Argentine politician Bernardo de Monteagudo was not allowed as a member of the First Triumvirate, due to his "questionable mother"—i.e., African ancestry. Bernardino Rivadavia, also of African descent, was one of the politicians who were barred from joining the triumvirate.[22] The Assembly of the Year XIII, called to establish the new independent state of Argentina, passed the law of freedom of wombs, whereby children born to slaves thenceforth were automatically free citizens, but did not free those who were already slaves. Many blacks were part of militias and irregular troops that eventually became part of the Argentine Army, but always in segregated squadrons. Black slaves could, however, ask to be sold and even find a buyer if they were unhappy with their owners.

The largest mass deaths of Afro-Argentines were during Domingo F. Sarmiento's term as President of Argentina from 1868 to 1874: the Paraguayan War of 1865–1870 and the 1871 Buenos Aires yellow fever epidemic.

After the abolition of slavery, many Afro-Argentines lived in miserable conditions and faced widespread discrimination. The fourteen schools in Buenos Aires in 1857, only admitted two black children, although 15% of students that year were of color. In Córdoba in 1829 Afro-Argentine children were entitled to only two years' secondary schooling, while white Argentine children studied for four years. Universities did not admit blacks until 1853.

Afro-Argentines began to publish newspapers and to organize for their rights. One paper, The Unionist, published in 1877 a statement of equal rights and justice for all people regardless of skin color was published. One of its statements read:

The Constitution is a dead letter and the Counts and Marquises abound, which, following the old and odious colonial regime intended to treat their subordinates as slaves, without understanding that among the men who humiliate there are many who hide under their clothes a coarse intelligence superior to that of the same outrage.

Other newspapers were The African Race, the Black Democrat and The Proletarian, all published in 1858. By the 1880s there were about twenty such Afro-Argentine-published newspapers in Buenos Aires; and some researchers consider these social movements integral to the introduction of socialism and the idea of social justice in Argentine culture.

Some Afro-Argentines entered politics. José María Morales and Domingo Sosa were in action as senior military officers and held significant political posts.

Decline of the Afro-Argentine population[edit]

The bloody Paraguayan War (1865–70) and the Yellow Fever epidemic have been considered causes of the drastic diminution of the Afro-Argentine population.

Causes of reduction

  • Heavy casualties caused by constant civil wars and foreign wars: Blacks formed a disproportionate part of the Argentine army in the long and bloody War of Paraguay (1865–1870), in which the loss of lives on both sides was high.
  • Heavy casualties among blacks led to a large gender gap among the black population, which led to black women increasingly forming interracial relationships.
  • Epidemics, especially the yellow fever epidemic of 1871. This epidemic, like most of its kind, affected mostly people without financial means to flee the epicenters or pay for doctors.[23]
  • Massive immigration from Europe between 1880 and 1950,[24] boosted by the Constitution of 1853, that quickly multiplied the country's population. The 1853 Argentine constitution states that, although immigration from all corners of earth shall be accepted into the country, European immigration will be prioritized.

All children born after 1813 were automatically free and further import of slaves was forbidden. This early ban of trafficking also contributed to lower rates of afrodescendents. Afro-Argentines who were already slaves were not freed, and eventually were granted their freedom as a condition of fighting in Argentina's wars. For this reason, certain historians stated that African males had disproportionate losses in the Argentine war of independence from Spain. A much larger proportion of men of African descent were killed in the war than men of Spanish descent.

Studies held it that, as in many other countries in the region, an Afro-Argentine had less chance of survival if free than if enslaved: free Afro-Argentines were left with menial jobs for low pay, or forced to become beggars. This caused much poverty in the Afro-Argentine community; many succumbed to disease because they could not afford proper medical care, in many cases during frequent plagues of diseases such as yellow fever.[25][26]


Today in Argentina, the Afro-Argentine community is beginning to emerge from the shadows. There have been black organizations such as "Grupo Cultural Afro," "SOS Racismo," and perhaps the most important group "Africa Vive" that help to rekindle interest into the African heritage of Argentina. There are also Afro-Uruguayan and Afro-Brazilian migrants who have helped to expand the African culture. Afro-Uruguayan migrants have brought candombe to Argentina, while Afro-Brazilians teach capoeira, orisha, and other African derived secula. It has been well over a century since Argentina has reflected the African racial ancestry in its census count. Therefore, calculating the exact number of Afro-descendants is very difficult; however, Africa Vive calculates that there are about 1,000,000 Afro-descendents in Argentina.[25] The last census, carried on 27 October 2010, introduced the African ancestry survey.[27][28]

African influence in Argentine culture[edit]


Gabino Ezeiza, the most famous "payador".

Perhaps the most lasting effect of black influence in Argentina was the tango, which contains and continues some of the features of the tangos, meetings in which slaves assembled to sing and dance.[29] The modern term for a tango ball, milonga, has its roots in the Quimbanda language of Angola, and a large Afro-Argentine and Afro-Uruguayan contribution is also evident in the development of milonga and chacarera music. [30][31] The song tradition of the payadores was also associated with Afro-Argentines, with some scholars, for example George Reid Andrews, arguing that it originated among the Afro-Argentine community, while others, such as Sylvain B. Poosson, view it as a continuation of the Andalusian traditions like the trovo. Whatever their origin, payadas provided an opportunity for black singers like Gabino Ezeiza to use music to articulate political consciousness and defend their right to exist within Argentina's increasingly white-dominated society.[32]

Important Afro-Argentine musical figures include the pianist and composer Rosendo Mendizabal, author of "El Entrerriano", as well as Carlos Posadas, Enrique Maciel (author of the music of the waltz "La Pulpera de Santa Lucía"), Cayetano Silva, born in San Carlos (Uruguay) and author of the San Lorenzo march, and Zenón Rolón, who wrote the 1880 funeral march in honour of the Liberator José de San Martín on the occasion of repatriation of his remains.

Lack of representation in media[edit]

Afro-Argentines have been traditionally underrepresented in Argentine media; some critics have accused the Argentine media of overlooking the African, indigenous and multiracial populations in favor of over-representations of often blond and blue or green-eyed white Argentines as they share features of typical Southern Europeans with some mestizo features to create a more distinct look often seen in popular telenovelas.[33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40]

Colonial racial categories[edit]

During colonial times the local population unofficially described different mixtures resulting from the union of Black African people with people of other ethnic origins as:

  • Mulato: Black and White parents.[41] In English: "Mulatto".
  • Morisco or Tercerón : Mulatto and White parents, although in the early phase of Spanish colonization the term "morisco" also denoted a Muslim who had converted to Catholicism.[41] In English: "Quadroon".
  • Albino or Cuarterón: Morisco and White parents.[41] In English: "Octoroon".
  • Quinterón: fifth-generation Black ancestry/one parent who is a Cuarterón and one White parent. Quinterones were not distinguishable in complexion and facial features from whites as even some Quinterones were lighter than many Spaniards; the children of a Quinterón with a White person was considered White "free of any Negro race".[42][41] In English: "Hexadecaroon".
  • Zambo: Black/Amerindian mixed. In English: "Sambo".
  • Zambo Prieto: Black/Amerindian mixed with predominant Black.

Socially, ancestors in one of these categories were a stain in the family tree. These classifications, and others common in the colonial culture such as "mestizo" or cholo, were used to stigmatize people and prevent their social advancement. In some cases, well-known historical personalities were found in this situation; figures such as Bernardo de Monteagudo and Bernardino Rivadavia, were described as "mulatto".

Immigration after the 19th century[edit]

Immigrants from Cape Verde[edit]

Between 12,000 and 15,000 descendants of immigrants from Cape Verde living in Argentina, of whom about 300 are native to the African continent.

This immigration began in the late 19th century and became important from the 1920s. The busiest periods were between 1927 and 1933 and the third, after 1946.[43] These migrations were mainly due to droughts in the African country that originated famine and death.

They were expert sailors and fishermen, which is why most places settled in ports such as Rosario, Buenos Aires, San Nicolás, Bahía Blanca, Ensenada and Dock Sud. 95% of them got jobs in the Military Navy, in the Merchant Navy in the Fluvial Fleet of Argentina and in YPF dockyards or the ELMA.[43]

Other immigrants from Africa[edit]

In Buenos Aires[edit]

In the popularly called Barrio del Once there are Africans who have come to escape the conditions of their countries, particularly Senegal. According to the Agency for Refugees in Buenos Aires, they came by seeking asylum or getting a visa to travel to Brazil and then Argentina, sometimes traveling as stowaways on ships. When denied a residence permit, the African refugees remain in the country without status and become lawful targets of human trafficking network. On Sunday some of the Senegalese community comes together to eat traditional dishes of their country. Some places already have African food recipes.[44]

In Rosario[edit]

Since 2004 Africans who were exploited in their home countries stowed away to Argentina, particularly the port of Rosario, Santa Fe. Although figures are inadequate the numbers increase every year: in 2008 70 refugees arrived, after some 40 the previous year; only 10 remained, the rest were repatriated. Many were children.[44]

They usually get on ships without knowing where they go, or believing they are going to a developed country in the northern hemisphere. They come from Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea.[44]

The first Africans to migrate in this way arrived in Rosario in 2004. They were adopted by a family, but most are not. Children have been housed in temporary homes and many adults live in rented rooms and earn money as street vendors. Some families formed and settled.[citation needed]

Racism in Argentina related to skin tone[edit]

In Argentina, as in other countries of the Americas, racism related to skin tone or against people of African origin dates back to the days of colonial rule. In the caste system imposed by Spain, the descendants of people from black Africa occupied a place still lower than the descendants of persons belonging to aboriginal peoples.

The racist colonial culture did not disappear with Argentina's independence, as shown by some racist comments of the president Domingo F. Sarmiento. Duels between white gauchos and Afro-Argentines were common in the 19th century.[citation needed] In Argentine literature, these disputes are represented in a racist way in a stanza from the 1870 epic poem Martín Fierro (The way) by José Hernández, in which the title character Fierro is at a dance when a black couple enter; Fierro insults the woman, who responds in kind; Fierro then taunts the couple with the following verse:

"God made whites,
Saint Peter made mulattos,
the devil made blacks
as the smut of Hell".[45]

Fierro then kills the man in a knife fight, and speaks disparagingly of the dead man.

In 1878 Hernandez published the second part of Martín Fierro, in which is described a payada (song competition) with the son of the man he had killed, also a black gaucho, that debates philosophical topics (such as life, creation, existence, etc.). Showing the evolution of the character and probably of Argentine society in the process of receiving millions of European immigrants, this time Fierro avoids the apparently inevitable duel.

The invisibility of deliberate Afro-Argentines and culture, is another striking manifestation of racism in Argentina, related to the tone of the skin or African origins.

In 2006 the president of the National Institute to Combat Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) recognized the invisibility of Afro-Argentines with the following words:

The afros in Argentina have been "invisible" and today unseen continue. This is the result of a process of diaspora caused by slavery and its transformation into servitude. The current social stratification places them in poverty.


The Forum of African Descent and Africans in Argentina was created on 9 October 2006, with the aim of promoting social and cultural pluralism and the fight against discrimination of a population in the country to reach the two million inhabitants.

The National Institute to Combat Discrimination (INADI) is the public body responsible for combating discrimination and racism.

Notable Afro-Argentines[edit]

19th century and prior[edit]

20th century to present[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Andrews, George Reid. 1980. The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800-190, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0299082903.


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External links[edit]