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Total population
4,944,400 (2017)
(10.6% of Colombian population)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly in the Pacific Region of Colombia, some areas of the Caribbean natural region and urban areas across the country.
Colombian Spanish - San Andres Creole - Caribbean English - Yoruba - other African languages
Predominantly Roman Catholic, minorities of Protestant.
Related ethnic groups
Afro-Guyanese, Afro-Venezuelans, Afro-Peruvian, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Trinidadian and Tobagonian

Afro-Colombian refers to Colombian citizens of African descent; this article is about the influence they have had on Colombian culture. Colombia is considered to have the fourth largest Black African population in the western hemisphere, following Brazil, Haiti and the United States.


"Fiesta in Palenque" traditional African Colombian dance from San Basilio de Palenque, a former enclave, now considered by the UNESCO a Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Africans first began coming as explorers in the first decade of the 16th century. By the 1520s, Africans were being imported into Colombia as slaves steadily, from places such as[2] Congo, Angola, Gambia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Mali (West Africa, in other words),[3] to replace the rapidly declining Native American population. African slaves 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.[citation needed]

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 captives fought the Spanish and their colonial forces 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.

African Colombian fruit seller in Cartagena, Colombia.

In 1851 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. 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.[4]


The African Colombian population in Colombia is mostly concentrated in coastal areas.[5]
  72.7% - 100%
  45% - 72.6%
  20.4% - 44.9%
  5.8% - 20.3%
  0% - 5.7%
  Without data
Afro-Colombian children

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 1.2 million people, are based in rural areas, compared to 75%, or 3.7 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.[4]

Afro-Colombians make up 10.6% of the population, almost 5 million people, according to a projection of the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE),[6] 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.[7] Considerable numbers are also in Cali, Cartagena, and Barranquilla. Colombia is considered to have the fourth largest Black/African-descent population in the western hemisphere, following Haiti, 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.[8] Afro-Colombians may often encounter a noticeable degree of racial discrimination and prejudice, possibly as a socio-cultural left over 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.[8] 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 and Vallenato, have African origins or influences. Some African Colombians have also been successful in sports.

Current Issues Faced by Afro-Colombians[edit]

Ever since Afro-Colombians arrived to Colombia in the first decade of the 16th century, they have been considered a minority group by the Colombian government, which has exposed them to discrimination and inequality. Many advocacy groups, including the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) or Chao Racismo, as well as various Afro-Colombian activists, have come together to fight for this ethnic group’s rights.[9] However, Afro-Colombians continue to protest for their rights and demand equality between themselves and all non-Afro Colombians in certain social aspects. Social issues concerning Afro-Colombians range from socio-economic inequalities to physical violence and other forms of inequality or discrimination.

Socio-Economic Inequalities[edit]

Afro-Colombians are a significant portion (almost one quarter) of Colombia’s overall population, yet they are one of the poorest ethnic groups of the country. More specifically, studies have shown that three quarters of the Colombian population which is classified as being “poor”, is composed of Afro-Colombians. This is reflected in some of the most basic, daily, aspects of their lives, such as the average annual salary of Afro-Colombians. While people from this ethnic group earn, on average, $500 dollars a year (or 1.5 million Colombian Pesos) people that are from White or Mestizo ethnic groups earn an average of $1500 dollars a year (or 4.5 million Colombian Pesos). This means that the average Afro-Colombian earns three times less than the average White/Mestizo Colombian.[10]

This issue roots primarily from the fact that in Colombia, blacks do not have the same educational, and economic opportunities as the rest of the population. The World Bank recently reported that the percentage of Afro-Colombians that receive primary education is actually higher than the percentage of primary education received by the rest of Colombians, being 42% versus 32%, respectively. However, many Afro-Colombians are not able to receive any higher education besides primary level education because secondary education (or high school education) is only offered to 62% of Afro-Colombians, while this type of education is offered to 75% of all other Colombians. Furthermore, researchers have found that the overall educational quality of schools located in Afro-Colombian communities is much lower and poorer than those in other communities, mainly because of the lack of government support and investment in these areas. This was reflected in the results of the ICFES exam (national standardized exam), which showed that the average results for Afro-Colombians were significantly lower than the results of the rest of Colombians. Given that only a very few number of Afro-Colombians are able to reach college/university education, the range of jobs for most Afro-Colombians is very limited and obtaining high-level jobs with a good salary is very difficult for them to achieve. [10]

Effects of the War on Afro-Colombians[edit]

Colombia’s civil war began in the year 1964 and finished in the year 2017, when a peace treaty between the guerrilla movement (FARC) and the government was concreted and signed. This long civil war affected and continues to affect most Colombians, however, according to the World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous People (WDMIP), some particular communities have been significantly more affected than others. One of these, says WDMIP, are Afro-Colombian communities, who have been strongly impacted by the civil war, mainly because of their vulnerability and lack of protection from the government. For years, the FARC guerrilla has sought areas to invade and gain possession of as many Colombian territory as they can. Territories that are occupied by minority groups such as indigenous groups and Afro-Colombians are typically the poorest and therefore seen as the easiest areas to invade. In fact, many Afro-Colombian regions have been “attacked” and taken over by the FARC, which has resulted in more than 2 million Afro-Colombians being displaced.[9] Most of them have been forced to migrate towards bigger cities (like Bogotá, Cali, or Medellín), which has increased their level of poverty (due to the higher cost of living in such urban areas), as well as their exposure to discrimination and violence. Even though the occurrences of these scenarios has significantly decreased since the peace treaty was signed last year, the people who were displaced continue to be affected by this situation and struggle to go back to their hometowns.

On another hand, the civil war has made Afro-Colombians victims of violence because Afro-Colombian territories, such as El Chocó, have become the combat zone between the FARC gueriilla and the Colombian government. More specifically, this means that they have been exposed to bombs, shootings, and deaths at a much higher level than all other Colombians. Because of this, many Afro-Colombians have been victims of collateral damage and have been killed due to this war, which has become another major reason for displacement to occur. According to a research done by one of Colombia’s official radio stations called Caracol Radio, over 25% of Afro-Colombians have left their hometown due to violence.[11]

Finally, another conflict that has been generated by the civil war is that of drug trafficking and prostitution. For years, the FARC guerrilla was seeking to recruit people that would do this for them at a low cost. Given that a high percentage of Afro-Colombians are extremely poor, young people from these communities are tempted by these options because they see them as the only way out to combat the poverty they live in. As a result, over 40% of the people in the guerrilla is composed of Afro-Colombians who now support the conflict and have been manipulated by the guerrilla to continue supporting their side of the conflict.[10]

Health Disparities[edit]

A recent study conducted by the London School of Economics revealed that Afro-Colombians are in extreme disadvantage in terms of being healthy when compared to the rest of the Colombian population. Furthermore, this study showed that there are many socio-economic factors that are involved in this and that contribute to such disparities. For example, the fact that Afro-Colombians are much poorer than the rest of the Colombian population is one of the main reasons that they are in a position of disadvantage when it comes to seeking health care services and being healthy in general. This is supported with their findings that showed that just under 5% of Afro-Colombians have a medical insurance, compared to almost 30% of all non Afro Colombians. Additionally, they found that most Afro-Colombians live in unsanitary conditions that increase exposure to a large variety of diseases as well as that a common trend among Afro-Colombians kids with bad health is having a mother that is uneducated.[12]


The Raizal ethnic group is an Afro-Caribbean group living in Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, speaking the San Andrés-Providencia Creole.

Notable Afro-Colombians[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Woods, Sarah; McColl, Richard (2015-09-01). Colombia. Bradt Travel Guides. ISBN 9781841629216.
  2. ^ "African Origins of AfroColombian Lastnames" (PDF). Clopedia Afrocolombiana.
  3. ^ "African Origins of AfroColombians". AfroColombia NY. Archived from the original on 8 April 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  4. ^ a b Gilberto Murillo, Luis (23 February 2001). "El Chocó: The African Heart of Colombia". Columbian Human Rights Network. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  5. ^ Fundación Hemera (2007). "Ethnic groups: Afro-Colombians". Ethnicities of Colombia (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 22 February 2008. Retrieved 29 December 2007.
  6. ^ "La visibilización estadística de los grupos étnicos colombianos" [The statistical visibility of Colombian ethnic groups] (PDF). Colombian National Administrative Department of Statistics (in Spanish). 2006. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  7. ^ "Perfil: Censo General 2005" [Profile: General Census 2005] (PDF). Colombian National Administrative Department of Statistics (in Spanish). 14 September 2010. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  8. ^ a b Salazar, Hernando (25 May 2007). "¿Colombia hacia la integración racial?" [Is Colombia moving toward racial integration?] (in Spanish). Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  9. ^ a b Aidi, Hisham (18 Jul 2015). "Afro-Colombians face surge in racial violence". Aljazeera. Retrieved 16 Oct 2018.
  10. ^ a b c "Afro-Colombians". Minority Rights Group International. Retrieved Oct 16, 2018.
  11. ^ "El 25% de la población afrocolombiana en Quindío es desplazada por la violencia". Caracol Armenia. Retrieved 16 Oct 2018.
  12. ^ Dedios, Maria Cecilia (31 Oct 2017). "Poor health outcomes amongst Afro-Colombians are driven by discrimination as well as economic disadvantage". London School of Economics. Retrieved 16 Oct 2018.

External links[edit]