LATIN AMERICA AFRICA
AFRICANISMO: NOSOTROS SOMOS AFRICANOS AFRICANISM
PROMOTING AFRICAN CULTURE IN VENEZUELA
COLOMBIAN AFRICANS UNDER EXTREME PRESSURE
PROCESO DE COMUNIDADES NEGRAS (PCN)
UNDER EXTREME PRESSURE
Human Rights in the Pacific Coast Region: An Interview with Carlos Rosero
Carlos Alfonso Rosero is one of the founding members of the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN, or Black Communities Process) and a leading protagonist in the struggle for collective appropriation of traditional territories of thePacific coastal rainforest by Afro-Colombian communities. The PCN has focused on the recognition of the cultural, ethnic and collective territorial rights of Afro-Colombians and seeks to challenge western modernization and development efforts in the vast rainforest region of the Colombian Pacific coast.
In February and March he visited New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Montreal, in a visit supported by the Colombia Human Rights Committee of Washington, D.C., the Colombia Media Project of New York, and Colombia Vive of Boston, all members of the Colombia Human Rights Network, and with support from Global Exchange.
Colombia Human Rights Committee: What is the general human rights situation for the Afro-Colombian community in the Pacific Coast region?
Carlos Rosero: Historically in the Pacific there has been a constant violation of the social, economic, and cultural rights of our people, which can be seen in an infant mortality of 110 per 1,000 live births; a $500 to $600 per capita annual income, compared to the $1,500 to $1,700 national average; only 2 of every 100 Afro-Colombians go on to college; and health care is poor or non-existent. The situation has become even worse because of the armed conflict.
Threats, selective killings, massacres, and displacement used to be limited to areas such as northern Chocó, but this pattern has now spread throughout the rest of the Pacific coast. Displacement by development projects is one of the biggest and most systematic human rights violations we face. The Afro-Colombian population is especially vulnerable because our political, social, cultural, civil and collective rights continue to be violated. There is also no representation of Afro-Colombians in the different levels of government.
The national government's interest is the interest of a few rich
elites, and those interests are hurting our communities, the environment, and our cultural rights.
CHRC: To what extent do the paramilitaries have a presence in the region?
CR: In the case of the Pacific, the paramilitaries made their presence felt in the north in Chocó in areas such as in San Juan, Quibdó, and Bajo Atrato, but they are also present in Buenaventura, Naya, and Nariño in general. They are in strategic zones in the Pacific, areas through which people have to pass. In Buenaventura paramilitaries control the highways and the port, from where 60% of Colombia's exports are shipped. That area is also key for cocaine shipments. Tumaco is a similar case; it is the port closest to Ecuador. There seems to be a major connection in the Pacific coast between large development projects, displacement, and the paramilitaries.
CHRC: How severe is the problem of displacement for the Afro-Colombian population?
CR: It is one of the biggest problems we face. Recently the Colombian government acknowledged that 30% of the 1.9 million people internally displaced in Colombia are Afro-Colombians. Two cases come to mind when I think of displacement in the Pacific coast. Seven thousand people from over 25 communities in Suárez and Buenos Aires were displaced, despite the fact that various NGOs had informed the government of an imminent attack since September. Five thousand residents were trapped in the area because movement was restricted, and a blockade of food and medicine made the situation all the more difficult. The paramilitaries controlled that area for a period of months. What is going on in Santander, in the middle Magdalena region, is also happening in the Pacific coast, the killings and the displacement, except that the indiscriminate assassinations are targeting large numbers ofAfro-Colombians. The situation is so bad in Cauca that we asked the Inter-Am! erican Commission on Human
Rights to issues measures to protect the civilian population in that region.
On May 11, 2000, in Valle del Cauca, there was a major displacement because of a paramilitary massacre. In June, a 40
point plan was made to stave off future attacks, but there have been 8 massacres since that date. The government has done nothing. Even the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo), responsible for responding to early warnings, has not done its job. Two years ago, before the invasion of the paramilitaries, the Secretary of Government for Valle del Cauca had labeled the population guerrilla collaborators, and the Army warned the people that the paramilitaries were coming. The Army has a very strong presence in the area, and soldiers often wear ski masks, which are generally worn by the paramilitaries. The army would question children about the community and the location of people, clearly putting those children at risk, which violates many norms of international humanitarian law. The other famous displacement case is that of Río Sucio. The people of the area say that the army and the paras worked together in that attack. Displacement of Afro-Colombians is a general phenomena.
Refugees crossing the borders into Ecuador and Panama face major problems, especially since they are repatriated without guarantees for their safety. In November, 25,000 Colombians crossed the border to Ecuador; a large percentage were Afro-Colombians.
CHRC: How strong are the links between the army and the paramilitaries in the Pacific coast and what sort of evidence
is there to prove this sort of collusion?
CR: The names on the lists that the paramilitaries carry are given to them by the Colombian Army. The threatening of our communities by the army, especially by the men in ski masks, is another example. In the May massacre that I mentioned before, the cars that the paramilitaries came in drove in through one military check point and left through another, without ever being stopped. This is all very difficult to explain. There are just too many strange coincidences. This phenomena is seen throughout the country. We see this as a strategy used by the military. Many times they are one and the same.
CHRC: What do you think of Plan Colombia, especially the U.S. military aid package?
CR: Plan Colombia is not a Colombian plan. It was drawn up by the Colombian government and by the officials in Washington. There was no consultation with the people of Colombia, especially the Afro-Colombians. This plan will dramatically escalate the conflict in Colombia. It will regionalize the conflict and it supports unsustainable economic development projects that will only hurt our communities and the environment. The fumigation alone will cause terrible ecological and human damage. This is strategy that has not worked, and that must be re-evaluated very critically. Lastly, I am very suspicious of a plan in which they give us money to buy helicopters from the United States. It's a kind of business deal at the highest levels, a deal, though, that has a human cost. This war is not hurting the real people in charge: the money launderers, the chemical manufacturers, the bankers, and the corrupt politicians.
CHRC: What do you think the people in the U.S. can do to help the people in Colombia?
CR: First, they can inform the public about the conflict in Colombia. Secondly, there needs to be more international accompaniment of communities in danger. Thirdly, people need to
understand the external consequences of U.S. policy towards Colombia. There is much to be done. U.S. citizens should go to Colombia and visit, and take back what they experience, to change the destructive policies of the United States.
Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN)
Organizing among Afro-Colombians
by Peter Wade
The Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN, or Process of Black Communities) is a network of black organizations in Colombia. Its roots are in Colombia's 1991 Constitutional reform and the passing in 1993 of Ley 70, the so-called Law of Black Communities, which derived from that reform (see entry on Law 70).
The PCN is an important black actor on Colombia's political scene which, alongside Cimarrón, has a strong emphasis on black ethnic identity (see entry on Cimarrón).The 1991 Constitution, created to modernize an antiquated political system and to ease state negotiations with guerrilla forces pressing for social reform, also gave political space to indigenous and black organizations which lobbied for special legislative measures.
In the mid-1990s, in the run-up to the election of the Constituent Assembly, there were regional conferences of black organizations in the south-western city of Cali. For example, the First Meeting of Black Communities involved the participation of organizations representing the very varied interests of peasants, urban dwellers, ethno-cultural activists, groups linked to traditional party politics and so on.
From these meetings was born the precursor of PCN, the National
Coordinator of Black Communities which struggled to unify these varied interests and to get a delegate elected to the Constituent Assembly. Its candidate, Carlos Rosero, a local government worker and one-time anthropology student from the mainly black port city of Buenaventura, failed to secure a seat. Despite this, the Coordinator, now renamed the Organization of Black Communities, continued its lobbying and organizational work and, once the new Constitution was in place, publicized the measures it contained relating to black communities.The regional focus of the OCN, which by 1997 had been re-baptized the PCN, has always been the south-west of Colombia, focusing on the cities of Buenaventura (the location of the PCN headquarters), Cali, Tumaco and their surrounding rural areas. This region includes the southern half of Colombia's Pacific coastal region,
predominantly rural and inhabited mainly b! y black people.
Cali is a metropolis outside the Pacific littoral itself, which receives large numbers of black migrants from the coast and from the heavily black-populated Cauca valley regions to the east. This regional focus is reflected in a certain distance between PCN and the black organizations of the Chocó province which occupies the northern half of the Pacific coastal region. PCN also has some influence in the Atlantic coastal region of the country where there are significant concentrations of black people. Nevertheless, the PCN is a national organization, with a national committee and regional palenques (the term for fugitive slave communities in colonial times) which are forums for discussion and for the coordination of local black groups, each of which sends two representatives to the palenque. The national committee and the palenques have a voice on various national-level bodies, such as the consultative commission which oversees the implementation of Law 70.
A major concern of PCN has been pursuing the land title claims that rural black communities in the Pacific coastal region can make under Law 70. PCN successfully negotiated funding from the national oil company, Ecopetrol, to aid such claims. PCN also has a broader ethno-cultural agenda, seeking to carve out a space for black identity autonomous from traditional party politics - focusing not so much on racism (a project it sees as associated with the organization Cimarrón) as on cultural difference.
Rather than working for integration, PCN sees a future of equality based on cultural difference and autonomy in which black people control territories (rather than just particular plots of land) and construct ways of life based on, but not confined to, local black cultural practices of production, kinship and ritual. However, this does not mean disengagement from national politics and PCN also supports electoral participation by local candidates who are distanced from traditional clientelist networks.
AFRICANISMO: NOSOTROS SOMOS AFRICANOS AFRICANISM:
AFRO-LATINOS HAVE ALWAYS MAINTAINED THEIR AFRICAN RACIAL IDENTITY, CULTURE, RELIGIONS, LANGUAGES AND THAT WAS FORTIFIED AT THE LAST MEETING OF THE OAA (ORIGANIZATION OF AFRICANS IN THE AMERICAS) HELD IN VENEZUELA IN 2000
People of African descent living in Latin America (Spanish, Portugese and French speaking) Americas and inhanbit the lands of Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Columbia, Panama, Central America, Brazil, Venezuela, Uraguay and all of the Spanish-speaking nations of the Americas have been among the most oppressed people from the days of slavery to the present time (2003).
Afro-Latinos are primarily of three sources of Africans and are identical to Africans in the United States and the Caribbean when it comes to tracing ancestry and region of origin. Like Afro-Americans in the United States, Blacks in Latin America come from at least four major sources of African/Black people who were targeted for slavery.
The first source of which there are hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions existing in Latin America are those Africans who lived in Latin America before Columbus. These groups were targeted for enslavement along with the Indians and were the first victims om slavery even before other Africans were exported to the Americas from the African continent.
The Church edict of the mid 1400's signed by Church Hierachy that gave the European Monarchies the go-ahead to enslave and christianize "descendants of Ham," i.e. Black people led to the very idea of enslaving Blacks around the world. In fact, groups like the Choco of Columbia, the Afro-Darienite of Panama, the Guanini of the Guianas and Caribbean, the Black Caribs, the Califu of the Caribbean, the Sami of Nicaragua (a mixture of African and Indian), the ancient Olmecs, and the verious groups who are part of the Mende-Congo linguistic group are an important group in the Americas and unless one reads Spanish, French and does extensive research (Ivan Van Sertima, "African Presence in Ancient America," "A History of the African-Olmecs," pub. by www.1stbooks.com also at www.barnesandnoble.com ), one will never know that there was a significant and still is a significant population of Blacks of African origins who were here in the Americas before Columbus and who continue to survive in certain areas as indigenous peoples.
In the U.S., such groups also exist and it is rather shameful that many Black Americans are not aware that some of their ancestors were Africans who were in the U.S. before Columbus and who owned large areas of land. The Waschitaw Nation is one such nation, and they usually hold their National Conventions in Monroe, Louisiana every June. It is one of the great paradoxes of history that led to the Black Waschitaw haveing their lands taken and their people reduced to slavery.
Thes Black Mound Builders of the Mississippi Valley, Louisiana and the Southern U.S. owned tens of millions of sq acres and almost one million square miles of land, according to some historians, yet, after France illegally "sold" the Waschitaw's lands, due to having been defeated by the Black Haitians and not being able to use Haiti as a base for the extension of France's empire in North America, the Black Waschitaw were pushed off and attacked. Many ended up as laves after 1805 and worked on plantations in the Southern U.S.
How many Blacks in the U.S. know this fact, when we talk about reparations, it is funny that this issue and the legal issue of Black lands being returned for Blacks build their own economy is not part of the discussion. These lands were already Black owned, by Black nations who lived in the U.S. before Columbus. That is also one of the reasons when the old "send the slaves back to Africa," croud wanted to apply that policy, they may have been met with a problem since a significant proportion of Blacks were and still are indigenous and native to North America.
In like manner, they could not send the American Indians back to Siberia and Asia because both the Africoid Blacks and Mongoloid 'Indians" have lived on the Americas for thousands of years. Furthermore, it is an accepted and actual fact that the vast majority of Blacks who descended from slaves who came after the 1530's to Spanish Florida and the rest of North America integrated with the American Indians and that Blacks today are part of three major groups of people.
These are pre-Columbian African-American, American Indians of the Mongoloid race and African slaves who arrived after Columbus.
CELEBRATING THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION AND BLACK HEROES OF FREEDOM AND LIBERATION, WHILE COMPARING "CINCO DE MAYO"
The Blacks of Latin America are also very much part of that group of Black people who exist from Brazil to Canada and despite the lighter complexion that some Blacks have, much of it comes from the Mongoloid American Indians than from Europeans who for the most part avoided Africans while Africans and Blacks during the slavery period avoided them. In fact, when Napoleon tried to implement the creation of a "mulatto" group by encouraging white French males to take a Black slave, white French woman and "Mulatto" each one as a wife to one man, the Black slaves of Haiti rebelled violently against this and eliminated the plantocracy.
That was the final straw, including the fact that Haitian slaves were brutalized to the maximum extent as graphically described in the book, "A History of Racism and Terrorism, Rebellion and Overcoming," pub. by Xlibris, www.xlibris.com also at www.barnesandnoble.com )
That fact must be understood by Blacks even while Mexicans celebrate "Cinco de Mayo" about the defeat of the French at Puebla, Mexico in 1863. The same French who tried to keep Blacks in Haiti enslaved and were soundly defeated turned to Mexico immediately after they gained their independance and tried to colonize and enslave them. The Mexican forces defeated them and that defeat is celebrated on the fifth of May as "Cinco de Mayo." In like manner, it is about time the date that the Haitians defeated the French and declared Haiti a Black Republic be celebrated as an important day by all Africans in the Americas, from Uraguay in South America to Canada in North America.
This and other festivals and commemorations will help unite the 200 million to 300 million people of African decent in all the Americas When "Indian" Tribes and nations are mentioned these Negroid/African precolumbians are not mentioned, but nations like France, Spain, some writings, by 19th century writers such as I. Rafinesque and drawings by explorers, some old photographs from places like California clearly show these Blacks who were not captured and sold into slavery living in their own areas.
The Black Mojave of California who led a long struggle against the Spanish, Mexico and the U.S. settlers from the South and East are a well known group of these Blacks who owned much of the lands in parts of California. Many of the people of African descent living from Uraguqy to Canada also come from these Africans who were in the Americas before Columbus and who fell victim to the system of raids, destruction and enslavement of Blacks that was part of the system of exploitation in the Americas.
Whether these Black groups were the Caracoles and Guanini of the Northern Coast of South America, the Califunami of the Caribbeans, the Afro-Darienite of Panama, the Black Caribs of the Caribbean and Honduras, the Black Caribs of Belize and South Mexico, the ancient Olmecs, the Black Wasschitaw of the Mississippi, the Black Mojave of California (Black Californians), or the Jamassee of Georgia, all these groups were Africoids and no different from the Africans who arrived after 1492. The only difference was that Africans who arrived before Columbus were free and those who came after were enslaved.
Blacks in Latin America fit in both categories. AFRICANS DURING SLAVERY Most Blacks in the Americas come from three major parts of Africa. The vast majority of Africans who arrived as slaves to the Americas after slavery came from West Africa. The major ethnic groups were the Yoruba of Nigeria, Tiv of Ghana, Ashanti of Ghana, Mende/Mandinka (a group that was already in the Americas before Columbus). Most Africans from these areas and nationalities were sent the English and French-speaking parts of the Americas such as the Caribbean, the Guianas, the U.S., Canada
From the Central part of Africa came the people of Congo and Angola. Most were sent to Brazil, the rest of South America, Cuba, Mexico, Central America, the Mississipi Valley/Louisiana. The rest came from Sudan, Ethiopia and parts of Eastern Congo. When looking at the Black populations of Latin America and those of Englishh-speaking Americas, there is no difference. We are related both in terms of physical appearance and genetic/cultural background. In fact, it is Blacks in Latin America who have kept much of the African religions, music, cooking, martial arts, festivals and even actual names that some parts of Africa have given up due to the racist trickery of Christian and other religions missionaries.
One can still find a well organized Orisha system of worship in Brazil and Cuba that originally came from the Yoruba. One can find Shango in Trinidad and Tobago originally from the Yoruba. In Haiti one cand find the Vadu of the Fon of Benin (Dahomey) and the other African spiritualist forms. One can also find Ethiopian Coptic religion in Jamaica and the old Muslim Brotherhoods related to the 16th century Nigerian Muslims who were sent to Brazil as slaves. These Africans were the first to establish a system of education in Brazil.
Today in Latin America particularly Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, and some other Spanish-speaking nations, the African culture brought to this region by African slaves is very strong. Yet, one of the great tragidies of Latin American racism is the unconcionable theft and appropriating of African culture by the rulling racial class composed mainly of people of white Spanish origins. For example, when was the last time any musical group representing Blacks shown on any of the Spanish television stations in the U.S.?
Mexico has about 1 million Blacks and Blacks have been in Mexico since the Olmec period of high culture, (3113 B.C. to 400 A.D.), yet one will hardly see anything in Mexican books or media, movies or television dealing with the Black Olmecs or the Blacks who were slaves in the Mexico from the mid 1500's to the 1700's. Yet, if people who are at least 50 percent African origins in Mexico were to claim African origins or descent, Mexico's Black population would be in the many millions.
AFRO-LATIN, AFRO-AMERICANS, AFRO-CARIBBEAN AND REGIONAL BLACK GROUPS UNITE TO HELP IMPROVE LOT OF BLACKS THROUGHOUT THE AMERICAS: BLACK BRAZILIANS REJECTING THE SCHEME TO DESTROY AFRICANISMO IN BRAZIL
In the year 2000, a very important meeting and conference of leaders and important people representing all the Black communities of the Americas united and got together to create an organization that would work for the total liberation and upliftment of Blacks all over the Americas. It was agreed by Blacks from Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Panama, the US, Cuba, Dominican Republic, the English speaking Caribbea, the French Speaking Caribbean, the Dutch Caribbean, Canada and all the entire Americas that Blacks must unite and rebuild a strong Pan-African Americas movement that would bring about the development of Blacks all over the Americas.
Of importance in the discussions held in a village in Venezuela was the plight of Blacks in the Latin American nations and why Blacks in these Latin American nations no longer see themselves as "Latino" or any of the terms that refuse to recognize their Africanness. The call for Africanism was loud and clear, particularly when the point was made that Blacks in many parts of Latin America face racism worse than that practiced in South Africa, and that genocide and neglect was taking place.
The delegates message at that meeting in Venezuela is of crucial importance in light of the fact that many Black Latinos in the U.S. may not have known that today in Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama and many other lands in the America, Africanism or Africanismo is way of the future.
Blacks in Latin America and the rest of the Americas see unity with Blacks in the region is crucial to their survival. It is a fact that the anger and nationalist pride of Blacks in the U.S. has a major influence on stopping any oppressors of Blacks anywhere on earth and when news reaches Black America that Blacks in any part of the world are being oppressed or that other people are being oppresed, the voice of Blacks are not kept silent. Blacks from the Caribbean, Latin America and other parts of the Americas know very well that unity with Blacks in the U.S. is one of the best ways to help in their own liberation and development.
Furthermore, the Black population of the Americas outside of the U.S. very large indeed. There are about 200 million or more Blacks in the rest of the Americas, with about 100 million in Brazil, a nation where Blacks are returning to their African blood and heritage rather than the false classifications and titile splaced on them.
BLACK LATINOS MUST REJECT "COLORISM" AND SKIN SHADE POLITICS
The time has come for Blacks in Latin America to reject the evil trickery of grading skin tone based on how much of the slavemaster's blood one has. How sick and illogical is such a classification. No one in their right mind will judge their worth on how much of a person who raped their ancestors and worked them to dust, the descendants have.
Africans in Latin America and the rest of the Americas must work to stop this illogical and damaging skin shade grading and shoud respect and honor what we were born with no matter how light or darkskinned we may be. Toda in Brazil and perhaps other parts of Latin America, the confusion of how African is African/Black is being debated along with whether Blacks in Brazil should get affirmative action for slavery.
One sees the same trickery being applied in the U.S. on its way to being applies in Brazil as well. Yet, the standard is clear. People of African descent, whether pure Black or "mullato" or all the ther "caste" classifications were part of the system of slavery in Brazil and Latin America.
Only the very light,near European were at a high level. Furthermore, in Brazil and parts of Latin America, most people who may be mixed also follow Africa culture, religions, art, cooking, customs and traditions. Some may not be pure African but when looking at Africans, one has to realize that skin color is not an indication of how African a person is. After all, the Kong San and some Tswana of South Africa are pure Africans and are light brown skinned. Many pure Blacks in the South Pacific have blond hair.
Pure Black Dalits and other Africoid people in India and Australia have straight hair. Blacks in Brazil and the rest of Latin America should see the trickery being played in the effort to weaken them and reject this idea of being African when the Europeans want to keep them oppressed and in slavery, living in the slums and discriminated against, if they have African features, ancestors, or brown to black skin.
Yet pretend they don't know who these Blacks are when Blacks in Brazil reject this color heirachy and say, "we are all African/Black no matter what shade our skin color is." In retrospect, the time has come for all Blacks in the Americas to reclaim their Africanness.
Let Africanismo and Africanism enroot throughtout the Americas and throughout the parts of the world, such as North-East Africa, Sudan, Mauritania, West Papua and all these places where every scheme and trick, every aspect of genocide, sanctified racism, religious imperialism and schemes is being used to keep Blacks perpetually enslaved especially in pats of North East Africa, Latin America, Melanesia/South West Asia and elsewhere.
In order to be free, it is necessary to find oneself and reject the slavemasters' labeling and misrepresentation. It is essential to return to one's own traditional cultures and values and make improvements where needed. For more on this see the great book, "A History of Racism and Terrorism, Rebellion and Overcoming," pub. by www.xlibris.com Also read "Susu and Susunomics" pub. by www.iUniverse.com
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PROMOTING AFRICAN CULTURE IN VENEZUELA
Demystifying Africa's Absence in Venezuelan History and Culture Demystifying Africa's Absence in Venezuelan History and Culture
by Jesus Garcia
Venezuela is situated on the North east Caribbean coast of South America. Officially, it has a very large African population estimated at almost 40 per cent. Unofficially, the majority of Venezuelans are of African descent. Its current President, Hugo Chavez, describes himself as the first Black President of Venezuela. Below, Jesus Garcia shows how African culture has survived in Venezuela and sets forth a strategy for African cultural development in this Latin American country.
This article was posted on the internet at venezuelanalysis.com. The Editors note reads, "This article is being posted here in connection with the recent visit of a TransAfrica Forum delegation to Venezuela."
I made my first trip to the Republic of the Congo in search of information about Venezuela's historical relationship with Central Africa. My purpose was to seek information to demystify the African, particularly the dominant Central African Bantu, presence in Venezuela in order to fill in the African absence in the construction of our national identity.
This was an important task since the official versions of Venezuelan history, akin to the histories of the rest of so-called Latin America, reduce Africa's contributions mainly to drums and "witchcraft."
Many attribute what they consider the irrational behavior of Latin America's leaders to their "magical sense of reality," a legacy presumably inherited through the breast milk of the enslaved negras, the Black "mammies" responsible for their socialization, "such that when they took power, they reproduced this magical concept of reality.
From 1937 to the present, Arturo Uslar Pietri, the celebrated Venezuelan writer with the greatest influence on the white elite, has kept this official discourse alive in his writings and his addresses to Venezuelan intellectuals concerning issues of modernity and the nation.
Uslar Pietri's premise is that "Blacks did not arrive" in Venezuela "with a culture that visibly affected the construction of our national identity." He asserts that "Blacks did not make a racial contribution beneficial to the nation. Our racial blend has not enabled us to transcend the original ingredients. In general terms, those members of what we might call the current Venezuelan race are as incapable of comprehending modern and dynamic concepts of work as were their ancestors.
"This means that if we cannot substantially modify the ethnic composition of our population, it will be virtually impossible to change the course of our history and to make our country a modern nation."
When I began to understand the nature of this hegemonic position in Venezuela's historical discourse, a perspective imposed in compulsory school curricula, and became aware of how this point of view negatively affected Afro-Venezuelans, I felt obliged to deconstruct and reconstruct the discourse, or really the absence thereof, about the Africanity of Venezuela's national formation.
This meant that my version of Afro-Venezuelan history would have to serve to combat both the racism expressed in school books and the trauma of internalized racism for the Afro-Venezuelan community. The words of my grandmothers, traditionalist elders born in the nineteenth century in San Jose de Barlovento, one of the Black communities in the subregion of Barlovento in the state of Miranda, offered me an alternative source of our history, one that contradicted that of my formal education.
Their words inspired me; their stories, songs, and lyric poems. Our daily life outside of school also inspired me. I realized that our oral traditions had been banished from the classroom in the interest of creating a social science program that reproduced official versions of Venezuelan history that endorsed the stories of conquering Europeans.
I also became aware of exactly how we, the "others," were erased from the history, geography, music, and cultural curricula taught in the nation's schools. My first step was to investigate seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century documentary evidence in the national archives. I went to the same sources used by those who created and defended the official historical narratives.
My next task was to decode the declarations, the discourse, of runaway Africans-cimarrones/maroons, who had been captured and brutally tortured in their efforts to resist enslavement, making allowances, of course, for the demeaning and insulting tone of these sources.
The data led me to classify cimarronaje/marooning as either passive or active. Passive marooning refers to those ways in which Africans and their descendants fought against their enslavement in colonial contexts by taking advantage of available institutional resources, such as the law and the Catholic church.
Beginning in the middle of the eighteenth century, for example, enslaved people could, if they amassed adequate resources, purchase their own freedom, or even that of babies in the wombs of enslaved mothers; or they could "inherit" their freedom if their owners made such provisions in their wills.
Active marooning refers to enslaved people fighting directly against the system of slavery in order to reclaim their freedom at any cost. This active resistance to the different modalities of colonial oppression by Africans and their descendants filled many archival files, which clearly indicated that active marooning signified a sustained politics as well as a concept of anticolonial liberation.
As such, the African contribution to the Venezuelan nation was both moral and political. We find evidence of this moral and political activity in the archival documentation concerning Miguel Luango, for example, who headed a rebellion of enslaved people in Caracas in 1749. Luango, whose name refers to his Central African origins (Africans often being named for their points of departure from the continent), demanded that the colonial authorities establish a non-racist government.
Had this rebellion succeeded, administrative posts were to be assigned to Francisco Loango as lieutenant general, Manuel Loango as mayor, and Simacute Loango as attorney general.
Already beginning in 1552, with the rebellion headed by "El Negro" Miguel in the Buria Mountains, in the 1749 Kongo and Loango Rebellion in Caracas, and later in the 1795 uprising instigated by a Loango man called Cocofio and led by Jose Leonardo Chirinos, we see evidence for the construction of a specifically African idea of "independence" in Venezuela.
This idea was distinct from what Francisco de Miranda, the "precursor of Venezuelan independence," intended as the incipient nation's moral and political imperative. Miranda preferred to capitulate to the Spanish Crown, rather than strike an alliance with the Black insurgents in the Barlovento valleys, for fear that Venezuela would become another Black maroon republic like Haiti, the nation where independence for the entire population was born in the Americas.
Even Simon Bolivar, the "Liberator" of five South American nations;Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador; included abolition as part of his platform for national liberation in 1816. But this was conditional freedom, and soon after the wars of independence had subsided, previously enslaved people were re-enslaved.
Provoked to indignation, they increased their marooning. Reneging on abolition during the independence era was consistent with the Eurocentric notions of Venezuela's white creole "paladins of liberty," who could not accept the insurgent and more complete ideal of liberty contributed by the African rebels whose quests for freedom had helped to destabilize and defeat the Spanish colonial regime.
Reconstructing this other history also meant elaborating strategies to demystify the erasure of the Africanity of Venezuela's national formation, which remains one of my main preoccupations. This is a general problem in Latin American and Caribbean historiography.
When Black insurrection erupted at the end of the eighteenth century, it was explained as the product of French revolutionary thinking, hence the cliche; "Black Jacobins." This idea, which is the focus of Marxist historian Federico Brito Figueroa's book, El problema tierra y esclavos en la historia de Venezuela, is historically inaccurate.
Long before the French decreed liberty, egalite, et fraternite, Africans imprisoned in cacao, sugarcane, and cotton fields in the Americas were already revolting against their exploitation. They rallied against oppression and exploitation based on skin color and social position and in favor of human redemption.
This trend had been evident by the beginning of the seventeenth century with the Quilombo dos Palmares in Brazil and Yanga Rebellion leading to the palenque (maroon community) of San Lorenzo de los Negros, now known as Yanga, in Mexico.
These initial rebellions that led to the creation of multiethnic free maroon communities were led by Central African Bantu-speaking people. The names of leaders like Zumbi of Palmares in Brazil, Yanga in Mexico, and the Loangos in Venezuela, bespeak their origins.
Rethinking history to demystify Africa's political and moral contributions to the Americas, and pursuing this line of inquiry into both comparative marooning and the contributions to "the idea of independence" in the Americas by Africans and their descendants, is an important task.
We must debunk the dishonest and inconsistent historical discourses that assume Eurocentric hegemonic authority and ignore and distort African contributions to the formation of the American nations. Unraveling hegemonic discourses of the "other" discourses about descendants of Africans the world overhas been and continues to be necessary.
If, as Marcus Garvey said, history is a tree with roots, a tree that falls when we disavow it, then culture is the body of a tree lush in leaves. According to the eminent Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop, historical factors are "the cultural cement that brings together the elements of a people's existence, forming a oneness as a consequence of the sense of lived historical continuity that a collectivity shares."
And another extraordinary African thinker, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau, asserted that "Culture, despite what ever may be the ideological or idealistic characteristics of its manifestations, is therefore an essential element of history, like a flower that springs forth from a plant."
The doubled term "history-culture" is indispensable when we sketch the process implicit in our reconceptualization of the Afro-Venezuelan and Venezuelan, in fact the American story. The culture of Africans and their descendants in the Americas reflects a history of survival, a survival that has been possible because of processes that have been, and continue to be both painful and triumphant.
The problematic representational politics that disregard the body as a site of cultural _expression force a rapprochement to not only what I characterize as a "culture of resistance," but also to our own cultures of origin. In these we can find ways of reconceptualizing ourselves in a contemporary way that makes organic cultural sense, given our shared Bantu heritage. The very language we use to describe our bodies' life forces can be a key in reconceptualizing ourselves as African descendants.
According to interviews I conducted with ngangas, traditional healers, in various regions of the Republic of the Congo, the body is constituted of four substantial elements: the nitu, or physical body, the menga, or blood the moyo, or eternal soul, and the mfumu kutu, or double or shadow soul in Kikongo, the language of the Kongo or Bakongo people.
The nitu is a kind of box in which ancestral spirits dwell. The menga, the motor principle of life whose vital center, the heart, is the seat of the soul, thus blood sacrifices play the role of liberating powerful forces during transcendent ceremonies.
The moyo represents the principle of resistance to death, and the mfumu kutu is the principle of sensory perception and self-consciousness that defines the continuity of the life and identity of the person.
The verb "to live" is translated by three terms: zinga, the continuity of life in the sense that the dead and unborn, not only the living, are part of the totality of human life; moyo, the spiritual aspect of all living beings; and kala bung, the physical life of the body.
This conceptualization of the body and spirit, present among our Bantu ancestors who were transported to the Americas, was the basis of their understanding of their new lives and of their survival in their New World. We can interpret our cultures of resistance as reflecting and being products of these principles of resistance to death, which are still a part of our resistant worldview and behavior even if we have forgotten the words that define them and have to return to the source to recall them.
These principles will continue to guide us in the new millennium. In other words, intentions of denying the profound philosophical foundations of our behavior by trivializing them as "folklore," as has been done by colonially minded "scholars," has catalyzed our collective mfumu kutu into a dynamic stance of continual resistance. This is why many Afro-Venezuelans have in recent years been implementing a process of self-reconceptualization, of stripping ourselves of concepts that Eurocentric social scientists have imposed on us and our realities, fraudulent foreign concepts that, lamentably, still continue to plague us, and that we must identify and deconstruct when we sit down to write about our own communities.
When we refer to accounts of African culture in the Americas, we often have to contend with its "folklorization" by those who characterize our cultural productions as "folk music," "religious folklore," "folk arts," and so forth; stereotypical and prejudiced conceptual terminologies that serve as road signs and tricks or traps in the colonial imaginary. We need to develop a pedagogy of self-perception.
Those of us who are musicians and/or members of African-derived religions, for example, must fight against efforts made to folklorize us. To fail to do so is to continue to view ourselves through borrowed eyes. African cultures in the Americas, rather than quaint but superficial folklore, are cultures of resistance based on African philosophical principles that we must rediscover, that persist and reshape themselves as time passes and as changes occur in our communities.
What do we mean by cultures of resistance? We mean a dynamic process in which original cultural elements are set in opposition to the pressure of colonial and post-colonial religious and governmental authorities' attempts to "disappear" them.
We deliberately imagine the possibility of cultural exchange in the Americas on an equal plane of mutual respect and tolerance, insisting upon the possibility of a reciprocal process of cultural transformation that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of both colonial European and African cultural traditions in contemporary social contexts.
The cornerstone of our ideas is that for the past five hundred years African history-culture has searched for ways to reproduce itself in the Americas, ways such as cimarronaje/marooning in quilombos, cumbes, and palenques, as well as in cabildos, cofradias and other alternative spaces of African-inspired religious celebration.
Cumbes, quilombos, and palenques were the liberated spaces that the enslaved created in rebelling against the system of slavery, such as the Ocoyta Cumbe led by Guillermo Rivas during the end of the eighteenth century in Barlovento, Venezuela, and the still extant Palenque de San Basilio in Northern Colombia.
These expressions of history-culture have created scenarios in which Bantu cultural codes, based on profound philosophical concepts have been (re)produced in music, dance, and religion, in relationship with other ethnic configurations emanating from Native American, Hispano-Arabic, and Anglo-Saxon cultures.
Bantu cultural (re)production in the Americas has maintained a distinct historico-cultural presence. Unable to maintain itself in its original state, it has gestated new creative processes. Its imaginary breathed in new air, and its original modes transformed themselves in the heat of new experiences.
Out of this cultural reproduction came its own style of modernity, as manifest in music/dance such as Bantu-derived mambos rumbas, and cumbias, and in the use of Bantu words in everyday language in the European languages of the Americas, words such as bilongo, nganga, and cafunga, Kikongo terms used in hispanophone America. All of these syncretic elements mark the shifting of a modernity that emerges from a specific cultural root growing against the grain of a reductive, homogenizing, and heavy soil.
We can describe this modernity as a continuous process of cultural recycling for African, especially Bantu, cultures in the Americas that have struggled to minimize the cultural desolation imposed on them by forces that would have them become passive and uniform. In contemporary reality there are new palenques and quilombos, translated as militant practice that allows us to reappropriate our own self-perceptions.
This new practice in the case of Venezuela includes festivals such as "Multicultural Day," initially created for Afroamrica 92, and now celebrated every year in the heart of Barlovento. As Venezuela celebrated the annual Dia de la Hispanidad (Hispanicity Day), commemorated all over Hispanic America on October 12, 1992, in honor of the so-called discovery of the Americas by Columbus, we created the Afroamerica 92 festival, celebrating Afro-Venezuelan culture.
Within that event, we organized Multicultural Day on October 12 as a more honest meaning of the results of Columbus's encounter. Out of Afroamerica 92 grew the Fundacion Afroamerica (Afroamerica Foundation), which began in 1993 with the support of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
The foundation's goal is to research the sub-Saharan African presence in Venezuela and the Caribbean. We publish the journal Afroamerica and have developed nine compact discs of Afro-Venezuelan music as a part of the Memoria Musical de Orgen Africana en Venezuela (African Musical Memory in Venezuela) project.
The foundation has also published sixteen Cuadernos de historia regional (Regional History Notebooks) based on both historical research in regional and national archives and on the oral traditions of our communities. The notebooks are used in primary and middle schools in Barlovento, and we also organize educational seminars and workshops about this new conceptualization of our history for teachers and administrators.
We are planning to extend this Barlovento educational model to fifteen other regions with 90 percent Afro-Venezuelan populations. We also produced a documentary, Salto al Atlantico, filmed in the Republic of the Congo and in Barlovento, in which Congolese and Afro-Venezuelans discovered and compared their common cultural ground.
All of these new programs and activities reaffirm the experience of constructing our own modernity in our own image, a process that goes well beyond academia and comes closer to accurately representing our reality than do the "intermediaries" who pretend to speak for us.
In the Republic of the Congo, bilonga is a medicine bundle. In Venezuela it refers to herbal medicine and is the name of a community known for its healers, and in Cuba it means witchcraft, or a charm used on someone.
Nganga, which in the Republic of the Congo designates healer, is also the name of a Venezuelan community near Bilonga, also known for its healers. Hence these two Venezuelan toponyms are derived from African occupational activities.
Cafunga in the Republic of the Congo is a style of food preparation involving wrapping in banana leaves especially chikuanga, balls of cassava flour steamed in the leaves. In Venezuela cafunga is a dessert of ripe bananas, coconut, brown sugar, and cloves, baked in banana leaves.
Translation from Spanish: Lisa Snchez Gonzlez