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Africans to Spanish America: Expanding the Diaspora

Africans to Spanish America: Expanding the Diaspora

by Sherwin K. Bryant

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Africans to Spanish America expands the diaspora framework to include Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, and Cuba, exploring the connections and disjunctures between colonial Latin America and the African diaspora in the Spanish empires. Analysis of the regions of Mexico and the Andes opens up new questions of community formation that incorporated Spanish legal strategies


Africans to Spanish America expands the diaspora framework to include Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, and Cuba, exploring the connections and disjunctures between colonial Latin America and the African diaspora in the Spanish empires. Analysis of the regions of Mexico and the Andes opens up new questions of community formation that incorporated Spanish legal strategies in secular and ecclesiastical institutions as well as articulations of multiple African identities. The volume is arranged around three sub-themes: identity construction in the Americas; the struggle by enslaved and free people to present themselves as civilized, Christian, and resistant to slavery; and issues of cultural exclusion and inclusion.   Contributors are Joan Cameron Bristol, Nancy E. van Deusen, Leo Garafalo, Herbert S. Klein, Charles Beatty Medina, Karen Y. Morrison, Rachel Sarah O'Toole, Frank "Trey" Proctor, and Michele B. Reid.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A pioneering effort to write the history of Africans in colonial Spanish America using the African diaspora paradigm. The authors fully demonstrate the considerable potential of this approach."—Kris Lane, author of The Colour of Paradise: The Emerald in the Age of Gunpowder Empires

"A page-turning secret society history based on solid research and accuracy."—Southern Historian

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University of Illinois Press
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New Black Studies Series
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Africans to Spanish America

Expanding the Diaspora


Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-03663-7



On August 1, 1708, the now infamous privateer Woodes Rogers departed Bristol to sail around the world, "first to the South-Sea, thence to the East-Indies, and homewards by the Cape of Good Hope." Sailing down the Atlantic coast of South America, and passing Cape Horn, the Rogers expedition sighted the uninhabited San Fernández Island, located nearly 400 miles off the coast of Chile, on January 31, 1709. After spending nearly two weeks there repairing the Duke and the Dutchess, the Rogers crew pushed off, prowling the Peruvian coast for several weeks before capturing their first prize—a small, sixteen-ton coastal trading vessel out of Paita. The eight-man crew included one "Negro," a "Spaniard," and six "Indians." The capture of this small bark, which they symbolically renamed the Beginning, marked the advent of the seizure of a spate of "prizes"—vessels traveling either between Panama and Lima's port of Callao or within the coastal trading network that joined Chancay and Trujillo to Lima in the south. These cities were also tied to ports such as Paita and Guayaquil and to clandestine trading sites found within the Gobernación of Barbacoas to the north, all of which fell within the kingdom, or audiencia, of Quito. Passengers and goods moved constantly within this Pacific trade nexus that fed ultimately into the circum-Caribbean and Atlantic economic system.

Unsurprisingly, people the Europeans categorized as "black," "mulatto," "bozal," "free," and "enslaved" were buffeted about within this Pacific trade network. These included the anonymous "negro" who was eventually held captive on the Beginning, a man who was representative of the scores of free blacks serving as crew members on other coastal vessels. He was also representative of the countless enslaved Africans shipped to the Pacific from parts of Africa. As evidenced by the English-speaking women taken by Rogers and his crew, some of the slaves who were traded in the Pacific had previously lived in the British Caribbean prior to their forced migration to the Spanish Andes. They, like scores of others, had traveled from west and west-central Africa to the greater circum-Caribbean before being trekked across the Isthmus of Panama for transshipment to the port of Lima's Callao and its outlying entrepôts. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, an increasing number of Africans did not pass through Lima at all, being sold directly in Guayaquil, where ships bound for Lima often stopped to unload passengers headed to the north Andean hinterland. As fortune would have it, being strategically positioned within this regional traffic enabled Rogers and his crew to become rich beneficiaries of movements in the direction of the Pacific. His expedition took six ships within the brief span of a month that yielded no fewer than 125 "negroes and mulattoes."

What we know of this aspect of the Woodes Rogers expedition comes principally from his diary and that of Edward Cooke, a Bristol merchant captain who served as the executive officer of the Dutchess. Their account of events enables us to envision some of the violence inflicted upon many of the captives—enslaved, free, black, mulatto, indigenous, and Spanish alike. Yet many questions and issues remain unaddressed. Just who were the men and women they captured and traded? How did their individual sagas unfold, and what were their interrelationships with one another, the broader colonial world, and the merging parts of the Atlantic and Pacific realms? How did their stories fit within a universe of diverse identities? How did their genders shape their enslaved and free experiences? And how did their individual histories contribute to the nascent processes of racial formation and caste signification that were emerging in their worlds?

Despite the silences contained within the pages of the Rogers and Cooke narratives and a panoply of similar texts, such sources still constitute a treasured resource that opens windows onto a range of individuals described as "black" who lived and moved within the territories claimed by Spain. In the Rogers account, for example, we find the case of Michael Kendall, a free black man from Jamaica who, after fighting for the English along the Caribbean coast of New Granada, was forced into slavery by the Spanish in the gold mines of Barbacoas (located along the southwest Pacific littoral of Colombia). 4 Kendall ended up deserting the mines to join the Rogers expedition near the Isla del Gallo in July 1709. Soon afterward, the freedman-turned-slave-fugitive was quickly elevated to a position of leadership within the expedition. It is cases such as these that are illustrative of the black diasporic condition. Kendall's striking example of agony, mobility, achievement, and flight poignantly remind us of the frailty of black social standing in the era of chattel slavery—how crossing colonial boundaries could dramatically impact an individual's fate and how the pursuit of basic liberties was tenuous, framed always in the shadow of slavery and marked by a kind of liminal rootlessness. The extant documentary evidence may not always enable us to completely peer into these worlds, but as with the Rogers narrative, we can catch important glimpses of them.

This volume takes as its cue the need to further expand the framework by which we chart the African Diaspora, based upon a close reading of a variety of texts from the Spanish American colonies. Our setting encompasses some familiar and unfamiliar terrain. The Rogers expedition reminds us that few have considered the expanding importance of slavery in Pacific sites such as Trujillo, Guayaquil, and Barbacoas or the ways that slavery and blackness impacted imperial attempts to restructure governance in the region. But as Charles Beatty-Medina reminds us in this volume, African-descended peoples had long-standing influences upon colonial governance efforts and imperial defense schemes within the Spanish-controlled Pacific/Andean region. Likewise, as Rachel O'Toole's essay shows, the presence of Atlantic Africans and their integration into increasingly Hispanicized Pacific and Andean worlds brought forth complex processes of self-crafting that refracted local sociocultural realities and apparently echoed those found in what might be called "Atlantic Africa." In short, the Rogers story, the case of Esmeraldas (chapter 4), and the lives of individuals such as Ana de la Calle of casta Lucumí (chapter 3) signal the need for explorations of blackness that extend the framework of Diaspora more explicitly to Spanish America. What contemporaries might not have imagined was the emergence of a black Pacific, a zone of contact that ran from Panama southward at least as far as Arequipa, linking feeder communities in the Darien region, Atrato, Chocó, Barbacoas, and Esmeraldas to those in Guayaquil, Paita, Trujillo, Chancay, and Lima-Callao. While these sites were actually old landmarks of the early modern African diasporic experience (keep in mind that Africans accompanied the earliest European expeditions here), today they represent new nodal points that are receiving broader consideration by a current generation of scholars working on the African Diaspora to Spanish America. Work in these areas represents new ways of seeing the African Diaspora and marks evolutionary steps in the growth of the subfield of Afro-Latin American history.

Afro–Latin American History: the Sketch of a retrospective into the Present

Afro–Latin American history has enjoyed a long tradition since the nineteenth century. Given the ebb and flow of scholarly production and changes in the focal points of academic inquiry, it seems best to categorize the rising tide of Afro–Latin American history as a series of waves. The first wave of scholarship, dominated by scholars writing within Latin America, enjoyed the distinct challenge of trying to situate blackness within nascent nation-states that were trying to articulate their national character for the first time. The challenge was made all the more daunting by the preponderance of positivist and pseudo-scientific theories that marked the black presence as antithetical to the developmentalist aims of these emerging nations. The writings of these historians featured concerns about defining citizenship and assessing the level to which blacks should be included (or excluded) from the body politic and broader civil society. Many of these scholars themselves held ambivalent views regarding black citizenship and equality, but despite their personal biases (which inevitably seeped into their writings), their research and lines of inquiry laid the groundwork for the scholarly questions and agendas that would eventually mold the field. José Antonio Saco provides a great example. His elegant survey of blacks in the Hispanic world was a pioneering accomplishment that helped inspire further work on slavery, emancipation, and free black life. In fact, Saco was influential in launching the career trajectory of the renowned Afro-Cubanist Fernando Ortiz. But at the same time, Saco was undeniably a product of his times. Despite being a forceful advocate of emancipation and the abolition of slavery, he remained unconvinced that blacks and whites should possess full equality in post-emancipation Cuba. Hence, his passion for understanding the historical contours of black life was counterbalanced by his ideas regarding the proper prospects for Cuba's future sociopolitical course. Regardless of these seemingly discordant viewpoints, his work represented a major step forward.

Similar arguments can be made for other trailblazing pioneers. First-wave scholars such as Fernando Ortiz, Raimundo Nina Rodrigues, Gilberto Freyre, and Arturo Ramos concerned themselves with exploring black subjectivity from a range of frames, including slavery, music, folklore, magic, transculturation, and African cultural survivals. By and large, their works are seminal accomplishments of great vision and theoretical foresight. But it must be said that most of these individuals were also perplexed by the questions of the extent to which blacks should be included into the national fabric and how a national identity that absorbed blackness could develop in ways that were not irrevocably marred by what many deemed was a socially harmful African primitivism. Both the best and the worst of their scholarship frequently resurrected pseudo-scientific notions of race and nationalist impositions of mestizaje. Sometimes unknowingly, they obliquely endorsed the fear of "the African" and contributed to emergent national narratives that sought to whiten Latin America. Nevertheless, their work introduced some powerful basic tools that steered scholarship into its second wave. Their collective contributions demonstrated the value of studying slavery as a constituent part of national sociocultural development. Equally as important, their work opened debates about how blackness could enhance the profile of Latin America's population, or at a minimum be beneficially blended into mestizaje. Finally, these authors showed that blackness and slavery could provide useful and convenient metaphors for persecution and subjugation. In co-opting the black experience in this way, individual Latin American societies could level critiques at their colonial past while also engaging in substantive and meaningful critiques of reputedly "advanced" Western nations such as the United States. Latin America's comparatively successful management of what North Americans called the "race problem" spotlighted the region as progressive and enlightened in ways that showcased failure in the United States. In this way, the nationalist goals of the first-wavers were partly fulfilled. Through blackness, they managed to present their countries as full participants in modernity while also offering tangible recipes for congealing fissures in the larger social fabric: they provided road maps for showing how to reconcile race, blackness, mestizaje, and nation.

In some ways, second-wave scholars responded to the clarion calls of first-wave pioneers, and scholars from the U.S. academy entered the fray and reacted (favorably and not) to critiques of the American brand of racial capitalism. Frank Tannenbaum's Slave and Citizen (1947) marked a significant move in this direction by exploring the roots that differentiated Latin American and North American race relations. According to Slave and Citizen, part of the answer could be found by carefully examining comparative slave systems, legal codes, colonial institutions, and experiences. Although this was not quite a novel idea, his influential work helped launch the comparative slavery school, which took his basic questions and probed even deeper—sometimes with more refined case studies and at other times with larger or different research questions. Eric Williams, for example, used some of the basic paradigms framed by the comparative slavery school to help explore the dynamics of the rise of capitalism itself. In the late 40s, 50s and 60s, new approaches to social science combined with the development of global events made the study of blacks more urgently prescient and helped further propel the comparative slavery school forward. Pan-Africanism, decolonization movements in Africa, and the civil rights struggle in the United States in particular as well as the UN declaration that race was a social construct were among the pivotal contextual events that enhanced the study of Afro–Latin America. Similarly, the emergence of social history as a core disciplinary field and advanced anthropological methods in ethnography (which, when applied to black culture, took seriously the question of African survivals and their expression and transformation in New World cultures) were features of second-wave scholarship. Hence, resistance studies and studies of the nature of creolization, demography, and cultural analysis accompanied the advances made by the comparative slavery school.

How these broad developments worked themselves out in the literature on Afro–Latin America was both diffuse and precise. Within individual Latin American countries, a small foundational literature on the black experience began to emerge between the 50s and the 70s. In Chile, for instance, a trio of core works by Mellafe (1959), Feliú Cruz (1942), and Vial Correa (1957) studied the plight of slaves and traced the saga of their emancipation, while also assessing the place of blacks in Chilean colonial society. Similar works could be found throughout the region—for Venezuela (Acosta Saignes, 1967), Argentina (Scheuss de Studer, 1958), and Panama (Castillero Calvo, 1969), among others.

The 1940s and 50s witnessed a fuller maturation of theoretical and conceptual approaches to the study of the African-descended peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean. Later work by scholars such as Fernando Ortiz helped complete the dismantling of pseudo-scientific racist theories while opening new vistas for theorizing race and nation in Latin America. In particular, first-waver Ortiz's theorization of transculturation reimagined blacks and their ability to coexist (and inform) national culture. In a theory that bore faint resemblances to W. E. B. Du Bois's theory of double consciousness, Ortiz acknowledged that blacks held multiple cultural dispositions simultaneously; these were cultural leanings that were rooted in the Americas but were also tied to a primordial African past. While transculturation ultimately imagined an essentialized, though somewhat complex black subject, it offered the possibility of considering identity formation as a fluid and dynamic process, albeit one that moved away from a "traditional" African essence into a more modern, national identity. In addition, transculturation shone a light upon black cultural history, opening the way for ethnohistorical approaches to black Afro–Latin America. These ethnohistorical approaches would be heavily featured in works by scholars such as Miguel Acosta Saignes in Venezuela and Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán in Mexico.

From the 1970s through the early 1990s a new, third wave of scholars emerged to consider a range of themes and findings advanced by their predecessors. With the continuing advances being made in the techniques of social history, scholars turned increasingly toward context-specific (nation-centered/ geographical) analyses of slavery, slave life, law, and caste relations. Indeed, two scholarly strands came to dominate this third wave of scholarship—one dedicated to studying slavery and slave life and the other to exploring the extent to which Latin America was a "caste society." If, during this period, Harry Hoetink's Slavery and Race Relations in the Americas: Comparative Notes on Their Nature and Nexus (1973) marked the expansion of the comparative slavery school to include work on slave life, abolition, and the localized economic importance of slavery across Latin America, Magnus Mörner's Race Mixture in the History of Latin America (1967) also marked the expansion of a subfield that explored "black" colonial subjects through the prism of the caste system. Insisting that Latin America was a "caste society," Mörner precipitated debates that continue to animate scholarly inquiry even today.


Excerpted from Africans to Spanish America Copyright © 2012 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Sherwin K. Bryant is an assistant professor of African American studies and history at Northwestern University. Rachel Sarah O'Toole is an assistant professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. Ben Vinson III is a professor of Latin American history and the director of the Africana Research Center at Johns Hopkins University.

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