Afro-Salvadorans are the descendants of the African population that were enslaved and shipped to El Salvador. They have mixed into the general Mestizo population, which is a combination of the Mestizos and the Pardo people, both of whom are racially mixed populations. Pardo is the term that was used in colonial El Salvador to describe a tri-racial Afro-Mestizo person of Indigenous, European, and African descent. Because of their racial admixture everyone in El Salvador identifies as culturally Mestizo.
A total of 10,000 African slaves were brought to El Salvador over the span of 75 years, starting around 1548. The country has no English Antillean (West Indian) or Garifuna populations, largely due to laws enacted in the 1930s, later revoked in the 1980s, banning the immigration of Africans and other races into the country. During the colonial period in Latin America, African slaves began mixing with the general population, resulting in the Mulatto (50% African and 50% European) and Zambo (50% African and 50% Amerindian) populations, and these in turn became the Quadroon (75% European and 25% African) and Cambujo (75% Amerindian and 25% African) populations. Many of these populations eventually became mainly Mestizo (50% European and 50% Amerindian).
Origins and distribution
The Quauhquechollan Cloth is a 16th-century cloth painting of the Nahua natives, and it includes what could be the very first African slave, still wearing his tribal costume, that arrived in El Salvador in 1528. However, most slaves began to be imported around the 1540s, following a royal decree officially freeing the indigenous peoples in 1548. Slaves came from the city of Santiago, in Guatemala, and were then distributed throughout Central America. Thus, many of the African people who worked in rural Salvadoran areas came from West Africa and usually, as in Guatemala's case, from Senegambia. Furthermore, according to various colonial archives about the province of San Salvador, the slaves brought by Portuguese merchants to Acajutla, in the Salvadoran town of Sonsonate, came from Angola and "the Guineas", while the slaves brought by the British merchants came from Mozambique. The slaves mainly reached to Sonsonate, where they were redistributed to the rest of San Salvador and Sonsonate.
African slaves arrived in the country by forced migration. The first slaves arrived in El Salvador to work in the haciendas, on cocoa and indigo mills, and in the gold mines. In San Salvador and San Miguel, many people had African slaves, some of whom were sent to wash gold in Honduran rivers, which was a major industry in the sixteenth century. In 1545, there was a noted sum of about 1,500 African slaves seeking auriferous sands in Honduras.
The intense richness of cocoa from Izalco made this one of the first regions to have significant numbers of African slaves due to the high demand for free labor. Thus arose several enclaves of African slaves in places such as the shores of Lake Coatepeque and in the town of La Trinidad in Sonsonate, on the banks of the river Cenzúnat. The slaves that served as foremen on the plantations were usually highly trusted by their masters and were meant to intimidate the indigenous populations into submission.
However, when cocoa was sold out, slaves were used in the cultivation of indigo, as several royal decrees had prohibited the use of Indian labor in the mills and the landowners needed labor. Consequently, there was considerable demand for African labor in the indigo mills, which was provided by the slave ships arriving on the north coast, usually transported by the Portuguese, who had supplier's license and a permit for introduction. Despite the later fall of the indigo industry, there was still a high demand for African labor due to investments for building Salvadoran cities.
Thus came the next wave of African slaves who worked in the construction industry, particularly to begin construction of the railway in the nineteenth century, and another wave possibly came in the early twentieth century. These migrations resulted in places with black populations like San Vicente (in Verapaz), colonial San Miguel (in San Alejo), Zacatecoluca, Chinameca, and Ahuachapan in which the Africans worked in the indigo industry. Similarly, African slaves, who were active participants in the revolt of 1932, were found in Atiquizaya. Also, Nejapa in San Salvador, was initially populated mulattoes.
Progress and miscegenation increased the Afro-Salvadoran population
Although we know little about Afro-descendants of El Salvador (and Guatemala) working in the agricultural sector, several sources in the last third of the sixteenth century identified Afro-Salvadoran farming communities in the area surrounding the city of Sansonante. Free people of African descent and slaves also worked on the production of indigo in the Pacific coast of Guatemala, and especially of El Salvador, eventually hosting over 200 indigo mills. People of African descent tended to work in the mills, usually supervising the Xiquilite (indigo) harvest. This process only lasted one to two months a year, making it unprofitable to maintain a permanent workforce where there were only enslaved workers to produce indigo. Some mill owners bought more slaves, some of which were needed to produce indigo, while others were used for other activities, such as tending to livestock.
The Afro-descendants eventually began to mix with the general population, transitioning from a purely African population to the mulatto and zambo populations. African men readily chose Amerindian women, so their children would be free. Laws were later passed banning the miscegenation of the African and Amerindian populations for this reason.
Many mulattoes became landowners and enjoyed privileges by being estate owners, often to the detriment of the natives. Several places were populated with mulatto families as they settled in prosperous neighborhoods, like the neighborhood of Angel in La Trinidad of Sonsonate, and neighborhoods in San Vicente, San Miguel, and San Salvador. They also were integrated into indigenous neighborhoods and villages in estates and royal lands, and later became the Ladino peoples.
In the eighteenth century there was an increase in the population of African descent. In 1807, the mulattoes were the largest segment of the population in San Salvador, and in 1821 San Miguel reported 95% of its population as Afro-descendants.
Abolition of slavery and beyond
During the Intendencia, when few African people remained enslaved, there were regulations for slave owners, by order of the Crown to the Audiencia Real. For example, the regulations were enacted in San Miguel in September 1804. The cabildo of St. Vincent of Austria and La Trinidad, in Sonsonate, also enacted it. Slavery was banned in 1825, which made El Salvador the second country to abolish slavery in the Americas after Haiti. Numerous slaves from Belize fled to El Salvador, eventually mixing with the native population.
In the province of San Salvador, two thousand African peoples rose between November and December 1624, reaching militant troops from Comayagua (Honduras), to address the danger to the province. It was a contingent of indigenous and Ladino soldiers from Zacatecoluca and Apastepeque who captured the slaves, who were found in the banks of the Lempa River, in El Marquesado and the hill of the same name, as well as downstream near the mouth. All captured slaves were executed in San Salvador in 1625. This discouraged the importation of more African slaves.
In the late nineteenth century, the Catholic Church began to classify the population. In 1933, General Hernández Martinez, concerned about the events in Europe and following the example of Adolf Hitler, wrote a law called the Immigration Limitations, prohibiting the entry of Africans, Asians, Arabs, Gypsies, and many others into the country. He did urge, however, the immigration of north-central Europeans to whiten the population. These events further strengthened the Salvadoran denial of African roots and the Afro-descendants legally disappeared. However, that law was abolished by the new laws of 1959 and 1986.
In 1611, when the free mulattoes helped defeat the Maroons of Tutale, Guatemala and El Salvador did not allow people of African descent to officially participate in militia companies. However, Africans and their descendants, even enslaved, had still fought with Spanish forces from time to time since the Conquest. Nevertheless, in the 1630s, a wave of attacks against Central America by Dutch, French, and British corsairs persuaded the Audiencia to enlist free people of African descent in regular militia companies, although segregated. In 1673 there were six Pardo companies in Guatemala and two in El Salvador. Soon there were Afro-militias in places like the Department of Sonsonate and Chiquimula, Guatemala.
After early struggles against the corsairs, the militias requested exemption from Laborío Tribute, threatening not to serve otherwise. Because of that, several militia companies were temporarily exempted from this tax during the 1690s. The militants claimed this success and soon other requested Exemptions were granted. Then, the rest of the Afro-descendants also expected to be relieved of Laborío tribute, and prepared to face the authorities on the subject, rebelling against them. The most prominent example occurred in 1720 in San Salvador, where there had been a slave rebellion less than a century before. When the rumor that officials were preparing a new census for the Laborío Tribute Collection spread throughout the mulatto neighborhoods, at least 200 people took to the streets, threatening to burn the residence of the mayor. The rioters were persuaded to return home only after they were shown the list, barely containing 40 names. Spanish officials, who did not dare to continue the account, estimated that the actual number of residents in the city who were eligible for inclusion in the census was about 1,000
Africans left a cultural legacy in Salvadoran society apparent even today. For example, El Salvador has a dance called "Negritos de Cacaopera" (in Spanish: Black people from Caaopera). Francisco Morazán adopted a structure similar to Pardo militias for the colonial militia during the early years of the Federal Republic of Central America. In Ereguayquin, in the Department of Usulután, there is the Tabales dance in honor of San Benito de Palermo, the black saint. In Izalco, Sonsonate, there is the Jeu Jeu dance; in Tacuba, Ahuachapán, there is the "baile de la Negra Sebastiana" (in Spanish: Dance of the black Sebastiana), demonstrating through its dancers the arrival of the Spanish with the Tlaxcalans and African people to El Salvador.
Other Salvadoran cultural elements of African origin are: the sopa de pata (in Spanish: leg soup), the chanfaina dish; the canasto; the marimba instrument, some variants of witchcraft, and the black Christ statues scattered around the country. Just like the liberation of African slaves by non-indigenous Jose Simeon Canas in 1823, the works of Salarrué, Francisco Gavidia, David J. Guzmán, and Benjamin Saul are also culturo-anthropological works that verify the African presence.
- África, la otra raíz salvadoreña (in Spanish: Africa, the other Salvadoran root). Posted by Marvin Aguilar Retrieved on February 13, 2013.
- Del olvido a la memoria: africanos y afromestizos en la historia colonial de Centroamérica (in Spanish: From Oblivion to Memory: Afromestizos in African and Central American colonial history).
- La Prensa gráfica. com. Bicentenario: los esclavos negros: presencia y Resistencia (in Spanish: the graph Press. com. Bicentennial: black slaves: presence and Resistance). The text reflected on this site comes from the Salvadoran Academy of History. Part of your information is shared with the web: Africa, la otra Raíz salvadoreña (in Spanish: Africa, the other Salvadoran root). Retrieved on February 13, 2013, at 1:47 pm.
- William, Kent C. Afromestizo(2001). The African Heritage of Central Mexico. El Salvador.
Text from Afro-Pedea