The Afro-Guatemalan population is not a large one today. Although specific numbers are difficult to determine, it is reported that Afro-Guatemalans comprise just 1-2% of the nation’s people.

However, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “Chronic under counting of Latin America’s Afro-descended population” as well as “biases inherent in self-reported ethnic identification, especially in a Latin American context where such categories are less diversified than in many parts of the world” allow one to deduce that actual numbers are likely higher than reported.

Buried and forgotten for almost 200 years, a cemetery of enslaved Africans who arrived in Rio de Janeiro in the 18th and 19th centuries has been turned into a museum.

Discovered in the 1990s during a renovation process of an abandoned house in Rio de Janeiro, the Museum of Pretos Novos Cemetery(Newly Arrived Blacks Cemetery Museum) now lies in Rio’s downtown area, and it is one of the most painful sites from the slavery era in Brazil.

Pretos Novos was the name given to the enslaved Africans who had recently arrived from the continent and disembarked in Rio de Janeiro. The so-called Cemitério dos Pretos Novos operated between 1769 and 1870, a few blocks from the old slave market, located in Valongo, a stretch of the Rio’s port area.

The enslaved African cemetery was built by the Brazilian government for burying enslaved Africans who arrived in Rio extremely ill from the terrible conditions on slave ships, and died in the first days after arrival in Brazil. It is said that roughly 30,000 newly arrived men and women were buried there, which makes Pretos Novos Cemetery the largest enslaved Africans cemetery in the Americas.

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Merced Guimarães dos Anjos, bought the house in the mid-90s where the bones were discovered, and said that she and her husband decided to open the place for visitors, when they found out that it was a former cemetery.

“We had never heard of a cemetery in the area where we bought the house. When we found the bones, we contacted local authorities. It was doomed to be forgotten for eternity if we had done nothing to preserve the place,” she said in a documentary about the museum that was released on YouTube.

The examined teeth of people buried in the Pretos Novos Cemetery reflects this diversity of Africans who were brought to Brazil as slaves.

“Enslaved Africans came from all over the continent to Brazil. It also indicates the huge dimensions of the slave trade carried out by the port of Rio,” said Ricardo Ventura Santos, researcher in the sector of Biological Anthropology at the Brazilain National Museum. He coordinated the excavation group.

The research work showed that the bodies were thrown in ditches and burned, and the place also functioned as a waste dump, indicating the treatment reserved to enslaved Africans. Besides human bones, some belongings of the “pretos novos” were also found, like food scraps and everyday objects discarded by the city’s inhabitants.

The analysis of the site showed that the majority of the remains belonged to children and teenagers. However, the first bone found in the archeological site was from a woman, in 2017. Archaeologists estimate that she died at about 20 years old.

One of the aspects that caught the attention of the researchers was finding teeth with signs of polishing, which is the result of a form of oral hygiene practiced by many African peoples.

By analyzing polish marks it may be possible to identify which species were used, where they existed, and thus where the person using them came from. The work continues, and they are still revealing more remains and seek to reconstruct other personal dramas that are part of one of the most painful moments in Brazilian history.

The Pretos Novos Museum is open for visitors, but only for scheduled groups to ensure safety during the continued pandemic.

To schedule a visit, you can visit here.

Source: Travel Noire

After winning the right to be counted   as part of Mexico’s population in 2020, Afro-Mexicans are still fighting for the right to protect their heritage. In a country where roughly 2.5 million people self-identify as Black, these communities are working to pass better legislation that protects the human rights to Afro-Mexicans.

“It’s extremely important that they count us as Afro-Mexicans,” said García, an engineer in the community of Cuajinicuilapa. “We’re of African descent – but we’re Mexicans because we were born here and we built this country.”

On June 8, 2021, the Mexican Federal Congress returned a reform bill with changes being presented by the Mexican Senate Culture Commission, which was sent to the United Commissions of Culture; Indigenous Affairs; and Legislative Studies, for its corresponding ruling.

Named ‘The New General Law for The Protection of Cultural Heritage of Indigenous and Afro-Mexican Peoples and Communities in Mexico,’ the act intends to recognize the right to property of Afro-Mexican and Indigenous communities over the elements that make up their cultural heritage, which is their knowledge and expressions.

In general terms, the reform is an attempt to harmonize national legislation with international legal instruments on the matter, trying to give a seal of “inclusivity” to minorities, demonstrating the recognition and respect deserved by Indigenous and Afro-Mexican people.

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“We are convinced that with this reform is an act of social justice for our peoples. That is why it is very important, because we will be able to achieve reconciliation with ourselves, with those who are different from us and, of course, reconciliation with the entire Mexican society and that this is the turning point for the regeneration and rebirth of our homeland,” Adelfo Regino Montes director of Mexico’s National Institute for Indigenous People told Reporte Índigo, a Mexican news outlet.

In June, Afro-Mexicans achieved a very important victory within the Mexican political system. The Mexican Federal Government took affirmative action to include Afro-Mexicans in the country’s legislative branch. 37 Afro-Mexicans were elected as representatives under the rules of this new program.

Afro-Mexican cultural contributions

Despite the fact that Afro-Mexicans constitute a significantly smaller segment of the population than indigenous peoples (who make up 10% of the Mexican population), the Afro-Mexican contribution to popular Mexican culture, economy and industry cannot be overlooked.

Historically speaking, Afro-Mexicans, alongside helping advance the Mexican silver mining industry and develop farmland and sugar plantations during their slave days, were vital in overthrowing Spanish rule during the War of Independence. In fact, the second post-Mexican Revolution president was Vicente Guerrero, an afromestizo with possible Filipino ancestry.

Culturally speaking, much Mexican cuisine shows rich African influence, thanks to the use of peanuts, plantain (which arrived via the Canary Islands) and tropical fruits like cassava, malanga, taro and sweet potatoes.

However, the principal African legacy in Mexico comes undoubtedly from music and dance, from Veracruz’s son jarocho style of music (of which La Bamba is the most famous example) to the Danza de los Diablos along the Costa Chica and the use of the typically Afro-Mexican musical instruments guijada (a percussive made from donkey jawbone) and bote (a friction drum).

N|uu is one of South Africa’s oldest languages, and it is on the verge of extinction. But Katrina Esau is on a mission to preserve the endangered culture and language of the San People: an indigenous tribe that occupied the Northern Cape Province and is known as the first hunter-gatherers in the region.

The language is believed to have 112 distinct sounds and its main characteristic is clicks. It’s a language that has been passed down to generations orally. In 2013, UNESCO estimated that there were 7 N|uu speakers left.

Classified as critically endangered by Unesco, N|uu is one of three languages known to feature a “kiss-click” produced with both lips.

Growing up on a white-owned farm on the fringes of the Kalahari Desert in apartheid-era South Africa, Katrina Esau was forbidden by her employer to speak the language she had learnt from her mother. For half a century, the click-rich language N|uu, once spoken by the hunter-gatherers of the Northern Cape, today known as San or “bushmen”, was almost forgotten.

The muting of Esau’s community spread widely across the Afrikaans-speaking Northern Cape province, following centuries of extermination and assimilation of the San. For several decades it was thought that N|uu, like many of southern Africa’s original click languages, was extinct.

But in the late 90s, after the country had transitioned to majority rule, Elsie Vaalbooi, a N|uu speaker, appealed on local radio for other speakers to come forward. It emerged that there were around 20 ageing speakers of the language in the Northern Cape region.

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Within a few years, that number had dwindled drastically. Today, there is one known fluent speaker of N|uu – Esau, who is in her late eighties.

After decades of being banned from speaking the language of her forebears, Esau has dedicated the past two decades to teaching N|uu in an effort to preserve the San language and culture. Despite years of silence, she never lost her fluency. “I didn’t learn this language; I sucked it out of my mother’s breast,” she says in Lost Tongue, a film about N|uu made in 2016. “But I buried it at the back of my head.”

In a schoolroom at the front of her home in Upington, Esau teaches local children the original language of her homeland. Africa is the only continent with languages in which clicks are regular consonants. The single pipe after the “N” represents a dental click consonant which is produced with the tip of the tongue against the upper teeth. N|uu, now classified as critically endangered by Unesco, is one of just three languages known to feature a “kiss-click” produced with both lips.

To teach this extraordinarily rich language, Esau – who was never taught to read or write – uses song, play and images. It helps her pupils, aged from three to 19, learn basics such as greetings, body parts, animal names and short sentences.

They are the only students of N|uu in the world, learning a language with 114 distinct sounds, including 45 clicks, 30 non-click consonants and 39 vowels. To place this in context, English, Russian and Chinese have about 50 sounds.

In recent years, Esau’s mission has been assisted by academics Sheena Shah and Matthias Brenzinger. Together with community members, the three established a N|uu orthography – a set of conventions for writing a language – and created educational resources for Esau’s school.

Currently, N|uu is not the only language at risk of dying out in South Africa. Several communities are trying to revive languages such as Nama, which was a Khoisan language spoken by about 250 000 people in parts of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. “When you look at the African languages, you learn that they help communicate different perspectives on life, relationships, spirituality, the earth, health, humanity,” Brezinger told BBC recently.

According to government officials, Esau teaches at a small school located at the front of her house in Rosedale, outside Upington in the Northern Cape.

The work and determination to save the language have not gone unnoticed. Esau was awarded one of South Africa’s highest honors: the Order of the Baobab to honor her efforts to preserve the language and culture.

Throughout much of the nineteenth century, Dahomey (present-day Benin) was one of the richest and most powerful kingdoms in Africa. Its army at this time was estimated to number some twelve thousand soldiers. However, this African kingdom had a unique characteristic. Dahomey’s army was also constituted by four thousand female Agoodjie warriors also known as the Black Amazons of Africa. The fact that the Kingdom of Dahomey, which existed between the 17th and 19th century in present-day Benin, was famous and powerful, is partly thanks to the elite-trained Amazon female fighters.

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Originally named as Agoodjie in Fon language (meaning the last defense before the king) the Black Amazons of Dahomey represented one of the army’s elite corps, serving as the king’s palace guards and forming a special phalanx that accompanied the monarch into battle.

Despite France conquering Dahomey in 1894, after two wars in a period of four years, the ferociousness of the Agoodjie batallion, who made up 1/3 of the African country’s troops throughout the 19th century, impressed visitors and foreign soldiers.

After the release of Marvel’s Black Panther, which featured the Dora Milaje, many speculated about their inspiration. However, it seems clear that one of their main antecedents was the Agoodjie warriors, as Time Magazine reported.

The Black Amazons of Africa were recruited and trained from early childhood. Their fierce training turned them into more efficient warriors than men. During warfare, they were merciless, to the point that they would behead anybody who resisted them.

“The value of Dahomey’s Amazons is real. They were trained from their childhood with harsh physical exercises, and they were constantly encouraged to wage a war. The Amazons engaged in battles with a real fury and a bloodthirsty ardour, inspiring with their courage and their indomitable energy the troops that followed them,” wrote French Major Léonce Grandin, who released Le Dahomey: À l’Assaut du Pays des Noirs, in which he analyzes the war he fought against the Dahomey.

“Remarkably brave”, “extraordinary for their courage and ferocity” and “savage tenacity” are some of the characteristics attributed to them by French fighters in diaries written in the heat of battle.

The female soldiers and officers of Dahomey’s army owned slaves, lived in the king’s palace, and were so respected and powerful that when they walked the streets, ordinary men had to step back to clear a path and look the other way. They wore uniforms, carried flags and sang hymns.

Women fighting in armies were nothing new in human history.

Queen Hangbe’s attendants are descendants of the Amazons, a unit of elite female warriors (Credit: Fleur Macdonald)
Queen Hangbe’s attendants are descendants of the Amazons, a unit of elite female warriors (Credit: Fleur Macdonald)

Take Joanna D’Arc, for example. But an army of women was something that was never seen before and intrigued many.

Some historians still debate the origin of the army of women. Researchers point Tassi Hangbé, the only stateswoman to rule the Kingdom of Dahomey (1708 to 1711), as the queen who created the Black female army.

However, the first reports of female soldiers in Dahomey date back to the 1830s. S

The last time they entered a battlefield was in 1894, when France won the second Franco-Dahomey War and subjugated the African kingdom.

Dahomey was proclaimed a French protectorate, and by the end of 1897, the French controlled the entire territory of
the present-day Republic of Benin, which they called the colony of Dahomey. They installed Behanzin’s half-brother, AgoliAgbo I, on the throne, only to depose and exile him and appoint a powerful French governor. In 1904 the colony of Dahomey was integrated into the federation of French West Africa.

Ignored for more than 150 years, the Agoodjie Warriors are steadily becoming regarded as a symbol of female emancipation. After being neglected, they are now gradually being honored.

Europeans named the soldiers Amazons after the ruthless warriors of Greek mythology (Credit: The Picture Art Collection/Alamy)

Source: Travel Noire


As debates about repatriation of cultural objects rage across Europe, Belgium said Saturday that it would transfer ownership of hundreds of objects from the Democratic Republic of Congo that were illegally added to its national holdings. The promise to do so is a major step in a country where conversations about histories of colonialism have historically been given less weight.

Promised by the new Belgian government, which took office in October 2020, this is said to be the country’s start to dealing with its colonial past in Congo.

Thomas Dermine, Belgium’s state secretary of scientific policy, was the author of the proposal. According to Dermine, the next step is to call for an official bilateral agreement with the Democratic Republic of Congo, to take a coordinated and shared approach to the question of objects acquired in an illegitimate manner during the colonial era.

“The question is not whether they should stay in Belgium. They don’t belong to us,” Dermine said during a press conference in Brussels.

The artifacts will be stored at the International museum that opened in Kinshasa in 2019.T

he largest repository of objects stolen in a colonial context is at the Royal Museum of Central Africa at Tervuren. The museum acknowledges in a statement on its website that “it is not normal for such a large part of African cultural heritage to be found in the West.”

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In June 2020, The Democratic Republic of Congo celebrated its sixtieth anniversary of independence after being colonized by Belgium since 1885. It is the date when the Belgians and other Europeans decide to divide and exploit Africa at the infamous Congress of Berlin. This congress was also known as The Partition of Africa.

The Congress, in effect, allocated Congo to King Philippe’s ancestor, Belgian King Leopold II, who began ruling Congo as his personal property that year. However, his harsh labor policies, designed to maximize the production of natural rubber, is a symbol of one of the most vicious human rights violation over the last 150 years.

His brutality, which include mutilation and rape, and waves of lethal disease led to the deaths of up to 20 million people. His numerous, well-documented atrocities led to Europe-wide pressure to end his personal regime, and in 1908, Belgium annexed Congo, and thereafter ruled it as a colony.

Music and dance in Latin America has much of what is African. An example: the Tango.

In a country where an overwhelming majority identifies as white, and many say you have to cross the river into Uruguay to witness the influences of those from Africa, historians argue the Black minority played a major role in tango’s development during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Afro-Bolivians are descendants of Enslaved Africans  that arrive during the Spanish Empire from the 16th to the 19th centuries to work in the mines of Potosi, a city in southwestern Bolivia. But most of the about half a million Enslaved  that arrived in Bolivia (then the colonial territory of Upper Peru) could not adapt to the cold weather of Potosi.

So by the beginning of the 19th Century, they were relocated to the Yungas where it was warm to work on the Spanish-owned hacienda plantation estates. There, an unofficial kingdom was formed among a group of enslaved Afro-Bolivians in 1820. It would take decades before this kingdom would be officially recognized by the Bolivian Government

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Mururata, a village, has been the “center of this kingdom”. And it is where Julio Bonifaz Pinedo lives and “rules” as the king of the Afro-Bolivians. Afro-Bolivians, numbering about 26,000, have over the years lost much of their history including their languages and religions but not their royal heritage. They still have their king, who is highly respected.

Living in the small village of Mururata, about a two-hour drive north of the capital La Paz, the 78-year-old king does not have a throne or a court, though he does have a cape with gold embroidery and a metallic crown. He doesn’t wear them all the time – only on special occasions like local festivals, according to AFP. In fact, one might not be aware of his presence among his community’s 2,000 residents. His home, where he lives with his wife, the queen Angélica Larrea and their son, doubles as a grocery store that sells oil, bananas, soft drinks and canned sardines.

Pinedo, who has mostly worked in agriculture, still goes out to the fields often to farm coffee, citrus fruits, and coca. His wife helps him manage the grocery store while their son and sole heir, Prince Rolando, is studying law at the Universidad de Los Andes in La Paz. “I would like to keep pushing forward to make the Afro-Bolivian community more recognized and visible, the way my father has done until now,” he told BBC.

His father Pinedo is the first king to be officially recognized by the Bolivian state. This was after Bolivia’s minority ethnic groups were acknowledged by the state in 2006. Pinedo, who inherited his title from his African ancestors and was crowned in 1992 by the community, was in 2007 crowned again by the government of La Paz. This helped raise awareness of Afro-Bolivian customs and traditions, including their kingdom, according to one account.

Pinedo’s title is mainly symbolic. He is not recognized as a political authority and does not collect taxes. “My title [as king] is mostly symbolic,” he was quoted by BBC. “I’m not like these rich kings of Europe, but I represent the Afro-Bolivian community, and this is a huge responsibility to me.”

How it all started for Pinedo

Pinedo is a descendant of Uchicho, a prince from the ancient Kingdom of Kongo who was brought to Bolivia as a slave by the Spaniards in 1820. Uchicho worked at the estate of the Marquis of Pinedo, whose name he adopted. In 1832, he was crowned by other enslaved people in the Yungas. He was succeeded by Bonifaz, next José and Bonifacio.

King Bonifacio, who was Pinedo’s grandfather, was crowned in 1932. “King Bonifacio only had daughters, so one generation was skipped, leaving the kingdom without a king for 38 years until Pinedo was crowned in 1992 by the community,” the BBC report explained.

Years after Pinedo’s official coronation ceremony in La Paz, his image has become “a strong source of cultural identity and belonging” for Afro-Bolivians, Jorge Medina, the country’s first black congressman, told AFP. Medina and the king however believe that there is still a lot of work to be done to tackle discrimination faced by indigenous people, including Afro Bolivians and other vulnerable groups.