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Did you know Afro-Bolivians are still around today?

Afro-Bolivians are descendants of the enslaved West Africans brought by the Spanish between the 16th and 19th Centuries to work in the mines of Potosí, a city in south-western Bolivia that was more populated than London in the early 17th Century. According to Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano, the mines are notorious for claiming the lives of roughly 8 million enslaved indigenous South Americans and Africans over a 300-year period – many of whom died as a result of being overworked, underfed and suffering in the region’s extreme cold.

It is believed that the natives thought that darker skin was more attractive, which is why they were impressed with the skin of the Africans when they first began arriving to Bolivia. For this reason, it is no surprise that many of the Afro-Bolivians would intermarry with the Aymara, adopt many of their cultural elements such as their style of dressing, and even become an Aymaran speaking subculture.

Afro-Bolivian Royalty

According to the latest Bolivian census in 2012, more than 23,000 people identify as Afro-Bolivians and most of their roots and even King Pinedo are in the Yungas.

The Afro-Bolivian Royal House is referred to as a ceremonial monarchy. It wasn’t until 2007 that the tribe was officially recognized by the Bolivian state as a kingdom and Piñedo was finally acknowledged as king— despite a history that spans more than 500 years.

Piñedo discovered that he was a descendant of Bonifaz, a tribal king from Senegal. Before Bonifaz was Prince Uchicho, who is regarded as the founder of the Afro-Bolivian monarchy.

The trajectory of Prince Uchicho’s life changed after he was enslaved by the Spanish. He was a prince of the ancient Kingdom of Kongo, a kingdom that has a history from the early 1300s and survived until 1914.  When the kingdom came in contact with Portuguese traders, it became a source of African slaves.

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Prince Uchicho became enslaved in Bolivia after a struggle for the throne with competing sons and chiefs. When he arrived, he was quickly recognized by other slaves because of his body decoration.  The royalty of the Kongo Kingdom was known for their royal tribal markings on their torso to set them apart from others.

Uchicho was chosen as the leader among Enslaved Africans and recognized as a king in their new home of Bolivia in 1823, which ultimately, began the lineage of the Afro-Bolivian monarchy. He was succeeded by his son, Bonifaz Pinedo: a name he took from the plantation owner. It’s the name still used by the Afro-Bolivian royalty today.

Julio Piñedo is a different kind of king. He isn’t dressed in a silk robe giving out orders. In fact, he’s a farmer and like so many others in Mururata, you will find him tending to his crops.

King Piñedo and Queen Larrea have a son, Prince Rolando—  a law student at the Universidad de Los Andes in La Paz. His major is reportedly influenced by his father’s impact and potential role as the future king.

 “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 said in a statement.

Burkina Faso’s former president, Blaise Compaore, has reportedly been indicted by a military court in the country’s capital for the 1987 assassination of political revolutionary, Thomas Sankara. Hailed as a national hero, Sankara was assassinated alongside 12 other government officials in a coup led by Compaore before he ascended to power. In 2014, Compaore was forced to resign from his 27-year-long rule and seek exile in the Ivory Coast after continued mass demonstrations. Thirteen other people were charged in connection with the killing, including Compaore’s former right-hand man, Gen. Gilbert Diendere. Charges against Compaore include undermining state security and concealing corpses, according to military documents seen by The Associated Press

According to AFP, lawyer to the family of Sankara, Guy Hervé Kam, responded to the news saying, “The time for justice has finally come. A trial can begin. It will be up to the military prosecutor to determine a date for the hearing.”

The indictment is certainly a pivotal moment in the now 34-year-long quest for justice for not only Sankara’s family, but the entire nation. While Compaore had repeatedly denied calls to exhume Sankara’s remains during his time in office, following his resignation, Sankara’s remains were exhumed in 2015 and described by his widow, Mariam Sankara, as having been “riddled with more than a dozen bullets,” Al Jazeera reports.

Sankara, who was known as a vocal Pan-Africanist and anti-imperialist, was beloved among the Burkinabe people with his assassination at the tender age of just 37, cutting deep into the socio-political fabric of the country even till today.

In four years as president, he became the first African leader to denounce the menace of AIDS, took a stand against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and promoted women’s rights by opposing female genital mutilation and polygamy.

 

While a date for the trial has not as yet been set or announced, Kam is optimistic that it will be soon. There have also been several attempts to extradite Compaore in the past, however, Ivory Coast has refused to hand him over.

 

Fete Gede, also known as the Festival of the Dead, is a key celebration in Haitian culture. It’s a national holiday centered around Voodoo culture. Haitians across the country join each other in song and dance to celebrate lwa or spirits of Voodoo.

What’s Fet Gede?

Fet Gede (also knows as Fèt Gede or Fète Gede) is like its Haitian celebrators: joyful, resilient, and unordinary. This celebration offers time not only to celebrate death but to face it. Let’s take at the origin of Fet Gede and why it’s important.

Origin

Fete Gede isn’t just a celebration of spirits; it’s also an ode to Haiti’s endurance. Fet Gede originates from the long-standing history of slavery in Haiti.

Before 1804, Haitians were enslaved under French rule. Haiti, or Saint-Domingue as it was known back then, was a violent place for slaves. They lived in dirty conditions and were often mistreated.

Voodoo was an outlet for slaves to stay emotionally healthy and remember their homeland. The practice of Voodoo stems from West Africa and started as far as 6,000 years ago. It‘s an ancient religion that centers around ancestral beliefs.  Enslaved Africans often masked Voodoo rituals under the disguise of Catholic traditions.

In fact, Haitians believe Voodoo is the reason for their freedom. It served as an inspiration for Enslaved Africans to rebel against the French. In a now-famous ceremony called Bois Caïman or Alligator Woods, thousands of Enslaved Africans came together in a Voodoo ritual against the French.

During the ceremony, EnslavedAfricans  leaders were possessed by the lwa spirits. Everyone danced, sang, and prayed that the white men would be defeated. Ultimately the ceremony was successful, as

Haiti is one of the few colonies that won its independence thanks to its slave rebellion.

Voodoo left a significant impression on the Haitian culture. It’s not a surprise that Fet Gede continues to be the most important religious holiday on the national calendar. It brings the community together to bring the dead alive again.

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Significance

As mentioned before, all followers of Voodoo in Haiti celebrate Fet Gede. In Voodoo, it is considered to be an honor to communicate with spirits. The spirits follow and guide followers throughout life.

The significance of spirits is especially crucial for Haitian funerals, and like funerals, Voodoo priests and priestess perform special rituals to summon the spirits.

During Fet Gede, Houngan (priests) or Manbo (priestesses) perform rituals as well. Spirits “mount” or possess followers. There are hundreds of spirits or lwa in Voodoo.

However, Fet Gede is a celebration of the Guédé (Ghede or Gede) family—spirits of the dead.

Date

Haitians celebrate the Gede spirits during the entire month of November. Many cultures consider the early days of November to be the most sacred. Then, the spirits of loved ones can return earthside and advise their family and friends. All Saints’ Day is a Catholic celebration in November to remember the dead, just like Fet Gede.

Fet Gede falls on the same day each year, as people take to the streets on November 2nd to connect with the dead.

Music and dance

Both music and dancing are important expressions of devotion in Voodoo. For the gede to fully possess worshipers, the houn’torguiers or Voodoo drummers play intense music. The fast-paced music and dancing allow the worshipper to lose control of their body. Participants may scream and flail or even faint.

The possessed person can bless the people around him or her. They can connect with the dead, share their stories, or even reveal how they died. Without Voodoo rhythmic dance and beats, the ritual is impossible.