Afro-Colombians: proud of their African roots | History & Identity

Afro-Colombians: proud of their African roots | History & Identity is about discovering what you hear and don’t see enough. We are packing our bags in Colombia to discover the history of Afro-Colombians. 

Who are the Afro-Colombians?

Afro-Colombians are black people living in Colombia. They are descendants of African slaves deported during the Atlantic trade. Very proud of their African origins, they represent more than 10.5% of the country’s total population, or 1/5 of Colombia’s population. Colombia is the second largest black population in Latin America.

Their arrival in Colombia

Between 1510 and 1851, the Spanish took African slaves from Angola, Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal to serve as labourers in Colombia. They are also there to replace the declining Aboriginal population, which has difficulty withstanding the work required. They are considered soulless men and treated like animals. This slave trade is approved by the Catholic Church. They landed in Cartagena, which became in the 17th century the main port authorized to introduce African slaves.

This concentration of labour was used to work in various difficult sectors. They were chosen because they were strong, muscular, but also able to withstand the worst jobs.

_Mines: these slaves work in the gold mines of Antioquia and Choco, in the Cauca Valley and in the Magdalena River region.

_Sugar sector: they also work in sugar cane plantations.

_Road maintenance.

_In the construction sector.

_In agriculture: they looked after ranches and cattle.

_Domestic services: they helped settlers in the house as butlers, cleaners or others.

Some significant revolts of Afro-Colombians.

There have been revolts for freedom. One of the most important happened in 1529 when the slaves totally burned down the city of Santa Marta. It was rebuilt in 1531, but was burned again in another revolt in 1550.

In 1598, 4,000 slaves destroyed the most profitable gold mine in Zaragoza.


Some slaves call the “Cimarrones” fought with all their strength to have their freedom and affirmed their Africanities. They took refuge in the jungle by creating Palenques. The first “palenques” were established in the 16th century along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts

We can also talk about the very popular slave Benkos Biohó, from Guinea-Bissau, who organized a military resistance with fugitives to conquer Cartagena. They were located in the María Mountains. Later in 1605, he signed a peace treaty recognizing the autonomy of the Palenque de la Matuna. In 1608, he created the Palenque de San Basilio, which will remain one of the main places of expression of Afro-Colombian culture in the future.

The Spanish settlers had subdivided blacks into different categories:

  • African slaves born in Africa were called “bozales”
  • Creole Africans (criollos), born to African parents, were nicknamed “the Negroes”.
  • African and indigenous mixed race: zambos
  • African and Spanish half-breeds: mulatos

In 1851, there was the process of abolishing slavery in Colombia. But they were excluded from society without citizenship rights. It was only in 1991 that the new Colombian Constitution, under article 55, considered them as legal persons, forming a community.

Life in Colombia

Afro-Colombians suffer from racism and racial discrimination. Their lives are very difficult because they are considered second-class citizens. They are forced to survive from day to day and many live below the poverty line. They are considered a minority and are not represented in the films. Marginalis2s, often excluded, blacks often have devaluing roles in Colombia. They speak Colombian Spanish. Others speak Creole from San Andrés and English from the Caribbean.

According to the CIMARRON movement:

  • 61% of Afro-Colombians live in extreme poverty, below the poverty line.
  • 79% earn less than the legal minimum wage.
  • 7% receive a salary of less than $40.
  • life expectancy is 55 years compared to the national average of 60 years.
  • Illiteracy rates: Black, 43 per cent in rural areas and 23.2 per cent in urban areas; White, 20 per cent in rural areas and 7.3 per cent in urban areas.
  • out of 100 Black youth in urban communities, only two go to university.
  • 80% of Afro-Colombians cannot afford university education.

The cities with the highest Afro-Colombian populations are:

  • Cali (542 936)
  • Cartagena de Indias (319 373)
  • Buenaventura (271 141)
  • Barranquilla (146 538)
  • Medellín (137 988)
  • Tumaco (129 491)
  • Quibdó (100 007)
  • Turbo (99 274)
  • Bogota (97 885)
  • Riohacha (44 841)

The term “nigger” is rarely used in Colombia. It is considered disrespectful and derogatory. To qualify Afro-Colombians have the names:

  • Moreno (marron)
  • gente de color (gens de couleur)
  • libres (gens libres),
  • costeno (habitants de la côte)
  • Afro-Colombiano (Afro-Colombiens)
  • La Communautés noires (La Comuniado Negras)

Recognition and progress for the Black community in Colombia

In 1990, the Colombian black political organization focused on the “black identity”. In 1993, it gained ground. Law 70 has been adopted. It prohibits discrimination against Blacks and better representation of the Black community in government and industry. It also adds collective land rights to Afro-Colombians.

The 1991 Colombian Constitution recognized the cultural rights of the country’s ethnic minorities and the right to own and live collectively in their ancestral territories. Law 70 of 1993, for people of African descent, and Law 60, for indigenous people, legally grants them this right. Regarding religion, most Afro-Colombians are Catholics.

African culture in Colombia

Art and music in Colombia are inspired by African culture. Examples include musical styles such as cumbia (vients from the word bantou nkumbi, meaning drum). abosao, vallenato, currulao, champeta, bullerengue, mapale that are from Afro culture.

There are many Afro-Colombian hairdressing competitions that still draw their influence from their African origins.

Afro-Colombian hairdressing competitions take place once a year in Colombia. On May 21, at the celebration of the abolition of slavery (in 1831 in Colombia). There is an Afro-Colombian hairdressing competition, with the aim of honouring African culture and the people who work there BY stirring Afro hair.

Pride of African Traditions 

San Basilio of Palenque

On the Caribbean, Colombian coast, in San Basilio de Palenque, near Cartagena, the inhabitants live according to African customs, rites and traditions, as their ancestors did. This place is very famous, thanks to these signs where you see Afro-Colombian women with black skin, wearing multicoloured dresses. They walk around swinging their hips, with fresh fruit cups on their heads.

San Basilio of Palenque has been considered, since the 15th century, as the first free slave village in South America. They symbolize courage for the freedom struggles of the cimarrones, who fled their owners to have a better life. The term “palenque” expresses a symbol of freedom because anyone who became a member was automatically free. This region is also considered to be the cradle of Colombia’s African cultural wealth. The palenqueras preserve the African traditions brought by their African ancestors. In terms of language, Palenque is a Creole language based on Spanish lexicon, but with the morpho-syntactic characteristics of the indigenous languages of the African continent, particularly Bantu. The researchers also detected that Palenquero’s lexicon includes words from the Kikongo and Kimbundo languages.

Most of the inhabitants of Palenque still use their own language, their own style of music and dance. 

Raizal People of San Andrés

Raizals are called SIFAPARANS”. It is a Protestant Afro-Caribbean ethnic group, which speaks Creole San Andrés-Providencia. He is an English Creole, living in the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina. They are strongly linked to the Caribbean cultural peoples of Jamaica and Haiti.

Like African Americans, Afro-Colombians perform DNA tests to find the African country from which they come.


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