Afro-Ecuadorian are descendants of African slaves brought to Ecuador, during the Spanish colonial era. They comprise 5-10% of the population or 1.5 million to 450,000 (2011) . They tend to concentrate in the northwestern coast of the country, Esmeraldas Province and Imbabura Province-Chota Valley.
The first slaves arrived in Ecuador in the 1550s as agricultural workers. They were later used in areas where a shortage of Indian labor existed, such as gold mining, ranching, and domestics.
Slaves would settle in various parts of Ecuador then part of Gran Colombia. Slaves taken by Don Juan de Salines to Loja, in southern Ecuador, on his conquest of the Jivaro, run away and lived among the Indian population and joined them in their uprising. In 1553, a slave ship on route from Panama City to Peru crashed near Esmeraldas. Twenty three slaves survived and established communities among the indian population. The region would develop a large zambo population. A sort of zambo republic or palenque sprang up beyond the jurisdiction of Quito. The palenque was initially ruled by a runaway slave named Anton. The Spanish tried many times to destroy the palenque, but on numerous occassions they were outwitted. In 1599, the palenque signed a treaty with Quito to be left alone if they recognize the sovereighty of Spain.
Many slaves runaway to Esmeraldas. They also settled in the Amazon lowlands to the east and settled in large towns and small cities in the south.
Slaves typically arrived using two major routes. Slave ships unload their human cargo at Cartegena in Colombia and proceed overland to Choco. From Choco they headed south. Another route would be, ships heading from Panama City to the Viceroyalty of Peru, would unload and head north overland.
The number of slaves that arrived in Ecuador is uncertain largely due to: Ecuador being part of New Granada(Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador) and chronological gaps in records. It is estimated that 200,000 slaves were brought to New Granada(Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador). In the 1720s, it is estimated that 2,000 slaves were in Ecuador, in 1782, 7,000 slaves. More slave would be imported due to runaways.
In 1821, Ecuador sought independence from Spain. Slaves joined the military of Simon Bolivar, some by choice others through coercion. Ecuador also accepted the Free Womb Law, which stipulated that the child of a slave woman would be free. The child had to serve an apprenticeship period under the mother's master, until the child was twenty one. Further development included the banning of slave importation in Ecuador, now part of Gran Colombia( Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela). The Junta de Manumission( Manumission Committees) was formed to purchase the freedom of slaves. In 1822, Ecuador broke away from Gran Colombia( Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela). When Ecuador broke away from Gran Colombia, she went backwards on emancipation of slaves. She made exception to the importation of slaves. Under the Free Womb Law, the apprenticeship period was extended. She also prevented the freeing of slaves by manumission societies. By 1835, Ecuador became a slave supplier and her ports major slave entreport.
Ironically, the slave population began to decline. From 1822, the slave population was 8,000 by 1824 6,800. 75% of slaves lived on coastal provinces. In 1851, the abolition of slavery was made official. With slavery abolished the government allowed concertaje or labor contracts, that placed ex-slave in the same position as slavery performing the same jobs and working under the same master.
In the latter parts of the 1800s, the government tried to solidify its control of the Esmeralda Province. They leased land to European and US companies. They tried tagua nut farming and even planned for a railroad. The Esmeralda region became flooded with Colombians, Jamaicans, and Afro-Ecuadorian, recruited by British companies.
By the 1900s, very little progress was made in the Esmeralda region. Large towns had no hospitals, paved roads, and electricity. Life expectancy remained low.
Progress did not come until the 1950s with the building of a railroad from Esmeralda to Quito, to exploit agricultural potential of the region. The region began to experience an agricatural boom. This lead to tension with racial overtones. Whites (criollos) and mestizos began buying stores long held by mulattos, who negotiated business deals for the black population. Violence erupted with the police being charged with brutality. The flood of whites and mestizos into the region began to marginalize blacks. Some sought aid from the government to no response. The black population felt the government ignored its need due to Esmeralda being majority black. Protest literature began to appear relating the stories of Esmeralda, with leading writers like Adalberto Ortiz and Nelson Estupinan Bass. The literature also fought mestizaje to counteract whitening (blanquemiento).
In 1988, Associacion De Negros Ecuatorianos(ASONE) or Association of Black Ecuaorians was formed to fight for civil rights, economic development, and political representation for black Ecuadorians.
Antonio Preciado Bedoya-writer
Nelson Estupinan Bass-writer
Global Citizen Network. Afro-Ecuadorian People of Tumbatu. retrieved 05-Oct-2011
Joshua Project. Afro-Ecuadorian of Ecuador. retrieved 05-Oct-2011