Afro-Venezuelan are descendants of Africans in Venezuela. They are estimated to be at 5 million and tend to cluster in Barlovento in Miranda State, although they can be found all over the country. Afro-Venezuelans are hard to identify due to strong racial admixture in the population. The argument that there is no racism and everyone is equal is a common theme repeated in Venezuela but questionable. It falls flat when one observes most in the slums are of African descent and with the notion of whitening, of assimilating to white cultural norms and values, being presented as progress and advancement. Much work has been done studying the culture, tradition, folklore of Afro-Venezuelan, beginning with Miguel Acosta Saignes, in the 1960s.
Afro-Venezuelans first arrived in Venezuela with the Spanish Conquistadors. They were referred to as ladinos, hispanicized slaves as oppose to bozales, slaves straight from Africa. Most were used as farm hands on subsistence farms. Afro-Venezuelans were used as divers for pearls, a job that run the risk of being attacked by sharks. Slaves came from Cape Verde and Guinea in Africa. Some slaves purchased their freedom from earnings in pearl mining. Gold was later discovered in the latter part of the 1500s. Numerous slaves perished in the gold mines which made it necessary to import more slaves. By the 1600s, Venezuela had 13,000 slaves.
Mining would not be the primary source of wealth for Venezuela, but farming in wheat, tobacco, cotton, and cocoa. Numerous cocoa plantation would develop in central Venezuela, away from the more established regions. These more isolated and far regions caused the development of canucos, small homestead, owned and farmed by slaves. Most slaves would be purchased from the Caribbean, because it proved to be too expensive to purchase directly from Africa. With plantation in islolated central regions black people intermarried with indians producing large population of zambos. Few white women existed in the colony, whitemen mated with black women, producing a large pardo (mullato, brown) population. As plantations became prosperous and land became scarce, planters began eyeing the canucos farmed by Afro-Venezuelans. Canucos would be taken. Slaves would runaway and formed cumbes, communities in mountainous and isolated areas.
By 1830, Venezuela sought independence from Colombia. Simon Bolivar initially refused to accept Afro-Venezuelans into his army but realized he could not be victorious without blacks, zambos, or mulattos. Bolivar viewed including blacks as a way of diminishing the population and keeping Venezuela ,a fruitage of white men. Slavery was initially abolished for newly born children. It wasn't until 1845, did slavery end, out of fear of revolt. In 1881, an anti-discrimination law was passed. Most Afro-Venezuelans continued to work on farms. After the 1860s, we see the importation of Afro-Caribbeans workers to work the gold mines. The prescence of Caribbeans workers stirred racial tension. As a result in 1929, people of African descent were banned from entering the country in an attempt to prevent the darkening of the population.
During the 1930s, oil was discovered. The latter caused increased urbanization of Afro-Venezuelans, in search of work in oil refineries. Afro-Venezuelans found themselves at the lowest rung of the society, occupying most of the slums and lowest economic strata. During 1945-1948, known as the trienio, an attempt to address disparities was made by providing education, healthcare, trade union formation, and land reform. This was aborted by the dictatorship of Perez Jemenez. It was not until the 1960s attempts were made to address the problems of Afro-Venezuelans. Reform laws were passed that increase black representation in farm societies, trade unions, and oil unions. Numerous positions were acquired by blacks. The ban on black immigration was removed in 1966. Universities were subsidized to study Afro-Venezuelan art, history, music, and dance. Even with these reform blacks still remain at the bottom of economic ladder into the 1990s.
Afro-Venezuelan religion fused with Catholicism, creating a creolized religion. The worship of saints would correspond to African deities, healers and priest would become one, mass would be held with drumbeats. Corpus Christie a Catholic celebration would be celebrated with drumbeats and masked, traced to Congo.
Recently celebrations like Fiesta de San Juan, has emerge to re-assert Afro Venezuelan culture.
Afro-Venezuelans have contributed immensely to Venezuela. Notable Afro-Venezuelans include:
Manuel Rodrigues Cárdenas
Juan Pablo Sojo
Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.(1999). Africana: the Encyclopedia of African and African American Experience. Basic Civitas Books, pp. 475-478. ISBN 0-465-00071-1.
Contreras, Joe. Rise Of The Latin Africans. A new black-power movement in Central and South America. Newsweek, May 31,2008. retrieved 23-May-2008
Wilpert, Gregory. Racism and Racial Divides in Venezuela. Venezuelananalysis.com January 21st 2004, retrieved January 17,2011
Afro-Venezuelan, History and Cultural Relations, by everyculture.com, retrieved January 17, 2011