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Afro-Argentines: History, decline, and impact on the Argentine Community

Updated: 4 days ago


As we toll down the history of the evolution of blacks in Argentina, it would be imperative to say that Afro-Argentines, though fewer today, played a significant role in the freedom and cultural heritage of the country.


History of the evolution of Afro-Argentine in Argentina?


Argentines of sub-Saharan African descent are referred to as Afro-Argentines. The history of the evolution of Afro-Argentines could date back to the slave trade era of the Spanish colony in Argentina. This, of course, was first reported in the 16th century. By the 18th and 19th century, Afro-Argentines made up of about 50% of the population of some territories in Argentina. They richly influenced the cultures in these areas. Some of the most celebrated cultural events in Argentina today were drawn from the African heritage. For example, Asado (Sunday Barbecue) and Tango are events that originated in Africa. Tango was a cultural term that signifies the union of African slaves and free blacks to celebrate dance and music. During this festival, various musical instruments and dance styles such as candombe, milonga, habanera, and canyengue are all deployed to spike up the event.

Subsequently, other dance steps such as mazuka and polka followed suit. Gradually the culture spread like wildfire, even among immigrants from Europe - who did not only learn the dance but also, presented it to the European high society.

Irrespective of this significant impact in Argentina's history, there is a common belief in this country and abroad that blacks who reside there are foreigners. When you are in Argentina, you will feel just like the Afro-Argentine that they have been written out of Argentina's history. How can that be possible? Well, I mentioned earlier that the Afro-Argentines made up about 50% of some regions. Not just that, in 1810, in Buenos Aires, the same Africans comprised about 30% of the country’s population. As at this period, reports had it that about 4 in every 5 Argentines were blacks. Unfortunately, as of 2010, via the national census, it was reported that only 0.37% of the total Argentine population is of African descent. What then could have led to the fall/decline in the once regarded mighty African population in Argentina?


The Fall/Decline of the Afro-Argentines


Some school of thought believes that the decline in the number of Afro-Argentines started in the nineteenth century. Nonetheless, below, we shall look at the factors that immensely contributed to the fall, especially at a time when the regime/government in place aspired to make Argentina an all-white country.


1. WARFARE


Argentina prohibited slavery officially in 1813, but many blacks were denied freedom and used as an instrument for warfare. Argentina fought a long war to gain independence from Spain. The blacks remained captives, and the only option for freedom was to partake in the war. Unfortunately, most of the blacks were placed at the core front of the war – more like they were used as shields. At that time, there was a deliberate policy by the government to recruit unlimited numbers of Afro-Argentines and place them in hazardous military positions.

Little wonder, the blacks were severely affected as so many casualties were recorded among the soldiers at the front line. It, therefore, resulted in more significant gender disparity, and a rise in interracial relationships among the Afro-Argentine women. Many Europeans men were involved in interracial relationships with African slaves and free Afro-Argentinian women. It was reported though, that Italian men really adore the African women, especially their body odors. Hence, with the increase in interracial relationship among black women at the time, there were a lot of mixed kids in the population.

However, the lighter-skinned kids from those unions had to carry the burden to pass for whites; as in Argentina at that time, African heritage was not well regarded in the society. With the obsession of the country to become a white nation," passing" was popular among people of mixed heritage as it was an advantage during those days.


2. HIGHER CHANCES OF SURVIVAL AMONG ENSLAVED BLACKS THAN THE FREE ONES


This sounds quite intriguing. Yes! It would interest you to know that the Afro-Argentines who were slaves during this period had excellent welfare. Why? Because the government saw them as an investment, which it would harness to fight the war against Spain.

On the other end, free blacks did not enjoy that much in terms of welfare. They were denied of well-paying jobs, and as a result, they had to settle for menial jobs with meager wages. It led to an increase in the poverty within the Afro-Argentines community and many were homeless or beggars in the streets. The high percentage of poverty and malnutrition resulted in a major disaster!


3. THE YELLOW FEVER EPIDEMIC OF 1871: A MAJOR DISASTER FOR THE AFRO-ARGENTINES


There was a widespread epidemic of yellow fever disease in 1871. This took place a few years after the cholera outbreak in 1861 and 1864, during the Paraguayan war. The high rate of poverty at that time prevented most of the Afro-Argentines from having access to quality health care services.

Also, they had little or no money to evacuate the areas most plagued with yellow fever diseases. The effect was disastrous, and many blacks died as a result of this.


4. THE 1853 ARGENTINE CONSTITUTION


In 1853, the government made a new constitution whose policies were designed strictly to support European immigration. The decision led to a boost in the number of immigrants from Europe to Argentina between 1880 and 1950.

During the late Eighties, the Afro-Argentine population was mostly women who had no other option but to intermingle with the massive European immigrants at that time. The policy led to an increase in the country's population, but that of the Afro-Argentines gradually faded away. Therefore, if you critically look at the factors I stated above, you will have fundamental insight into what led to the fall/decline of the black Argentinean population.


The Resurrection of the Afro-Community


Fast forward to today, the Afro-Argentines communities have begun to resurrect from almost extinction - we now have several Afro groups. Some of these groups include the “SOS Racismo,” “Groupo Cultural Afro,” and the most famous among them, the “Africa Vive.”

It could be said that these organizations, together with other Afro-Uruguayan and Afro-Brazilians, contributed to the rekindled interest and rise in the African community. For example, the Afro-Uruguayan migrants introduced their candombe dance to Argentina, while the Afro-Brazilians brought the capoeira, orisha, and other dances originating from Africa. The biggest obstacle now is to discover how many of the Argentines today can confidently trace their African origin. Remember, some of these people were the product of interracial relationships and had a quite fair complexion. They were often regarded as trigueño or whites. Therefore, it becomes difficult, particularly for such individuals, to determine if they had a black ancestry or not.


In 1960, the census revealed that about 70% of Argentina's population is of European descent. However, about 5% of Argentines testified to having a black origin, while about 20% are unaware if they ever had black ancestry.

Today, most researchers claim that about 10% of people living in Buenos Aires have an African origin, but do not know about it. Moreover, the last time Argentina recognized the African descent in its census was over a100 years.

It would also be imperative to mention that these Afro-Argentines are now in most areas of Argentina. You can find the majority of them in Buenos Aires, San Telmo, La Boca, while some are scattered across Merlo and Ciudad Evita.

So, it becomes an enormous task to say precisely how many Afro-Argentines are currently present in the country; though the Africa Vive group claims the number to be about 1,000,000.


Fun Facts for Conclusion


It would interest you to know that Argentina celebrates its National day for Afro-Argentines and African culture on the 8thof November every year.

The commemoration began in 2013 in honor of Maria Remedios del Valle, an Afro-Argentine, who died in active service while fighting for her country's independence. She was also known as the “Madre de la Patria.”



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