Candelario Obeso, Black Colombian poet (1849 – 1884)
By Al Rodas | Español
Picture “Two sisters”, Quibdó, Chocó, by Richard Embling (The Intimate Stranger).
The black population of Colombia is traditionally located in the coast lines of the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea including the islander Department of San Andrés y Providencia. It is not said, for example, that cities like Bogotá, Medellín and Cali have a big portion of black Colombians that have migrated through the years looking best opportunities in the cities or, as it happenes now, being a part of the internal displaced people fleeing violence in their original regions. For other sources, the proportion of black Colombians is higher, being 26% of the total national population, according with a report of El Tiempo (Bogotá, August 26, 2006). In a report of DANE 1993 it was said that black Colombians were only 570,000 persons, but a document of 1999 of the National Direction of Planning estimated other number: 10,5 million of persons, according with the Americas Foundation. In that very document pointed out by the same Foundation, there were other interesting statistics: for example, the Colombian departments with more black population for that time were Valle del Cauca (1.720.257), Antioquia (1.212.985) and Bolívar (1.208.181). The cities with more black population (1999) were Cali (1.064.648), Bogotá (900.717) and Barranquilla (689.974). This information leaded by the Colombian government, shows things that could surprise many, for example, that a Department like Antioquia – considered white -, is practically the second black Department in Colombia by proportion and that Bogotá is the second black city, first than Barranquilla that is located at the shores of the black Caribbean sea. It is very little said also that Colombia is the second black Latin American country after Brazil. The document shows also that for that year, 80% of the black Colombian population was living under poverty, it means, about 8 million of persons. If for 1999 the national per capita income was US$1.500, for a black Colombian was between US$500 and US$600.
Picture “foto para presidencia” by Alejandra Quintero Sinisterra.
What is very well known about black Colombians, is that they are the descendants of the persons who were brought as merchandise forced by the European negrero companies of the 15th to 18th Century to the whole American territories. Cartagena de Indias became one of the most important commercial center of African slaves. Even if Saint Peter Claver, the Jesuit Apostle of the blacks did a lot for their dignity, Africans were about to contribute in the building of the European colonies in the Americas as slaves for about four centuries. Their condition put them also as people without history, culture, language, religion and future. If many Spaniard colonizers were concern in write down a lot information about the also dominated indigenous communities, starting for those they considered the most civilized, little was done in that sense for the Africans. They just came from Africa, was the only data to know.
Picture “Colombia” by ho visto nina volare.
Today many Colombians try to look for their ancestors. Of course, those ancestors are looked in Spain (Extremadura, Castilla, Navarra, Cataluña, Portugal…). If it is from other European country different to Spain is even better (Italy, France, Germany…). But few Colombians look for their indigenous ancestors and zero Colombians for their African ancestors.
In the history of the Spaniard colonization of the huge Colombian territory, it is not known things that could belong to the proud of the nation. For example, many Africans did a brave resistance to the conquerors. In 1728 it is registered the most big rebelion of Africans leaded by Barule, Antonio and Mateo Mina. They were defeated by Tres Palacios Mier in Tadó, Chocó on February 18, 1728 and shot to dead. Barule had declared himself as a king of the region. Stories of Palenques and cimarrones (slaves who got to scape from their owners and founded African communities) populated the Colombian forests. In addition, writers, politicians, scholars and others have played a preponderant part in the history of the country without much mention. The poet Manuel Saturio Valencia who was the last Colombian who faced a dead penalty in 1907 due to their activism in the defence of the rights of the black population in the Chocó Region. Diego Luís Córdoba and Amir Smith Córdoba, famous for their brave defense of the human rights. Artists and sportmen, writers and thinkers, show that the black Colombian population has much to give to Colombia and its development.
Picture “Providencia 1” by donfer!
The identity and integrity of the black communities in Colombia is an object of permenent studies for scholars. In the first, the communities are not all the same and each one of them have their own identity. The roots of the black communities still to be traced in Africa and this investigation would give a great help to understand not only the identity of the black communities, but Colombia itself. Music, dance, art and many other cultural factors of the country are not only coming from Spain and the American indegenous communities, but also from Africa.
There are many differences among the black communities of the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Islanders and the ones from other regions of Colombia different to these cited, that are the main centers of the black communities. For example, the Islanders (Department of San Andrés y Providencia Islands) belong to other origins, near to the Antillans. To undestand this, to study the black communities and to integrate them into the development of Colombia is a challenge not only for the State but specially for the Colombian society that has lot to walk in a real aceptance of its black citizens. In countries like Brazil, the first in the South American continent with the largest black community, they are more accepted and integrated in the identity of what is Brazil. The development of regions like the Pacific and the Caribbean are required to give to these Colombians the opportunity to demostrate their talents, to dignify their lives and to participate in prosperity and peace.
What is beautiful in Colombia is its colorful human picture of different tones that go from black to white, from yellow to brown and those colors are all precious to create a great portrait, the portrait of a nation, which peace and prosperity come from a real appreciation not for some or certain Colombians, but for all Colombia.
Bibliography and related links
- Las cadenas del racismo siguen sin romperse, El Tiempo, August 26, 2006, published by The Americas Foundation, Washington, 2005.
- Afrocolombianos, Etnias de Colombia, Fundación Hemera, Comunicación, Vida y Desarrollo.
- Candelario Obeso, el primer gran poeta negro. Ciudad Viva, Instituto Distrital de Cultura y Turismo, Bogotá
- San Basilio en el universo Kilombo – Africa y Palenque América. FRIEDEMANN, Nina S. de, Expedición humana, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia, Bogotá. Biblioteca Virtual Luís Ángel Arango, Banco de la República.