Afro-Bolivians

As you probably know Bolivia is a multi-ethnic country. But did you also know there is a large community (approx 25.000 persons) of Afro-Bolivians in Bolivia?

Afro-Bolivia mother and child

Afro-Bolivians are Bolivians of African ancestry, descended from slaves who were brought to work in the silver mines in Potosí in the early 1500s. In the 16th century, the Spanish Conquistadors ‘discovered’ Bolivia’s huge silver mines. The native Bolivians of the Highlands were being forced to work as slaves in the silver mines under the “colonial mita and encomienda” (colonial Andean systems of rotating forced Indian labor,  the supply of the needed workforce for the silver mines, which was the basis of the economy in the colonial period). However as the health of the natives substantially decreased, the Spanish began to look elsewhere for labor. The Spaniards began bringing in African slaves to work the mines, together with the natives who were still able. Needless to say the conditions were very bad with long working days, low temperatures and toxic gases. Another factor was the altitude (approx 4000 meters above sea level) which the Africans were not used to. Children were also put to work in the mines. Africans were also imported as slave labor to work coca-leaf plantations in the provinces of the Yungas, north of La Paz, where they were also exploited as slaves on large haciendas.

You might have heard about the Yungas before. The ‘so-called’ Death Road is a road from La Paz to Coroico a village located in the Yungas.

Nowadays there are Afro Bolivian communities throughout Bolivia, especially in the semi tropical climates of the departments of La Paz, Santa Cruz, Beni, and Cochabamba. The largest concentrations can be found in the lowland provinces of Nor Yungas and Sud Yungas in the department of La Paz, where they are employed on farms, cultivating the coca-leaf, coffee or citrus fruits.

Afro Bolivians mostly speak Spanish and some speak Aymara (Andean indigenous language) as well. The community maintains a small vocabulary of words of African origin.

The Afro-Bolivians of Nor Yungas have a ceremonial monarchy, which is part of a long lineage of kings. Earlier in the twentieth century, King Bonifacio Pinedo, who lived in the village of Mururata (Bolivia), was recognized as the Afro-Bolivian king. He wore a cape and crown for major celebrations, especially Easter. When King Bonifacio died in the 1960s, no immediate heir to his throne was crowned until his grandson Julio Pinedo became king in 1982.

Afro-Bolivian King Bonifacio Pinedo, Mururata (Bolivia)

Afro-Bolivian king