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Afro-South Americans

Afro-South Americans

ETHNONYMS: African Negroes, Afro-Americans, Bahia Brazilians, Black Indians, Blacks, Bushenenge, Bush Negroes, Cafucos, Creoles, Libres, Morenos, Mulatos, Mulattos, Negres, Negroes, Nengres, Noires, Maroons, Pardos, Prêtos, Trigueños, Zambos

People of African descent form a significant percentage of the population in a number of South American nations. Because of widespread lack of agreement across South America about who is Black and because of confusion in enumeration, there are no reliable population figures, and many estimates and counts vary widely from each other. Nonetheless, it is clear that the countries with the largest Black populations as a percentage of national population are French Guiana (42.4 to 66 percent), Guyana (29.4 to 42.6 percent), Suriname (39.8 to 41 percent), Brazil (5.9 to 33 percent), Colombia (14 to 21 percent), Venezuela (9 to 10 percent), Ecuador (5 to 10 percent), and Peru (6 to 9.7 percent). Estimates of Bolivia's Black population range as high as 2 percent. The total Black poulation of South America ranges somewhere between 19 and 67 million. The regions with the largest concentrations are northeastern Brazil; the interiors of Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana; the Yungas of Bolivia; the northwest coast of Ecuador; the Pacific and Caribbean coasts and the Cauca Valley of Colombia; and the Llanos and the northern coast of Venezuela. Blacks in South America do not form a homogenous population; there are important differences based on skin color, extent of assimilation into White society, degree of allegiance to their African ancestry, and self-identification as the bearers of a distinct New World culture (as among Maroons in Suriname and French Guiana).

Almost all Blacks in South America are the descendants of Africans imported to the New World between 1518 and 1873. Altogether, about 10 million slaves were brought to the New World. About 3.5 million were brought by the Portuguese to Brazil to work on sugar and coffee plantations and in mines. Another 200,000 were imported to Colombia and used on sugar plantations and in gold mining. About 100,000 each were settled in Peru, Venezuela, and Argentina-Uruguay-Paraguay, where they mainly worked on sugar plantations but also as dock hands, miners, domestics, and as field hands in various agricultural ventures. Across South America, slavery ended between 1830 and 1888; Brazil was the last nation in the New World to outlaw the institution. Among factors associated with the demise of slavery were a marked decrease of the price of sugar on the world market, the development of more efficient agricultural technologies, the abolition movement in Europe and North America, and the cost to plantation owners of frequent slave rebellions.

See also Afro-Bolivians; Afro-Brazilians; Afro-Colombians; Afro-Hispanic Pacific Lowlanders of Ecuador and Colombia; Afro-Venezuelans; Saramaka; and "Folk Cultures" in the Introduction


Bastide, Roger (1978). African Religions in Brazil. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Curtin, Philip (1969). The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Karasch, Mary (1987). Slave Society in Rio de Janeiro. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Klein, Herbert (1986). Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean. New York: Oxford University Press.

North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) (1992). "Report on the Black Americas, 1492-1992." Report on the Americas 25(4).

Price, Richard, ed. (1973). Maroon Societies. New York: Anchor Books.

Rout, Leslie B., Jr. (1976). The African Experience in Spanish America: 1502 to the Present Day. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taussig, Michael T. (1980). The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Whitten, Norman E., Jr., and Arlene Torres (in press). Blackness in America and the Caribbean. New York: Carlson Publishing.

Wright, Winthrop R. (1990). Café con Leche: Race, Class, and National Image in Venezuela. Austin: University of Texas Press.


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