When discussing the African diaspora and the descendants of those who survived the middle passage, most people think of countries like the United States, West Indies, Cuba, or Colombia but very rarely does Peru come to mind. We often think of Peru as the
land inhabited by the descendants of Andean peoples but what we neglect to recognize is that it is also home to those who claim enslaved Africans as their ancestors.
Here in Peru, they actually say “El quien no tiene de inga tiene de mandinga,” essentially meaning
those who do not have indigenous blood, have African blood running through their veins. And although the amount of slaves brought to Peru can’t compare to places like neighboring Brazil (which has the second largest black population in the world) the descendants of those enslaved here have undoubtedly contributed to the richness of Peruvian culture.
At the end of May, I had the amazing opportunity to visit and work with a fellow volunteer serving in a town called El Carmen, Chincha. And El Carmen is unique because it is a predominately Afro Peruvian town considered to be the beating heart of Black Peru. What made my own heart burst at the seams even more was that I had the privilege of staying with the Ballumbrosio family – well known cultural ambassadors for Black Peru and host family of the volunteer I was visiting.
The air in El Carmen is so thick with the legacy of Don Amador Ballumbrosio that it’s palpable. Born in 1933, Amador saw that the world outside of El Carmen viewed the Black Peruvians as little more than field laborers that contributed nothing else to mainstream Peruvian culture so he dedicated his life to promoting the culture of his people. He wanted to say to the world, “Aquí estamos.” We are here and we are not an invisible group on the fringes of Peruvian society. We are more than a field hand that picks your grapes and cotton, we have contributed to our nation’s culture and history, here is our story through music and dance. And although he died in 2009, his children and other community members proudly carry his torch.
To be honest, one of the things I miss most about the States is being around other Black people and one thing I loved about staying at the Ballumbrosio house was to once again
feel like I was surrounded by my own people – to not stand out, to not have to explain that it is quite possible to identify as Black and American just as I understood that they are just as Peruvian as they are the descendants of slaves. Of course there are cultural differences – I am American and they are Peruvian but there is something to be said for the connection that transcends nationality and culture. We share a similar ugly history and although slavery in the New World was so unimaginably appalling, for me, a comfort comes from being with people who have that story in their blood and who proudly want to share their story with the world.
In 2014, Peru’s Ministry of Culture declared the month of June Afro Peruvian Culture Month so this month I plan to post primarily about elements of Black Peruvian culture and sharing with you all what I learned during my visit to El Carmen. I hope ya’ll enjoy!