Happy Juneteenth, ya’ll!
Awe, don’t know what Juneteenth is – no te preocupes, I got you: Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It dates back to June 19, 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the
Civil War had ended. Today many people still celebrate this day in recognition of the liberation of all Black people from slavery although in Texas, it is even an official state holiday. For most celebrations you can usually find black folks having a barbecue at their house, at church, or often times there’s even small festivals going on in your city.
Since today is the day that many Black Americans reflect on the history of slavery in America, I wanted to share with you guys a little about the history of slavery in Peru.
And so we begin the story of this part of the African diaspora in 1527 when the first Black people arrived in Peru. Surprisingly, the first Black people who landed here were not enslaved, but Spanish soldiers of African descent under the command of Francisco Pizarro. But pretty soon after the conquest, enslaved Africans were being brought to Peru. Mostly coming from Angola, Congo, Mozambique, and the Gold Coast, these slaves were brought into the port of Callao (west of Lima) where they were then prepared for auction and distribution.
Some slaves went to the mines in the Andes, others went to plantations like Hacienda San Jose (which I visited while in Chincha), but thousands stayed in Lima. In fact, Lima was one considered a Chocolate City (thanks Ray Nagin) with between 30-40% of its population being enslaved Africans. Slaves in Lima did things like lay the streets, build the churches and homes of the Spanish upper class, and serve as cooks and domestic slaves. Many of them were what some people call jornalero or “day slaves” where they contracted out their skilled labor and gave a portion of the earning to their masters. Within this system, they were able to keep the surplus to themselves and many enslaved people eventually were able to buy their freedom this way.
In stark contrast, those who worked on the plantations and in the mines had a much different existence. There the mortality rates were much higher and the possibility of freedom was much lower with the masters of these places treating their slaves with the inhumane brutality we typically think of when we think of slavery in North America. In places like, Hacienda San Jose, many slaves resisted by running away and forming maroon communities where they would often raid the nearby plantations for supplies and food. Towns like El Carmen started off as these communities of escaped slaves or palenques.
In 1824, Peru gained its independence from Spain but it wasn’t until 1856 when President Ramon Castilla abolished slavery and much like our Juneteenth celebrations some Afro Peruvian communities remember this moment with these words:
Que viva mi papá, que viva mi mamá, que viva Ramón Castilla, que nos dio la liberta’
Hooray for my dad, hooray for my mom, hooray for Ramón Castilla, who gave us liberty.
Today, the Black population in Peru is less visible at around 3 million – less than 10% of the population. This is do to mixing with indigenous groups as well as high immigration rates from other countries. And although there are still serious problems with systemic racism and discrimination, in 2009 the government of Peru formally apologized to the Afro Peruvian community for the enslavement of their ancestors and as well as for the continued discrimination that they face. The statement reads:
“We are here together for an unusual act without precedent, to apologize to the Afro Peruvian people but most deeply pardon to the Black race, that our voice can be heard in the countries inflicted with the slavery commerce, which tore so many men and women, millions of them, and took them away to the ends of the planet to work in plantations.”
And so today as you guys back home celebrate or are just learning about Juneteenth through this post, not only pay your respects to those who suffered under the US institution of slavery, but also those all those who were enslaved in Peru and their often times overlooked descendants.