Photo Credit: Photo by Edgar Barany
The Afro-Venezuelan Culture And History That Is Being Celebrated And Protected
On May 10, Venezuelans celebrate Day of Afro-Venezuelans in honor of the social, political, economic, and cultural contributions Afro-Venezuelans have made in the nation’s history.
There is much about Afro-Venezuelan culture that remains uncelebrated in the world of Black history. The light at the end of the tunnel for the African Diaspora in this South American country is the instituted Afro-Venezuelan day.
The History of Afro-Venezuelans in the country
During the 16th century, Spanish colonizers brought enslaved Africans to Venezuela. The enslaved were typically brought to work in copper mines, cocoa agriculture and sugar plantations to Coro and Buría (Yaracuy), Isla Margarita, Cumaná and the regions surrounding Caracas.
Much like elsewhere in the Americas and the Caribbean, slave revolts were rampant in Venezuela. Unfortunately, this history was often intentionally undiscussed in history’s retellings.
Today there are various accounts of the legacies and contributions of African descendants in Venezuela. For instance, historians often widely cite Pedro Camejo as one African immortalized in Venezuelan history as “El Negro Primero,” because he was always the first to ride into battle.
During the final battle of Carabobo, Camejo was fatally wounded but returned to General Paéz to utter one of the most famous statements in all of Venezuelan history: “General, vengo decirle, adiós, porque estoy muerto” (translation: General, I have come to say goodbye, because I am dead). A statue of Camejo still stands in the Plaza Carabobo in Caracas. It is the only statue commemorating an African in all of Venezuela.
By 1911, the narrative changed significantly when José Manuel Núñez Ponte became one of the first scholars to center Africans. In doing so he condemned the prioritisation of white slaveocracy in his book ‘A Historical Study on Slavery and Abolition in Venezuela’ (translated: Estudio histórico acerca de la esclavitud y de su abolición en Venezuela).
Afro-descendants “traditionally lived in the rural coastal zones of the country, but have begun to migrate to urban centers like Caracas”, according to Minority Rights Group International. Today there is an increasing amount of pride in Afro-Venezuelan roots in the country, including in identity and Afro hair.
The resistance of Afro-Venezuelans is a huge part of the culture that is, thankfully, gaining more acknowledgement.
Celebrating and protecting the legacies of Afro-Venezuelan contribution
On May 10, Venezuelans celebrate their African ancestry with mass ceremonies and parades complete with Afro-Venezuelan dishes, song, speeches, African-inspired artwork and of course, dance.
In 2005, Hugo Chavez, the then president, launched a national initiative to increase awareness and education about the Afro-Venezuelan community. Claiming his own African descent, Chavez established May 10 as Afro-Venezuelan Day. It also sits within Afro-Descendant Month in the whole of May.
Among Chavez’s many policies within this particular moment of embracing and protecting Afro-Venezuelan culture, lies the inclusion of African descent Venezuelans to the education curriculum. Within the commission, a requirement is to “examine, advise and propose reforms on racially and culturally appropriate education”. Schools must also incorporate “the contributions of Afro-Venezuelans in their curriculum.”
Chavez also famously passed anti-discrimination laws to further diminish historical inequality and racism in Venezuela.