Mixtec drawings

Afro-Mexican Roots

in Coastal Oaxaca

Last updated in June 2016

XVI Reunion of Black Towns

XVI Encuentro de Pueblos Negros

There are more than a million Afro-Mexicans.[1] During the Spanish colonial period, Africans were sold as slaves, mostly to work in the mines and the sugarcane fields. Many escaped to settle in unpopulated areas and others got their freedom when President Vicente Guerrero abolished slavery on 16 September, 1829. Some Afro-Mexicans are descended from slaves who escaped the U.S. and others are recent immigrants of African and Caribbean origin.

"Mexico’s black populations, often to escape persecution and discrimination, historically never moved in large numbers to big cities and have kept largely to themselves in scattered communities in three southern states: Oaxaca, Guerrero and Veracruz."[2] Their communities have a history of being largely ignored by the government, the schools and roads are often decrepit.

Since 1999 Afro-Mexicans have been organizing to improve their communities. The small community of El Azufre, Tututepec was sponsoring the 16th Discover the Black Community or Encuentro de Pueblos Negros, which was intended to bring awareness to Afro-Mexican issues and to show case some Afro-Mexican culture. The event was attended by folks from other parts of Mexico and dignitaries including the Ambassador of South Africa and Father Glyn Jemmott.[3][4] Our fearless guide, Gina, led a group of expats to El Azufre, we didn't really know what to expect when we got to El Azufre and neither did she. It was a fun outing and we all learned more about our newly adopted country.

Curandera in El Azufre Tututepec

Healers or Curanderos and curanderas are a traditional part of the Mexican and Afro-Mexican communities. The curandera in the photo is cleansing a patient using an egg to extract bad energy, a curse or illness from the body and transfer the bad energy into the egg. This works for some people.

I knew of young woman who had a lot of health problems. The young woman, her mother and I went to a doctor, one of the best doctors in Puerto Escondido. The young woman had mental health issues, really not much the doctor could do to help her. He recommended the young woman visit a curandera. The doctor made sure the mother went a curandera that did not charge much. Some curanderas are very expensive. She went to one that cost around U.S. $10. Sadly, it did not work.

These big "dolls" are called monos de calenda and they are used in fiestas in Mexico. Put a person into it who is willing to dance and you will have a dancing 3 meter (ten foot) tall mono de calenda dancing around. The faces are usually made of papier-mâché. Most monos de calenda are left with their arms lose so the arms swing around. Female calendas often have large bosoms and spacious behinds.

Free food was offered to all. The handmade tortillas are placed on a grill, it only takes a minute or two for the tortillas to be cooked. The red sauce being warmed up in the tub is pork mole or mole rojo. Beans, salsa and a fruit drink were also prepared.

This group of dancers were called The Apaches. Their dance was something your would expect to see in an American Western from the 60's.

Children Dancing in Azufre

These kids are all lined up and ready to dance.

Danza de los Diablos

This photo shows dancers performing the Dance of the Devils or Danza de los Diablos.[5] This type of dance originates from Africa. This video of the Danza de los Diablos is a very polished version of the dance compared to the one I saw in El Azufre.

Oaxacan Homemade Dress

This handmade dress is one of the prettiest I have seen of this type. I couldn't resist sharing this photo with you. The lady did not want her photo taken; her daughter coerced her to let me take her photo.

Photo Credits

Photos taken by Marc Wilkinson. I, the copyright holder, hereby publish these photos under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Notes and Footnotes

  1. Azufre is the Spanish word for Sulfur. I doubt that there is any sulfur to be found in El Azufre but it certainly was as hot as hell there. The community of El Azufre has a population of around 500. Farming and fishing are the occupations of the population.
  2. I use the term Afro-Mexican (Afro-Mexicana) through out this page. It is rare to hear this term used in spoken Spanish. Usually blacks are referred to as negros or morenos. There are no negative connotations with these terms. The term Afro-Mexicanas is found in newspapers as well as negros or morenos. The word prieto is sometimes used with negative connotations. Slightly off topic, the American-English term Indian or Indio in Spanish is easily understood by Spanish speakers, it is a derogatory term in Spanish. The safe/correct word to use for Indian is Indigenous or Indígenas in Spanish.
  3. 1. Gregorius, Arlene. 10 April 2016. The Black People 'Erased From History'. BBC.com. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  4. 2. RANDAL C. Archiboldoct, Randal C. 25 October 2014. Negro? Prieto? Moreno? A Question of Identity for Black Mexicans. The New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  5. 3. Marco Polo Hernández Cuevas. 12 April 2008. African Mexicans & Father Glyn Jemmott (part 1). YouTube.com.mx. English with Spanish subtitles. Retrieved 14 November 2015. You can skip Hernández' narration and go directly to Father Glyn Jemmott.
  6. 4. Marco Polo Hernández Cuevas. 12 April 2008. African Mexicans & Father Glyn Jemmott (part 2). YouTube.com.mx. English with Spanish subtitles. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  7. 5. 1Arenal. 28 May 2010. Danza de los Diablos. YouTube. Retrieved 29 April 2016.