Lecture given by Antumi Toasijé in the African Remembrance Day 2016

The African Remembrance Day, being celebrated in U.K. was founded by brothers, Onyekachi and Chidiwere Wambu in 1995 to never forget the crimes of the enslavement of African peoples by Europeans. There has been anual meetings i different parts of U.K. on various specific themes. This year 2016 the theme was: ‘African Resilience, Resistance and Renaissance in Latin America’

The African Remembrance Day 2016 took place in the Museum of London Docklands, Monday 1 August 2016. Keynote Speakers where: Olalekan Babalola, Ifa Yoruba Contemporary Arts Trust, Daniela De Armas, London Lucumi Choir and Antumi Toasije, Pan-African Studies Centre, Madrid, Spain www.centropanafricano.com. We offer a transcript of the lecture given by the historian Antumi Toasijé.

Antumi Toasijé in London

The invisible line

By: Antumi Toasijé

I would like to thank the committee of the African Remembrance Day in the U.K., Onyekachi, Monique and Ra, for inviting me to participate in this really significant event. Also I want to thank Pedro Edu from the UNESCO Chair on Afro-Iberican Studies of the University of Alcalá in Spain for choosing me to bring some visions on the African Struggle in Latin America
Let me start by saying that there is an invisible line, a line that has divided us for centuries. By the use of this intangible frontier, we the African communities of the world found it very hard to establish links, to see each other, to listen to each other. It made it difficult to collect the experiences of the African Diaspora in America as a hole, thus it gave us a distorted, minimized and even more uncertain picture of our past and present. And also our future, because we cannot foresee what we will become, if we don’t really know the importance of who we are now and who we were then.
This line is the linguistic one, not to be underestimated. Brothers and Sisters living in the compartments of the English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Arabic linguistic areas, do live in many aspects in separate worlds, even though historical experiences are so similar. Let’s say, even today, the vast majority of Spanish speakers of African Descent do not speak English, and among those who speak it (mainly in the United States) just recently some had the conscience to perceive themselves as Africans. It is not rare then that only recently, we had a Spanish translation of great works, like the Blacks Jacobins of CRL James or the works of Cheikh Anta Diop, written in the 40s and the 50s of the past century, to cite only two among hundreds of essential African writings that await a translation.
One of the major differences between the Latin and Anglo-Saxon Ideologies of Slavery has to do with the perception of the Africanity. While in the British colonies, as long as you have a recognisable African ancestor you can claim to be African, to the contrary in the Hispanic and Lusophone world was and still is quite different. The Cast System, established in the eighteen Century, created clusters of human groups, with different rights, depending on variations of mixtures, with generally very ridiculous denominations. Of course the "whiter" the heritage a person could claim, the higher in status they could obtain; conversely, the darker features restricted social opportunities, in higher rank posts in Army, Clergy and Specially the Colonial Administration. Under the Caste system, the worst was to be black, of African origin, and the only way to escape this was with successive interracial marriages.
There where diverse denominations for the combinations, let me quote the sixteen more commonly used, just to have an introduction to the problem:
1. Spanish with indian (so called) brings mestizo, 2. Mestizo with Spanish brings castizo, 3. Castizo with Spanish brings Spanish, 4. Spanish black brings Mulatto, 5. Mulato with Spanish brings morisca (Moorish), 6. Morisco with Spanish brings Chinese, 7. Chinese with Amerindian brings Salta atrás (jumps back), 8. Jumps back with mulatto brings (lobo) wolf, 9. Wolf with Chinese brings Gíbaro or jíbaro (“Jivaroan”) the Shuar peoples, 10. Gíbaro or jíbaro with mulatto brings albarazado, 11. Albarazado with black brings cambujo, 12. Cambujo with India brings sambiaga (zambiaga), 13. Sambiago with wolf brings calpamulato, 14. Calpamulato with cambuja brings Tente in the aire, (literally "hold-yourself-in-midair"), 15. Tente in the aire with mulatta brings, No te entiendo which means (“I do not understand you”), 16. I do not understand you with indian brings Torna atrás ("throwback").
We must understand then, that the first effort of control in the Slavery Age is based in the creation and the use of mental categories, lexical apparatus than tackles the imagination of both Europeans and Africans, for them to fit into the roles assigned in that economic system of violence and exploitation. The religious reinterpretation of the world, the building of new myths and imaginaries, the false culpabilities addressed and taught to the African victims of the system, where essential in all levels for the machinery to continue producing more efficiently, and at a lower cost in the agricultural fields, the mines and the house labour. In the Spanish colonies and in a lesser degree in the Portuguese ones the division of Africans intro sub-groups depending on their mixture with other groups has been a very effective tool of, division and then perpetuation of the subjugation, whose effects remain today.
This makes not bizarre, that in the Brazilian census of 2010, only a tiny group of 7.61% of the population considered themselves blacks, meaning “fully from African descent”, but a proportion of 43.13% stated that they were “Pardos”, which means in fact Black of mixed ancestry. But that in the Brazilian society meant a totally different figure not much related to Africa itself. (Figures where: 47.73% White, 43.13% Pardo, 7.61% Black, 1.09% Asian, 0.43% Amerindian) This is not only the result of different points of view regarding “race” this elusive and problematic concept, but the result of a strategy of atomization of the vast majority of oppressed individuals.
To the mentioned previous condition of “Castification”, we must add some other constraints that in comparison with the English Speaking world, have made the Afro-Latin-American agency less visible. Among those conditions the more relevant is the geopolitical, and economic status of Latin America itself. Being also, a subject of a subordinate position in his relation to the so called Western World, and more specifically the EEUU and also, in certain historical periods to Great Britain.
Does this mean that the “mulatization” policy and dogma has been victorious in eliminating all forms of resistance and agency of Africans in Latin American countries? Of course not. We must just see this as an added obstacle, among many others for self-representation and then self-liberation. In fact, we must interpret the Cast system as a reaction of Europeans to the efforts of Africans and Americans to regain their freedom.
If we put aside, for the moment, the interesting possibility of a pre-Columbian African presence that can be read in the studies of Ivan Van Sertima among many other scholars. The arrival of Columbus marks the starting point for the presence of Africans in America. Although we do not have today the evidence of a documented black presence among the passengers of the first travel, it would be not suppressing at all to find black sailors there, possibly freemen like the Niño brothers Francisco (sailor that accompanied Columbus in his first three voyages), Pedro Alonso (Pilot of the Santa María vessel in the first journey) and Juan (Captain and owner of La Niña caravel in the first journey of Columbus and accompanied him in the second and third voyages). Because by the XV century about one eight of the total population of south and east Spain where in fact black, and most of them not enslaved but of moor origin.
Strictly officially for the Archaeology, the second journey of Columbus that reached the Caribbean island of “La Désirade” in present day Guadalupe, the 3rd of November 1493 marks the very first African presence known today in America. At least three free African men, and possibly a woman, all from this expedition were found buried in the cemetery of La Isabela in the Dominican Republic, as the studies of T. Douglas Price show.
Let’s take note that in the XV and XVI centuries the majority of Africans living in the Iberian Peninsula where free peoples. Juan Garrido a black conquistador is one among them, arriving la Hispaniola in 1503 (A totally different case of that of Mustafa Zemmouri “Estebanico” 1500 – 1539, the Explorer or New Mexico and Texas). It is only after the fifteen century that the numbers turned against Africans inside the enslaving institution. The turning point was the Junta de Valladolid, a high level philosophical debate that took place in 1550-1551, set to establish if original Americans had rights and then could be subjects of the Castilian Crown. The event that sentenced Africans in America to slavery, because it established that original American could not be legally enslaved (but in fact they were). So then, after the Junta the massive introduction of kidnapped and enslaved brothers and sisters became the norm for African migration to America.
And subsequently, after this introduction of kidnaped and enslaved victims from dozens of nations from all the coasts of the African Continent, we find the first liberation movements. Even though the official propaganda tried to justify of the slavery system stating that it was a necessary mean of Christianisation of infidels and pagans, and even today some neo-colonialist scholars pretend to make us believe that the enslaving system under the Spanish crown was less violent and cruel than in the Portuguese or British territories, thousands, literally I say, of self-liberatory actions and movements contradict any of those fallacies. Only in the period between 1526 and 1582, I’ve found nine major revolts against slavery in the Spanish conquered areas of America:
In 1526 in the Area of Cartagena, Nueva Granada, present day Colombia we have the first successful liberatory action, led by Benkos Bioho. The town that him and his followers founded, Palenque is also considered the first free town in America. In 2005 the village was included as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, because still today it preserves the African Kikongo creole language (Palenquero) that serves as a perfect vehicle for the preservation of the African traditions still in place there.
Benkos Biohó was a former African king captured by Portuguese and sold to Spaniards who escaped from bondage and succeeded in organising an African army that defeated several times the Spanish troops. The Governor of Cartagena, Gerónimo de Suazo y Casasola, was unable to defeat the insurgents, and then on the 18 July 1605, they offered a peace treaty to Biohó, recognising the autonomy of the Matuna Area and the Biohó Palenque (Palissade). Among the conditions set between the self-liberated insurgents and the Spanish authorities was the acceptance for the freedmen to enter at will into the city of Cartagena armed and dressed in Spanish fashion. Nevertheless in 1619 the Spaniards took advantage of a moment of distraction and captured Bioho. He was hanged and then quartered, on March the 16 1621. The infamous action, that violated the arrangements of the treaty, was done to prevent Bioho to become an example inside an institution where the psychology and the theatralization of the white men superiority was essential to its success. Nevertheless the assassination of Bioho did not serve to destroy Palenque, and after resisting several attacks, in 1691 the inhabitants of Palenke of San Basilio formally “gain” their freedom.
But, as I said before, this is only one among the thousands of self-liberatory actions that took place in the Spanish Dominated Americas.
1533  in the mountains of Bahoruco La Española, today Dominican Republic, Spaniards see the insurgency of Lemba and comrades. In 1549 in today Panamá arose the revolt of Felipillo and then in 1553 in Chepo another uprising led by Bayano and a thousand who founded the Palenke of Ronconcholon. In 1552 in Buría-Barquisimeto, in today Venezuela, Miguel, set an independent kingdom and besieged the city today called Barquisimeto. In 1559 in Castilla del Oro (Panamá and Colombia), the revolts lead by Pedro Cazanga, Juan Angola and Antón Sosa put in check the Spanish governors. In the late sixteen Century, in Esmeraldas, Ecuador, “Alonso de Illescas” a self-liberated man ruled independenty a huge territory and succeeded to be recognized by the Spanish Authorities; his son and his grandson where “accepted” as leaders of the Esmeraldas region. In 1579 in Veracruz, Nueva España (Mexico), took place one of the most epic liberation movements of America run by Gaspar Yangá. The settlement that he founded was renamed from San Lorenzo de los Negros to Yangá in 1932. Let me finish this introductory mention restricted to the sixteen century remembering Anton Mandinga, successor of Luis Mozambique, who in in today Panamá signed a Peace treaty with the Spanish governors that recognized some of the free communities of Panamá.
This is the reason why today in Latina America we see hundreds of villages, towns and cities called Cimarrón, or Palenque. Some examples are:
Cimarrón, La Paz, Bolivia, Cimarrona, Arauca, Colombia, Cimarrones, Limón, Costa Rica, Cimarrón, Nuevo México, EEUU, Cimarron, California, EEUU, Cimarrón, Chiquimula, Guatemala, Cimarrón, Zacapa, Guatemala, Cimarrones, Comayagua, Honduras, Cimarrón, Francisco Morazán, Hond., Cimarrón, La Paz, Honduras, Cimarrón Chico, Jalisco, México, Cimarronas, Jalisco, México, Cimarrón, Veracruz, México, Cimarrón, Chiriquí, Panamá, La Cimarronera, Herrera, Panamá, Cimarrón, Tumbes, Perú, Los Cimarrones, Republica Dominicana, Cimarrón, Falcón, Venezuela, Cimarrón, Monagas, Venezuela, Palenque, Antioquia, Colombia, Palenque, Guantánamo, Cuba, Palenque, La Habana, Cuba, Palenque, Las Tunas, Cuba, Palenque, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Palenque, Los Ríos, Ecuador, Palenque, Cortés, Honduras, Palenque, Chiapas, México, Palenque, Jalisco, México, Palenque, Oaxaca, México, Palenque, Coclé, Panamá, Palenque, Colón, Panamá, Palenque, Herrera, Panamá.
All those where major movements, known by their intensity and prominence. But we must necessarily remember the constant and diverse strategies of resistance implemented by Africans, and very especially African Women, under extremely violent and complex circumstances. One well known example are the struggles in court of María Rico, María Chiquinquirá Díaz or Ángela Batallas, enslaved women in present Day Ecuador who fought in courts against the very same condition of being enslaved, and the abuses of their oppressors including sexual assaults. Most of those cases ended up in nothing or in a sentence against the African side, because although the Laws provided some theoretical protection against rape, this protection was nothing tangible in the factual world.
Another momentum of great test for the decolonial agency of brothers and sisters in the Spanish Speaking America, was specifically the independence cry. Hundreds of thousands of enslaved men joined the forces of the Libertadores, Simón Bolivar and José de San Martín (To mention the 8th Battalion of freedmen o Cuyo where almost all their members died in battle). There where relevant figures of all the liberatory movements like Negro Primero (First Black) the lieutenant Pedro Camejo whose image can be seen today in the five bolivar note of Venezuela, not to forget José Prudencio Padilla of African and Original American origin, and independence leader who became admiral in the Simón Bolivar army. In Cuba, the African component in the Independence struggle was majoritarian, General Antonio Maceo (1845-1896) is the most prominent figure of the Cuban Independence; he was the son of Marcos Maceo, who had fought in the Simón Bolivar army in Venezuela years before.
Without the crucial contribution of Africans in the Independence struggle in the Spanish dominated territories, the criollo independences would never have taken place. An all this enormous sacrifice, was paid with betrayal coming from the newly created American States. Freedom promised to combatants was transformed into re-instauration of slavery. But finally, by the mid nineteen centuries, slavery formally ended in most Latin American nations. And then a new struggle commenced a struggle for equality and power in profoundly racist societies deeply affected by the cast system disease.
In Cuba, the demands of the black populations like those incarnated in the “Partido Independiente de Color” (Independent Party of Colour) in the beginnings of the twentieth Century where obliterated and the supporters of groups demanding better conditions for the African descendants slaughtered and massacred. In spite of this, some African-descendants succeeded in achieving high political positions from the late nineties, a fact that has been consciously hided. This is why we discover only now the black presence among some of the first leaders of the independent Latin America, among these we must evoke one of the first Colombian Presidents Juan José Nieto of Colombia in 1861. Also Luis Miguel Sánchez Cerro, possibly of Madagascar origins, President of Peru over two periods (1930-1931) and (1931 to 1933)
The African presence in Spain merits as a separate reference because of the scandalous concealment of his contributions. Spain has certainly been the along with Portugal the European country, that have experienced the largest, more persistent and more influential African presence throughout its history. The importance of the black presence during the time of the Moors has an indubitable importance in the general history of the World. This Spanish African presence persists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as is hardly rooted in history with major figures. Writers such as Juan Latino and Chicaba or painters as Juan de Pareja.
Today in Spain we represent in reality nearly 2% of the citizens, although the majority of studies show maximum percentages of 0.6%. Since the 90s, there is a growing Pan-Africanist consciousness that reveals itself socially combative and decisive on mobilizations and legislative proposals. For those who would like to follow this in deep I recommend them my published articles on the matter.
Spanish speaking afro descendants are the major linguistic group of afro descendants outside Africa, along with Lusophone afro Brazilians, just to cite very conservative figures we can count 18,000.000 in EEUU (Including Puerto Rico) 15,000.000 in Colombia, 10,000.000 in Central American countries,  7,000.000 in Cuba and another 7,000.000 in Venezuela and Dominican Republic respectively, there are at least 6,000.000 afro descendants in Peru, 4,000.000 in Ecuador, 3,000.000 in Mexico, 1,500.000 in Argentina, 600.000 in Uruguay, 500.000 in Bolivia, 300.000 in Chile and 100.000 in Paraguay. Numbering a total of around 80,000.000 million.
Today there is a growing sentiment of reconstruction of the African identity, especially in Colombia, and other countries like Argentina and Chile are debunking the tales of the European Historiography, asserting their identity and demanding an official recognition. Debates of blackness and Africanity are on the political arena of Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba today. The recognition of the perpetuation of a system of deprivation of humanity and rights, the land property question, the Agency and recognition of the importance of the black woman in carrying the struggles of Africans and Latin Americans in general, are debates in the academia and in the grassroots movements. We just need as I said before, to be more connected to other linguistic areas, to share experiences and to have common agendas for bettering our conditions, put our demands on the top and contribute to the growth of our motherland Africa.
It would be my pleasure to contribute to establish those necessary links for the advancement of the movement of black liberation around the globe.
Asante sana, many thanks, muchas gracias


Antumi Toasijé

Antumi Toasijé
Doctor en Historia, Cultura y Pensamiento