Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Colombia in the new era of globalization

Colombia, one of the countries more affected by guerilla and drug trafficking is currently in the process of recovering its original image as a beautiful and touristic country. For decades, Colombia has struggled against paramilitary and subversive groups that in numerous occasions decimated the native communities and displaced hundreds of peoples from their native lands, for drug dealers and guerillas be able to use that land for coca plantations. President Uribe, has received millions of dollars from the USA government to support the combat against drug dealers and guerilla groups. Also, Colombia has entered into globalization by becoming a part of the New Trade Agreement for Central and South America. It is obvious that this process will increase the circulation of global merchandises in the nation, and Colombia has to face the social inequalities that globalization brings. As it has been the case of Mexico after NAFTA, the breech between the rich and the poor enormously grows with globalization and neo-liberal politics reaching high levels of inequality; the same is happening now a days in Colombia just after few years of having started business with the richest countries of the globe.
However, questions remain : Will be the new trade agreement able to diminish violence in this lacerated country? Will globalization be able to decrease the level of poverty in the nation? Disenfranchised communities such as blacks and Amerindians will be able to become respected and supported for further development of their ethnic traditions and cultures?

School children studying palenquero language in San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Conversación con varios hombre del Palenque de San Basilio, quienes hablan sobre las necesidades materiales que tienen actualmente en su comunidad (mp3 file).

http://www.zshare.net/audio/63351834be2b1f83/


Champeta: The Sound of Cultural Struggle by Jaime Concha
http://www.flyglobalmusic.com/fly/archives/latin_america_features/champeta_the_sound_of_cultural.html

Charles King - champeta del licenciado

Monday, July 27, 2009

PALENQUE DE SAN BASILIO: LUCHA POR LA DIGNIDAD AFROCOLOMBIANA

Entrevista con Fredman Herazo en El Palenque de San Basilio, Colombia.
6 de Agosto de 2008.




Graffiti en Palenque de San Basilio. Foto, Posada y Mejía, 2008.


M.A. Fred, podrías hablarnos un poco sobre la historia de la población afrodescendiente en Colombia y la manera cómo han sido considerados en los censos de población del país.

F.H. El primer censo nacional de Colombia fue en Junio de 1887. En ese entonces había 263,332 colombianos distribuidos en 110 departamentos, que en aquel entonces les llamaban intendencias y comisarías. Pero no estaba divida la población étnica del país, ni estaba reconocida como tal por el gobierno nacional.
En un trabajo que hizo el maestro Manuel Zapata Olivella nos dice que en 1852 fue cuando se liberó la mayor parte de los negros estaban esclavizados en territorio colombiano. “Habíamos quedado libres” entre comillas, nos dice Zapata Olivella. Ahí nació la abolición de la esclavitud, pero no se cumplió porque muchos se vieron obligados a regresar nuevamente a la vida que tenían.
De 1852 hasta 1991 en Colombia nosotros los negros y los indígenas no éramos reconocidos como etnias dentro del país, sólo éramos reconocidos como colombianos naturales. Después de un largo proceso de lucha de muchos líderes negros, en 1991 se logra la constitución de la familia indígena como etnia y de los negros como grupo étnicos. Nosotros sufrimos mucho esa parte discriminatoria gubernamental. Pero contamos con la suerte de tener grandes líderes negros como el finado Amir Espín Córdova, Diego Luis Córdova, manuel Zapata Olivella. Muchos de ellos, que pudieron luchar por nuestros valores culturales e identidad de nosotros los Afros.

M.A. Y en el presente, ¿está contabilizada la población afrodescendiente en Colombia?

F.H. Sí, está contabilizada. En eso nosotros tuvimos una pequeña inconformidad y discordia con el gobierno nacional. Recuerdo que acá nos vinieron a dictar un taller, el DANE en cuanto a esos detalles. A nosotros nos dio mucha pena pero tocó demostrarles a ellos que lo que decían era mentira, porque el primer censo que había arrojado el DANE sobre los Afro en Colombia era de un 35%. Estamos hablando de hace unos 10-15 años atrás, y que la mayor parte de los Afros habidos en el país estaban en la Costa del Caribe colombiano. Luego después de ese censo, en los años en que se hacen los últimos censos vienen a decirnos que la población Afro disminuyó, no sé de qué forma, al 25%. Nos dio pena, pero les dijimos a los talleristas –en tono palenquero-: "Compa, usté nos disculpa, que pena con usté, pero dé la fecha exacta. Porque en tal año se arrojó en el censo que había tantos, cómo a estas alturas viene a decirnos que no.” Lo que pasa es que ahora hay nuevas políticas del Departamento y el gobierno. ¿Qué sucede? ¿Cuáles son las políticas? Usté antes de ser censado tiene que ser entrevistado para usté poderse identificar. Resultó que al gobierno –es la clara realidad- no le interesa tener grupos étnicos en el pa’is. Van los censadores de casa en casa y sólo preguntan si hay padre y madre vivos, si cuántos hijos hay y punto. No les interesa si son negros. Ahora, a duras penas preguntarán, ¿son negros?, responden sí, pero no preguntan, ¿son palenqueros?, no preguntan ¿son afrodescendientes?, no preguntan ¿son chocoanos?, sino únicamente llenan la encuesta a su acomodo. Es obvio que de esa forma la población Afro va a disminuir, pero no es que esa es la realidad.
Actualmente, un 40% del territorio colombiano está poblado por nosotros los Afros. En la realidad nuestra, entre nosotros, está incluidos dos grandes Departamentos de Colombia, el del Chocó, y el del Valle del Cauca, además de parte del Cauca Nariño y la Costa Caribe Colombiana. Ahí está el 40% de nosotros los Afro acá. Pero esto es a nuestro criterio, de lo que nosotros hemos estudiado acá empíricamente en el recorrido que hemos tenido en el territorio nacional.

M.A. ¿Participas con alguna organización social o política?

F.H. Pues, inicialmente hice parte de una organización social de acá que se llama Palenque Libre, pero ahorita que me metí de lleno al campo de la historia y investigación, he decidido dar aporte a todo el que me lo pida y trabajar de una forma independiente y así me sentiría un poquito mejor. Llevo un pequeño proceso nacido en 1987 en Barranquilla, cuando yo era un niño. Recuerdo que me vinculó el movimiento nacional Cimarrón, porque a esa edad me habían descubierto la fluidez en la lengua palenquera. Recuerdo yo tenía 8ª 10 años y en ese entonces, de los negros o de los palenqueros que residen en Barranquilla, uno de los que más hablaban la lengua era mi persona. A través de eso me vincularon al proceso del movimiento Cimarrón de comunidades negras. Me vincularon a hacer cursos de locución y periodismo, y a través de eso pues me invitaban a festividades culturales afro como el Festival del dulce en Barranquilla, El Festival del Frito; acá en palenque, el Festival de tambores y expresiones culturales, en Cali, valle del Cauca, más exactamente el Yumbo, el Festival de música colombiana, y todo donde pueda ser invitado. Entonces en ese transcurso hay un proceso más o menos de 20-22 años.

M.A. En el presente, ¿a qué te dedicas?

F.H. En el presente llevo una meta por investigar a fondo la verdadera procedencia de nosotros los palenqueros, para así entonces empezar a definir la cultura que hay entre nosotros mimos como Afros. Porque aquí hay una biodiversidad hermosísima. Resulta que hace dos años más o menos vino un laboratorio de Inglaterra. Hizo unos estudios genéticos y de ahí se descubrió que de una sola familia de palenqueros se consiguen rasgos de diferentes troncos familiares en África. Es decir, de los Pérez, por ejemplo, se consiguen prototipos de los Bantú, de los Yoruba, de los Congo, de los Ashanti, de los Ñinga y así con otra familias. Por tal razón si es así, es obvio que dentro de cada familia se manejan culturas internas diferentes.

M.A. Según los estudios históricos que se han hecho aquí, ¿cuál es el origen de la población de Palenque?
F.H. Se dice que nosotros somos de tres regiones diferentes del continente africano: de la región del Congo, de la región de Guinea Bisao y de la región de Angola; de esas tres regiones o países, de los 56 que tiene el continente, procedemos nosotros. De hecho anacrónicamente se dice en la historia de nuestro líder fundador, Benkos Biojó, que él era nativo de Togo, Benín. Dicen que nació un mes de mayo, no está claramente definido. Dicen que el proceso de fundación y formación del Palenque de San Basilio se dio en 1539, cuando él pudo lograr escaparse de sus captores y empezó a reclutar negros y a ir construyendo, fundando palenques en diferentes sitios de la Costa Caribe colombiana, hasta llegar acá. Se dice que el hombre siempre demostró desde su captura hasta su liberación de ser muy rebelde. Así somos nosotros los palenqueros. Pero somos rebeldes cuando tenemos que reclamar nuestros derechos y nuestros valores. Lo que pasa es que la historia se ha querido cambiar y se ha impregnado lo malo en nosotros, y tan lo malo se ha impregnado en nosotros que a la educación no se ha llevado lo que se quiere decir, sino lo que conviene. Yo recuerdo que el maestro Bantú Estiven Vico, en uno de sus libros dice que a los negros nos tildan erróneamente de rebeldes y guerrilleros, cuando no ninguna razón para ello, aun cuando los rebeldes y guerrilleros son otros. Él dijo que nosotros teníamos que seguir, continuar y morir en la lucha de nuestros deberes como seres humanos y que si en algún momento nos tildaban de rebeldes o guerrilleros era debido a la segregación, el maltrato y el desarraigo que estábamos sufriendo.
Dicen que Benkos Biojó era muy rebelde, siempre era respetado por la realeza. Dicen que el hombre hizo parte de la gran familia militar de los Zulús en Africa. El régimen militar más grande que tuvo el continente africano en toda su historia fue el de los Zulús, del rey Chacazulú.



Estatua de Benkos Biojo en el Palenque de San Basilio. Foto Manuel Apodaca


M.A. Veo que tienes bases históricas muy fuertes, ¿con qué estudios o formación académica cuentas?

F.H. Soy inicialmente Bachiller. Soy locutor profesional, Soy autodidacta del inglés, o mejor dicho políglota, porque hablo tres lenguas, mi lengua materna, que es la lengua palenquera, el español, el inglés y un poquito de Huayunaiqui de la Guajira. Soy técnico en sistemas, soy mecánico diesel, investigador de cultural y ahora voy cursando el segundo y tercer semestre de historia en la Universidad del Atlántico en Barranquilla.

M.A. ¿En qué radio trabajas como locutor?

F.H. Aquí trabajo en la emisora comunitaria del Palenque de San Basilio, que está en proceso de mantenimiento ahorita. En Barranquilla hice práctica en Radio Mar Caribe Internacional, en la Voz de la Costa, en Radio Alegre, en la emisora del Atlántico…

M.A. ¿Cómo funciona la radio local, quiero decir, con qué presupuesto, con qué estructura…?

F.H. El Ministerio de Comunicaciones a través del Ministerio de Cultura logró darle la licencia a nivel nacional a la emisora, es decir, frecuencia para todo el territorio nacional. Ahora estamos en proceso de mantenimiento y en busca de ayuda y colaboración para obtener alguna maquinaria que estamos necesitando.

M.A. ¿Qué tipo de programación trasmiten en la radio y cómo se llama la radiodifusora?

F.H. La radiodifusora se llama Aloíto Pío FM Stereo. Yo hago periodismo general, informativo, con base en una forma de enseñar o inculcar a la juventud y a los niños la lengua palenquera. Hay programas sobre los grupos folklóricos de San Basilio de Palenque como el Sexteto Tabalá, Las Alegres Ambulancias y un grupo que surgió en la década de los 70s y 80s, el grupo Son Palenque.

M.A. Fred, muchas gracias por esta valiosa entrevista.
F.H. Gracias a ustedes.


Más información sobre la radiodifusora del palenque de San Basilio, visite el excelente blog San Basilio Studio Project at http://www.sanbasilioestudio.co.uk/?page_id=44.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Afro-Mexican Dance of the Devils II

Days of the Dead

During November 1st and 2nd, the official days for the ritual celebration, the Dance of the Devils becomes practically a carnivalesque performance. However, the initial phase of the ritual at the local cemetery requires more respect because it is dedicated to pay tribute to dead ancestors. The group dances the five sones, and the leader, “El Terron,” touched by the emotional circumstances of the event, cries out the names of friends and former dancers and musicians who passed away. Then, followed by the crowd, who are the other spontaneous but relevant characters in this performance, the devils wander about the main streets of the village dancing, drinking and playing. Eventually, they stop at the houses where the owner gives them money or food for dancing. During the whole Day of the Dead, the Devils’ festival is an opportunity for everybody to have fun.

Celebrating this dance during one of Mexico’s most traditional festivities known as “Day of the Dead,” is significant for many reasons. First, it brings to mind a direct relation to the underworld. Elements like devil, god, death, and creation, typically position the search for origins in a mythical context. On the other hand, this celebration in the Costa Chica of Mexico somehow has reminiscences of the traditional Yoruba ritual known as Egungun (translated as Masquerade). The Egungun are masked men who represent the spirits of the living-dead.[1] According to Laura Strong, Yoruba people believe that “the ancestors are much more than just dead relatives, they play an active role in the daily life of the living. They are sought out for protection and guidance, and are believed to possess the ability to punish those who have forgotten their family ties […]. The meaning of the Egungun is to provide a certain amount of stability to Yoruba society.”

In the same manner, Mexican tradition from pre-Columbian times believes in wandering spirits after death. There is a common belief about the constant interaction between the living and the dead so, the Day of the Dead is thus a time to pay tribute and to celebrate one’s ancestors. On the days of celebration altars with fruits, drinks and food for the souls who return to earth must be created. As in the Yoruba tradition, Mexican people believe that forgetting to pay homage to dead relatives may bring bad luck, manifested as punishment.

The pre-Columbian Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead is still observed throughout the country as one of the most important holly days. This celebration remarkably combines European and Amerindian traditions and, in areas with strong African influence as in the Costa Chica of Oaxaca and Guerrero, African features are also present. As it happened with many other Amerindian cults, Spanish missionaries readapted the Christian calendar to the ancient Mexican cult of death, originally performed at the end of the harvest in Mesoamerica. With the passing of time, the blending of Amerindians, mestizos and Africans became more common in the whole country. Perhaps it may happen as strategy of blacks trying to assimilate to mainstream culture. Certainly, most oral testimonies in the region agree that it was in the earlier years of the 20th century, after Mixtecan tradition, when Costa Chica’s Afro-Mexicans adopted the Days of the Dead as the official days for the performance of the Dance of the Devils. Nevertheless, there are reasons to believe, as Aguirre Beltrán has indicated whit reference to the concept of sombra (shadow) and wandering spirits (Cuijla 178-184) that many African tokens have permeated the memory of Costeños and are still present in their current cosmogony. In the same manner, the music of the Dance of the Devils, as we shall see, equally reflects the fusion of the three already mentioned ethnic roots.

Music

Five songs in particular compose the music of the Devils dance; although there are variations in style, names and rhythm, the music is almost the same for all performing groups. These five songs are the following:

1. Son de entrada (Beginning Son) or Llegaron los diablos (The Devils Arrive)
2. Son de los Periquitos (Son of the Little Parrots)
3. Son de los pañuelos (Son of the Handkerchiefs)
4. Son de los versos (Son of the Verses)
5. El jarabe (The Jarabe)

The order listed does not reflect the order of performance. There are significant variations in the sequence of songs from one group to another. At least four out of five songs are very similar each other. The musical structure of these ancient songs is similar to that of the traditional Mexican son, which has its roots in a mixture of European, Amerindian and African music. The Mexican son, as E. Thomas Stanford rightly states is more elaborate than one might suppose, as compared with the Cuban son. Stanford points out:

The word [son] connotes a form with three distinct aspects: musical, literary and choreographic […]. As to overall musical form, it is strophic with a refrain and an instrumental ensemble involving a violin (one or more), a number of instruments of the guitar family, and a harp. Although there are exceptions to this generality […].The voices involved should be male.
As to its literary form, this is the copla, or couple, normally sung with repetitions of lines so as to permit its expansion from a usual four lines of eight syllables each, with rhyme or assonance falling at the last syllable of the second and fourth lines, to five-, six-, and even eight-line variants. The literary content of these couplets deals almost universally with women and love-making […]. This content is almost invariably present, though frequently it is rather obscured in double meaning which the audience is predisposed to expect.
As a dance type, the son is zapateado, at least in sections; it is a couple dance –commonly only males dance zapateado; and when danced as an exhibition form it is normally performed on a raised wooden platform called tarima –which in itself acts as a kind of musical instrument… (68).
Although similarities with the Cuban son exist, especially in the area of Veracruz, the Mexican son presents a variety of forms and names according to region, such as, son jarocho, son jaliciense, son istmeño, et cetera. Occasionally, the Mexican son may be identified with chilena, and huapango, the latter a typical rhythm from the Huasteca region and the former another mestizo rhythm from the Costa Chica originated during the 19th century. Chilena owes its name to a Chilean group who, during the California Gold Rush,[2] happened to stop by the Municipality of Pionotepa Nacional for a few months. This group composed of South American men and women disembarked in Puerto Minizo in Oaxaca. Circumstantially, unable to continue their trip, the Chilean group would perform their traditional music (the cueca) and dances; later on, the natives would adapt this melody to their own. The result was a variety of songs called chilenas. Currently, chilenas are the most representative music and dance from the region of both Pinotepa and Pochutla, in Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. In the same manner, musicians and composers of the state of Guerrero have adopted the word chilena to name various traditional rhythms.
As Elizabeth Romero Pérez (2004) suggests, it is likely that within this hybrid cultural environment, the Devils’ ancient music underwent modifications through time by borrowing mestizo and Amerindian rhythms;[3] likewise, they have influenced later Costa Chica music, such as, chilena and contemporary cumbia costeña.

Personal references collected during my research among members of the Dance of the Devils in Collantes reveal that some sones of the dance had lyrics; however, only one, ‘The Little Parrots’ Son’ is occasionally sung. The Collantes’ version of this song is as follows:

Señora, su periquito (My lady, your little parrot
me quiere llevar al pozo (wants me to go to the well)
y yo le digo que no, (but I said to him, I can’t)
porque su amigo es el oso. (Because the bear is his friend)

Pica, pica perica, (Pick, pick, little parrot, )
pica la rana (pick the frog)
como quieres que la pique (How do you want me to pick her)
si no me llega la gana (if I’m not in the mood)
como quieres que la pique (How do you want me to pick her)
si no me llega la gana. (If I’m not in the mood)

¡Ruja! (Ruha!)

In La Boquilla, this song shows a slight variation:

Señora su periquito (My lady, your little parrot)
me quiere llevar al río (wants me to go to the river)

y yo le digo que no (but I said to him, I can’t)
porque me muero de frío. (because I’m dying of cold)

Señora su periquito (My lady, your little parrot)
me quiere llevar al pozo (wants me to go to the well)
y yo le digo que no (but I said him, I can’t)
porque me muerde el endoco. (because the endoco[4] bites me[5])

In the verses of Collantes the word “pica” has implicit sexual connotations as it is understood in many regions of Mexico. Double meaning in language is also typical of the Cuban son. In La Boquilla, regional terms such as ‘endoco’ (river shrimp), occasionally appear. At the end, the devils group of Collantes yells the name of the “god” Ruja. Moedano suggests that the son of the parrots “has the melody of an old son of the same name known throughout Mexico since the earlier years of the 19th century” (24). However, the people of Collantes are convinced that the Dance of the Devils originated in the Colonial period. This seems to be true, although it should be significantly different than it is today.

There is evidence of musical creativity among the Afro-Mexicans of this region since the last decade of the 19th century[6]. Later on corridos and sones of the Costa Chica became incorporated to the anonymous corpus of Mexican popular ballades and songs. An example is the well-known song “La Cucaracha” that was famous during the years of the Mexican Revolution at the beginning of the 20th century. Although with certain variation in lyrics and rhythm “La Cucaracha” is one of the sones de artesa still played by the artesa group of San Nicolas Tolentino, Guerrero.[7] The anonymity of songs like Los Periquitos and La Cucaracha may lead some scholars to believe they are products of general Mexican creation. Nevertheless, the Veracruzano son, La Bamba[8], or the lyrics of the Son de la Negra from the state of Jalisco, and perhaps the very origin of the jarabe at fandangos and popular barrio gatherings during the 19th century show in both lyrics and rhythms strong black influence.[9] Despite the customary lack of recognition by Mexican scholars to blacks in regards to the origins of these songs and rhythms, all pillars of national Mexican music, it is evident they owe very much to black musicians, dancers and composers. In fact, they have been part of the Afro-Mexican tradition for longer than their supposed historical origins would suggest.

Something common to all Devils groups from both states of the Costa Chica are the instruments used to play the music. These instruments are harmonica, charrasca and tigrera. The harmonica, which Costeño[10] people commonly call “flauta” (flute) for its association with this instrument of air, leads the melody of all songs. The second instrument is charrasca or quijada. This is a cow’s jaw with the molars purposely loosed to produce a strident sound stronger than that of the Cuban guiro. The player rhythmically rubs the teeth with an ice pick, and eventually hits the base of the jaw with the holder. This is a sign for the dancers to cry, Ruja! The third instrument is locally known as bote, tigrera or arcuza. This is a friction drum made of a dry hollow gourd covered on top with animal’s skin. A thin wood stick greased with beeswax, no longer than two feet is tied uprightly at the center of the upper skin circle. The player holds the tigrera with one arm when he stands up, and on his lap when seated; then, he rubs the stick with the other hand.
Undoubtedly, charrasca and arcuza, are tokens of natives’ and blacks’ creation. In Festival Costeño, Moedano et al. report that charrasca is called teconte among the Amuzgo[11] people, suggesting that Amerindians use this instrument too. Among various Afro-Latin American groups from Peru, Venezuela and Colombia charrasca is also found. They call it guacharaca, although the material with which it is made varies from metal to wood.

The term arcuza, another name used in the Costa Chica for the friction drum, is of Arabic origin. According to Paco Robles’ “Vocabulario Motrileño” the word arcuza comes from Arab ‘alcuza,’ meaning a tin-plated vessel for the current population of the Southern city of Motril, Spain, located 43 miles from Granada. This word, like many others in the Costa Chica, recalls the Andalusian influence introduced by Spanish colonizers in the 17th century. Musicologists have reported the existence of the friction drum in different ancient societies of Africa, Europe, Mesoamerica and Asia.[12] Most probably the Spanish zambomba, a traditional instrument in Extremadura played during Christmas to accompany villancicos has its antecedent in Africa. An excellent work by John A. Donahue from the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, emphasizes the use of the friction drum known as ngoma by the Venda, a Bantú-speaking group of Africa. He asserts:

The friction drum is spread all throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. In Southern Africa, and South Africa, the ngoma drum of the Venda, a kind of all-purpose drum among the Bantu-speaking peoples, has been incorporated into many different types of drum, including the friction drum. Here too, the ngoma is likened to a lion, because of the "roar" that it produces when the fingers are wetted and rubbed up and down the internal stick, in this case a reed. (6)

Similar use has the tigrera among costeños. There are stories of regional healers, locally called “brujos” or “curanderos,” who use the tigrera for medical purposes. Costeños believe in bad witches who transform themselves into “lions” or “tigers” (local names for the “jaguar” or American puma). Walking into the forest, the healer rubs the stick of the instrument in order to produce the typical sound that scares the “lion.” For Costa Chica’s healers, as well as for many people in the region, a person who has been sick for a while, most probably is a victim of witchcraft. Because brujos come disguised to bring evil to the victim, and then hide back in the forest, the tigrera helps to keep them away.

In the next passage, Donahue mentions the friction drum among the Zulu; they call this instrument ingungu and utilize it in girls’ rituals of passage: “Like the ngoma, the Zulu ingungu is also a girl's initiation drum, played as part of the ceremony introducing her into the community after the onset of menarche” (7). It is the West Coast of Africa’s drum of friction, however, which had a greater influence on the various similar instruments found throughout the Americas. Donahue has addressed the issue substantially, affirming:

More important to the development of the American friction drum were those from Western Africa. Of all those, the kwita and ekpe gave rise to the ceremonial friction drums of Cuba and Brazil, and much of Latin America in general. The kwita, for one, is utilized by various populations in central Africa such as the Chokwe and Pende of Zaire, and other peoples of Zaire and Angola. Gourlay, the writer of the "kwita" entry for the Grove's Dictionary, notes that the Pende use the kwita in ritual and warfare (…). We find a similar instruments in Gabon, Congo and Equatorial Guinea. One such instrument is the osomba of Gabon. This instrument, known to the Nkomi and Mpongwè, also features an internal stick, although this stick hangs from a string that is tied to a piece of wood on the outside of the membrane. The instrumentalist plays the osomba in a ritual context, either with it laying on the ground or resting in his lap (7).

In Brazil, the cuita or cuica is a friction drum played during carnival and other festivities. The juque in Costa Rica, like the furruco or furro in Venezuela, very much resembles the Mexican tigrera, Both show a stick greased with beeswax attached to the gourd and, unlike the cuica, it is rubbed with the fingers producing the typical sound used as a bass rhythm.

In Costa Chica’s Afro-Mexican music, the tigrera supplies the hoarse sound of bass, and the charrasca, the rhythmic sound of guiro. Indeed, both may be recurrences of the Africans’ inspiration in response to the torments of slavery in the Americas. These two instruments, plus the drum, used in other Afro Mexican dances of the region such as in the series of Danzas del Toro (Bull dances), alternate with other instruments, such as harmonica, violin and guitar that were introduced by the Europeans.

Notas:

[1] Babayemi refers to the Egungun mask as follows, “There is usually a masque to be worn to cover the head and over the face is sewn a net to allow the masquerade to see […].The wooden mask may represent the head showing the facial marks of the lineage, or a totemic animal or bird sacred to the family. At times the carving may be a female head with the traditional hair do” (35).
[2] The discovery of small gold nuggets on the junction of the American and Sacramento Rivers on January 1948 spread like wildfire locally and beyond the country. Trading ships carried the word to Hawaii, China, Mexico and Chile. Since the metal was literally free for all, it is not a surprise that the rush for obtaining the precious metal attracted people from everywhere. See for more details, Oakland Museum of California.
[3] See Elizabeth Romero Pérez, “Danzas autóctonas de Oaxaca.”
[4] Endoco is a local name for the shrimp of the rivers.
[5] See Rafael Reyes Larrea, “Imágenes de la Costa Chica.”
[6] Cf. McDowell, Poetry and Violence 25-26.
[7] See Carlos Ruiz Rodríguez, 60-61.
[8] Cf. Bobby Vaughn, “Mexico in the Context of the Transatlantic Slave Trade” 7
[9] For more information about the origin of Mexican jarabe see, Jesús Flores y Escalante, 141-143.
[10] The word Costeño is a common term used among Costa Chica’s people as a denotation of regional identity.
[11] Amuzgos together with Mixtecos and Chatinos are the most well known indigenous group still alive in the Costa Chica. There is vast evidence of loanwords and other cultural borrowing among Afro-Mexicans and Amerindians in Costa Chica’s contemporary culture.
[12] See John A. Donahue. “Applying Experimental Archaeology to Ethnomusicology: Recreating an Ancient Maya Friction Drum through Various Lines of Evidence.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Afro-Mexican Dance of the Devils (I)

Y el cuerpo al filo del agua,
al filo del viento,
en el eterno signo
de la danza.

Nancy Morejón. Elogio de la Danza


1. African roots of the Dance of the Devils

The Dance of the Devils and other popular Afro-Mexican expressions, such as corridos (folk ballads), Sones de artesa[1] (Artesa son), oral tradition, cuisine, and popular medicine, have been an important part of the local culture for centuries. Historians and anthropologists assume that Spanish colonizers settled the Costa Chica region since the 16th century. They brought slaves to the current municipalities of Jamiltepec and Pinotepa Nacional in Oaxaca, and to Cuajinicuilapa in Guerrero to work in their haciendas and cotton plantations where blacks worked as ranchers and cowboys. [2] At the time of slavery in Mexico, black men were consigned to work in mines and plantations, whereas women were destined to carry out domestic labor in the masters’ houses. On Costa Chica’s cotton plantations and cattle ranches, the situation was not different.
Oral and written testimonies[3] collected during my field work at different stages from 2004 to 2007, reveal that the origin of the Devils Dance may be found in the segregation of blacks from festivities and public celebrations organized by the masters of the haciendas. As in many other countries, blacks contested segregation by performing their own festivities. Beyond the hacienda’s walls, they would perform rituals to their African gods, play drums and dance till exhaustion. Then, the master would come out and shout at them to stop; otherwise, they would be accused before the Inquisition of adoring the devil. Similar stories have been attested in Cuba, Venezuela, and in different countries of the Caribbean. In these countries, scholars have reported different versions of Dances of devils, such as the Cuban diablitos performed by Afro-Cubans during the Epiphany (Fernando Ortiz 1992:46-64; 1998:171-177). In the same manner, Venezuela’s Devils of Corpus Christi, although more related to religious conversion have been also reported in the literature (Pollak-Eltz, 48-53; Rosenberg; González et al.).

One of the most difficult tasks for scholars to studying the African diaspora has been to locate the precise origin of enslaved Africans who were brought to the Costa Chica. As one of the pioneers of African studies in Mexico, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán started archive investigation in the Archivo General de La Nación (AGN) in Mexico City in the 1940s. He left an important route for further Afro-Mexican studies. In his work, La población negra de México [1949] (1989), he emphasizes that many African sources can be traced during the slave trade; however, not all of them were easily obtained because several factors obstructed his search. Among other difficulties, Aguirre Beltrán points out, “most slaves entered the New World under a generic name, such as blacks from Guinea, Angola, Cabo Verde, Congo and São Tomé” (La población 102); yet, the most recurrent name he founded in historical archives was that of the group Mandé. According to Aguirre Beltrán, this ethnic group was the most influential for Mexican culture during the 16th century. He writes, “They entered under the general denomination of Mandingos, and left as a testimony of their presence, numerous geographical places in the New Spain that hold their name as well as the persistence of the word ‘mandinga’ as a popular designation of the devil” (La población 107).[4] Why this association of blacks with the devil? Obviously, there are religious implications here, as much as stigmatization on the part of the colonizer trying to break the will and culture of the colonized. I return to this issue below.
In regards to blacks introduced into Mexico during the three centuries of Spanish colonization, Aguirre Beltrán writes:

Blacks were in Mexico a minority representing 0.1% to 2.0% of the Colonial population; the number introduced by the slave trade was no bigger than 250,000 individuals in the course of three centuries. However, the number of Spaniards were small, and certainly, in New Spain they represented a smaller number than the blacks (Cuijla 8).

Having lost their freedom and being sold as slaves, Africans were disseminated throughout the entire territory of Mexico. Gradually, they blended with the rest of the population, giving as a result the profound mestizaje which currently characterizes modern Mexico. Hernández Cuevas asserts that the present reality of modern Mexico’s mestizaje cannot be accounted for without the blacks’ contribution. In his work África en México, he has pointed out:

In Mexico, dark and pale blacks, from the point of view of positive mestizaje, are not in a process of assimilation. Black men and women of yesterday and today, together with other no less important components, form the ethnicity and nationality. Blacks exist in Mexico. Black people are in the mestizos with the rainbow of their cultural contributions; blacks formed the nation and nationality. Blacks’ capacity of resistance has allowed them to persist by means of survival strategies such as mestizaje. As such, the African cultural contributions are fundamental parts of the Mexican and Mexicanity. This is verified by popular culture: oraliture, food, music, dance, sense of humor and religious symbols. In other words, Africa is medullar energy of the Mexican spirit, or African-Mexican from the Afrocentric point of view. This is ratified by the carnival and the Mexican fiestas. (17)

Hernández Cuevas’ deconstruction of traditional Mexican discourse in regards to mestizaje, from José Vasconcelos to Agustín Basave Benítez,[5] is a new claim that overtly challenges both past and new narratives about Mexican mestizaje. By overlooking the historical presence of blacks, Mexican post-revolutionary mestizaje’s ideology erroneously assumed that mixed people are the product of Amerindians and Europeans only. In the same manner, Mexican scholars in the last two decades doing investigation about the so-called “third root” of Mexico have unanimously taken for granted the concept afromestizos as a general term for Afro-Mexicans. It seems that the concept was taken from Aguirre Beltrán who originally proposed in La Población a variety of terms to classify the different types of racial blending; thus, afromestizo -together with indomestizo and euromestizo-, are no different than hypothetical racial categories derived from a more general concept that justifies the prevalence of mestizo as dominant in Mexico. Indeed, the term afromestizo taken up by the Mexican academy has not been used by most of the population of African descendants in Mexico because they do not identify themselves as such. In this regard, Vinson III has declared:

Mexico is the only Latin American country where some scholars still refer to black people as afromestizo. Although this term would seem to identify a special characteristic of the Mexican “mixing” in the Costa Chica, individuals recognized today as blacks do not show more particularities of “mixing” than the rest of the blacks of the African diaspora. In fact, the tonalities of the skin color as well as a wide range of phenotypes are the norm amongst African descendants. Therefore, Mexico is not the exception. (57)

The presence of black culture in Mexico has been systematically ignored, due to political segregation and cultural Mestizaje. Currently, there is more investigation to support its importance, and also to account for the existence of black nucleuses perfectly distinguished but still marginalized and living sometimes in worse conditions than native Amerindians.[6] The reality of the contemporary black population on both coastal sides of the country as well as in various cities of the central plateau reflects not only the abundance of the African phenotype but also a visible African influence. Various cultural characteristics including behavior, language, music, dance, popular medicine, and oral tradition are notable African features inherited by the current population of these coastal regions of modern Mexico. In the same manner, the manifest Mexican pleasure for dancing, equally attributed to all Latin American nations as a sign of strong African influence (Chasteen 112-113); signifying[7] and double meanings in language used to provoke fun (picardía, cabuleo), are tokens of African heritage imbedded in current Mexican mestizaje.
Notes:

[1] The artesa is a kind of zoomorphic trough made out of a ceiba or parota tree log. The artesa is placed on the ground upside down so that a couple may dance bare feet on it. Sones de artesa are another type of Afro-Mexican music and dance now in decay. For more information on the revitalization of the only two groups in all of the Costa Chica region, one in San Nicolas Tolentino, Guerrero, and the other in El Ciruelo, Oaxaca, see Ruiz Rodríguez 11-37.
[2] See Aguirre Beltrán, Cuijla 8-12, and Vaughn “Mexico in the Context of the Transatlantic Slave Trade” 2-4.
[3] Comité de cultura. “Danza de los diablos de Collantes.” Casa del Pueblo, Santiago Collantes: n.p.: 1988.
[4] All translations from Spanish into English are mine unless otherwise indicated.
[5] José Vasconcelos as Secretary of Education in the 1920s postulated in his work La raza cósmica the notion of the mestizo as the cosmic race, the race of the future. This notion eventually turned into official ideology through education and culture after the Mexican Revolution of 1910. More recently, Agustín Basave Benítez in his work México mestizo, while criticizing to a certain extent the idea of Vasconcelos, continues praising him. On the other hand, both Vasconcelos and Basave ignore the black element in their notions of mestizaje. See Basave Benítez 136.
[6] See Bobby Vaughn’s “Los negros, los indígenas y la diáspora. Una perspectiva etnográfica de la Costa Chica,” in Vinson III and Vaughn. Afroméxico 84-85.
[7] For more information see, Marco Polo Hernández Cuevas’ essay “El Signifying chango que chinga en Chin Chin el teporocho.” África en México 79-95. Also, see Henri Louis Gates Jr., 685-723.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Costa Chica of Oaxaca and Guerrero in Mexico

Mostly constituted by savanna, Costa Chica is a tropical strip of land between the Pacific coast and the Southern Mountains of Mexico. Its extension comprises parts of two states, Oaxaca and Guerrero respectively, starting in the North from the Port of Acapulco in Guerrero, and concluding in the South in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca . Numerous towns and villages are connected by the interstate Costera highway, which since 1965 was open to public transportation.
Regardless the increasing influence of modernization introduced via neoliberal politics and globalization, many of the poorest villages far from the highway still remain in isolation only communicated by unpaved dusty roads. In these villages, the Afro-Mexican phenotype is more manifest; hence, remnants of language and tradition of the Afro-descendents continue since the colonial period.
Costeños, Morenos, Afromestizos , Afro-Mexicans are some of the terms used by both outsiders and locals to call the current population resulting from a variety of interethnic blending of Africans, Amerindians and Europeans. The first two terms, Costeños and Morenos are the most preferred by themselves, the last two, Afromestizos and Afro-Mexicans respectively, have been employed by national and international scholars.
This web page include just a glimpse of the Costeños cultural richness; nevertheless, it is a tribute to all our friends and people of Costa Chica who are always in our harts.