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Direitos Humanos / 21/09/2020

The Black Christ and the invisibility of Afro-Peruvians

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The Black Christ and the invisibility of Afro-Peruvians


In addition to the Andes and the lush city of Machu Picchu, Peru's history is closely linked to that of Africa and its descendants.

On November 7, 2009, Peru's then president, Alan García, apologized to Afro-Peruvians for the years of oppression and discrimination they have suffered throughout the country's history. In a solemn ceremony, the representative said: "We declare to the Afro-Peruvian population a historic request for forgiveness for the abuse, exclusion and discrimination perpetrated against them the colonial era to the present." It was the first time that a political leader apologized to his nationals for the horrors caused by racism.

Although important, the act has emptied itself. The American Revolutionary People's Alliance (APRAP), a center-left party that ruled Peru and to which Alan García was affiliated, did nothing to minimize or combat racism, much less considered the countless suggestions of different sectors of society engaged in the struggle. anti-racist.

The apology was erased in the time and memory of Peruvians. But Alan García's speech allows for some reflections: after all, are there blacks in Peru? If so, how are these blacks ed in Peruvian society? What is the group's contribution to the country?

In addition to the Andes and the lush city of Machu Picchu, Peru's history is closely linked to that of Africa and its descendants. The first Africans who landed in Peru were members of the army of Francisco Pizarro, a Spaniard who began conquering the region in 1532. Pizarro recruited enslaved Africans to conquer the indigenous population and defeat the Inca Empire, one of the most powerful of the period. The popular tradition tells that the indigenous people were perplexed to see the blacks and started to rub their skin to remove the color, such was their estrangement with those human beings that they had never seen before.

As Spanish colonization advanced over Peru's now Viceroyalty, marked by intense civil wars, the indigenous population succumbed and was almost decimated. As a result, the available manpower was drastically reduced. To solve the shortage of workers, the Spaniards turned to the African arm and imported more than 100,000 unfortunate people to work in the gold, silver and emerald mines that shone in the conquered territory of the Incas. The African worker was also used in crops, farms, as domestic servants, artisans, master builders, water workers and in various manual activities.

The Spanish domain was successful. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, Peru was among the richest colonies in the New World, and one of the main landing ports for Africans trafficked by the infamous slave trade. It is estimated that around 700,000 Africans landed in Peru and Mexico during the transatlantic slave trade, Angola, Senegambia, Sierra Leone and Costa dos Escravos, now Benin.

To have an idea of ​​what the number of slaves meant, the African presence was of such magnitude that the Spaniards considered Lima (current capital of Peru) to be a black city. About 60% of the city's population was black and almost all aspects of urban life had African traits. It is not by chance, therefore, that one of the most popular saints in Peru is black, called Martinho de Porres.

Born in Lima in mid-1579, Martinho was the son of a freed African and a Spanish nobleman. As a teenager, he joined the Dominican Order and did several ecclesiastical jobs that his peers rejected. At the convent, he was admired for his dedication to the poorest, for his commitment to heal the sick, for religious righteousness and, above all, for treating everyone equally - lay or religious, white or black, slave or free. He had a predilection for the marginalized, but anyone who sought him out for religious or medical matters, the effort was the same. After his death, he was revered by different groups until he was canonized in 1962. Currently, there is no Peruvian Catholic who does not devote services to San Martín de Porres, the black saint.

Speaking of devotion, the traditional Festa dos Senhor dos Milagres, one of the largest in Latin America, takes crowds to the streets of Peru to celebrate the image of El Cristo Negro. Painted by a slave in the 17th century, the image of the Black Christ (as he is known) resisted infiltrations of water, several attempts at destruction by detractors and successive earthquakes that devastated Peru (one of them even brought down the slave quarters the Christ was painted, but kept the image intact). These events, added to different “graces achieved” by its devotees, originated a cult that, restricted to slaves at first, won thousands of followers over the centuries.

We know nothing about the slave who painted the mural, only that he was a black man Angola, illiterate and skilled. Nobody was concerned with registering his name, his history, lost in time and space. But his work survived ostracism, and a bill is currently being processed in the Peruvian Congress to make r The señor de los milagros, the Black Christ, patron of Peru.

Skilled was also the famous painter Francisco Pancho Fierro Palas, a black man who lived in Peru in the first half of the 19th century. Pancho has a robust production, painted more than 1200 watercolors on various themes of daily life, all of them concerned with showing, above all, that slaves were fundamental to the formation of Peruvian society. According to the historian Maribel Arrelucea Barrantes, “when we think of slaves, only slaves in the fields, chained and constantly beaten” come to mind ”. However, Barrantes continues, “Slavery in Lima was more relaxed, more malleable. I think Pacho Fierro wanted to show us the joy that the African population was capable of. It shows us people interacting, living together, having fun. ” Pancho Fierro is among the greatest Peruvian painters of all time and his work is a reference for scholars who wish to understand 19th century Peru.

It was in the nineteenth century, in fact, that hundreds of blacks sawed in the armies of Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín, considered the heroes of Independence, and promoted Peruvian liberation Spanish rule. Despite fighting alongside the leaders, none of them were recognized as the creator of national liberation and their deeds were erased in history. By the way, who remembers the black Micaela Bastidas, who, together with Túpac Amaru II, led the most important rebellion in Peru in the 18th century, even before Simón Bolívar and San Martín? What about Antonio Oblitas, a slave who fought alongside Micaela and Túpac, one of the greatest strategists of the Peruvian colonial period? Finally, who remembers the blacks slaughtered on the front lines of the armies of Bolívar and San Martín, betrayed by the generals shortly after independence?

After the War of Independence, the promise of abolition of slavery made by Bolívar and San Martín became a dead letter. The generals did not move a straw in favor of the emancipation of the enslaved, not least because they themselves were slaves. Only in 1854 was slavery abolished in the country.

The end of Spanish colonialism did not represent the emancipation of blacks, who were excluded the nascent republic. Peru came to be governed by heirs of Spaniards, who bequeathed their ideas about the inferiority of blacks. The second half of the 19th century, therefore, which should cultivate the values ​​conveyed by Pancho Fierro's work, became a century in which racism, discrimination and other forms of exclusion advanced at a rapid pace in all regions, including Lima - the so-called “black city”.

In addition to the advancement of racist ideas, the country received a gigantic flow of Italian, Chinese, German and Spanish immigrants, who occupied land, displaced the former residents, especially blacks, and squeezed them into pockets of misery scattered throughout the country. The miscegenation in the course of the twentieth century was responsible for making blacks even more invisible, since the process did not mean an appreciation of blackness, but the denial of any trait that referred to this group.

The civil war that devastated Peru between 1980 and 2000, sponsored by the State and the Maoist group Sendero Luminoso, spared no one. Most of the dead, according to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, were made up of Quechua speakers, that is, mostly indigenous and black peasants.

Among the dead is María Elena Moyano, one of the most emblematic black activists in the country, responsible for putting pressure on Alan García in his historic apology. Elena Moyano, who disagreed with the methods and the truculent way in which the sendero treated peasants, was savagely murdered by members of the guerrilla on February 15, 1992. As if shooting in the head and chest was not enough, her body was dragged through the streets and then blown up. Days after having buried parts of the body, the senderistas blew up her grave so that there was no trace of the activist.

The attempt to erase blacks in Peru remains active in the contemporary period. Despite this initiative, there is no way to hide the black heritage in the popular festival, in music, in religiosity, in the arts, in sports and in different aspects of society. Although the phenotype of Peruvians is mostly indigenous, blacks are distributed in different regions of the country, although they are not visible to tourists who travel through Lima, Cuzco or Machu Picchu.

Currently, the Afro-Peruvian population is between 600,000 and 3 million people, depending on who does the counting. This represents between 2% and 10% of the total population. In Peru, as in Mexico, the federal census does not provide for a category for people of African descent - this means saying that blacks do not officially exist.

Although the census does not seem relevant, it raises interesting questions: if blacks do not officially exist, how can racism exist?

them? If they are not legally counted, to whom did President Alan García address his request for forgiveness on November 7, 2009?

The black presence in Peru could go unnoticed in the image that the country projects to the world. However, it cannot be silenced or erased. In the Andes, black people have found their voices in different aspects of society and are shouting loudly for the world to hear them.

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