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Recovering the lost history of Africans in Yucatán

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Mérida, Yucatán — Previous notions of the African population’s role in Yucatán are being upended by new research.

Africans, Afro-descendants and pardos (descendants of Mayans and Africans) lived in Yucatán during the Spanish colony under the regime of slavery.

Over time they became numerous, especially producing offspring with Mayan women, and sometimes the Spanish Crown used them to defend some territories, organized under the armies of pardos.

For Jorge Victoria Ojeda, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Yucatan (UADY), the politics of the 19th and 20th centuries obliterated the Africans of history with the idea of ​​creating a mestizo nation composed solely of the Spanish and the indigenous.

“The mestizo binomial was offered to us by the group in power, which is the one that continues today. In studies with the Mayans, when we have in mind to study the Yucatec colonial world, the classic thing is to study it in the Mayan-Spanish binomial, but the third group was also extremely important,” he stressed in an interview with Informativa Conacyt.

On the trail of Africans

To place the presence of people of African descent in the colonial society, Jorge Victoria became the first researcher at a regional level to study the topic from the academic body Identity and Mayan Culture in Yucatan of the Dr. Hideyo Noguchi Regional Research Center (CIR UADY) .

For two years, the researcher developed the project “Africans, Mayans, Spaniards and Yucatecans: relationships, exchanges and contributions,” focusing on the study of the relationship of Africans with other ethnic groups that coexisted in the Yucatán Peninsula. As a result, inaccurate historical data were corrected that were considered true and a new knowledge was obtained about the interethnic interactions of the colonial era.

“We are always oriented to what the Mayan culture is, but I think that the investigations are always directed to the relationship with the dominant group, the Spaniards, but the relationship with the other groups has almost never been addressed, such as the Africans,” he said.

According to the researcher, one of the few antecedents in the subject is the work of the American researcher Matthew Restall, who in 2009 published the book The Black Middle: Africans, Maya, and Spaniards in Colonial Yucatan, in which he affirms that Afro-Yucatecans played interstitial roles in the colony. They filled a middle position between Spaniards and Mayans and, therefore, impacting colonial society, from the Spanish city to the Mayan village, in profound ways that still need to be recognized.

Race configuration of Merida

For many years, Afro-descendants lived in the same houses of their masters.

“It was thought that in the sixteenth century the center of the city of Mérida was exclusive for Spaniards, but that is a misconception.” the researcher said.

In colonial houses, the Spaniards were always in charge and Afro-descendants were in an intermediate position between those and the indigenous people.

The church of the ‘Afro’ population

Based on the work of Rubio Mañé (1942), the neighborhood of Santa Lucía was considered to be that of the African and Afro-descendant population, but the UADY study shed new light on that idea.

This population was organized to carry out its sacraments and rituals in the cathedral, along with other groups, as revealed by the marriage books of the tabernacle of the cathedral of Mérida, the oldest in Mexico. However, the political and administrative movements of the Catholic Church and the Spanish Crown resulted in the groups segregating in the seventeenth century.

“In the second book of marriages of the Tabernacle, we find that on January 15, 1686, the church was inaugurated exclusively for blacks. Despite the fact that before they were already divided into books, after their departure and conformation of their parish, their archives were sheltered in the temple called the Holy Name of Jesus,” he said.

That church, also known as Dulce Nombre de Jesús, opened its doors to welcome the black population, but it also received Maya women married to people of African descent.

After independence from the Spanish Crown, the African and Afro-descendant population merged with the rest.

“We must bear in mind that there was a wave of people of color coming mainly from Cuba,” said Jorge Victoria Ojeda.

Source: La Jornada Maya

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