By Alejandro Gutierrez
Between the end of the Altiplano Plateau and the beginning of the Amazon lies a tropical paradise called Yungas, which opened its doors to shelter Africans who were initially brought to do the hard work of melting down silver and creating coins, to later being sold to the plantations in Yungas, where they left us a legacy of the ancestral cultivation of coffee, coca leaves (for traditional use), citrus and other fruits. Because I am proud of my culture, I am here today to show the world that we are in Bolivia and we are here to stay.
The African Presence in Bolivia has certainly marked an historic event and since then the history is written differently. An undeniable fact that cannot fail to mention is how slaves were treated in the manner of plantation production in Yungas, where they were considered tools for work.
Adapting to a new reality certainly was not easy, and with it came assimilation. Today, we proudly wear, live together, and make use with what we have. We can mention the clothes; that most women wear polleras (long skirts) and two braids. In addition, many aunts and uncles (familiar terms for all male and female adults) speak and understand very easily the Aymara language (one of the indigenous languages), among many more assimilations.
Another aspect is the music, an instrument that helped identify and gather us as a people. The legacy and reminder of the collective memory helped interweave our history through songs such as; “Honor y gloria a los primeros negros que llegaron a Bolivia que murieron trabajando muy explotados al cerro rico de Potosí” (“Honor and glory to the first Blacks that arrived in Bolivia, who died working in exploitation in the Rich Hill Mountain of Potosí”).
Or, to defend what is ours; “Después de 500 años, no me vayas a cambiar el bello ritmo de saya con ritmo de caporal. Los Karkjas están confundiendo la saya y el caporal. Lo que ahora están escuchando es saya original” (“After 500 years, you will not make me change the beautiful rhythm of Saya with the rhythm of Caporal. The Karkjas (the most famous music group in Bolivia) are confusing the Saya and Caporal. What you are now hearing is the original Saya.”) And finally, songs which became very popular; “Si yo fuera presidente, construiría un puente de Coroico hasta La Paz, caray construiría un puente”. (“If I were president, I would build a bridge from Coroico (in Yungas) to La Paz. Hell, I’d build a bridge”. All of these songs belong to the Afro-Bolivian communities.
All these words have a great significance for a people who are seeking their roots. The songs now more than have great value. Thus, for these and many other reasons, I honor my Afro-Bolivian people.