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Latin America Team Dispatch


Blood Flows in the Americas, Africa Feels the Pain

So far on our Trek, we have focused on the ancient civilizations of the Aztecs and the Maya. In the last update we reported on the violent conflict that has existed between the ladino (white or mixed people) people and the indigenous descendents of the Maya. Today, Jamila gives us some information on the African descendents living in Guatemala, the Garifuna. How did these different ethnic groups come to live in the same place, this country today known as Guatemala?

The root to this question's answer lies in the brutal Spanish Conquest of the people living in the Americas. It's a tragic story that goes back a little over 500 years. Most people have heard of Christopher Columbus. He was trying to find a route from Europe to Asia to increase Spain's profits in the spice trade. His first landing in 1492 was on the island of Guanahanìn in the Bahamas, which he believed to be the East Indies. It is for this reason that he named the people he encountered "Indians", a name that has stuck with them to this day. Only on his fourth and final voyage did Columbus explore the coast that now stretches from Honduras to Panama, though he still didn't accept that Asia wasn't just a little further past these lands.

Columbus made wild claims about the riches to be had in the Americas and the people he had found there who he thought would make good servants for mining and farming. And so the race was on. Not just the Spanish, but also the Portuguese, and later the French, English and Dutch, all wanted to take advantage of these newfound lands and people. The Spanish, especially, took the Americas by storm. They caught the indigenous people (whom they viewed as ignorant, rude, and dirty) by surprise, made alliances with different indigenous groups, and overwhelmed them with their superior weapons. They showed no mercy and slaughtered many indigenous indiscriminately, destroyed their written records, and stole their riches.

After Hernán Cortés successfully conquered Mexico in 1519, he sent his cruel lieutenant, Pedro de Alvarado, with some Aztec warriors down towards Quetzaltenango, in modern day Guatemala. There they fought a bloody battle against the indigenous, who were led by a legendary indigenous leader, Tecun Uman--who some believe never really died, but is waiting to help the indigenous rise up again one day. The Spaniards ended up conquering all of Guatemala and much of its southern neighbor, El Salvador. Different areas of the land and its people were impacted to varying degrees. The indigenous people were able to maintain their traditional culture at some level, though always in a subservient role to the Spaniards and their descendents--a situation that continues to this day.

The pain that the indigenous people of the Americas felt visited upon many people of Africa as well. As the Europeans sought to make ever more money from the lands they now controlled, they forced the indigenous to work on plantations and mines under often very brutal conditions. Many indigenous did not survive. Adding to the situation, the Europeans brought some diseases to the Americas that had never been there before and to which the indigenous had no resistance. Over a period of about fifty years, over 17 million indigenous died. According to some, this means about 90% of the indigenous people died.

The Spanish, second only to the Portuguese, imported millions of African slaves to fulfill their needs in the colonies. After 1650, settlers from the colonizing nations of northern Europe transported slaves into the territories they had seized from the Spanish in the West Indies. By 1850, an estimated 14 million slaves had been brought to Latin America.

Throughout Latin and North America, the blending of cultures, and the events and ideas that sprang from these times and this diversity of people has led to a variety of rich cultures. While the oppression of indigenous peoples and African descendents has continued in many ways throughout these lands, the world is richer for their contributions and the inspiring examples of their struggles for justice.

Jamila, reporting from Livingston, Guatemala, tells us of her encounter with black Guatemalans whose ancestors were also African slaves. Check out her article about the Garifuna and their life in Livingston!

 

Jamila - Solo and Sore in Central America!
Jamila - Making Marimbas with Modern Maya
Jamila - The African Legacy in Guatemala: Black Guatemalans?
Jamila - Jamila Goes Back to High School
Monica - Justice, Truth and Life: Women with a Mission

 
 
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