Sonia Salgado is the president of the Oro Negro foundation.

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Oro Negro Foundation:
Afro descendants organize themselves

The first Afro-Chilean foundation is now working in Arica under the name "Oro Negro" (Black gold). It is around the Azapa valley that currently lives the largest afro-descendant community in Chile. Sonia Salgado, the Camarones City major, is their president. She wants the rest of Chileans to know about the "struggle and joy" of the people she represents.

By Virginia Rioseco
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Oro Negro is the first Afro-descendant foundation in Chile. It was created on December the 5th, 2000, when the "Disrimination and Racism Regional Conference" was organized in Santiago. The group was formally constituted in april 2001. They work in Arica, since the majority of the African-origin population lives near the Azapa valley.

Sonia Salgado, the Camarones city major (First Region), is the foundation's president. She says that Oro Negros objectives include the political and social recognition of Chile's Afro-descendants, and the rescue and promotion of their cultural roots, as well as helping them participate in society's diverse areas. For this, Oro Negro will starte several professional courses and workshops in music, dance, art and sports.

To Sonia Salgado, Afro-descendants have learnt how to face racial discrimination with wisdom. "We stand up and tell the whole world that those of us who descend from black slavery have looked for a gathering concept called Oro Negro, which allows us to live our way, making a song out of each letter, a joy out of pain, a dance out of each noise, a friendship out of each smile, and transforming our hands in lots of hands willing to help".

At South's North
Black population in Arica was always considerable. The city was founded in 1570 and was part of Peru until 1929. At the beginning of the Colonial time, Peru was one of the most frequent destinies for the black groups that had settled at the coast to start working in rural activities and house-services. It was a different kind of immigration to that of the rest of the continent.

Most of the black people that came to Peru were from the Antillas or towns in Africa, specially around Congo and Angola. They were not specific ethnic groups -such as the ones in Cuba and Brazil-, so they just integrated to the Peruvian culture, forming a whole new identity.

Arica was one of the main cities to receive these people. There are several and confusing reasons for this. First, the city was the main port from where Bolivian silver was exported to Europe. It was a kind of oasis in the middle of the desert, thanks to the Azapa valley and its healthy production of sugar cane and cotton. The city was quite isolated during those years: the communication system was then very precarious.

The negro majority made itself felt since the first day of the year 1620, when a free black man named Anzúrez and his pal, who was also black, were elected as majors of Arica. The response came right away. Six months later, an order by Peru's viceroy, don Francisco de Borja y Aragón, declared this nominations to be completely anulled.

The participants of the Oro Negro foundation believe that the mixed-race Chilean conformation owes much more to the negro community than what is traditionally stated. To them, the common idea that the Chilean nation was formed just by European and Indian elements is wrong.

"Even though the African elements are not part of our culture as much as in other Latinamerican countries, such as Cuba or Brazil, to deny their influence is a sad disrespect to our History and identity", says Sonia.

To re-read History
It is well documented that our national dance, the cueca, had black elements in its original concept. Also, the famous Historian Francisco Antonio Encina once wrote that 13 per cent of the explorers that came to Chile with Diego de Almagro were black. Historian Gonzalo Vial Correa mentions that "up to the year 1558, the number of blacks, mulatos and zambos in Chile was of about 5,000; compared to 2,400 Spaniards, 17,000 mestizos and 48,000 indians". According to these statistics, up to the end of the 16th Century almost 20 per cent of the Chilean population had some kind of black blood.

From another perspective, during the Colonial times Chile was part of the black slaves traffic industry. They came through two routes: one that started at the Iberian peninsula and went down all the way to Porto Bello, Panama or Cartagena de Indias. Slave traders would get several of these "black goods" and delivered them to the markets of the "Nueva España", Central America and Peru. Slaves that got to the Chilean ports of Coquimbo and Valparaiso had a price that was two or three times higher.

The second most direct route started from Buenos Aires and went through Cuyo to Mendoza. It crossed the mountains to the Aconcagua valley, where slaves were delivered to Santiago and Valparaiso. Most of them were sold and transported ilegally. During the 18th Century, Valparaiso was an important port for the slavery business. According to the Oro Negro foundation, in 1783 2,180 slaves were shipped to the Callao port.

Our country banned slavery in 1811 through the "Liberty of womb" law made by Manuel de Salas, seven years after he had read the following announcement in a newspaper: "For sale: 22 to 24-year-old mulato, nice condition, good price. For those interested, please contact Felipe Santiago del Solar". Thanks to this ban, dictated in 1823, Chile became the second country in the world to prohibit slavery, after Denmark.

The African minority that lived in Santiago, Quillota or Valparaiso began to mix with indians, gypsies, and Europeans, shaping a whole new ethnic and cultural identity for Chile.

Finally, there was one more event that added the African inheritance to the Chilean blood. When the city of Arica was finally integrated to Chile, in 1929, a lot of Afro-descendants began living under the Chilean law. And they are still there, looking life with the conviction that they are far more than what official tales makes us believe. They are part of the "Black Arica", and they work daily to promote their traditions and culture, proving that their influence goes beyond the "cueca" or "zamacueca". Their face is proud and shows unmistakeable traces of the Black Africa.


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