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Slavery in Latin America

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Aspects of Slavery in Latin America

The life of African slaves in Latin America

    The African presence in Latin America has a profound affect on the culture from Mexico to the Bahamas and Brazil.  Black slaves and freedmen arrived in America during the early stages of exploration and settlement.  By the first decades of the sixteenth century they were regularly participating in Spain's military expeditions.

    Spaniards considered Indian workers to be weak and unreliable.  Whenever possible they would buy African slaves.  This lead to and increase in the importation of Africans.  As the agriculture of sugar and coffee increases, so did the demand for slaves.

    It is important to understand that slavery differed from region to region.  The actual practice of laws is questionable from plantation to plantation and from urban areas to rural lands.  This is an excerpt from a Cuban slave's account of life in Latin America as a slave.

    "I saw many horrors in the way of punishment under slavery.  That was why I didn't like the life.  The stocks, which were in the boiler -house, were the cruelest. Some were for standing and others for lying down.  They were made of thick planks with holes for the head, hands and feet. They would keep slaves fastened up like this for two of three month for some trivial offence.  They whipped the pregnant women too. But lying face down with a hollow in the ground for their bellies they whipped them hard but took care not to hurt their babies because they wanted as many of those a possible.  The most common punishment was flogging:  this was given by the overseer with rawhide lash which made weals on the skin.  They also has whips make of the fibers of some jungle plant which stung like the devil and flayed the skin off in strips.  I saw many handsome big Negroes with raw backs.  Afterwards the cuts were covered with compresses of tobacco leaves, urine and salt."

       Life was harsh for the slave in Latin America.  Some slaves did have more freedoms than the slaves of North America.  Marriage was allowed in some areas and some slaves were even taught to read and write.  In fact, Colonial Brazil had the highest recorded number of legal marriages among slave regions in Latin America. 

      Whether in the city or on a plantation, slaves were at the mercy of their owners.   Runaways were common and even suicide was and answer for some.  Because most slaves were baptized upon arrival to the New World, the Catholic Church did come to the defense of slaves.  Some brotherhoods raised money to purchase the freedom of some of their slave members.  Although the church owned slaves themselves, they never embraced the racist justifications for slavery so common among Protestant denominations in the United States. 

       The impact of slavery in culture is greatly apparent in Latin America.  The mixing of cultures and races provides a rich history to be studied.  This wealth of culture came at an enormous price for the Africans but we as Americans should admire the perseverance and strength of the people that enrich us daily.

Punishment in Stocks, Brazil,1830s

   Source
Jean Baptiste Debret, Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Bresil (Paris,1834-39), vol. 2, plate 45 (bottom), p. 139. (Copy in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University)