The Africans who Contructed Veracruz

Dr. Marco Polo Hernández Cuevas

The Africans and Afrodescendants who Constructed Veracruz and the Jarocho Ethos 1521-1778

Yo he nacido rumbero y jarocho/

Trovador de veras

(I was born a rumbero and jarocho

A true troubadour)

Agustín Lara


This multidisciplinary study reveals as overwhelming the African labor and cultural capitals that constructed Veracruz, Mexico and its Jarocho[1] ethos starting in 1521.  The names "Jarocho and Jarocha" (analogous to the "N" word in 21st century United States of America) were the nicknames given by the Spaniards and their lackeys to the offspring of Africans and First Nations[2] people in the Veracruz region.[3]  The name Jarocho evolved from the Spanish epithet "jaro" applied to mountain pigs in Muslim Spain, plus the derogatory ending "cho" (Aguirre, La población 179).  "Jaro" refers to "a red haired animal" or to the offspring of a pig and a wild boar (Porrúa).  "Jarocho" is also a reference to "a person of unrefined and insolent manners," or "a person from the coast of Veracruz" or a "natural of Veracruz city" (Larousse).  Spaniards belittled Veracruz Afrodescendant people by calling them Jarochos thereby comparing them to "half breed wild hogs" (Aguirre, La población 179).  According to Mario Moya Palencia, "By the 18th century, the pejorative sense [of the tag] was discarded and took on a noble meaning" (264).  This is, African American Jarochos, through resistance, work and creativity, subverted the derogatory label. 

The present work reconstructs the African based cultural history of Veracruz and its environs by placing together and assembling logically various pieces of vital information about Africans and Afrodescendants in Veracruz from Spanish, French and English language sources.  It shows that Veracruz arrabales[4] and other nearby African and Afrodescendant towns like Alvarado and Tlacotalpan were the birthplaces of the Jarocho: Jarocho music, Jarocho dance, Jarocho cuisine, Jarocho language, among others; and that these sites are the cultural foundation of the modern Mexican nation and national identity.  Subscribing to Jesús "Chucho" García's approach to the study of the African presence and persistence in the Americas, the present analysis dispels the notion of "folklore"[5] assigned by Eurocentric thinkers to Jarocho cultural expressions.

The essay reads Jarocho cultural expressions as fandango[6] cultural sites dispersed throughout New Spain's land (a region that included today's Mexico) by Africans and Afrodescendants: enslaved, maroons, free men, militias, muleteers and independence fighters.  Thereby, other regional African Mexican ethnicities such as the Campechano, Boshito, Chino, Chilango, and Tapatio were produced.  The method utilized for reading the emergence of the Jarocho people of Veracruz and their cultural sites departs from Western and Westernized interpretations of the American continent, its populations and cultures as follows. 

The hundreds of thousands of Africans transported to New Spain by the Europeans are considered part of the one hundred million people extracted from Africa during the European colonial period in Africa, Asia and America.[7]  Furthermore, it is acknowledged that half a million First Nations people populated Veracruz region at the time of contact.  And, that these people belonged to a larger civilization of pre-Columbian nations with a continental precolonial population of "more than fifty million, [people] reduced [by the encounter] to about five million by 1650" (Sluyter 381).  This is, the land was not empty upon Spanish arrival: it had a plethora of cultures and was utilized to support life via sophisticated agricultural systems (Sluyter 380).  In addition, it is recognized that enslaved people from diverse Asian nations were brought to the Americas through Acapulco.  This too needs to be studied in depth.  However, given the restrictions of space and the expressed parameters here, the present study focuses on the African presence and persistence in Veracruz. 

Peter Boyd-Newman lists the nationalities of 124 Africans sold in Puebla (two hundred kilometers east of Veracruz) from 1540 to 1556 are listed as: Biafra, Bran, Wolof, Zape, Banyun, Berbesi, Mandinga, Guinea, Bolamon, Gio, Agbenyau, Sao Tomé, Angola, Manicongo,[8] Terra Nova, Canicu, and Moronda (139).  This 1969 information substantiates, in part, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s 2005 findings about the "clustering of ethnicities" as an almost universal trend in "Mexico and Peru during the sixteenth century and half of the seventeen" (56).  She also points out that often those Africans were "speakers of mutually intelligible languages" (56).  Boyd reports that one hundred of the enslaved Africans sold in Puebla came from nations in the Senegambia region[9] (Biafra, Bran, Wolof, Zape, Banyun, Berbesi, Mandinga, Guinea, Bolamon, Gio, Agbenyau); fourteen came from the Congo region (Manicongo, Terra Nova, Canicú); seven from the Gold Coast; four from Sao Tomé Islands; and one is unidentified. 

By drawing partially on Nicolás Ngou-Mve, Hall's light dispels the belief "among scholars as well as the general public that Africans dragged to various places in the Americas were fractionalized and diverse, culturally and linguistically" (55).  She exposes as erroneous the conviction that "few of the newly arrived Africans could communicate with each other" and as fallacious the notion that "there was little or no basis for transmission of elements of the cultures of specific African regions and ethnicities to specific places in the Americas" (55).  Hall elucidates, "Aside from being clustered on estates, [Africans] were clustered in local districts.  Enslaved Africans were often quite mobile and sought out their fellow countrymen living nearby" (57).

Hernán Cortés arrived to San Juan de Ulúa Island (a coral reef located in front of present day Veracruz city) the Thursday of Holy week 1519 (Díaz 62).  About 500 men accompanied him on 11 ships.  Earlier that year in February, while in Cozumel Island, Cortés had ordered a head count.  There were: 508 soldiers, 100 crewmembers and 16 horses at the time (Díaz 42).  The disparate numbers between San Juan de Ulúa and Cozumel may be due to men lost during the war with the Tabascan people in a stop shortly after Cozumel and before his arrival to San Juán de Ulúa.  On Good Friday, Cortés ordered everyone to land in Chalchicueyecan,[10] and christened the area with the name of La Villa Rica de la Santa Vera Cruz (The Rich Village of the Holy True Cross). 

Systematically disregarded by mainstream historians is the fact that Cortés' party included Africans.[11]  Juan Sendeño brought along a "black man" (Díaz 39).  Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán in La población discloses, "[...] blacks came with Cortés" (19).  The number of Africans that arrived with Cortés' party is unknown.  However, it is known that people from West, West Central and Central Africa played a major role in the building of New Spain, including Veracruz.  Europeans started to take diverse Africans against their will to the "New World" in increasing numbers soon after the Spanish defeat of the Aztec empire[12] in 1521.  The total number of Africans taken to New Spain is uncertain.  María Alba Pastor reports that in the 1620s alone "around 70,000 [enslaved people] disembarked [in Veracruz and Campeche] from Congo and Angola" (51).[13]  However, by 1524, "Guinea"[14] enslaved Africans are reported along with First Nations people constructing the first Franciscan religious oratory in San Juan de Ulúa reef (Ceballos 9; Aburto 26).  In 1526, Wolof people are reported as responsible for damages to San Juan de Ulúa Island (Aguirre, La población 160).[15] People from the Congo region brought to New Spain in the 16th century were known as "Manicongos" (Aguirre, La población 137); "by the 17th century the majority of [enslaved] Africans came from Congo and Angola, this is to say they were Bantu speaking blacks" (Aguirre, La población 241).

Ngou-Mve, in his study of a portion of the New Spain trade of Bantu Africans between 1596-1640,[16] found: "during that time no slave ship parted Luanda [Angola] without taking fraudulently [i.e. unrecorded] at least a third [more] of the declared cargo" (54).  Available information points out also that "New Spain purchased nearly half of all Africans shipped to the New World between 1595 and 1620" (Carroll 28).  The statistics are comprised from a variety of prior estimates "averaged" by Aguirre (La población 217) and later revised by Colin Palmer, as pointed out by Herman Bennett (199 n.3). 

According to figures based on official European reports now known to have been systematically tampered with (Ngou-Mve 54-55), it has been said that 88,383 Africans were brought to New Spain in the period 1595-1640; two-thirds were males and one-third females (Aguirre, La población 217).  Patrick Carroll cites that "Mexico annually received an average of two thousand [enslaved] Africans during the period 1580-1650" (28).  This would mean 140,000 Africans were taken to New Spain in said epoch.  Part of these Africans and their descendants built the city and port of Veracruz, among others, and manned every position except merchant and administrative posts. 

Aguirre mentions that Diez de la Calle "gives the number of 5,000 blacks and mulattos" for Veracruz (La población 217).  He bases his calculation of New Spain's African and Afrodescendant 17th century "population increase" on Diez's data but curiously excludes Veracruz' population in the table that is supposed to account for New Spain's 1646 Black population (Aguirre, La población 218).  The First Nations populations of the Veracruz city area practically disappeared soon after the Spanish and African arrival, "by the end of the 16th century the port [of Veracruz's] population consisted of 200 Spaniards and more than 500 blacks without any Indian population in place nor nearby" (Aguirre, La población 190).  Peter Gerhard elucidates, "Some 200 Spanish and mestizo residents moved to Vera Cruz Nueva in 1599-1600, but the overall population remained predominantly Negroid throughout the latter colonial period" (361).

Andrew L. Knaut informs that "Hot, humid, disease-ridden and soon devoid of an exploitable Indian populace, the lowlands [of the port of Veracruz] failed to attract a meaningful number of European settlers over the course of the [first] two-and-a-half centuries" (621).  Martín Gabriel Barrón Cruz makes an analogous assessment (56).  Aguirre finds 200 Europeans in the port of Veracruz around 1570 (La población 205); and by 1646 the number had increased to 500 (La población 214).  Veracruz area First Nations populations were decimated by European exploitation, strange diseases,[17] and by migration to higher ground.

The Spanish population was sparse in the Port of Veracruz until 1778 (Knaut 622) and the First Nations populations were inexistent; hence, it becomes clear that Veracruz, culturally, was born and developed as an African American urban center and so did its environs in the Tierra Caliente (hot lands).  To overlook this is counterproductive and hinders the study of the cultural origins of Mexico, Mexicans and the making of the nation and national ethos.  Also, the deployment of "new" Eurocentric and oxymoronic ideas such as "Afro-Andalusian" (Guadarrama 471; Alcántara 176) in an attempt to reclaim for Europe what is proven to be African, perpetuates the structural violence deployed against Africa and Afrodescendants.  Long before Spain was born in the Iberian Peninsula, the Black Moors built Andalusia.  It would be more appropriate to say that the soul of Spain is black moor.[18]

Veracruz became the key to the Spanish kingdom, the door between the New World and the rest of the World.  It was the base-point of the lifeline for the penetration of New Spain and the connection between Asia and Europe.[19]  Veracruz was linked to the rest of the Caribbean, Europe and Africa.  It is true that the Spaniards administered the business life of the port, but it is also true that the cultural life of the port and its vicinity was in the hands of Africans and Afrodescendants who communicated with the outside world and the interior of New Spain and were left mainly to themselves for nine months out of the year, a time used in part to continue their bloodline, plant their African cultural seeds and cultivate the New World seedlings by gathering, conversing and celebrating their Bantu based black masses or fandangos.  Thus, they produced diverse subversive cultural texts to humanize, record, and project their New World experience.

After moving up and down the cost, in 1600 the city of Veracruz settled in its current location.  The Port limits and a five-league territory (roughly 17 miles) were marked in 1608 (Barrón 53).  Barrón reports a population of "almost 2,000" at that time (58).  In 1683, when Lawrence the Graft, "Lorencillo," places Veracruz under siege, the population is reported at almost 6,000 (Gil 124).  The "mulatto"[20] pirate is supposed to have forced Veracruz' population into the main church.

Adriana Gil Maroño mentions, "After the third day of captivity [...] some 1,500 'blacks and coloreds' were taken out of the church to prepare the invaders' ships for sail;" furthermore, these men are identified as "slaves" (125).  Significant is to note that "1,500 to 3,000" men, women and children were captured as slaves while seventeen "important" people were held temporarily for ransom.  The final booty is calculated at 4,000,000 pesos and the enslaved (each valued at around 400 pesos).  The attack left 300 dead (Gil 128).  The seventeen people kept for ransom were Spaniards who belonged to the merchant class.  Ben Vinson, III, in his reference to Lorencillo's attack, mentions that Lorencillo and his 900 corsairs "herded, over six thousand of the city's prominent individuals into churches" (29) (italics mine).  How "prominent"[21] were the captives, remains to be questioned, but Vinson, III's and Gil's numbers are comparable.  Both rely on Juan Juárez Moreno as their source.   

Juárez reports "350 families and a total of 6,000 inhabitants" inhabiting Veracruz city in 1683 before Lorencillo's attack (196).  The "350 families" are the 500 or so Spaniards and mestizos living in Veracruz reported by other sources; people with names.  The rest are commoners.  Another consideration that has escaped historians is that an important part of the 6,000 other people included commerce men and muleteers (many of the muleteers were Africans and Afrodescendants) who had come from other regions of New Spain and were in Veracruz awaiting the Spanish fleet's impending arrival.  19th century Mexican historians provide a further insight, "[the pirates] took three thousand people of both sexes between blacks and mulattoes and the greatest part of 8 to 9 year old children, free or enslaved" (Riva Palacio 639).

Juárez gives as 1,800 the number of "blacks and mulattoes" taken by the pirates (229).  His source is a declaration by don Juan Manuel de Asque found in the Archivo General de Indias (Spain's Seville Archives of Indies).  Riva Palacio, et al's, source is a Jesuit priest named Alegre.  Alegre mentions the taking of "1,500 esclavos" (639 n.1) (italics mine).[22] The noticeable difference in numbers in Riva Palacio's footnote and text can be explained by the fact that not all the people taken by the pirates were "esclavos" (male enslaved people).  The pirates took enslaved and free, males and females, old and young.  Noteworthy is that the militias attacking the pirates (as they were retreating to the Isle of Sacrificios) were "almost all mulattoes" (Juárez 222).    

Álvaro Alcántara López offers conflicting population numbers.  He says that in 1681, Veracruz "had around 1,000 inhabitants, of whom at least half were black" (182).[23]  Alcántara either did not read or ignored the estimated numbers provided in the same collection by other authors.  Hipólito Rodríguez cites a population of 6,000 in the Veracruz coast of which 5,000 were either black or mulattoes (68); and a population of 4,000 for New Veracruz city in 1615 (70).  Even considering that Veracruz lost an important part of its population in a 1620 fire, Alcántara's numbers are improbable.

Another dimension of the African and Afrodescendant Veracruz population problem is posed by the lack of information about the enslaved Africans and Afrodescendants introduced and displaced by pirates, corsairs and buccaneers.  This is particularly relevant where Alcántara's work is one of the latest works on Veracruz' African and Afrodescendant population published by two of the most prestigious Latin American institutions of higher learning, the University of Veracruz, Xalapa and the University of Havana, Cuba.  Aside reiterating reductionist Eurocentric accounts of Veracruz' Afrodescendants and their culture, Alcántara fails to address Lorencillo's abduction of a large part of the Veracruz black population, its impact on Veracruz and on the place or places they were taken to.  This dispersion of Jarochos presents an interesting challenge to academia and a vein of gold for future research in Africana studies.

Alcántara mentions, "At the beginning of the 17th [century], New Veracruz appears, in the eyes of travelers, as a city of 'Spanish neighbors' where more than six hundred blacks dedicate themselves to unloading cargo on the wharf, commerce and militias" (180) (italics mine).  How can a conscientious student of the African Diaspora continue to label the historical port of Veracruz a city of "Spanish neighbors" where the majority of the population was African and Afrodescendant?  It is evident that the Eurocentric tendency of a large portion of Mexican studies of the African Diaspora extends to Alcántara's work.  Alcántara ignores African and Afrodescendant women and children in the city and the populations of the arrabales beyond the city limits.  Veracruz from its foundation was the first known African and Afrodescendant settlement in the continental mainland.  

Veracruz became New Spain's door to the world.  San Juan de Ulúa fortress, built on the reef where Cortés originally landed, was turned into the docking and cargo area. Veracruz, by the 16th century, was a "giant of the New World" (Barrón 57).  By the 17th century, the Spanish fleet's yearly arrival would turn Veracruz into a live fair from May to late July.  The population would swell as the fleet "transported an average of two to four thousand men [...], in addition to the thousands of muleteers that came from Mexico City with animals and gear to transport the goods; to this, one had to add a number of workers for other activities" (Barrón 69).  Another central consideration is that the Spanish fleet brought on the average 2,000 enslaved Africans.

The construction of the Veracruz city wall was accelerated after Lorencillo's siege of 1683.  In 1685, there were "5,337 feet of wall including eight ramparts, circular fortified towers and seven curtains," but the part facing the ocean was still missing (Gil 148).  Everything outside the wall was demolished except the hermitages of San Sebastian and Del Cristo.  The city slums, ghettos or congales grew around these hermitages and were known with the same names.  By 1791, there were 4,000 people living within the wall, plus "the considerable population inhabiting the slums outside the wall" (Gil 157).  The majority of the population inside the wall was non-white just as those living extramuros, or outside the wall.  Another group not counted in the 1791 census were the militias and their families.  A 1761 document cites four militia companies of "free mulattos and blacks" from the city (Barrón 35).  Vinson, III reports "free-color units from Puebla and Mexico City" were stationed in Veracruz in 1781-1782 (77).

Veracruz' population exploded "[a]fter 1778 [as] thousands of muleteers, and sailors from Spain, the interior of Mexico, and the surrounding costal lowlands poured into the hot, mosquito-infected port" (Knaut 622).  Charles III instituted free trade in 1778.  This and the economic opportunities it brought to Veracruz attracted people from all over the empire in search of employment and the "chance for profit" (Knaut 622).  Aside the inhospitable climate and overcrowded living conditions, the newcomers found a well-developed local culture called Jarocho.

Toward the end of the 18th century, a traveler who was walking by one of the two Veracruz congales heard harp music. He peeped through the window and saw in a 12-foot long room a dance contest among ladies and gentleman "all shining blacks dancing a tap dance in place" and when he asked what was it, he was told "that is called Tango"[24] (Gil 165).  By that time 1600 people lived in the south sector of the port city.  Next to the south sector there were two arrabales or congales extramuros (outside city walls), one called Santo Cristo and the other San Sebastián with a reported population of 586 "comprised by Indians, blacks and mulattos;" the same source points out that "toward the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, the population there augmented" and in official documents the barrios outside Veracruz walls "starts to be defined as the new world" (Gil 165 n. 17).  Robert Sidney Smith cites 1,205 persons living outside the city wall in 1818 (5 n.3). 

From a 21st century Western perspective, the numbers above have little significance.  Another image appears under the light shed by the following information: the First Nations populations of New Spain had been decimated to 1,269,607 by 1646; and the First Nation’s population thereafter recovered by mixing with mestizos and mulattos (Aguirre, La población 243).  Therefore, a considerable part of the new First Nations populations are Afrodescendants. To appreciate the impact African and Afrodescendant women and men had in the physical and cultural development of the land, they have to be removed from the statistical realm and placed within the environments they peopled.       

In 1554, San Juan de Ulúa's wharf is under construction by "a great number of [Africans] under the supervision of a clergyman" (Hernández Aranda 151).  Bautista Antonelli, in 1590, finds one hundred and fifty Africans and ten Spaniards living in pile dwellings made with wood from ruined ships (Hernández Aranda 154).[25]  Hundreds of Africans worked unloading ships in San Juan de Ulúa and transporting the cargo to Veracruz City.  From the origins of the port, a few Spaniards with hundreds of Africans and Afrodescendants loaded, unloaded and transported the cargo.

Adriana Naveda exposes that those hundreds of enslaved Africans were "forced to live in unhealthy gullies in the [San Juan de Ulúa] fortress in the beginning, [until they] finally were able to go to the old shanty town of Veracruz during the long months between the fleet's arrival; while their masters preferred waiting in places with a more benign climate" (36).  Alcántara complements the picture,

[In] 1580, free blacks and mulattoes of Veracruz obtained from the king permission to cultivate and sale corn, since foodstuffs were frequently scarce in the city; and in the following decades some blacks worked with carriages transporting food and merchandised to the city from other interior provinces. [...] It was [also] common to find mulatto militiamen and sugar masters (enslaved and free) from nearby mills drinking or involved in rows at the taverns and stores in the 'bandas de Buitrón' (182).

            Rodríguez describes, "New Veracruz emerged from a cluster of constructions (Las Ventas) used to shelter fleet members and to warehouse merchandise and treasury" (69).  In 1599-1600, "[s]ome 200 Spanish and mestizo residents moved to Vera Cruz Nueva" (Gerhard 361).  By 1615, "Veracruz City had 4,000 people" (Rodríguez 70).  These figures do not include the Mulatto and Pardo militia companies, the people who did not pay taxes, or the unknown people.  Rodríguez also points out that the city "was almost destroyed by fires shortly after it was founded; thereafter, little by little its construction began to be made of masonry" (70).  African and Afrodescendant women's presence in Veracruz can be established through inquisition actions against them documented by Aguirre in Medicina y magia.

            The following is from the above stated source.  In 1572, there was a process against the mulatto women Luisa de los Ángeles and María de la Paz (334).  The year 1602, charges were presented against Andrea, a black woman, for divination with faba beans (333).  In 1606, a mulatto woman named Magdalena Guzmán was tried for saying she could read hands (353).  Around 1650, Adriana Ruiz de Cabrera, also known as "la Cumba" was accused of practicing witchcraft (353). There was a proceeding against the mulatto woman Francisca Tozcano in 1668 for "superstition and for questioning the [Christian] faith" (360).

These African and Afrodescendant women and men, who built with their hands and spirits the port city of Veracruz and its economy, were carriers and transmitters of a wealth of African ethnic capitals that materialized in the construction of living spaces, agriculture, transportation, animal husbandry, fishing, defense, and leisure, among others.  From this diverse African know-how emerged unique new-worldviews, different enough from other African and African American worldviews as to have their own brand name; such is the case of the Jarocho.  Africans and African Americans in this region of the continent while adapting to the ecosystem (devastated by the Spaniards) and as a means of survival, forged their own ethnicity through language, religiosity, gastronomy, song, dance, attire, etc.  The creative power embedded in the Jarocho discourse subverted the negative charge of the appellative the Spaniards had branded them with.

Whites, criollos and their lackeys[26] who arrived in mass over two and a half centuries later at the end of the 18th century as commerce was liberalized, and only after the Veracruz environs had been made more hospitable[27] by the Jarochos, adopted the name Jarocho and little by little plagiarized it and obscured the Jarocho African American history.[28]  Knowing that in obstructing the road toward the Jarocho past, they would be hindering the road toward the future of the Jarochos.[29]  Jarochos did not disappear through mixing (as affirmed by Eurocentric historians who for the most part are mestizo-philiacs); to the contrary, Jarochos proliferated along with their dynamic worldviews and were instrumental in the development of other African based Mexican identities famous worldwide.

Jarochos cultivated their worldviews from the 1520s till the 1790s.  They were in control of their cultural lives most of the year.  Jarocho music, dance and song developed during a two and a half century long period.  To claim Jarocho music as "mestizo," "afro-Andalusian," or anything other than African-American-Veracruz Jarocho under the light of the above facts is absurd.  It is like calling jazz "white" because Kenny "G" or David Brubeck adopted it; or calling Samba "mestizo music" because of Sergio Mendez; even more paradoxical is to argue that Tango is other than African American because of their "non-Black" interpreters or inheritors.  Is Candombe "white" when those practicing it are "white"? Is soul food "white" because it is performed and consumed by others not considered African Americans?   Jarocho antecedes many other African American continental creations and is one of the pillars of African, African American and Mexican culture and history sites.

Ethnomusicologist and linguist, Rolando Antonio Pérez Fernández in his 1997 "El verbo chingar una palabra clave" ("The Verb Chingar A Key Word") documented the Kimbundu, Bantu presence and legacy of the verb "chingar" in Mexico.  The influence Jarochos had in the rest of the nation can be established by the fact that "chingar" is one of the most telling symbols of the Mexican ethos.  Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz lauded Chingar as living poetry and the most telling sign of Mexicaness.  Kimbundu even today "is one of the most widely spoken languages in Angola, especially in the north-east of the country, notably in the Luanda province" (Kimbundu).[30] It must be recalled that "by the 17th century the majority of [enslaved] Africans came from Congo and Angola, this is to say [they were] Bantu speaking blacks" (Aguirre, La población 241).  Kimbundu is a Bantu language.  Hall sheds further light: "During the late sixteen century, Duarte Lopes wrote that Congo and Kimbundu, the two major Bantu sublanguage groups spoken in West Central Africa, were as linguistically similar as Spanish and Portuguese" (153).

In his study, La música afromestiza Mexicana (Afro-mestizo Mexican Music), Pérez documents the African rhythmical heritage of Mexican music and finds, "The African rhythmic features are discernible in musical genres cultivated in the costal areas and lowlands of Mexico.  The cause of this is that greater percentages of Africans and Afrodescendants settled in said areas during the colonial epoch and predominated always" (5-6).  The rhythms of Jarocho music, as other Mexican musics, possess deep West, West Central and Central African roots. Gil, in her study of Veracruz toward the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, recognizes the south side of the city as the place of the Tango, Fandango and Chuchumbé.  She points out that the south side was the most populated area of the city, where the militia quarters were, and that it bordered with the marginalized barrios outside the wall (164).

Jarocho cuisine denotes a plethora of characteristics that reveal her ties to the Congo region in the oldest of the continents.  Mondongo,[31] a beef tripe dish (also known as Menudo or Pancita in other regions of Mexico and the United States) is a case in point.  Mondongo has been identified as the name of a Bantu language related to languages of the Congo Epena district (Garderner13).  Aguirre mentions the nation Mondonga as "amply known in Mexico" (141).

            By 1619, "livestock grazed more than half of the lowlands inland from Veracruz: 117 cattle estancias a league on a side; 115 sheep estancias two thirds of a league on a side.  The cattle and sheep together probably numbered 300,000 head, possibly an astounding five times that many" (Sluyter 385).  This is the source of the beef tripe for Veracruz’s Mondongo.  Aside Mondongo, there are a variety of fish and seafood delicacies, soups, corn dishes, sauces, tamales, plantain and rice dishes, among others.  It is true that many of the foodstuffs utilized by Jarochos were not originally theirs.  The same applies to the musical instruments or to tap dancing, etc.  Jarochos took what was at their disposal and according the worldviews they had acquired from their parents, they created unparalleled versions to denote their ties to the new land, to one another, to the past and to the future.

            West, West Central and Central Africans took immeasurable cultural capitals to Mexico.  These capitals were invested to negotiate their conditions and to gain agency in the hostile environment they were displaced to by European and European administered greed.  They adapted to their ecosystem and adapted it to their needs.  Their ancestors and the ancestors of the First Nations people met to continue the bloodline.  From this encounter a new reason to celebrate emerged.  The fandango acquired new dimensions, thus, new rhythms, new colors, new aromas, new textures, and new sounds that, when put together, burst open the gate to creation and a new ethos, the Jarocho, emerged.


Aburto Castillo, Raúl.  San Juan de Ulúa: historia de una fortaleza.  Veracruz: Galaxie, (without publication date).

Aguirre Beltrán, Gonzalo.  Medicina y Magia: el proceso de aculturación en la estructura colonial.  México, D. F.: Fondo, 1992.

_____.  La población negra de México.  Estudio etnohistórico. México, D.F.:  Fondo, 1972 (1st ed. 1946).

Alba Pastor, María.  Crisis y recomposición social: Nueva España en el tránsito del siglo XVI al XVII.  México, D.F.: UNAM-Fondo, 1999.

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Barrón Cruz, Martín Gabriel.  "Borbones: Reformas Administrativas y militares". Ulúa puente intercontinental del siglo XVII. Ed. Pablo Montero. Vol. 2.  Veracruz: CONACULTA/INAH/ICAVE, 1997.

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[1] Jarocho is the masculine; Jarocha the feminine; and Jarochos the plural.

[2] First Nations refers to the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas.

[3] In the state of Puebla, they were called chinos. They were also known as "Pardos" or "Zambaigos." The term Zambaigo "disappeared from popular usage and even from official documents where those individuals are called Mulattoes" (Aguirre, La población 162).    

[4]Arrabal comes from mozárabe (Spanish-Moor Arabic) and refers to a neighborhood in the outer limits of the town. Spanish labeled the people who lived there as arrabaleros o arrabaleras, a derogatory reference to someone with little [European] education.  Within this light, significant is that the name "congal" in modern Mexico is a synonym for bordello (Larousse) and that arrabalera and ramera (prostitute) are also synonyms in popular speech, although this is yet to be recognized in the Spanish dictionary.

[5] Jesús "Chucho" García points out that the term "folklore" is demeaning (Hernández Cuevas).  He believes that in order to be able to comprehend the worth of Afro-Venezuelan music, it has to be de-folklore-ized (212).  The present work subscribes to Chucho's views about music and applies it to all Afrodescendant cultural expressions in Mexico.

[6] A description of the fandango explains: "Fandango is a ritual celebration where communities get together around a dancing platform to play jaranas and "son" guitars, and to sing verses, and where women dance with other women or with men, depending on the type of song. They celebrate events such as the birth of a child, a girl's passage to adulthood, and later on, her marriage. Fandango also accompanies burials, worshipping rituals for saints, or the birthday of Virgin Mary. In short, every occasion involves the dancing platform. Everything happens through the jarana, the leona, and the fandango."  The fandango is a call response community ritual of Bantu origin.


[7] It is thought that one in five Africans survived the transatlantic voyage.  Accordingly, if 10 million made it alive to Asia and ten million to the Americas, then an additional eighty million may have died due to the brutality of the enterprise. 

[8] Manicongos appear registered also as "maricongos" (Boyd 140).  "Maricón" means "sodomite" (Porrúa) or "homosexual man or a despicable or undesirable person" (Larousse).  Boyd informs, "Next to running away and stealing, the crime with which Negro slaves were most frequently charged was sodomy (el pecado contra natura) [...]" (148).  A relation between "maricongo" and "maricón" materializes under this light. This may also represent a key to understanding the travesties of Carnival.  Other African nations' names used in Mexico until present are: grifo, popó, cafre, chamba.  Grifo refers to someone who smokes marijuana; popó is a synonym of excrement; cafre is a reckless driver; and chamba is a synonym for work.

[9] 88% of the Africans taken to New Spain during the first two centuries of the transatlantic trade where from the Greater Senegambia region (Hall 84). 


[10] Andrew Sluyter narrates: "Chalchicueyecan is now the city and port of Veracruz, its location having been shifted several times during the sixteenth century [...]. In 1519, the Spaniards first founded la Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz at Chalchicueyecan, the main land opposite San Juan de Ulúa.  They then re-founded and built the town fifty-eight kilometers to the north, at present day Villa Rica. ca. 1525, the Spaniards dropped La Villa Rica from the toponym and moved the port to the left bank of the Río de la Antigua, at present day La Antigua; launches ferried goods from the deep-water port at San Juan de Ulúa along the coast and across the bar at the river's mouth to Vera Cruz. Beginning with a viceregal of 1597 and progressing over a transitional period of several years, Vera Cruz shifted back to its first location at Chalchicueyecan, and the toponym eventually became Veracruz" (396-97).

[11] Havana Historian, Eusebio Leal Spangler fails to recognize this fact while he acknowledges that a handful of aborigines traveled with the "conquerors" (11).

[12] The Aztec empire was formed by a coalition of Nahuatl speaking First Nations people that began migrating around 1325 to the region occupied by central Mexico today.  The population estimates of First Nations people in Mesoamerica at the time of contact with the Spaniards are disputed by historians and fluctuate from 4.5 to 25 million.

[13] The researcher relies on information by Antonio García de León.

[14] "Guinea" was the name given to people from the area between the "Senegal river and Sierra Leone" (Aguirre La población 33).   

[15] Is this the birth of Maroonage in New Spain? Wolof were known as rebellious and soon warnings were issued against bringing Wolofs "or any other black that has been brought up with the Moors" (Aguirre, La población 160).  Sylviane A. Diouf offers an insight in Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas as to why these cultured people were considered "disobedient," "inciters" and "incorrigible" (146).

[16] The study of the "illegal" trade outside of Ngou-Mve's parameters is necessary to obtain a clearer picture.  The illegal trade throughout the colonial period must be considered including all possible actors such as the pirates, corsairs and buccaneers.  

[17] Striking is that while Mexican and Latin American imaginaries have practically forgotten its Africaness, the Eurocentric discourse that feeds such imaginaries insists on remembering the alleged bringing of smallpox by an African male in 1520 (Carroll 7).  It should be noticed that in the sphere of creativity Africaness is nullified while magnified in the realm of destruction, backwardness, brutality, etc.

[18] See The Story of the Moors in Spain by Stanley Lane-Poole.

[19] The Nao de China (China Galleons) arrived to Acapulco yearly for about three hundred years.  Muleteers transported goods and parcels overland from Acapulco to Veracruz. A notable number of Afrodescendants participated in this profession.

[20] Riva Palacio (639) and Raúl Aburto Castillo (52) identify him thus.  Pablo Montero informs that "Lorencillo" was the founder of Mobile, Alabama and had interests in the design of Louisiana (135).

[21] Vinson, III's usage of the word "prominent" inadvertently obscures the African presence in Veracruz.

[22] Another source reports: "the leur butin, qui consistait en 500 000 pièces d'argent monnayé et 7500 livres de pièces d'argent rompu, autour de 36 caisses de cochenille et 1200 nègres ou mulâtres" 23 October 2007.


[23] Noteworthy is that according to Alcántara "approximately" 100,000 enslaved Africans arrived to New Spain through "Veracruz, Campeche, and other smaller ports such as Coatzacoalcos, Alvarado, La Antigua, Acapulco, Tamiahua, San Blas and Villahermosa" between 1590 and 1640 (180).  There is a 10, 000 difference with other calculations for the Portuguese involvement in the trade to New Spain.  In 2003, Herman Bennett pointed out Colin Palmer's 1976 revision (of Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán's numbers) as still standing.  Alcántara's numbers should be revised, particularly where he cites as source Nicolás Ngou-Mve who argues convincingly that the official numbers extracted from European archives were deceitful.  Ngou-Mve mentions that in 1576-1595 "no ship would leave Luanda without carrying fraudulently at least one third of the declared cargo" (54).  In fact, Alcántara misquoted Ngou-Mve.  Ngou-Mve expresses that during the period 1595-1640 "more than" 100,000 African persons were brought through Veracruz and Campeche.  He mentions no other ports.  Alcántara includes Acapulco and San Blas, Pacific Ocean ports, among others and provides no source in support of his statement. 


[24] The Tango, just as many other black fandango forms (cumbite, cumbia, porro, vallenato, zamba, rumba, conga, etc.), found throughout the Americas are black liturgies or masses.  People gather to celebrate a certain aspect of life and honor a certain deity or the ancestors.

[25] Veracruz became known as La ciudad de tablas (The wooden plank city).

[26] Bernardo García Diaz cites Alfred de Valois, a XIX century traveler, as saying "In the Mexican world one cannot find anything national.  Men and women all want to appear European.  Is the defect of all half-civilized ones to want to imitate us [...]." García's cite comes from: Martha Poblett Miranda (compiler) Cien viajeros en Veracruz. Crónicas y relatos, 11 vols. Veracruz State Government, 1992.

[27] In 1802, yellow fever struck again.  "In all, almost 2,000 people perished from the illness" (Knaut 630).

[28] For a deeper insight see my book: African Mexicans and the Discourse on Modern Nation. Lanham: UP of America, 2004.

[29] This insight by a Mayan man applied to the Mayan plight appears in Engendering Mayan History: Kaqchikel Women as Agents and Conduits of the Past, 1875-1970.  New York: Rutledge, 2006 by David Carey Jr. (p. 129).

[30] "There are eleven variants of the Kimbundu language: Ngola, Dembo, Jinga, Bondo, Bângala, Songo, Ibaco, Luanda, Quibala, Libolo and Quissama [….] Some Kimbundu words were influential to Romance languages like Portuguese, with words like banjo (supposedly from mbanza), bwe, baza, kuatu, kamba, arimo, mleke, quilombo (from kilombo), Quimbanda, tanga, xinga, bunda, etc. (Kimbundu) (emphasis mine).



[31] My brother and colleague, Dr. Juan Carlos Hernández Cuevas, commented recently:  "popularly the voice 'mondongo' is used by Valencians as a synonym of feces or excrement (see the related use of "Popo" in note 10).  4 October 2007