Opinion: African Memorial Month

By Sabamya Jaugu | Wed 2 May 2012

African-Mexican: Gaspar Yanga

Sabamya Jaugu shares his opinion on why we should commemorate our neglected heroes from history in the western hemisphere.

African History is world history, moreover; our history is every day.

Henceforth, a monthly presentation will be presented featuring different elements of our heritage. African Memorial Month is featured in May to feature our neglected and forgotten Heroes in the western hemisphere. In the US, we’re familiar with Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Dr King and in Africa, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah and Haille Selesse I was household names. However, we must acquaint ourselves with the Latin American heroes such as: the enslaved African-Mexican Gasper Yanga and Abdias do Nascimento, a Brazilian writer, painter, politician and scholar who was an outspoken civil rights leader on behalf of African Brazilians, has died in Rio de Janeiro.

Gaspar Yanga
The heritage of Africans in Mexico after Christopher Columbus is a rarely explored topic in the history books of the Americas. Gasper Yanga is one of the neglected figures within African history in the Americas. He was the founder of the town Yanga, located in the Veracruz region of Mexico, between the Port of Veracruz and Córdoba. It is among the first free African settlements in the Americas after the start of the European slave trade.

While the available official reports regarding the history of Gasper Yanga is sorely lacking, local lore reports that Yanga escaped slavery from the region of the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion plantation in 1570. Regional lore also provides that Yanga was a prince stolen from a royal family of Gabon, Africa. The word “Yanga” has origins in many regions of West and Central Africa, including the Yoruba regions in Nigeria where the word means “pride”.

Between 1570 and 1609, Yanga led his followers into the mountains located in the vicinity of Pico de Orizaba (Citlaltépetl, or “star mountain”, the highest mountain in Mexico), the Cofre de Perote, Zongolica and Olmec regions. By 1600, it is reported that the Yanga maroon settlement, or palenques, was joined by Francisco de la Matosa and his group of African maroons. All of this occurred before the independence of Mexico from the Spanish crown.

Yanga’s early palenques would turn into decades-long resistance against colonial Spain. In 1609, Spain’s viceroy of New Spain (the colonial name of Mexico) was Luis de Velasco, Marquis of Salinas. That year, Velasco sent Captain Pedro González on a military expedition against the Yanga palenques. The battle came to a head at the Rio Blanco and resulted in major losses on both sides. By 1631, viceroy of New Spain Rodrigo Pacheco began negotiations with the Gaspar Yanga resistance. Yanga struck an agreement with the colonial leader respecting Spain’s recognition of an autonomous region for the African community. The first official name was San Lorenzo de los Negros (aka San Lorenzo de Cerralvo), near Córdova.

Since 1932, the Mexican town has bore the name of its liberator Gasper Yanga.

“Yanga is important to the people of Mexico and America,” said Gordillo Jaime Trujullo, who along with his wife Maria Dolores Flores promotes the town’s history. “It is a great deal and has not been taken into account.

This town is the birthplace of freedom. The most important legacy of black Yanga is freedom. Freedom is what we appreciate most in this community.”

Like his birth, no definitive records are available regarding Yanga’s date of death. There is said to be a great deal of information in the national archives of Mexico and the archives of Spain, according to historian and anthropologist Antonio García de León. The first information about Yanga arose in the second half of the nineteenth century by the historian and military-man Vicente Riva Palacio, grandson of Mexico’s first black president, Vicente Guerrero.

Today, the town reportedly hosts the “Carnival of Negritude” every August 10th in honor of Gasper Yanga. The town reports approximately 20,000 citizens that is now primarily considered mestizo, Spanish for “mixed heritage”.

African-Brazilian: Abdias do Nascimento

Abdias do Nascimento

Abdias do Nascimento, an outspoken civil rights leader of African-Brazilians passed away (May 31, 2011) at the age of 97. Long time friend and professor of Brazilian studies at Brown University, Anani Dzidzienyo, says the cause of death was related to complications with diabetes.

For the majority of the 20th Century Nascimento was one of Brazil’s strongest critics on racism. In 1945 he helped found the Afro-Brazilian Democratic Committee to fight for the release of political prisoners and the Democratic Labor Party of Brazil. He also served in the Brazilian Legislature as a congressman and senator. “From the 1930s to 1990s Brazil was considered a racial democracy, but nobody talked about race despite the fact that there was a clear racial hierarchy. Poor people were predominately black, and almost all elites were white. He wasn’t afraid to tell people that racial democracy was a myth. And he said so for 60 years, “ said Edward E. Telles, a Princeton professor, told the New York Times.

Nascimeto used art to depict the racist society in Brazil. In 1944 he founded the Black Experimental Theater in Rio de Janeiro, a troupe that celebrated Brazil’s African-influenced culture. The theater trained black citizens as actors in insolence of the custom of casting white actors in blackface. The troupe also sponsored the first Congress of Brazilian Blacks held in Rio De Janeiro in 1950. While in self imposed exile in the United States and Nigeria in the early 1980s, he painted works suggestive of Afro-Brazilian cultural religious themes.

Born to a father who was a cobbler and a mother who sold candy on the streets, Nascimeto joined the Brazilian civil rights movement known as the Brazilian Black front when he was a teenager. In college he studied accounting and earned a bachelors degree at the University of Rio De Janeiro. “No other Brazilian fought harder and longer against white supremacy and racism in Brazil in the post slavery era.” Ollie A. Johnson told the New York Times. “For Americans to understand him and his contribution you’d have to say he was a little bit of Marcus Garvey, a little of W. E. B. DuBois, a little bit of Langston Hughes and a little bit of Adam Clayton Powell.”

Nascimento is survived by his wife and current director of Ipeafro, Elisa Larkin Nascimento as well as three sons and a daughter. He gave his final interview in early spring to Henry Louis Gates Jr. for a PBS series, “Black in Latin America” where he discussed the continued lie of racial democracy in Brazil. “You just have to look at a black family. Where do they live? The black children, how are they educated? You’ll see that it’s all a lie. You must understand that I’m saying this with profound hatred, profound bitterness at the way black people are treated in Brazil.” Only in the last decade as affirmative action programs have taken root at many Brazilian universities and in some government agencies, has racism been publicly acknowledged as a problem in Brazil.

Happy African Memorial Day

Sabamya Jaugu is a retired data communication technician who has dedicated his life to helping the community in different capacities. His current quest is to gather support to revise Black History Month into an African History Month.

Sabamya Jaugu

External Links
Borderlands Gaspar Yanga
Abdias do Nascimento, Rights Voice, Dies at 97
History of Gaspar Yanga

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Uncovering the New World Columbus by Charles C Mann
African Diaspora by Patrick Manning
Ring of Liberation by John Lowel
Blacks in Latin America by Henry Louis Gates

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