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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: February 2010

5 - Afro-Hispanic texts from Latin America: sixteenth to twentieth centuries


The Afro-Latin American bozal corpus

Although Afro-Hispanic language was originally forged in West Africa, Portugal, and southern Spain, it was in Spanish America that successive generations of African-born slaves and free laborers acquired the Spanish language in the most diverse circumstances, and impressed those around them by their approximations to natively spoken Spanish. The earliest Latin American bozal texts come from highland mining regions in Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, and Colombia, and probably owe more to imitation of the already well-established stereotype of the habla de negros in Spain than from actual observation of Africans' speech in the colonies. By the end of the eighteenth century, poets, playwrights, short-story writers, and novelists had accumulated sufficient observational evidence on Afro-Hispanic language as to incorporate plausible (although probably exaggerated) imitations in their literary works. Occasional travelers' accounts, court transcriptions, legal documents, military reports, and sundry letters and testimonies provide non-literary corroboration of bozal language. The trickle of texts antedating the nineteenth century quickly became a torrent of literary, musical, and folkloric production during the nineteenth century, as thousands of Afro-Argentines, Afro-Uruguayans, Afro-Peruvians, Afro-Puerto Ricans, and especially Afro-Cubans took their places in poems, songs, stories, and novels, reflecting demographic events which brought large numbers of African-born slaves to these regions in a relatively short period of time. The present chapter surveys the most salient Afro-Latin American bozal texts as well as various less easily classifiable linguistic byproducts of the African diaspora in Spanish America.