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

Introduction

Summary

Introduction

From the second half of the fifteenth century through the end of the nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans traveled first to Spain, then to Spanish America. Most were slaves, taken as part of the Atlantic slave trade, which displaced millions of Africans to Europe's New World colonies. In the major cities of Spain, particularly in Andalusia, large slave and later free black populations arose, and in some cities remained as distinct ethnic minorities until the late eighteenth century. In Portugal, black communities and neighborhoods continued to exist until the turn of the twentieth century. In Spanish America, Africans were found in every colony, from the highland mines of Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras, to the Argentine pampas, the docks of El Callao, the port attached to Lima, Peru, and the streets of Mexico City. Although demographic merger has blurred the traces of these earliest African arrivals, whose forced immigration reached a peak in the mid-seventeenth century, Spanish America underwent a frenzied importation of African laborers at the turn of the nineteenth century, as part of the sugar plantation boom occasioned by the destruction of the world's richest sugar producer, French Saint-Domingue (soon to become Haiti), and the scramble of the Spanish colonies to enter the lucrative sugar market. In contemporary Latin America, the population of African origin is most noticeable where the last wave of slave arrivals touched shore – in the Caribbean islands, and along the Caribbean and upper Pacific coasts of South America.