Blacks and Blackness in Central America

Between Race and Place

Blacks and Blackness in Central America

Book Pages: 416 Illustrations: 21 photographs, 14 tables, 4 maps Published: October 2010

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Central America, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

Many of the earliest Africans to arrive in the Americas came to Central America with Spanish colonists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and people of African descent constituted the majority of nonindigenous populations in the region long thereafter. Yet in the development of national identities and historical consciousness, Central American nations have often countenanced widespread practices of social, political, and regional exclusion of blacks. The postcolonial development of mestizo or mixed-race ideologies of national identity have systematically downplayed African ancestry and social and political involvement in favor of Spanish and Indian heritage and contributions. In addition, a powerful sense of place and belonging has led many peoples of African descent in Central America to identify themselves as something other than African American, reinforcing the tendency of local and foreign scholars to see Central America as peripheral to the African diaspora in the Americas. The essays in this collection begin to recover the forgotten and downplayed histories of blacks in Central America, demonstrating the centrality of African Americans to the region’s history from the earliest colonial times to the present. They reveal how modern nationalist attempts to define mixed-race majorities as “Indo-Hispanic,” or as anything but African American, clash with the historical record of the first region of the Americas in which African Americans not only gained the right to vote but repeatedly held high office, including the presidency, following independence from Spain in 1821.

Contributors. Rina Cáceres Gómez, Lowell Gudmundson, Ronald Harpelle, Juliet Hooker, Catherine Komisaruk, Russell Lohse, Paul Lokken, Mauricio Meléndez Obando, Karl H. Offen, Lara Putnam, Justin Wolfe


“... [T]aken together, the essays in the volume go a long way toward addressing the complicated and messy topic of the history of blacks in Central America, and they certainly have the potential to lead to studies that will indeed transform the ways we think about the Atlantic world, race in Central America, and the construction of national identities.” — Elizabeth W. Kiddy, History: Reviews of New Books

“A trailblazing effort, this volume represents an important contribution to Central American historiography and African diaspora studies. It should be considered required reading for students and specialists alike.” — Andrew Fisher, H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews

“All the essays in this excellent volume, whether in colonial or post-colonial contexts across Central America, offer a new vision of blacks and blackness in the region.” — Dario A. Euraque, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“All those interested in the history of Black Latin America will find this book useful. They will enjoy its maps and photographs, and will not forget its suggestive cover.” — Claudia Leal, The Americas

“This valuable collection of essays convenes historians and social scientists whose work examines the history of race relations – particularly the apparent erasure of African origins – in Central America. Both highly informative and a pleasure to read, the edition provides abundant new archival research that addresses the question of how African slaves, free people of colour and their many generations of descendants who have lived in Central America since the sixteenth century have ‘disappeared’ into the socio-cultural landscape or been cast into marginal spaces of geographical, racial and cultural difference.” — Margaret M. Olsen, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“[A] captivating addition to the growing historiographical discussion on race. Africans have populated the shores of Central America since the 1500s. Yet rarely has a single work brought together such diligent contributing authors who provide the depths of discussion in such fascinating, unraveling ways. — Margery Coulson-Clark, Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

“[A] major contribution to the scholarly literature. . . .” — Anne S. Macpherson, American Historical Review

“In Blacks and Blackness in Central America, Lowell Gudmundson and Justin Wolfe push against the boundaries of the African diaspora as it is currently demarcated in the field of Postcolonial Studies. The editors of this collection assemble a wide range of essays that provide evidence for the presence of significant populations of African slaves in Central America between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as an analysis of the implications of this presence on present-day racial identification and political participation primarily in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Costa Rica. ” — Annette Quarcoopome, AmeriQuests

"[Blacks and Blackness in Central America] is an impressive collection of essays that contributes equally to African diaspora studies and Latin American historiography.... and will be of interest not only to scholars of Central America, but also to those interested in African diasporas, colonialism and gender, and the making of race more broadly."  — Julie A. Gibbings, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“This important collection of essays puts Central America firmly on the African Diaspora map. Blacks and Blackness in Central America is the one-stop volume that gathers together the leading scholars of the topic. They offer clear windows into their many years of research and discovery, collectively convincing the reader that Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica were far from marginal to the historical trajectories of people of African descent in the Americas.” — Matthew Restall, author of The Black Middle: Africans, Mayas, and Spaniards in Colonial Yucatan

“This enlightening collection is destined to become essential reading for all those interested in the history of race, particularly as it pertains to the black presence in Central America. With its meticulous research, rich interpretive frameworks, and broad chronological sweep from the early colonial period into modern times, Blacks and Blackness in Central America will change how we think about racial mixture, nation-building, African survivals, black identity, and the development of society in Latin America. Thanks to this book, ‘Afro-Central America’ will become standard language in the vocabulary of the African Diaspora.” — Ben Vinson III, author of Bearing Arms for His Majesty: The Free-Colored Militia in Colonial Mexico


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lowell Gudmundson is Professor of Latin American Studies and History at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of Costa Rica Before Coffee: Economy and Society on the Eve of the Export Boom, a co-author of Liberalism Before Liberal Reform, and a co-editor of Coffee, Society, and Power in Latin America.

Justin Wolfe is the William Arceneaux Associate Professor of Latin American History at Tulane University. He is the author of The Everyday Nation-State: Community and Ethnicity in Nineteenth-Century Nicaragua.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction / Lowell Gudmundson and Justin Wolfe 1

Part I. Colonial Worlds of Slavery and Freedom

Angolans in Amatitlán: Sugar, African Immigrants, and Gente Ladina in Colonial Guatemala / Paul Lokken 27

Cacao and Slavery in Matina, Costa Rica, 1650-1750 / Russell Lohse 57

Race and Place in Colonial Mosquitia, 1600-1787 / Karl H. Offen 92

Slavery and Social Differentiation: Slave Wages in Omoa / Rina Cáceres Gómez 130

Becoming Free, Becoming Ladino: Slave Emancipation and Mestizaje in Colonial Guatemala / Catherine Komisaruk 150

Part II. Nation Building and Reinscribing Race

"The Cruel Whip": Race and Place in Nineteenth-Century Nicaragua / Justin Wolfe 177

What Difference did Color Make? Blacks in the "White Towns" of Western Nicaragua in the 1880s / Lowell Gudmundson 209

Race and the Space of Citizenship: The Mosquito Coast and the Place of Blackness and Indigeneity in Nicaragua / Juliet Hooker 246

Eventually Alien: The Multigenerational Saga of British Western Indians in Central America, 1870-1940 / Lara Putnam 278

White Zones: American Enclave Communities of Central America / Ronald Harpelle 307

The Slow Ascent of the Marginalized: Afro-Descendents in Costa Rica and Nicaragua / Mauricio Meléndez Obando 334

Bibliography 353

Contributors 385

Index 389
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4803-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4787-3
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