Slavery and the African legacy in the Caribbean

As it passes through the country, the traveling exhibition shows how African culture has permeated Caribbean culture over the years

The ethnic interculturality of African peoples is revealed in the exhibition “Slavery and the cultural legacy of Africa in the Caribbean”, it shows that in addition to contributing to discover the history of a past shared by various towns, it is a plea in favor of diversity and against racism.

The sample is exhibited in the La Aurora hall of the León Center, after being presented in places such as Madrid, Costa Rica, Colombia and Puerto Rico, product of a project financed by the European Union.

In its assembly, it presents a chronological and spatial journey through the different cultures of the peoples of Africa, beginning in the 16th century, showing the cultures, languages ​​and peoples, and slavery in America until its abolition in 1886 (Cuba).

The other part of the exhibition is dedicated to showing the cultural legacy of Africa in the Caribbean through manifestations such as religion, music, dance, plastic arts, food, as well as the use of medicinal plants.

Dr. Consuelo Naranjo Orovio, director of the project and representative of the Institute of History of the Higher Council for Scientific Research of Spain, narrates that the exhibition was prepared within the framework of the project Connected Worlds: The Caribbean, Origin of Modern World, financed by the Commission Union, curated by Dr. Miguel Angel Puig-Samper, also a researcher at the aforementioned council.

The exhibition also has the contribution of researchers from Spain, Cuba, Italy, France, Martinique and Colombia, and is made up of 34 panels in Spanish and English.

“Each panel in the exhibition has a voiceover that is accessed through QR codes that expand the content written in both languages,” explains Dr. Naranjo Orovio.

Dr. Naranjo Orovio details that the first part of the exhibition shows how the enslavement of more than 12 and a half million Africans occurred from the beginning of the 16th century to the middle of the 19th century.

“A first panel places the reader in Africa where the continent inhabited with diverse languages, cultures and peoples is represented. From there the visitor is introduced to the slave trade, which nations promoted it, who benefited from this trade, how they were transferred to America, marked or carimbated, and sold, in addition to learning about the jobs for which they were used.

It details that another chapter in the history of slavery is the resistance of the enslaved. To illustrate this section, the different ways they used to escape and achieve freedom are explained, including flight or marronage, self-purchase of their freedom, rebellions, and the abolition of slavery.
He explains that a second part is dedicated to the cultural contributions that the enslaved brought and that left a rich cultural legacy present in food, folklore, music, or religiosity.

“Slavery and its memory caused its stigmatization and that of its descendants. Superficial physical differences such as skin color, which are not genetic, contributed for centuries to strengthen ideas about the differences between populations that justified slavery, exclusion and racism”, reports the project director.

In this sense, he explains that, through knowledge of history, they are offering society a way to understand and accept the past, filling the silences without fear or prejudice.

He also explains that the panels are enriched with attractive and suggestive images, with information through the aforementioned QR codes, in a language easily understandable for young people and a wide audience.

When questioning her about the way in which the cultural legacy of Africa is manifested in the Caribbean in this exhibition, Naranjo Orovio explains that in many parts of America, and especially in the Caribbean, the continuous immigration (forced and free) of millions of people contributed to the creation of new cultures and societies in which miscegenation is one of their values.

“The miscegenation takes shape in its people, in its colors, in its dances, and songs, as well as through religion, plastic arts, food or the use of medicinal plants,” explains Naranjo Orovio.

Dr. Naranjo Orovio affirms that the heritage of African cultures has been maintained over the centuries, not only due to the continuous arrival of enslaved people, but also due to the oral transmission of traditions in families and groups.

He explains that their presence was mixed with other cultural forms and traditions of different peoples, both those originating from America and those who arrived on the continent, producing diverse, complex and heterogeneous cultures.

“This heterogeneity is one of the most important aspects that must be valued and learn to preserve and respect”, he maintains.

It also details that the exhibition is a general tour of what was the trade of enslaved Africans and their transfer to America, and that the Greater Caribbean was one of the regions that received the largest number of Africans. It is about showing the process and the slave system in general terms.
In this sense, he explained that the Dominican Republic received slaves from the early years of the 16th century and it was also in these lands that the first slave rebellion took place in December 1521.

“As in the rest of other territories, the enslaved mixed with other peoples and contributed to creating new cultures in which some traditions flourish, especially when it comes to music and food. As in other places, syncretism is present in some religious manifestations and cults, as well as in art”, details Naranjo Orovio.

The exhibition, intended for a wide audience, is touring several countries. It was inaugurated in Madrid, at the Museo de América in October 2021, from where it moved to Seville and Valencia in 2022. From there it will go to Castellón and Barcelona in 2023. In America it has been replicated in Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. Along with the exhibition, a catalog, a short video and a documentary have been prepared and are available on YouTube.

Sample is consistent with the work of the León Center

Luis Felipe Rodríguez, deputy manager of Cultural Programs at Centro León, highlighted the importance of the exhibition, and expressed that when they received the proposal to open a space in their programming with the theme of slavery and the cultural legacy of Africa in the Caribbean, They did not doubt that the León Center should join this initiative. “In almost two decades of work, our institution has focused on promoting the study of the construction processes of our identities based on the recognition of the diversity of contributions from the most diverse cultures that have converged in our region,” he said.

While Naranjo, when thanking the support he has received from the León Center and other entities to make the exhibition a reality in the country, stated that “it is a luxury that the Foundation and the León Center have welcomed us from the beginning.”

Of mixed race
The miscegenation takes shape in its people, colors, dances, songs, through religion, plastic arts, food or the use of medicinal plants.

Leave a Reply