The Black population of the coast of Oaxaca and Guerrero live from the raising of livestock extending back for generations. Since the 16C they were dedicated workers, enslaved cowboy workers who ran farms of cattle and horses gradually extending lands for grazing over indigenous territories and their cultivation areas. Geographic isolation converted the region into a refuge for the Black population who, during the Colonial period, fled the enslavement of mines, sugar plantations and construction in cities creating a singular ethnic enclave in Mexico. They mixed with the indigenous Mixteco, Amuzgo and Chatino populations of the foothills and mountains of the coast including. San Nicolás, Maldonado, Tapextla, Santo Domingo Armenta, El Ciruelo, Corralero, Chacahua are towns living from agriculture and from fishing while those residing on the plains inland are populations principally dedicated to agriculture and the raising of livestock such as those in Santiago Llano Grande –where we carried out the music workshops -, Cortijos, Lo de soto, and Mártires de Tacubaya.

The national mid term census sample performed in 2015 shows that out of 120 million of the country´s inhabitants 1.4 million self designate themselves as Afro descendants. One seventh of these (200 thousand) live in the Oaxacan State; these represent 5% of the total population of this State of 4 millon inhabitants. This statistic is very revealing given that the Mexican population of African origin have always been under represented. The misconception is that Mexico has no Black population (Principales resultados de la encuesta intercensal 2015. Estados Unidos Mexicanos INEGI, 2015). On the Oaxacan coast the Afro Mexican population are found in 12 municipalities distributed among 97 communities. The most important urban centers of the costal region are the port of Acapulco on the Guerrero side and Pinotepa Nacional on the Oaxacan side.

During the prehispanic period the coast was part of the Mixteco of Tututepec reign where they lived from irrigated orchards of cacao as well as corn and cotton cultivation. After the Conquest many orchards passed to the hands of the Spanish and through royal favor cattle and horse raising was introduced and spread taking over the land and cultivation of Indian populations.

Colonial documents register the existence of Black slaved men and women working in cocoa orchards and cattle farms of encomienda beneficiaries and Crown officials such as Mayors, Notaries and land owners. An early register of Black enslaved populations from 1564 is the acquistion of 20 Blacks who worked the orchards of the Mayor of Tututepec Luis de Castilla who was associated with the businessman Melchor Mejía (Hitoshi Takahashi “De la huerta a la hacienda: el origen de la producción agropecuaria en la mixteca costera” in Historia Mexicana, 31, 1984:12).

In 1583 indigenous populations complained to the authorities about the land take over of cattle on Spanish farms; they invaded their cocoa orchards and their corn, cotton and other cultivations, they also refer to the poor treatment by the Black workers of the cattle ranches: “…there are more than a hundred thousand [sic] cows on these ranches who extend and overflow in every way from these towns spreading over more than 5 “leguas” (approximately 3 miles). They cause so much damage to the environment wiping out corn fields and sown land, cocoa, cotton, tuna cactus, maguey and other plantations which they do not even eat but merely destroy; there is also the bother and injury inflicted by Blacks and Mulatos and half casts of these ranches …” (Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, Cuijla.Esbozo etnográfico de un pueblo negro. Obra antropológica VII. FCE 1995:46).

The conflictive relationship between Blacks and Indians is noteworthy, this being caused by Spanish power delegated to their servants who lived on their haciendas while they themselves lived in villas and cities. This inter ethnic conflict has been perpetuated until the present and while there is patent mestizaje (race mixing) among the Indian, black and spanish descent population hostility and discrimination continues to be mutual.

During the colonial period the Black population grew with the arrival of the Black Cimmarons (escaped black workers) from the ports of Acapulco and Huatulco as well as from the highlands and settled ranches or cuadrillas with permission in return for work on the large hacienda land extentions. In 1591 the Viceroy was informed about the settlements of Black Cimmarons in the vicinity Huatulco: “I have been informed …that in the fields called Coyula, two leagues of this town Black Cimmarons have been occupying for thirty years, they have houses, corn, cotton and other things as if they were still in Guinea and they are as close as a shoot of an arquebus from the cultivation lands of the indians”(Aguirre Beltrán Ibid. 60). The provisional settlement of Blacks who fled persecution on large hacienda lands was a common pattern and a cause of mobility until the 19C (Ibid. 61).

The population of Santiago Llano Grande, of Lo de Soto, Maguey, Las Estancias, and Santo Domingo Armenta settled in their present settlements when they were liberated from the Cortijos hacienda under the law of liberty of slaves which was passed during the first decades of the 19C (Leticia Reina Aoyama, Caminos de luz y sombra: historia indígena de Oaxaca en el siglo XIX. Col. Historia de los pueblos indígenas de México. CIESAS-CDI, 2004: 311-312).

These settlements were small cuadrillas or small ranches whose formation of their own as towns has only occurred relatively recently. For example that of Lo de Soto was founded in 1891 and Santiago Llano Grande gained importance as a town with the ejidal agrarian reform during the time of President Cárdenas (1934-1940).

The landscape of the plains where these populations can be found is presently a savannah of grasslands used seasonally for cattle and horses. The river crosses this plain and a presence of paddocks and cages and Parota trees provides shade for cattle. Cowboys and cattle raising is the main activity as shown in the toro de petate or Cowboys Dance depicting the historic problem of livestock russtling common in this region (See video about this dance in the section about music and dance on this web site).

Cochinilla and cotton are ancient commercial cultivated products. The Black population were permitted to settle on the haciendas only if they sowed cotton which they then sold at a low Price to the owner of the hacienda. The agro industrial cultivation of cotton fell with the agrarianism of the revolution. The plain´s population produced cotton for the big cotton gin at El Potrero in Mártires de Tacubaya a neighboring town to Llano Grande (personal communication with Victor Hugo Laredo). Commercial production in the region where Afro Mexicans and Mestizos work as day laborers nowadays is mainly that of sesame seeds, papaya, coconut and watermelon.

Walking on Pinotepa Nacional Streets gives the visitor an immediate impression of the mixing of races and ethnicities throughout the history of the town and of the whole region. The beauty of Mixtecs, Amuzgos, Chatinos, Black and White can be identified in different degrees in faces and postures of the people. These diversity can aldo speak for the intense exchange of products from highlands, lowlands and the coast. Indian people come down with vegetables, textiles, weaved palm tree commodities such as petates and hats, pine wood products which in the past included musical instruments, like guitars violins, bajo quintos and vihuelas. From the coast up to the highland people carry, cheese, dried fish and shrimp , costeño chile, tobacco, and coconut. The favourite markets occur during holy week and patrón saint festivities like Santiago apóstol, and the virgin of Juquila.

Over the past decade a political movement has grown due to local social organizations that struggle for the recognition within the Constitution of the ethnic and social rights of the Black population. Within this is the demand to have equal access to aid and social federal and state programmes creating conditions similar to that of the country´s indigenous population. The local social organizations were initially focused to encourage the cultural activities and to strengthen Black identity and, with this in mind , the festivals of music and dance played an important role in the hightening the visibility of the Afro Mexican population at the state and national level. With the passing of time these organizations became increasingly involved in state politics with the aim of drawing attention to the basic necessities of the AfroMexican population of Oaxaca. Locally they carried out reunions where public reflection on the conditions of life and in particular on themes of women and domestic violence. (conversations with Israel Reyes Larrea, representative of Africa A.C. see video about Identity on this page).

Article 16 of the Oaxacan constitution recognises the multi ethnic makeup of the State including that of the Afro Mexican communities, their social rights and that of self determination. Nevertheless there are still no regulating laws that permit the concrete materialisation of these rights such as those of social programmes that benefit the population (there is a proposal for a law at the state congress level about the rights of the Black population which has yet to be passed). Article 2 of the federal constitution does not consider Blacks as a distinct ethnic group meaning they have no access to federal programs in contrast to Indigenous populations.

Corridos or ballads of the coast are clear testimonies of the violent atmosphere that prevails in social relations. A good deal of this music repertoire deals with vengance, and death which has regained popularity in the present narco (See: Gabriel Moedano, Atención pongan señores…. El corrido afromexicano de la costa chica, Serie de la fonoteca no.38, INAH, CONACULTA, 2000).

The well known tradition of “rapto de la mujer” or kidnapping of the bride occurs when young couples get together. This custom is based on real kidnapping that took place when men on horseback, took advantage of women’s or youth’s journeys to collect water from the well to grab them without their consent and stole away with them. (Aguirre Beltrán, 1995: 148-163; See to the lyrics of the chilena “ya te dije que no vayas” in the workshop repertoire section of this web site). This violent act converted into a ritual depicting the violence and machismo was prevalent among social relations and which became generalised among adult men women and children. This continues to exist today. The testimony of Martha, a ten year old girl illustrates the violence in her community: “…they also hit me, pulling my ears, but everyone beats one another here, the men hit their wives, but our grandparents do not beat us. Some men beat dogs, everyone beats each other. Don’t they hit you? They do here …. Here there is no way to escape a beating” (Citlali Quechua Reyna Familia infancia y migración: Un análisis antropológico en la costa chica de Oaxaca. UNAM 2016: 221).

The panorama of violence among children and adults leads us to consider how creative activity is encouraged and how the strengthening of cultural norms is extremely important in the education of youth and children. In this way the three workshops we have carried out to date are examples of how a seed can be sown collaboratively thereby modifying authoritarian and violent communication and ultimately social relations in the communities where these workshops take place.

Aguirre Beltrán, Gonzalo. Cuijla.Esbozo etnográfico de un pueblo negro. Obra antropológica VII. FCE 1995.

Principales resultados de la encuesta intercensal 2015. Estados Unidos Mexicanos INEGI, 2015

Quechua Reyna, Citlali. Familia infancia y migración: Un análisis antropológico en la costa chica de Oaxaca. UNAM 2016.

Reina Aoyama, Leticia. Caminos de luz y sombra: historia indígena de Oaxaca en el siglo XIX. Col. Historia de los pueblos indígenas de México. CIESAS-CDI, 2004: 311-312

Takahashi, Hitoshi. “De la huerta a la hacienda: el origen de la producción agropecuaria en la mixteca costera” en Historia Mexicana, 31, 1984:1-78.