Centre for Latin American Studies Holds Cultural Interaction Series II

The Centre for Latin American Studies of the College of Humanities has held the second edition of its Cultural Interaction Series (CLAS-CIS II) on the theme Africa’s Diaspora in Latin America: Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Peru in focus. The Cultural Interaction Series is designed to provide a platform for information, discussion, and interaction on aspects of the cultural patrimony of Latin America and Africa as a whole.  It seeks to bring together for deliberation civil society, diplomatic missions, academics, government and non-governmental bodies, students and the general public and ultimately create awareness on distinctive cultural elements that pertain to the two regions and their relevance to the contemporary world.

The programme took place at the International Programmes Office Seminar Room, International House on Monday, November 19, 2018. Latin American countries represented included Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, México and Perú. Participants included members of Faculty, Ambassadors, Heads of Missions and other officials of   the Diplomatic Corps, Civil Servants, Ghana Police Service, students and friends of the Centre for Latin American Studies.

In her welcome and introductory remarks to participants, the Director of the Centre for Latin American Studies, Dr. Joanna Boampong, underscored Africa’s diversity and the diversity of its diaspora in Latin America on account of the different and unique elements pertaining to each country. She expressed the hope that participants would benefit from the presentations which she expected would provide insights into an area with which many Africans are not familiar. 

Delivering her presentation entitled the African Diaspora in Brazil, Her Excellency Maria Elisa de Luna, Ambassador of the Embassy of Brazil to Ghana, underscored the fact that 53% of Brazil’s population is of African descent and have contributed immensely to its development.  In spite of policies of military dictatorial regimes that were unfavourable to blacks, she noted that blacks have always fought for recognition. The idea of a racially democratic Brazil, is still in progress because the black population has not arrived at a full recognition.  She pointed out, though, that Brazil is a country that has been culturally colonized by Africans.  Notable among the elements of the kind of cultural colonization she refers to are food, dance and music. November 20, is widely celebrated as the Day of Black consciousness in Brazil.

From right to left: Mr. and Mrs Siquieros, (Mexican Embassy); HE Pedro Luis Despaigne González, Ambassador of Cuba, HE María Elisa Luna, Ambassador of Brazil; Madam Patricia Raez Portocarrero, Chargé d’Affaires of Perú, Madam Carolina Larrazabal Camargo, First Secretary of the Embassy of Colombia

His Excellency Pedro Luis Despaigne González, Ambassador of the Embassy of Cuba to Ghana highlighted the fact that the Americas, on account of the large number of Africans brought there, are recognised as the 6th region of the African continent by the African Union. While acknowledging the common history shared by the countries of Latin America, he also pointed out distinguishing features peculiar to Cuba. One such feature is the diversity in appearance and comportment of Cubans who demonstrate attributes that can be traced to different regions of Africa. He stressed that Cuba is multiracial but united by one culture and language. In talking about the importance of Africans in Cuba, he noted the crucial role they played in the wars of independence. He also affirmed that Africans have bequeathed to the Cuban people a legacy of strength and the capacity not to surrender. He stated that in recognition of Africa’s contributions, Cuba has been committed to the developmental efforts of Africa especially through educational and health initiatives.

In her presentation titled The Presence of African Descent in Perú, the Chargé d’Affaires of Perú, Madam Patricia Raez Portocarrero mentioned that the presence of Africans in Perú dates back to the 16th century.  According to her Perú received enslaved Africans from Angola, Guinea, Senegal, Ivory Coast and the Gold Coast. Over the centuries, Africans in Perú have sought to rise in status through various means such as marriage and industry. Afro-Peruvians, who currently constitute approximately 5% of the population, have made their presence felt in politics, religion, gastronomy, and sports. In concluding she stressed that it is important to recognize the historical efforts of Afro-Peruvians to rise socially in the midst of a colonial era and subsequently a Republican society that did not offer them many possibilities.

The presentation for México was delivered via Skype by Dr. Maria Elena Ruiz Gallu and Dr. Emilia Raggi Lucio from the National Autonomous University of México (UNAM).  Introducing the speakers, Mr. Felipe González-Lugo Méndez, Head of Economic and Cultural Affairs, Embassy of México to Ghana noted the uniqueness of topic that the speakers were going to present on, Africanity in the Caste Paintings of the 18th century in New Spain.

Dr. Ruiz Gallu described a background to the Caste paintings characterised by discrimination and racism towards African descendent peoples. For over five centuries attempts were made to hide the impact and influence of Afro-descendants in México. The consequences of excluding African descendant people from history can still be felt and account for a good number of Mexican people remaining unaware of the contribution of Africans. In her analysis of the paintings Dr. Raggu Lucio submitted that they were a representation of the ideology of New Spain and allow us to see the way black people were perceived. Interestingly, the paintings presented to Spain pictorial memories of an exotic America and also served as instruments of control.

Following this was the presentation on Colombia. It was given by Profesora Estella Agudelo Sánchez of the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, with whom the University of Ghana has signed a Memorandum of Understanding.  Her presentation was titled African Living Diaspora in Colombia, an Identity to Discover. Highlights of her presentation included the preservation, in the Pacific Region of Colombia, of family names, such as Mena, Mina, Jalabalé, Biojó, Lucumí, Biafara, which have clear African origins. Notable as well is the fact that one of the most important districts in the region with a 90% African descendant population, is named Chocó, a name whose similarity with Chorkor, the name of a suburb of Accra cannot be overlooked.  Additionally, traditional cuisine such as mashed plantain and yam, banku, fufu, are all foods eaten in the Pacific Region of Colombia. 

The event was brought to a successful end after a question and answer session where the common experience of enslavement of African peoples in the various countries represented was emphasized, and the need for a more extensive exploration of the presence of Africans in Latin America underscored.   

A cross section of participants