Afro-Bolivians - Orientation

Identification. Afro-Bolivians typically refer to themselves as "Negros" (Blacks). Black intellectuals introduced the term "Afro-Boliviano" in the last quarter of the twentieth century, and by the early 1990s the term has found its way into usage among Black urban migrants living in La Paz and more generally among Bolivia's intelligentsia. "Negrito" (Little Black) and "Moreno" (Brown) are the terms most commonly used by Bolivians when referring to Blacks; however, Blacks find the diminutive offensive. Afro-Bolivians use the term "Mulato" to refer to a Black of a lighter skin color. "Mulato" in its more common usage in Bolivia refers to the the offspring of Whites or Hispanics and Black people. "Zambo" refers to someone of mixed Indian and Black parentage; it is mainly used derogatorily.

Location. There are Afro-Bolivian communities throughout Bolivia, especially in the semitropical climates of the departments of La Paz, Santa Cruz, Beni, and Cochabamba. The largest concentrations of Blacks are found in the lowland provinces of Nor Yungas and Sud Yungas in the department of La Paz. Several communities of Black agriculturists are located in each of these provinces, such as Chicaloma and Chulumani in Sud Yungas and Mururata and Tocaña in Nor Yungas. The Bolivian Yungas are characterized by heavy rainfall and a mean temperature of 23°C.

Besides rural agricultural communities, there are migrant communities of Afro-Bolivians in all major Bolivian cities. In La Paz, Afro-Bolivians live mainly on the outskirts of town, especially in the rapidly growing areas of El Alto and Villa Fatima. Because of inconsistent migration patterns, there are no well-defined Afro-Bolivian neighborhoods in La Paz. As migrants from rural villages arrive in La Paz, they settle in the poorest neighborhoods. Participation in social activities, music ensembles being the most important example, is central to Afro-Bolivians' establishment of a subjective sense of community. These groups are based on common origin, for example the province of Nor Yungas. They chose a central location within the city to meet, thus keeping transportation costs and accessibility approximately equal for all members.

Demography. Estimates of the population of Afro-Bolivians range as low as 6,000 to as high as 158,000, or 2 percent of Bolivia's population. These estimates vary widely because census figures for Bolivia do not include racial differentiations.

Linguistic Affiliation. Afro-Bolivians throughout Bolivia speak mostly Spanish. The Spanish spoken by rural Black agriculturists is a dialect, and Afro-Bolivians maintain a small vocabulary of words of African origin. In the province of Sud Yungas and, to a lesser extent, in Nor Yungas, Blacks also speak the Aymara language.

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