A briefly look at the History of Africans in Latin (Central and South) America and the Caribbean. (El Salvador is the only country in Central America that does not have a Garifuna, Miskito or Afro-Antillean population. The other six republics have at least one, or all of these groups living within their borders.)
In world history these two western regions were the first areas of the Americas to be populated by African immigrants. Yet wherever possible, they prepared and accepted reality with African immigration to the Americas may have begun before European exploration of the area. African slave trading began before Columbus 1492, and the earliest Spanish and Portuguese explorers were likewise accompanied by Black Africans who had been born and reared in Iberia. In the following four centuries millions of immigrants from Africa were brought to the New World in servitude.
Today, their descendants form significant ethnic minorities in several Latin American countries, and they are the dominant element in many of the Caribbean nations. Over the centuries, Black people have added their original contributions to the cultural mix of their respective societies and thus exerted a deep influence on all facets of life in Latin America. A strong African influence saturates music, dance, the arts, literature, speech forms, and religious practices in Latin America and the Caribbean. Africans, whether as slaves or free immigrants, brought a variety of African cultural influences to the New World. They came from so many places in Africa and were too scattered throughout the Americas to reestablish all the conditions of their homelands.
Like all other immigrant groups, they discarded some aspects of their culture, modified others, and created new forms. This African adaptation to local American conditions is called creolization. The percentage of Africans in local society and the time they spent in any one place played in the development of an African (central or south) American culture in Latin America. In countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, African immigrants were the minority. They had to deal with a significant and dynamic form of European society and culture. The African communities survived, and in some instances grew against the stiff and relentless competition of the majority, or “high,” culture. Pieces of the African ethnic subculture were eventually adopted by the mainstream. Nonetheless, the African character of the African American culture is less pronounced than in societies where Blacks were the majority of the people.
In the plantation societies of the Caribbean islands, people of African ancestry held substantial control over their daily lives, despite the efforts of the politically dominant minority group to restrain and oppress them. The lack of cultural homogeneity as well as the laziness of the plantation elites provided an almost unique opportunity for the African masses to create their own society and influence the “high” culture. Caribbean people speak variants of the standard European languages, which always reflect West African speech patterns regardless of whether the spoken language is English, Spanish, French, or Dutch. The French spoken in Haiti constitutes a language of its own. In Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire, Papiamento, a blend of Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese, is one of the official languages. None of these Creole languages is limited to the poorer, uneducated classes. Creole has now been given greater respect in the literature and political life of the Caribbean islands.
As a distinct minority the beginnings for African people in the Americas, brought on cultural change in their lives. Official acceptance modifies some forms of culture and for Blacks in Central and Latin America life was no different. The carnival is an example. Until the 19th century, the annual celebration of carnival was confined to the Black population; the upper classes condemned carnival and tried to end it as a public festival. By the early 20th century, however, it had attracted all classes and races. Currently it has official government support in the Bahamas, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. Although carnival has become highly regarded, and its festivities are open to all races and classes, the chief participants of these carnivals are still Black. The same remains true for other folk festivals such as the Jonkonnu in Jamaica.
In some cases, however, the transition from low to high culture buried the African origin and influence. An example is Argentina where the tango (dance) was developed from dual African ancestries. One source is undoubtedly the Spanish fandango, but the fandango is really Moorish. The other source is a Black dance called the candombe, the feature attraction of Afro-Argentine festivals during and after the period of slavery. Latin American music has always been deeply influenced by the vibrant rhythms and melodies that Blacks brought with them from their African homeland.
However, there is also a different school of thought that argues the indigenous peoples of the Americas already had trade with Africans, long before the colonists arrived, and the cultural influence can be found especially among Olmec art and sculptures.