German bankers from the Welser family, who financed the sale of Venezuela in the 16th century, were the first to traffic in human beings from the African continent into Venezuela.
The family was granted colonial rights to the Province of Venezuela from Charles I, King of Spain.
The Africans were a part of the Ewe-Fon people from Benin and the Congo. They were brought to South American shores in 1528. The Welsers were granted a special concession to settle and exploit western Venezuela but lost that privilege in 1556.
The Ewe-Fon people were known for their distinctive religious and spiritual practices. Quite resistant to Christianity, these people were often engaged in symmetry and subterfuge, including disguising Deities as Christian saints. In the Americas, Fon spiritual rituals and practices fused with French, Portuguese or Spanish practices to create new and distinct religions like Voodoo, Mami Wata, Candomblé and Santería.
During the sixteenth century, enslaved Africans were in high demand to be brought to Venezuela to exploit the copper mines in Coro and Buría (Yaracuy) and to Isla Margarita and Cumaná for pearl diving and fishing. Africans will specific professional experience were sought out for their skills in mining, fishing and diving. The Conquistadors discovered an extensive pearl bed around the islands of Cubagua and Margarita, a few short kilometers north of the Venezuelan coast. In the early 16th century, La Peregrina pearl was discovered by an enslaved African and his enslaver offered it to the Spanish queen. The enslaved man was rewarded with his freedom.
Small-scale agricultural plantations were also established in Venezuela, especially in the regions surrounding Caracas. Portuguese, French, and English enslavers continued to deal in human cargo, taking Africans of diverse origins, primarily Bantu from the Congo, Angola and Manding from the Gold Coast, up until the early 1800s. Enslaved people were treated as units of commerce, called pieza de india in reference to their physical size and potential for hard labor. However, in Venezuela the trading of people as enslaved ended (1820-21) before Yoruba people began to be kidnapped from the Motherland and sold in other parts of South America. This distinguished Venezuela’s enslaved population from those in Cuba, Colombia and Brazil.
In the eighteenth century, large shipments of enslaved Africans were brought to Barlovento to support the booming cacao industry and to the sugar plantations in Zulia, around Lake Maracaibo. Venezuela’s enslaved population comprised 1.3 percent of the total human slave trade in the New World, compared with 38.1 percent in Brazil, 7.3 percent in Cuba, and 4.5 percent in the United States (Brandt 1978, 8).
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