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To say that all African slaves who were brought to the Americas shared an identical history and culture is the same as saying that all Latin American peoples share an identical  history and culture: it is a generalization. There was not one Pan-African identity. In fact, the primary regions from where these people were taken were diverse in all aspects of culture and society–from religion and customs to language and social hierarchy. Because these groups were so diverse, communication was often difficult among groups since they spoke different languages. 

The principal areas of Africa from which these slaves were obtained were West Africa (Senegal to Gabon fifty-five percent); Central Africa (Congo and Angola twenty-five percent); and East Africa (mainly Mozambique — twenty percent). Those taken specifically to the United States were drawn from West Africa (Senegal to Gabon seventy-three percent); Central Africa (Congo and Angola twenty-five percent); and East Africa (mainly Mozambique — two percent), The removal of slaves from Africa followed a general pattern that, starting in West Africa, saw the prime source areas shifting eastward and southward over time. This meant that the following areas successively became the focal point of obtaining slaves: Senegambia/Sierra Leone, Windward Coast, Gold Coast, Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra, Congo/ Angola, and Mozambique (New Jersey Historical Commission).  As a result, cultural practices and creative expression in the Americas evolved depending on the African group present in the region. Thus, customs and practices deriving from African origin in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean are not necessarily similar or related to customs and practices in Brazil or Peru. Next we will examine a few of these cultural expressions.  


Afro-Brazilian Culture


Slavery in Brazil

Between 1561 and 1860, about 43% of all Africans brought to the Americas landed in Brazil, totaling almost five million. About 70% of the enslaved Africans in Brazil were Angolan. Other noted African regions of the slave trade included Nigeria and Benin. Having established an economic culture largely based on slave labor, Brazil was the last country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888, trailing Cuba by two years and the United States by 23 years. Today, Brazil reports some ninety-seven million African descendants out of a total population of 190 million. Brazil has the second largest percentage of African descendants in the world, only second to Nigeria. About a third of Brazil’s enslaved Africans were trafficked through the port of Bahia. Today, Bahia continues to be a center of black life in Brazil. Given such a long history of African presence, African culture has survived in terms of the religious syncretism of Candomblé and Umbanda to the religious representations of Xangô. In addition, carnival is a sure sign of African culture thriving in Brazil.

The Brazil Institute briefly explains post-abolition life (Links to an external site.) in the country and the government-sponsored policy of branqueamento, meant to whiten the population, beginning the long and complicated views on race with which current Brazilian society struggles. 

Although Brazil still struggles to address the consequences of 350 years of slavery, the African influence on the nation is one of the most rich in Latin America. We will briefly explore the religion Candomblé, Samba and Carnaval, and Capoeira, which all came from the black communities of Brazil, the quilombos

The episode “Bahia: Brazil’s African Connection (Links to an external site.)” of In the Americas with David Yateman provides us with an introduction to Afro-Brazilian culture and Salvador da Bahia.


“African Slave Trade in Latin America.” Center for Latin American Studies, Vanderbilt University.

Gates, H.L (2011). Black in Latin America. 13-180. New York: New York University Press.


Afro-Cuban Culture


Slavery in Cuba

Beginning in 1762, a brief British occupation led to a huge increase in African slavery on the island of Cuba. Later, Cuban planters continued to import large numbers of Africans, with the period from 1790 to 1867 as the largest period of slave importations. After Haiti’s sugar economy collapsed, Cuba soon replaced Haiti as the world’s number one supplier of sugar. Between 1651 and 1866, Cuba received almost 800,000 enslaved Africans. Capitalizing on Haiti’s failed state, Spanish conquistadors went full speed ahead into cultivating Cuba’s sugar plantations. By the 1820s, Cuba had become the “largest sugar exporter in the world and the largest slave economy in the western hemisphere. (Gates).  By 1850, sugar was almost 83% of Cuban exports and 40% of those sugar exports going to the United States. On October 10, 1868, Cuba began its first War of Independence from Spain. Plantation owner Manuel de Céspedes freed his slaves and armed them to fight for independence. Forty-eight hours later, brothers Antonio and José Maceo, free blacks, joined the rebels against Spain. On February 10, 1878 the Treaty of Zanjón, a peace agreement, was signed. General Antonio Maceo and others unsuccessfully protested that the abolition of slavery was not a part of the treaty. During Cuba’s second War of Independence in 1896, the Maceo brothers died in battle just six months part. It would be another decade before the Maceo brothers’ dream of a free Cuba for all would be realized. Slavery was abolished by royal decree on Oct, 7, 1886, some 21 years after the United States.


The 20th century Cuban poet, Nicolás Guillén, writes about the brutality and legacy of slavery in much of his works, like his poem “Caña” (“Sugarcane“):

El negro
junto al cañaveral.

El yanqui
sobre el cañaveral.

La tierra
bajo el cañaveral.

que se nos va!

The black man
bound to the canefield.

The Yankee
above the canefield.

The earth
beneath the canefield.

seeps out of us!

As in other parts of the Americas, slavery left a lasting mark on Cuban culture and society. Next, you will learn more about these influences, particularly in music. We will be spending time at the end of the semester discussing the music of Latin America, so this will be an introduction. 


“African Slave Trade in Latin America.” Center for Latin American Studies, Vanderbilt University.

Franklin, J. (1997). Cuba and the United States: A chronological history. 1-4. Melbourne: Ocean Press

Gates, H.L. (2011). Black in Latin America. 13-180. New York: New York University Press.

Landers, J. (2008). Slavery in the Spanish Caribbean and the Failure of Abolition. Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 31(3), 343-371

After reviewing the learning materials in this module (lectures, readings, videos), answer the following prompt in a focused response:

After learning about the African influence in Latin America, how significant are the cultural contributions from the African diaspora, and how do they add to the complexity of Latin American identity? What stood out? 

Submit a well-composed response by writing in the “Reply” section directly below this prompt. If you would like to reply to other people, write in the “Reply” section below their post. 


  1. Produce a substantial response to the given prompt (about 200 words – remember, your post should be detailed and specific enough to demonstrate that you have a thorough understanding of the learning materials

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