Photo story: a trip to El Carmen, the cradle of Afro-Peruvian culture

In April 2010, MRG Media Officer Emma Eastwood visited the town of El Carmen, Chincha, a 4 hour bus ride south of Lima on the Pan-American highway and said to be the cradle of Afro-Peruvian culture.

The town is home to the family of the late Amador Ballumbrosio, the godfather of Afro-Peruvian music. Having heard that the huge family (Amador and his wife had fourteen sons and daughters, all of whom are musicians and dancers) operated an open house policy, MRG decided to pay them a visit.

Afro-Peruvian music has its roots in the communities of black slaves brought to work in the mines along the Peruvian coast. However, as it developed, particularly in the 20th century, it drew on Andean and Spanish, as well as African traditions. The Zapateo song and traditional dance forms the centre piece of the musical form and involves violins, cajon drums and tap dancing.

Locals of El Carmen render a special homage to the Virgin of El Carmen de Chincha at the end of every year. An aspect of the religious and cultural festival unique to this area is the involvement of teenagers, who perform dances called los negritos and las pallitas, in honour of the Virgin. Click here to watch a video clip about the festival made by Afro-Peruvian organisation Cimarrones.

A history of marginalisation and discrimination

Afro-Peruvians live primarily in the southern coastal region, in cities such as Ica and Nazca, and have contributed a special blend of religion, language and cuisine to Peru's cultural heritage.

Estimates of the country's Afro-Peruvian population vary greatly (depending on sources) and black civil rights groups contend that official censuses and surveys do not accurately reflect their numbers. These estimates range from 6 to 10 per cent of the total population (for example, the World Bank estimated 1.4 million in 2000). Generally, Afro-Peruvians do not hold leadership positions in government, business or the military, and it is a common criticism that blacks are discriminated against in the job application process or relegated to low-paid positions.

The continuing marginalization and difficulty experienced by Afro-Peruvians was demonstrated following the 8.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Peru's southern coast (including El Carmen) in August 2007, killing more than 500 people, injuring over 1000 and destroying some 34,000 homes.

Following the disaster MRG expressed concern that crucial humanitarian relief was still not reaching the Afro-Peruvian population who made up the majority of the worst affected among the hundreds of thousands left homeless. Afro-descendants’ rights advocates also criticized the government for doing nothing to help the mostly rural Afro Peruvian communities and for excluding them from the relief process, especially since all humanitarian aid was channelled through the government.

For more information on Peru and Afro-Peruvians see MRG’s Online Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples

Contact

Emma Eastwood, MRG's London media officer, or Maurice Bryn, MRG's Americas Regional information officer. See Contact page for details. 

Gallery

Click on image for larger view

Drums used in Afro-Peruvian music
 MRG-GAL-1374
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A bland backdrop for a billboard advertising a soft drink with the obligatory naked female flesh
 MRG-GAL-1375
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Propaganda for the upcoming mayoral elections in El Carmen. El negrito means little black man
 MRG-GAL-1376
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The southern coast of Peru is a highly inhospitable desert which rises to the foothills of the Andes. These squatters’ houses at the edge of the Pan-American highway have neither electricity nor running water
 MRG-GAL-1377
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The church of El Carmen, destroyed and reconstructed after the earthquake in 2007
 MRG-GAL-1378
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Looking, learning. A younger member of the Ballumbrosio family watching his uncle, Carmelo Ballumbrosio, play his cajon drum
 MRG-GAL-1379
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Photos of the Ballumbrosio family proudly displayed on the walls of their house in El Carmen
 MRG-GAL-1380
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Carmelo Ballumbrosio, giving a demonstration of Afro-Peruvian music with his cajon drum
 MRG-GAL-1381
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Carmelinos taking some time out
 MRG-GAL-1382
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Many houses remain in ruins after the devastating earthquake in August 2007
 MRG-GAL-1383
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A women’s volleyball match in El Carmen’s main square
 MRG-GAL-1384
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Many houses remain in ruins after the devastating earthquake in August 2007
 MRG-GAL-1385
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Date: 22/09/2010

Countries:

Peru

Categories:

Culture and Tradition

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