Afro-Bolivian Past(s) and Present(s) in Scholarship

Authored by: Sara Busdiecker

Routledge Handbook of Afro-Latin American Studies

Print publication date:  November  2022
Online publication date:  November  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367691431
eBook ISBN: 9781003159247
Adobe ISBN:


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The presence of Afro-descendants in the Andean nation of Bolivia was long overlooked by the Bolivian state and general public. The same held true in scholarship. This chapter begins with acknowledgement of the centrality of indigeneity in both humanities and social science research in Bolivia and the contrasting absence of blackness. With that broader scholarly context established, the discussion moves to the earliest exceptions to the aforementioned absence, this in the field of history and focused on colonial and early republican era slavery. With this focus as both the earliest and most sustained, Afro-Bolivians were largely relegated to the past tense. After considering the nature of that historical work and the contributions of a few isolated anthropologists and folklorists in the 1960s and 1970s to descriptions of Afro-Bolivian cultural expressions, the chapter explores the somewhat expanded attention in scholarship that aligned with the expanded public attention generated by emergence of an Afro-Bolivian identity movement in the late 1980s. The movement itself and, in particular, the Afro-Bolivian song and dance tradition saya around which it coalesced, became a point of interest for ethnomusicologists, anthropologists, and others throughout the 1990s. As will be pointed out, with this kind of attention, Afro-Bolivians moved from being “remnants” of a distant colonial past to sometimes folklorized performers in a multicultural present. While scholarly interest increased from the 1990s onward, it has remained relatively limited and with some commonly reoccurring themes. Those examined here include the impact of the 1953 agrarian reform on rural Afro-Bolivians; ethnographic studies of individual communities in the rural Yungas region with attention to elements of expressive culture and social organization and an eye on establishing presence and ethnic status; and socio-political organizing, particularly in relation to points of visibility and inclusion of Afro-Bolivians in the state and popular culture.

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