One of the mysteries of Buenos Aires is that one sees so few people of African descent. A native Porteño told me that there were no blacks in Argentina. And from casual observation on the street that does seem to be the case. However, I know that there was once a slave population in Argentina. So, what happened to them all?

An academic study on this topic is The Afro-Argentine in Argentine Culture by Donald S. Castro.

A documentary film from 2002 examines this topic: Afroargentines.

A posting on the Beautiful Horizons blog refers to this topic and points to an article in the Miami Herald that was picked up from the Washington Post news service.

Couple of months back, Clarin published an article that describes a census that is being conducted to determine the number of Argentineans of African descent. According to the article, in 1810 one in three persons in Buenos Aires was of African descent.

My thinking has been that the noticeable decrease has resulted through intermarriage with people of European descent. The Clarin article indicates that one theory is that a large number of Afro-Argentine males died in military service while fighting battles with Indians, Brazil, and Paraguay in the 19th century. This probably left a large female population widowed and single. And, of course, caucasian males (e.g., Thomas Jefferson) often don´t have a problem with mixed race relationship. 🙂

I do have to disagree with one theory cited by the Clarin that a large number of Afro-Argentines died during the Yellow Fever outbreaks in Buenos Aires. Yellow Fever epidemics of the 19th century were one of my former research topics in years past. As I recall, people of African descent succumbed to the disease in much smaller numbers due to a type of genetic near-immunity that evolved from exposure to similar diseases in Africa.

Anyway, perhaps the search for the mythical Afro-Argentine is coming to an end.

Update: In late 2006 I’ve started to see more and more people of African descent in certain parts of Buenos Aires. The numbers are not a lot but there are quite a few more, particularly around the southern neighborhoods. From listening to them speak, a few are clearly from Brazil but not all. I wonder if there has been an increase of immigration to Buenos Aires from Africa recently.

I’ve also recently learned of two additional academic studies relating to this topic, both by University of Pittsburgh history professor George Reid Andrews: Afro-Latin America, 1800-2000 and The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800-1900.