slavery in latin america

Ayrson Heráclito

Divider II

2001

“In Divider II, Heráclito highlights social divisions and the history of slavery. He nearly fills the large aquariums to the top with palm oil and salt water. He uses the ‘heterogeneity’ of water to underscore the ‘disparate character’ of different groups’ roles and experiences during the era of slavery. During that period in history, the sea held enslaved Africans captive, carrying them further and further away from their homelands. However, in an ‘arbitrary inversion’, here the ‘black’ oil floats above the sea, the salt water, as a sign of resistance and survival.” 
- Black Art in Brazil (2013), by Kimberly L. Cleveland

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September 24th 1537: First Mexican slave rebellion

On this day in 1537, the first rebellion of African slaves occurred in the Spanish colony of Mexico. Despite 1537 being relatively early in the history of Atlantic slavery, this was not the first such revolt in Latin America, with rebellions dating back from 1512. Mexican slavery expanded following the rise of silver mines and sugar plantations - labour-intensive work which required importation of more slaves from Africa. This created concentrated slave populations, as in Mexico City, and saw slaves outnumber Spanish conquistadors. Additionally, slaves were aware of the political turmoil that beset the Spanish king, and seized on this information to plan their revolt. The rebellion was a co-ordinated decision between slaves and Native Americans in Mexico City and Tlaltelolco to murder their Spanish oppressors, led by a chosen slave king. The uprising was planned for midnight on September 24th, but the plans were thwarted when one slave revealed the plot to Viceroy Mendoza. The viceroy - the Spanish representative in the colony - ordered the arrest of the ringleaders. One female and four male slaves were executed for their role in the plot, with Native Americans acting on the viceroy’s orders and killing the instigators themselves. The plot worried the Spanish authorities, and the viceroy suspended the dispatch of new slaves to Mexico to prevent further rebellions. This incident demonstrates that African slaves continually resisted their oppression, as whilst this was the first rebellion in Mexico, it was by no means the last. Mexican slaves rejected their enslavement not just with violent uprisings, but also by establishing runaway slave settlements called ‘palenques’. Slave resistance was thus ubiquitous during the centuries preceding the abolition of slavery in Mexico in 1829.