Mexican Customs: The Interesting Blend With African Culture

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Mexico was a Spanish colony, and during this period, enslaved Africans worked as foremen. They arrived in New Spain in the sixteenth century and were taken to the state of Veracruz. The total population of African slaves in Veracruz was estimated to be about 200,000. When the Mexican government abolished the slave trade in 1824 and the entire institution five years later, they remained in the country and intermarried with the locals.

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The enslaved African Americans in the Southern United States went in and, many years later, their cultural heritage is seen through Mexican customs. In 2015, African descendants were recognized as an ethnic group. 

In this article, we’ll explore the influence of African culture on Mexican customs.

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Music

La Bamba music. Video Credit: djmambito2

Several Mexican music styles borrow their influence from African descendants. Some of the most famous pieces include the Son Jarocho, La Bamba and Mexican Cumbia. 

Son Jarocho was a song against the resistance of the colonial rulers. It was a fusion of indigenous Mexico, Southern Spain and West African music. The slaves shared some of their dances, instrumentation like the marimbo and rhymes, that have come to define Mexican culture.

La Bamba, is another piece that carries African influence. It uses instruments like the harps, and guitar said to have originated from West Africa, Congo and Angola. They sang it as they worked on the plantation. The word Bamba is from the African tribe from the Bamba River.

One of the most popular festivals that the Costa Chica region engages in, which carries African influence, is the ‘Dance of the Devil’ or the Danza de los Diablitos. They wear masks which is a mark of the African culture.

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Mexican Dishes

Mexican Customs: The Interesting Blend With African Culture
Mexican Food. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-Zero

One of the biggest aspects of the Mexican customs influenced by the African presence is their cuisine. Although some of the foods weren’t originally African, the slaves carried them and introduced them. Some of the ingredients incorporated into Mexican cuisine from Africa include: 

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  • Plantains
  • Coffee
  • Rice
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pipianes
  • Watermelons 
  • Yams.  

Mexican food like meat stews, fish, and paste is made with peanuts from Africa. They are mixed with onions to make sauces like salsa which would be used when cooking chicken and pork. 

Dishes like mole made of chocolate, chillies and spices also come from the blend between Africans and Mexicans. 

The Africans also brought tropical roots like sweet potato and malanga. The cooking methods for Tamales, adding fat and frying introduced by Africans.

Plantains are used to create dough used in preparing tortillas, empanadas and gorditas. 

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Vocabulary

Another aspect of Africa’s influence on Mexican customs is vocabulary. Certain words used in Mexico are originally African. 

  • Cumbia comes from the Congolese word ngoma or kumbi meaning drum. It also refers to dance rituals like limbo, nkumba and kúmba.
  • Mochila. Scholars believe that the word mochila originates from a Congolese word, (mu) nzila, meaning bag.
  • Dengue. This is another word from the Congo expression that means ‘childish anger’. You’ve probably heard it through dengue fever.
  • Mucama. This  Congolese word can be translated to a maid. 
  • Marimba. This is a traditional musical instrument from Africa. It was brought to Mexico during the colonial period. The sound derived from it was incorporated into Mexican music and was largely used in states like Chiapas and Tabasco. Marimba is a Congolese word for madimba.
  • Chingar. This is another word introduced in Mexico by the African population in colonial times. It’s a Bantu word meaning “kuxinga” and “muxinga”, that is to spoil, fight, or reprimand. It’s also said to be a Congo word for singa

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Economic Impact

Mexican Customs: The Interesting Blend With African Culture
Workers at a sugar plantation. Source: Wikimedia licensed by public domain

People of African descent contributed immensely to the early economic growth of Mexico, providing skilled labour in the silver mines, sugar plantations and cattle ranches. They also did urban professions and developed and cultivated farmland.

These are some of the Mexican customs borrowed from Africa’s presence in the country during its colonial period and after. They’ve long gone without recognition, but the government provided that and now acknowledges them as Mexico’s third root.

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