[News] Yanga: The Forgotten Rebellion Against Colonial Rule in Mexico

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Fri Jun 1 10:58:18 EDT 2018


  Yanga: The Forgotten Rebellion Against Colonial Rule in Mexico

by Andres D. Medellin 
<https://www.counterpunch.org/author/andres-d-medellin/> - June 1, 2018

At the beginning of the 17^th  Century, hiding in the coastal highlands 
of Veracruz in New Spain (the territory which encompasses Mexico at 
present), the members of the /palenques/ (communities of escaped slaves) 
attacked both merchants and soldiers, with weapons that were captured 
from their erstwhile Spanish slavers. Spain was unable to contain the 
resistance for more than three decades, largely because of their leader, 
Gaspar Yanga <https://www.britannica.com/topic/slave-rebellions>, an 
African previoulsy captured by European slave traders.

Allegedly a member of a royal family from the territory that currently 
comprises Gabon, Yanga 
<https://timeline.com/mexico-slave-gaspar-yanga-staged-a-bloody-rebellion-b58611fdb6f0> was 
captured and reduced to enslavement in a plantation in New Spain in the 
mid-sixteenth century. Although it has not been conclusively proven 
whether Gaspar Yanga belonged to Gabonese royalty, what is certain is 
that Yanga arrived in Mexico because of the slave trade from which 
millions of African were victims. In fact, captive Africans were 
indispensable to the agricultural production in the Americas under 
Spanish colonial rule. At the time, only Brazil had a larger slave 
population than the New Spain.

But Yanga was soon to prove that he was not a slave like the others. In 
1570, in the sugarcane plantation “Nuestra Señora de la Concepción”, in 
Veracruz, Gaspar Yanga led the escape of his fellow slaves into the 
nearby mountains. There they formed a settlement and lived for more than 
30 years, arming themselves through their raids on Spanish colonists. 
The colonial authorities of Spain were aware of the existence of the 
community of free slaves, but made little progress against the community 
until 1609, when they gathered troops to take back the former slaves. 
They razed the community and attacked Yanga and his followers, who took 
to the rainforest to wage guerrilla warfare against their oppressors.

Despite that Spanish offensive, Yanga’s raids against the Spanish 
colonialists did not stop. His great expertise in the forest allowed him 
to fight the attacks of the Spanish slavers and lead the resistance 
against them. Yanga’s /palenque/ thrived, surviving in part by ravaging 
the caravans that transported goods across Veracruz. In the end, the 
Spanish were forced to accept a treaty that granted the former slaves 
their freedom and the right to create their own free community. Thus, in 
1631, Yanga reached an agreement with the viceroy of New Spain, Rodrigo 
Pacheco y Osorio, obtaining the autonomy of his band of slaves. In 
Veracruz, Yanga and his companions established the city of San Lorenzo 
de Los Negros, the first community of freed African slaves in North America.

In 1871, five decades after Mexican independence, Yanga was named a 
“national hero of Mexico.” This was largely due to the writings of the 
influential Mexican politician, military leader and journalist Vicente 
Riva Palacio (grandson of Mexico’s only black president, Vicente 
Guerrero), who recovered the stories and reports about Yanga -and the 
Spanish expedition against him- while searching in the archives of the 
Spanish Inquisition. In 1932, shortly after the end of the Mexican 
Revolution, recognizing this important and heroic episode in Mexican 
history, the settlement he had formed in Veracruz was renamed Yanga in 
his honor. The small town still exists 
<http://www.blackhistoryheroes.com/2011/05/gaspar-yanga-1570-african-slave-revolt.html> in 
Veracruz; a statue commemorates the feat of Yanga and his band of 
slaves, while his name appears in several streets and public places in 

Slave uprisings against Spanish rule in the Americas occurred very 
frequently in the early 16^th  Century, shortly after colonization. But 
these uprisings did not always succeed, although the failed attempts 
later served as inspiration for another liberation struggle led by 
former slaves: that of Haiti, which attained independence in 1804 – a 
reminder that the he first free Latin American country became 
independent thanks to its slave population of African origin.

In this regard, the Yanga rebellion remains relevant because of its 
success. Gaspar Yanga became the first only African rebel to win a fight 
against his colonial captors. Nevertheless, the legacy of Africans in 
Mexico after Spanish colonization is a subject rarely covered in the 
history books of the Americas. As a result, Gaspar Yanga remains one of 
the almost neglected figures in African history in Latin America (not to 
mention African-American history). Although the rebellion is little 
known outside small Mexican (and Gabonese) historiographic circles, it 
is important to recover this relevant historical event, which reveals a 
glorious example of emancipation and resistance of peoples against their 
colonial oppressors.

The history of the rebellion of Yanga, the African slave who led the 
first insurrection <http://muse.jhu.edu/article/246828/pdf> against 
Spanish colonial rule in what is now Mexico (almost two centuries before 
the country became independent) should not be overlooked. This glorious 
chapter in the history of man’s emancipation shows us that the will to 
be free is stronger than the fire and chains of slavery; that defying 
oppression does not depend on skin color; and that human dignity knows 
no obstacles when people organize themselves and break their chains, 
making themselves invincible.

*/Andres D. Medellin/*/ is a Mexican sociologist and career diplomat, 
currently posted in South Africa. He can be reached at 
//dariomedelllin83 at gmail.com/ <mailto:dariomedelllin83 at gmail.com>/./

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