Africa New World

I learned something recently…

Some of the slaves that arrived in Costa Rica were due to shipwrecks.

But let’s rewind a bit to slavery in general within the country:

While the Spanish Colonists tried to profit off of Limon with cacao plantations, they didn’t have as much success as other countries. For starters, markets were too far away and a lack of security along the way made production (and losses) expensive. In turn, the lack of profit made it difficult to acquire slaves. Those that did have slaves preferred to live in the highlands and left the management of their plantations in the hands of ex-slaves or freedman.

Then it’s like they just full on gave up:

“Ultimately, slavery proved so uneconomical…that many owners freed their slaves rather than pay for their upkeep. As a result, the slave population in Costa Rica was insignificant when slavery was abolished in 1825, and not more than one hundred people were freed from bondage.”

But there were still slaves at some point. And when I say this I’m mainly speaking directly to those Costa Ricans that love to say they don’t have any African in them:

Most (if not all) slaves, blended into society over the years. If anything, the fact that they integrated into society much more quickly than in the US makes it more likely for a Costa Rican to have an African ancestor [cue Ricky Martin].

But I digress…here’s the actual story I wanted to share, courtesy of the great Natasha Gordon-Chipembere:

“According to maritime records, the Christianus had begun its purchase of Africans along the West African coast in April 1709… It eventually left Africa on September 28, 1709 with a total of 373 Africans, 318 of whom would eventually survive the Middle Passage, as the transatlantic slave voyage across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Latin America was known.

The other ship, the Fredericus, had sailed from Copenhagen to West Africa, purchasing Africans on the Ivory and Gold Coasts as well as Benin, Christiansborg and Keta. It left the West African coast on October 2, 1709 after it successfully put down a slave revolt on the ship on September 15, 1709.

Both Dutch ships were originally bound for the Island of St. Thomas. However, according to African testimony, a massive storm caused both ships to veer off course and crash near Cahuita (Costa Rica) on March 2, 1710. What is most amazing about this story is that there were approximately 690 Africans who survived along with the Dutch crew. The stories are corroborated because the Dutch sailors managed to get on a ship heading to Portobello, Panama and were able to return home and narrate their stories to the law courts in order to gain the necessary insurance payment from investors for lost human cargo. However, they left the Africans behind on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. These were predominately from the Western Yoruba subgroup of Nago. In the slave trading world, the language designating those of Yoruba origin also used Casta Lucumi, Mina, Arara, Ana and Nangu – words found in the archives.

According to the records from the seat of the Catholic Church, which was in Guatemala, about 100 of the Africans abandoned onshore by the Dutch captains were captured and hidden by several Spaniards and taken to work on their cacao plantations, away from the eyes of those who may have taxed them for owning slaves. In the Catholic Church’s records, there are several testimonies by those captured Africans who were interviewed by a slave named Francisco (Casta Arara) who served as an interpreter. They recounted the story of a great storm that shipwrecked their boats and the experience of being captured by the Spaniards who enslaved them.

The other 540 Africans simply “disappeared” into the bush, and we can assume that they created the foundation of some of the earliest froCosta Ricans on the Caribbean coast.”

I can’t help but think about these people: what their lives became, who they loved, what made them laugh…how incredibly frightening the entire journey was for them.

And yet, as I say this, I’m aware of the fact that ‘them’ isn’t the right term. It’s too ‘other’. I exist because someone on those ships managed to not only survive but thrive and I never want to forget that.


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