After Brazil and the United States, Colombia has the third-largest
population of African-descended peoples in the Western hemisphere.
Yet the country is commonly viewed as a nation of Andeans, whites,
(peoples of mixed Spanish and indigenous Indian
ancestry). Aline Helg examines the historical roots of Colombia's
treatment and neglect of its Afro-Caribbean identity within the
comparative perspective of the Americas. Concentrating on the
Caribbean region, she explores the role of free and enslaved
peoples of full and mixed African ancestry, elite whites, and
Indians in the late colonial period and in the processes of
independence and early nation building.
Why did race not become an organizational category in Caribbean
Colombia as it did in several other societies with significant
African-descended populations? Helg argues that divisions within
the lower and upper classes, silence on the issue of race, and
Afro-Colombians' preference for individual, local, and transient
forms of resistance resulted in particular spheres of popular
autonomy but prevented the development of an Afro-Caribbean
identity in the region and a cohesive challenge to Andean
Considering cities such as Cartagena and Santa Marta, the rural
communities along the Magdalena River, and the vast uncontrolled
frontiers, Helg illuminates an understudied Latin American region
and reintegrates Colombia into the history of the Caribbean.