Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean

Portal of Culture of Latin America and the Caribbean

In Ecuador, slavery was abolished by the Constitution of 1852 during the administration of General Jose Maria Urbina, but the enslaved only achieved freedom one decade later, when their “masters” received the corresponding compensation.

Afro Ecuadorians have a different background than the rest of the ethnic and cultural groups of the country. On one hand, there is a recollection of pain and suffering, through the experience of having been torn from Africa brutally, to be brought over as slaves, and on the other hand, a memory of struggle, resistance and above all, of contributions to the historical building of this nation.

In Ecuador there are two ancestral places which stand out for the presence of people of African ancestry since colonial times: the Valley of the Chota-Mira and the province of Esmeraldas. This in no way implies that there weren’t other colonial settlements with persons of African origin, who were enslaved.

During the 17th century the growing of tropical crops had not extended yet into the basin of the Andean valley, hence the slave trade increased eventually with labour force from Panama or Cartagena de Indias - these slaves were called “bozales” because they came from Africa. From the purchase-sales contracts we also know of slaves born in the Andean valley of the country, where the large estates of the Royal High Court of Quito [1] were located – the slaves born in the country were called “Creole slaves”.

Towards the end of the 18th century, in the jurisdictions of Quito, Ibarra, Latacunga, Ambato, Riobamba, Guaranda, Loja, Otavalo and Macas, there were 2 604 slaves, of them 1 235 men and 1 369 women. The Blacks, mulattos and zambos (person of mixed black and Amerindian origin), free or slave, reached the figure of 17.099, representing more than a 5% of the 336.271 persons included in the 1783 census. [2]

[1] Jean-Pierre Tardieu´s study, El negro en la Real Audiencia de Quito (Ecuador), based on 300 purchase-sales deeds, from 1582 to 1660, allows us to know about the first purchases of African slaves (bozales).

[2] Jean-Pierre Tardieu, El negro en la Real Audiencia de Quito (Ecuador), Chapter 4, Los negros en Quito, 16th-17th centuries, IFEA.