Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean

Portal of Culture of Latin America and the Caribbean

The following report was submitted by historian Juan Carlos La Serna Salcedo, according to the consultancy services required by the office of UNESCO – Havana, referring to the gathering of information on memory sites, itineraries and cultural assets linked to the Slave Route project in Peru.

In the Peruvian case, the acknowledgement of African cultural heritage is strongly associated to certain practices attributed to the afro-coastal population: music and dances ("black music"), cuisine and popular religiosity (religious brotherhoods). These elements were, however, subdued by the so called "Creole" culture and the nationalistic discourses built by the coastal intellectual elites from the first decades of the 20th century, giving way to a folkloric narrative that ended up by “whitening” the cultural expressions of a Creole popular world, and denying visibility to the African contribution.

Considering this reality, in the last few decades, a number of civil organization of people of African descent, as well as the cultural organizations of the state, like the Ministry of Culture (previously National Institute of Culture) have been promoting a number of policies to favour the acknowledgement of the contribution of this population to the building of our nationality and to the Peruvian cultural wealth. Thus, the Ministry of Culture established a specialized office for the people of African descent within the Vice Ministerio de Interculturalidad (Vice Ministry of Inter-Cultural Affairs) and to have an incidence in the participation of civil associations, this office has a registry of representative Afro-Peruvian Organizations. This list includes institutions in the central and northern coastal areas of the country[1].

Along this line, in 2014, the Ministry of Culture, through Resolution N° 182-2014-MC, declared June as the Month of Afro-Peruvian Culture, fact that has promoted since then, the holding of a series of commemorative and academic activities (artistic festivals, talks, recognition of persons of merit, etc.) in collaboration with several outstanding afro Peruvian civil associations.

Memory Sites and Cultural Itineraries

Unlike other ethnic minorities, such as the Amazonian Indians, in Peru the population of African descent is not attached to “traditional” territories recognized by the State. In general, people of African descent are distributed in different towns and cities in the coastal area of the country, where the process of biological and cultural mix with the rest of the population has generated, in many cases, a cover up of their contribution to the building of the Peruvian cultural heritage[2].

Even though, there are certain territorial locations that are strongly associated to the African identity and cultural heritage, especially in the central and northern coastal areas [namely, the districts of El Carmen (Chincha), Zaña (Chiclayo), Chulucanas (Morropón) and Cañete (Cañete)] in which a number of musical, dancing, religious and literary expressions emerged during the period of slavery are still practiced. On the other hand, in the city of Lima, there are different cultural scenarios ascribed to the Creole world, in the traditional districts of Breña, Barrios Altos, Rímac and La Victoria, in which the local music practices present evidences of a strong component of “black culture”[3].

The official validation of these locations as memory sites or afro cultural itineraries is still an outstanding task[4]. The only case of recognition and declaration of heritage that exists is the District of Zaña, where the chiclayana population has obtained the denomination of “Living Repository of Collective Memory” by the Ministry of Culture (R.M. 187-2015 M.C of 3 June 2015), and the recent declaration of “Site of Memory of Slavery and African Cultural Heritage” granted by UNESCO on September 2017. This declaration is, at the same time, recognition to the efforts of a number of local cultural promoters and researchers nation-wide, represented by the Civil Association Afro Peruvian Museum of Zaña, for promoting the rescue and valuation of the Afro Peruvian heritage of the northern coast of the country.

Cultural Institutions and afro Peruvian Heritage

In social and cultural terms, the condition of the people of African descent in Peru has been historically marginal, even when such marginal condition seems to hide behind certain practices of assimilation. The low percentage of participation of persons of African descent in higher education or in levels of political decision, expresses the strong exclusion that is reproduced habitually by the rest of the Peruvian population with regard to this ethnic group.

Faced with this situation, in the last decades different organizations have emerged who, from cultural reaffirmation and political incidence stands, have sought to promote certain initiatives to vindicate the population of African descent[5]. Most of the initiatives of cultural activism emerge in the capital of the country and in some coastal towns concentrating population of African descent[6]. This fact confirms a reality: outside the central and northern coastal territories (say Piura, Lambayeque, Lima and Ica) the acknowledgement of the cultural heritage and memory of African slavery is very scarce[7]. Furthermore, apart from some exploratory surveys in the Andean south and the central mountain range of the country, there are no other studies that may allow us to understand the characteristics of the African diaspora in the mountain ranges during the viceroyalty or republican periods, even when their contribution to the construction of contemporary cultural dynamics is evident.

As to actions for the re-valuation and safeguarding of the afro-coastal cultural heritage, in the last few years efforts have been made, helping to highlight their contribution to the building of national cultural heritage. We should emphasize the interest of the population of African descent who, through private institutions or actions taken with local and national governments, has achieved the appreciation of some intangible cultural expressions.

Museums and afro Peruvian Heritage

As part of the initiatives for the revaluation and appreciation of the afro-coastal cultural heritage, several civilian associations have promoted projects for the establishment of museums, as repositories of material culture and research and promotion centres of the intangible heritage on a local scale. The process of planning and opening of these museums is, however, a complex task, due to the financial constraints and the resources required by these initiatives, and because of the differences that exist among the activists themselves and the local associations regarding the management of heritage, not to mention the institutional fragility of these cultural associations.

The first museum dedicated exclusively to the afro-Peruvian memory, the Afro Peruvian Museum of Zaña (Lambayeque), was officially opened on March 2005. In 2007, the cultural Centre for Documentation and San Daniel Comboni Afro Peruvian Museum was established in the district of El Carmen (Chincha). Since that date, in Cañete, the civil association Agua e Nieve promotes the establishment of the Museo La Historia Escondida (The Hidden History Museum), a project that is still unfinished. The Museum and House of Culture of Yapatera (Piura) opened in 2009. That same year, by initiative of the Congress of the Republic, the Museo National Afroperuano (AfroPeruvian National Museum) became established in the city of Lima. However, at the beginning of 2013 it was closed, and it reopened its doors to the public at the beginning of 2014.

Archives, Documentation Centres and Iconography

No institution in the country has been able to establish a documentation centre or archive specifically on the African presence in Peru. Although some museums of afro Peruvian heritage mentioned above offer the visitors the possibility of perusing copies of historic documents, the most important national archives and libraries have not made efforts to establish collections on the afro Peruvian history and memory. Anyhow, there are certain repositories recognized, such as the General Archive of the Nation, the National Library of Peru or the Archive of the Archbishopric of Lima, containing important documentary series on the period of slavery and the life of the population of African descent, especially in the city of Lima. Papers regarding the purchase/sale of slaves, freedom certificates and records linked to the daily life during colonial and republican times (trials for domestic violence, slave and emancipated slaves revolts, etc.)[8]. Outside these national archives located in the capital of the country, all the departments in the coastal area have regional archives, in most cases still in process of organization and classification, making the work of researchers difficult.

Likewise, national museums, such as the Museum of Peruvian Culture, the Museum of Art of Lima, the Museum of Anthropology, Archaeology and History, and the Art Gallery of the Municipality of Lima, hold important artistic pieces and works linked to the afro Peruvian culture and history (photographs, watercolours, historic pieces such as music instruments). Among these pieces, the outstanding photographs of “afrolimeños” from the 19th century, in the collections of the National Library (the Courret Photographic Archive), as well as the local colour watercolours from the 19th century, such as those by painter Pancho Fierro, kept in the Art Gallery of the Municipality of Lima and in the Museum of Art of Lima.

Cultural Itineraries

Actually, there are no cultural itineraries associated to the afro Peruvian presence in the country. The afro Peruvian organizations, however, are promoting the establishment of some cultural itineraries. For example, one in the northern coast, the “afro-northern” route, including the towns of Zaña, Capote and Yapatera; whilst in the south-coastal centre, associated to the so called “Pisco Route” they are promoting an afro Peruvian itinerary including the towns of El Carmen, Chincha and Cañete. Lastly, there is an outstanding proposal to vindicate the African contribution in the urban spaces of Lima, traditionally recognized by the practice and dissemination of Creole music, including the areas of Rímac, La Victoria, Barrios Altos and Breña.

Acknowledged Intangible Cultural Assets

Since the decade of the 1960’s various afro Peruvian activists devoted themselves to “rescuing” certain afro-coastal musical practices and oral traditions, such as the decimas and the cumanana. In some cases, they endeavoured to “recover” dances such as son de diablos, an afro-coastal dance that, by those years, had already fallen into disregard in the popular taste. Since that moment, several cultural associations have been vindicating the importance of these musical practices (hatajos, festejos, zapateos) and technologies (instruments such as the box drum, the afro Peruvian cajita, the checo or the quijada de burro (ass jaw) as substantive elements of the African contribution to national culture. Some of these practices, such as cajón, la cajita and checo de Zaña, or the dance of los hatajos y pallas de Chincha have been recognized as intangible heritage of the nation by the Ministry of Culture (previously National Institute of Culture). The acknowledgement of these musical and dance practices as intangible cultural heritage demands the organization of a series of safeguarding initiatives requiring the work of the Division of Intangible Heritage (DPI is the Spanish acronym) of the Ministry of Culture and other cultural organizations and local governments.

Beyond the coastal area, the Division of Intangible Heritage has declared as heritage some music and choreographic expressions that make reference to the African presence in the festive world of the mountain range. Thus, it has recognized dances such as the “negritos” and the “morenada” in some towns of the Andes. These dances, since they were developed outside the coastal areas, had not had the awareness of the afro Peruvian civil cultural institutions, even when they are seen as important contributions of the population of African descent to the Andean festivities. On this matter, however, there are still few academic works making reference to the history of the African diaspora in cities and haciendas in the mountain ranges, as well as to their later cultural legacy.

Outside these early recognitions, in many other towns of the mountain ranges and the Peruvian southern plateau there are choreographies in which the dancers or characters make reference to an African origin. They are commonly called “negritos”, “negrerías” or “morenadas”. Thus, we may point out the negrerías of the district of Huancaya (Yauyos, Lima), a dance that today is of special importance in the celebrations of such town; the negros de Canchis (Cusco), in the city of Moquegua (Moquegua), in Cajamamba (Cajamarca), the negritos de Junbilla in Bongará (Amazonas), the dancing groups comparsas de morenos y morenadas of Puno, etc.[9].

[1] The Registry of Representative Afro-Peruvian Organizations (established by Resolution of the Vice Ministry 25-2016-VMI-MC) recognized, at the beginning of 2017, 35 civil institutions, most of which have their headquarters in the city of Lima. The rest of them are local initiatives emerged in the districts and towns of the provinces of Chincha, Cañete, Morropón and Chiclayo. Of them, only eight have the main objective of developing safeguard and cultural dissemination activities associated to the African heritage. The purpose of most of them is the struggle against ethnic and economic discrimination, as well as strengthening the political rights of their collectives.

[2] Recently the Ministry of Culture issued a research document through the consultancy firm Grade to know the general characteristics of the population of African descent in Peru, reaffirming old topics known in relation to their location concentrated in the coastal areas, from Tacna to Tumbes, their relative marginal condition and poverty vis-à-vis the national population, etc. See:

[3] Various recent testimonials and surveys agree in recognizing the fact that, up to the mid 20th century, a high percentage of the urban population of Lima was of African descent. See: Arrelucea, M. and J. Cosamalón. La presencia afrodescendiente en el Perú. Siglos XVI-XX. Lima: Ministerio de Cultura, 2015.

[4] It is important to note that, in Peru, the memory sites are strongly associated to the memory of the victims of the recent political violence that affected the country between 1980 and 1990, especially in the Department of Ayacucho, southern mountain range.

[5] CRESPIAL classifies the non governmental organizations carrying out safeguard activities into three types: associations of bearers (Catholic brotherhoods and associations linked to certain patron saints), associations of research and dissemination (study centres, cultural centres, and museums) and artistic institutions. Some of these associations are long standing and prestigious as is the brotherhood del Señor de los Milagros (Lima) or the foot stomping quadrilles of hatajo de negritos in Chincha. See: Chocano, Rodrigo. Salvaguardia del Patrimonio Cultural Inmaterial de los Afrodescendientes en América Latina. Informe sobre la situación del PCI afrodescendiente en el Perú. Crespial, 2013. See:

[6] A fact that, however, has weakened these civilian organizations have been the constant clashes generated between the organizations trying to gain visibility within the Peruvian movement of peoples of African descent, fact that weakens them at the time of negotiating with other spheres of influence in society or the State.

[7] In this regard, since year 2014, the Dirección Desconcentrada de Tacna promotes the revaluation of the African heritage in cultural and artistic activities during the holding of the Month of Afro-Peruvian Culture. However, we still do not know of civil society organizations in the region with activities recognized by this ministry.

[8] The Archive of the Archbishopric of Lima has organized records on the population of African descent in the sections “Black trials”. In the northern coast, the Archive of the Archbishopric of Trujillo also has a section "Black trials” (with 7 files, dated from 1670 to 1839).

[9] The strongest presence of dances of “negrerías” is to be found in the regions of Ancash and Lima (provinces of Huarochirí, Yauyos, Huaral, Canta and Cajatambo). In certain cases, these dances are of recent origin, consequence of the migration during the 20th century. An approach to the African cultural influence within the contemporary celebratory practices in the high mountains, as is the case of the “morenadas” and the dances of the qhapac negro and waqcha negro, performed by groups of mestizos to honour Our Lady of El Carmen in Paucartambo, can be seen in: Celestino, Olinda. "Relaciones incas-negros y sus resultados en el capac negro y los negritos”. In: Los afroandinos de los siglos XVI al XX. Lima: Unesco-Perú, 2004.