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  • Afro-Peruvian Literature:A Steady Journey against the Literary Trend
  • Carlos L. Orihuela

Surpassing the obstacles of exclusion, censorship, and invisibility, whose antecedents date to the establishment of the Spanish colony and the consolidation of the European hegemony in our continent, the autonomous and methodical development of the critical, historical, and interdisciplinary discourses about literature and Afro-Peruvian culture has gained substantial support and prestige; although, without doubt, it was greatly debated in its initial moments.

The development of this limited intellectual space, in which debate surrounds the prominent historical role of cultural and social groups, is now possible. These groups were excluded from the task of creating a national identity and reduced to the periphery and the subalternity. This development results from an ongoing and an enriching internal struggle, from the relatively recent arrival of enlightening schools of thought and from social movements of effective force. In the Peruvian context, the acceptance of the studies about the indigenous and trans-African cultural production (the two most important peripheral expressions in the heterogeneous structure which are fragmented from the national reality) by the official literary institution began at the end of the nineteenth century around the extensive indigenous community and continued with the arrival of the pro-indigenous intellectual movement. The acceptance of Afro-Peruvian studies, which occurred later, was slower and delayed, but it was not less important. Not long ago (about three decades), the first publications with studies and anthologies associated with the new vision of the historical role of Blacks had a precarious beginning. These publications began to recognize their contribution and participation in the polyphonic dialogue that shape the dynamics of the peruanidad.

We should mention, nevertheless, that the incomplete and underdeveloped condition, lacking wider support from the different social positions and intellectuals in the complex social spectrum of contemporary Peru, makes these studies and the efforts to surpass the fictitious homogeneous notion in Peruvian culture and society undergo a prolonged, unjust, and anachronistic state of carelessness and exclusion. M'Bare N' Gom promptly points out:

La realidad es que ni la institucionalidad cultural oficial peruana, ni las grandes casas editoriales, instituciones claves en el establecimiento del canon, han demostrado un interés particular sostenido en la literatura afroperuana. . . . Y la disponibilidad de los textos que conforman el corpus de la literatura afroperuana brillan por su ausencia. La gran mayoría de los escritores afroperuanos siguen [End Page 294] operando desde un espacio periférico regido por las estrecheces y un circuito de distribución precario donde opera un grupo de lectores muy marginal y limitado. En un entorno como ése, marcado por la alteridad y donde, como afirma Espezúa Salmón, la "producción, distribución y valoración, en la mayoría de los casos, no trasciende las fronteras de ese localismo por diversas razones (104)" no cabe duda que las posibilidades de incorporación al espacio de la institucionalidad cultural oficial son mínimas, por no decir inexistentes. Y son toda una legión de creadores afroperuanos los que integran esa realidad periférica y determinada por el sello del silencio


Though critical, historiographical studies and the initial outline of an alternative and defiant Afro-Peruvian literary canon date to a few decades ago. The Afro-Peruvian cultural and literary production date back to the initial years of the Spanish conquest and they remained unchangeable through the whole process of forming the modern republics of Latin America. The African prisoners, who were subjected to human trafficking and forced labor, brought a rich repertoire of their own culture as their only possessions. They arrived equipped with the essential elements to make their contribution to mestizaje and the establishment of postcolonial culture. Through the difficulty of forced labor, the unknown circumstances of multicultural interaction with other Africans, the contact with the dominant colonial society, and the intercultural relations with other subordinate ethnic groups, the Black captives brought their traditions and cosmogonical conceptions. They also brought their creativity to generate a cultural version of resistance, survival, and a fight for liberty.

It was in the social vortex of the colony that the first Afro-Peruvian cultural and artistic expressions occurred. The difficult years of...


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