FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Yanga: The Forgotten Rebellion Against Colonial Rule in Mexico

At the beginning of the 17th Century, hiding in the coastal highlands of Veracruz in New Spain (the territory which encompasses Mexico at present), the members of the palenques (communities of escaped slaves) attacked both merchants and soldiers, with weapons that were captured from their erstwhile Spanish slavers. Spain was unable to contain the resistance for more than three decades, largely because of their leader, Gaspar Yanga, an African previoulsy captured by European slave traders.

Allegedly a member of a royal family from the territory that currently comprises Gabon, Yanga was captured and reduced to enslavement in a plantation in New Spain in the mid-sixteenth century. Although it has not been conclusively proven whether Gaspar Yanga belonged to Gabonese royalty, what is certain is that Yanga arrived in Mexico because of the slave trade from which millions of African were victims. In fact, captive Africans were indispensable to the agricultural production in the Americas under Spanish colonial rule. At the time, only Brazil had a larger slave population than the New Spain.

But Yanga was soon to prove that he was not a slave like the others. In 1570, in the sugarcane plantation “Nuestra Señora de la Concepción”, in Veracruz, Gaspar Yanga led the escape of his fellow slaves into the nearby mountains. There they formed a settlement and lived for more than 30 years, arming themselves through their raids on Spanish colonists. The colonial authorities of Spain were aware of the existence of the community of free slaves, but made little progress against the community until 1609, when they gathered troops to take back the former slaves. They razed the community and attacked Yanga and his followers, who took to the rainforest to wage guerrilla warfare against their oppressors.

Despite that Spanish offensive, Yanga’s raids against the Spanish colonialists did not stop. His great expertise in the forest allowed him to fight the attacks of the Spanish slavers and lead the resistance against them. Yanga’s palenque thrived, surviving in part by ravaging the caravans that transported goods across Veracruz. In the end, the Spanish were forced to accept a treaty that granted the former slaves their freedom and the right to create their own free community. Thus, in 1631, Yanga reached an agreement with the viceroy of New Spain, Rodrigo Pacheco y Osorio, obtaining the autonomy of his band of slaves. In Veracruz, Yanga and his companions established the city of San Lorenzo de Los Negros, the first community of freed African slaves in North America.

In 1871, five decades after Mexican independence, Yanga was named a “national hero of Mexico.” This was largely due to the writings of the influential Mexican politician, military leader and journalist Vicente Riva Palacio (grandson of Mexico’s only black president, Vicente Guerrero), who recovered the stories and reports about Yanga -and the Spanish expedition against him- while searching in the archives of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1932, shortly after the end of the Mexican Revolution, recognizing this important and heroic episode in Mexican history, the settlement he had formed in Veracruz was renamed Yanga in his honor. The small town still exists in Veracruz; a statue commemorates the feat of Yanga and his band of slaves, while his name appears in several streets and public places in Mexico.

Slave uprisings against Spanish rule in the Americas occurred very frequently in the early 16th Century, shortly after colonization. But these uprisings did not always succeed, although the failed attempts later served as inspiration for another liberation struggle led by former slaves: that of Haiti, which attained independence in 1804 – a reminder that the he first free Latin American country became independent thanks to its slave population of African origin.

In this regard, the Yanga rebellion remains relevant because of its success. Gaspar Yanga became the first only African rebel to win a fight against his colonial captors. Nevertheless, the legacy of Africans in Mexico after Spanish colonization is a subject rarely covered in the history books of the Americas. As a result, Gaspar Yanga remains one of the almost neglected figures in African history in Latin America (not to mention African-American history). Although the rebellion is little known outside small Mexican (and Gabonese) historiographic circles, it is important to recover this relevant historical event, which reveals a glorious example of emancipation and resistance of peoples against their colonial oppressors.

The history of the rebellion of Yanga, the African slave who led the first insurrection against Spanish colonial rule in what is now Mexico (almost two centuries before the country became independent) should not be overlooked. This glorious chapter in the history of man’s emancipation shows us that the will to be free is stronger than the fire and chains of slavery; that defying oppression does not depend on skin color; and that human dignity knows no obstacles when people organize themselves and break their chains, making themselves invincible.

Andres D. Medellin is a Mexican sociologist and career diplomat, currently posted in South Africa. He can be reached at dariomedelllin83@gmail.com.

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail