Inside the Library

The Black Library, Cuajinicuilapa, Mexico

A look into libraries and book collections holding some of the rarer and often forgotten publications. Featured this time: The Black Library in Mexico

“We know that there are many undergraduate, master’s and doctoral theses about the community, in Chicago, in Germany, even in Japan, but nothing in the community. There were countless reputable people, photographers, anthropologists, and many foreigners. Then they left, and now their work is in other countries. They never came back. So, what we are doing is we have a document, something concrete, a statement so the work comes back. Or there are two copies, one at the library in the village, because we are disseminating this information, which is ours. It is our history,” Olga Manzano and Baltazar Melo.

The initiative of the group is incorporated within the framework of an artistic practice that aims to place community education and collective memory at the center of its activities, particularly through painting or dance workshops.

The library contains about 300 volumes, many of which were collected through a call for donations across Mexico. Its publications include ethnographic academic works, festival reviews and manuscripts produced from the end of the 1980s through the beginning of the 2000s by Mexican researchers and authors. The collection merges a collection of themes which bear witness at once to the complexity of the issue of race in Mexico, shaped by a colorist system stemming from a tradition of enslavement and colonization, as well as to the strong transatlantic cultural connections with the African continent and other indigenous communities of the region. Some works are accessible online on the university website, and a digital archive is currently being created.

The Selection

Leyton Ovando, Rubén, Los culebreros. Medicina tradicional viva, CONACULTA, Culturas Populares e Indí-Genas (The Culebreros. Living Traditional Medicine, CONACULTA, Folk and Indigenous Cultures.)

This book about traditional folk medicine bears witness to common ancestral practices that existed among the indigenous and Afro-Mestizo populations from the south of Veracruz around the cult of the serpent. This practice gave rise to a magical-mythical-religious complex around the relationship between human and serpent. It essentially implicated lightning men and culebreros as the only people authorized to heal snake bites with medicinal herbs.

Guevara Sanginés, María, Guanajuato diverso: Sabores y sinsabores de su ser mestizo (Diverse Guanajuato: The Flavors and Bitterness of Being Mestizo).
This book is a summary of research carried out since 1990 on the role of enslaved Afro-Mexicans and their descendants since the 16th century in the economic and cultural construction of the region de Guanajuato, one of the most important mining zones for the interests of Hispanic colonization. It provides an introduction to the social organization of interethnic families and the cultural implications for Afro-indigenous métissages.

Martínez Ayala, Jorge Amós, ¡Epa! Toro Prieto. Los “Toritos de Petate”. Una tradición de origen africano traída a Valladolid por los esclavos de lengua Bantú en el siglo XVI (Hey! Toro Prieto. The “Toritos de Petate”. A Tradition of African Origin Brought to Valladolid by Slaves of the Bantu Language in the 16th Century).

This is one of the only existing publications about the Torito de Petate, the Michoacán tradition celebrated each year during carnival. This dance of the bull has its origins in the rites practiced by enslaved Bantu-speaking people between 1580 and 1640 who were brought from Angola, Congo and Mozambique. The publication is also complemented by a documentary: Ecos del Torito de Petate en Cuitzeo (Echos of the Torito de Petate in Cuitzeo), in which several experts give their opinion on the dance which has changed over the years and taken on several meanings.

Cruz Carretero, Sagrario, Martínez Maranto, Alfredo, et al., El carnaval en Yanga. Notas y comentarios sobre una fiesta de la negritud (The Carnaval in Yanga. Notes and Comments on a Negritude Festival).

This small 47-page booklet dating from the 1990s documents the decades-long survival of the Carnaval de Yanga which lays claim to the African heritage of the inhabitants of the city of Yanga in the state of Veracruz recalling the political, legal and social conquest of Afro-Mexican ancestors who had founded the first free Black town in colonial America. The celebration is still held in August in memory of San Lorenzo de Los Negros, a maroon slave who had founded the region’s plantations and sugar mills.

Ochoa Campos, Moisés, La chilena guerrerense (The Chilena in Guerrero).

Published by the Guerrero Cultural Institute at the end of the 1980s, this work documents the origin of the Chilena dance as it is practiced in the State of Guerrero. Brought by Chilean sailors to the Costa Chica in the 19th century, the rhythms of harps and mandolins bear witness to the fusion of Chilean cueca music with Afro-Mexican dancing and singing and to the numerous migratory movements across the Mexican coast over the past two centuries.

The Raiz de la Ceiba Organization is devoted to the conservation and recognition of Costa Chica’s Black culture in Guerrero and Oaxaca as well as to improving their communities’ environment. Its founder Olga Manzano is a Mexican social worker who lives in Guerrero. She is a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of Valencia. Her research focuses on new ways of approaching communities didactically and on the integration of public space in their daily life. Book donation inquiries can be sent to

Baltazar Castellano Melo is an Afro-Mexican visual and plastic artist originally from Cuajinicuilapa. His work is devoted to showing the cultural richness of his community.

Serine Ahefa Mekoun is a writer and multimedia journalist working between Brussels and West Africa. She writes about artists’ communities and how they activate social change in post-colonial contexts.

Translation: Sara Hanaburgh