Was Santa Lucia the neighborhood of Africans in Merida?

One of the ideas generalized in the history of the colonial Yucatan, and of Merida, the capital specifically, is that the Santa Lucía neighborhood was, during the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, a place where Africans and people of African descent were enslaved and later on freed. The generator of such information was historian Jorge Rubio Mañé, in the middle of the 20th century.

In 1579 was indicated that ” in 1575, towards the northern part, outside the city, [the] Santa Lucia chapel was founded, which was initiated at the expense of a neighbor conqueror named Pedro Garcia”. The site was built with the permission of the prelate and the governor, with the help of donations, but there is no information about the donations from the congregation.

The first time the indigenous people of Santa Lucia are mentioned, was in 1577, when two people designated as Mayans were married. From that date onwards, it is common to find in the documentation of marriages, native people coming from that town, but none of them indicated as black or any of their castes, at least until the end of the 17th century.

In the review I made of the documentation worked on by Rubio Mañé, there is no information that indicates that Santa Lucía was a neighbourhood for blacks, slaves or free people. To reinforce the idea of this absence of information regarding this subject, in a letter from the governor of Yucatan Guillén de las Casas to the king, dated 1582, it is stated that Santa Lucía “is currently being populated by Naborío Indians”, and even on June 6th of that year Mr. De las Casas got married in that church.

If we ask ourselves then, where the Africans and Afro-descendants were living at that time in Merida, the answer is that they were living in the back of their masters’ and patrons’ houses. This is how Juan de Montejo, grandson of the conqueror of Yucatan Francisco de Montejo, explained it in 1593. He said “he lived in a good house were he maintained horses, servants and slaves with weapons”. (SIC)

The first site of administration and religiosity of the Africans and their castes was a chapel inside the cathedral, which dates to the sixteenth century as told by Franciscan chronicler Cardenas Valencia in 1639. They were there until January 15, 1686 when a church was opened for them on the current 59 street between 64 and 66, called the “Holy Name of Jesus”, which does not exist today. The first marriage that took place in that church, was between Matheo Velázquez, a light brown skin African descendant, born in Mérida and María Vivas, also a native of this city, although there is no mention if she was also African or an African descendant.

That social group was in that space until 1774 when they were moved to the former Jesuit church, abandoned when the Society of Jesus left the city; that would eventually become the new headquarters for their parish until its disappearance in 1822.

As we have seen, the Africans never had the Santa Lucía chapel as the seat of their parish, nor was the neighborhood their destination during colonial life, although at the end of the 17th century some people began to settle there.

Source: Jorge Victoria Ojeda, “Africanos y afrodescendientes en la Mérida de Yucatán, México. Dos apuntamientos (siglos XVI al XIX)”, Revista Fronteras de la Historia, vol. 19, núm. 2, julio-diciembre, Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia, Bogotá.

For The Yucatan Times
Jorge Victoria Ojeda Ph.D
Anthropologist, historian, investigator, author.

With a doctorate in anthropology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and a Ph.D. in History from Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, in Spain, Jorge Victoria has been the technical subdirector of the General Archive of the State of Yucatan, the head of the Historical Archive of Merida and the director of the Museum of Popular Art of Yucatan. He is currently a professor and works in the Social Sciences Unit of the Regional Research Center of the Autonomous University of Yucatan.

Dr. Victoria has published fifteen books and numerous articles in Mexico and abroad.

His research on “piracy and pirates in the Yucatan Peninsula” and “Africans and Afro-descendants” has earned him international awards and recognition.


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