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The Olmec Civilization and Background

Background Knowledge and Notes 

The African Influence in Mexico, Brenda Hargrove

Lesson One 

  • The Olmecs, the ��Mother Culture,�� flourished in the southern region of Mesoamerica during 1500–400BC
  • Mesoamerica includes Mexico, parts of Honduras, parts of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize 
  • ��Olmec�� is not the original name; called Olmec later 


Monument # 1 

Replica @ University of Texas at Austin

Called the ��Rubber People�� 

Influences in the Gulf region and southern Mexico

Unknown origin and unknown disappearance 

Xalapa Museum (Veracruz) 

First head found in 1938 by a Smithsonian ethnologist, Matthew Stirling

Personalities of Political Figures 

All wore helmets

A mysterious culture 

Used the number ��0�� 

Had a calendar

Hieroglyphs have not yet been deciphered 

Stelae: tell the stories of history 

The Twins

Found in all cultures since the Olmec: the ballgame

The heads are made of volcanic rock 

There are 14 found in all 

  • First, believed to have come from Africa; then maybe Mongolian
  • Origin and disappearance not clear, but influenced later cultures across Mesoamerica

Art denotes harmony, spiritual force, contemplation without metal tools

The Jaguar is considered a sacred animal

The serpent is depicted in art

Jade masks

Lesson Two: Colonial Period 

Over 250 million slaves brought to Mexico 

Most intermarried into the culture 

  • Caste paintings illustrate 16 combinations of intermarriage (developed by the Spanish)
  • Stereotypical representations

Jos�� de Ibarra, mulatto artist, helped to create caste paintings

Tzompantliskulls of African slaves and other prisoners found 

Tzompantli today (Mexico today)

Importation of Africans began in 1501, authorized by Spain 

By 1793, the number of slaves had declined, but the majority had mixed with whites and Indians

Africans depicted as independence supporters 

  • Artists used comical elements to emphasize current events
  • Juan Garrido,  African, fought with Cortez to conquer Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City 

Juan Correa, mulatto artist who painted 
La Virgin de Guadalupe

The elements of indigenous people, Spanish, Asian and African combined to give life to a new multicultural and multiethnic society in ��New Spain�� 

Afro-Mexican—��La tercera raza�� 

  • Began to be recognized in the 1960s
  • Stereotypes, racist attitudes and discrimination remain
  • Afro-Mexican prefer to be called ��Cuban��
  • African pride emerging
  • African heritage celebrated through carnival
  • Dances such as the Turtle Dance and Dance of the Devils performed

Lesson Three: Towns and Cities 

Vincente Guerrero (17821831) 

  • Mulatto general who fought for Mexican independence
  • State of Guerrero, Mexico named after him
  • Jos�� Maria Morelos y Pavon, 1756–1815
  • State of Morelos named after him



Yanga, Veracruz 

Veracruz & Acapulco are the port cities where many slaves entered the country.  

  • The town of Yanga, Veracruz, was named for the African Nanga
  • It is the first independent town in Mexico
  • ��Palenques��—settlements established across the Americas by escaped Africans
  • Known for production of sugar cane
  • Other towns with names of African origins—Costa Chica region west coast of Mexico, Mandinga, Cabo Verde, Congo, Mocambo, Mozambique

Lesson Four: Food, Music & Dance 

  • The marimba made by the Nandayapa family is a combination of African and Mayan.
  • Africans brought their version of the instrument with gourds for resonators.  
  • The resonators used by the Nandayapa family are made today from wood and pig intestines to vibrate the various sounds.
  • Other instruments are caj��n, quijada, jarana, bote, marimbol. 


  • The Coffee Museum in Veracruz demonstrated how coffee is made.
  • The beans are picked when red (ripe); soaked, then roasted.
  • The instrument used to separate the beans first came from Africa.

Ballet Folkl��rico 

  • January 31 marks the celebration of the Candelaria Virgin.  In the town of Tlacotalpan, stages are built in the main square where musicians and dancers of fandangos are presented.
  • The Mojigangas are huge figures representing live characters and legends of the village. In the midst of it, Caribbean music is played with congas (drums) as in a Mardi Gras celebration parade.



  • La Negra Graciana, singer
  • Performs ��jarocho�� style music with her family
  • La Jarana
  • There is an exuberant influence of the Caribbean found in the Yucatan.
  • Other dances performed during festivals: Straw Bull Dance,  Apache dance, Artesa Music Dance.


  • Saint Benito del Palermo
  • African ancestry


Saint Domingo in the San Miguel Church, Oaxaca was also African

  • 1829—Mexico abolished slavery
  • Black Seminoles and other Africans migrated to northern and other areas of Mexico from Florida and Texas
  • Called ��Mascogos��
  • Juan Cavallo,  African leader, helped to secure land grant in 1898.
  • Thousands of escaped Africans traveled the Underground Railroad south to Mexico.
  • Mexican identity and unity negates race;  focus on Mexico.
  • Elements of prejudicial attitudes are present in cartoon characters such as Memin Pinguin; public performances such as jarocho and other media. 
  • European concept of beauty is the standard, similar to the United States.



  • www.brendafaye-returntomexico.blogspot.com
  • www.weboaal.com
  • Beto Gomez (2005 ). Hasta el ultimo trago��coraz��n! (DVD ).
  • Franklin, J. H. & Moss, A. A. (2000). From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill Company ( pp. 57–58).
  • Mann, C. C. (2005). 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf (pp. 204–213).
  • __________(2005).  African Influences in Mexico: From Yanga to the Present. Chicago, IL: Museum of Fine Arts.
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