Bolivia is a paradise of culture, ethnicities, and music. Oruro, located between La Paz and Chuquisaca at approximately 3710 meters above sea level, is the capital city of Folklore and celebration. Every year, Oruro during the carnival opens its door to celebrate culture, diversity, and folklore. In 2012 around 3,000 tourists visited Oruro during the Carnival according to the “Patria” a Bolivia newspaper. However, in 2003 for a very first time Oruro danced, heard, and enjoyed Saya. The sound of the drums and the powerful voices of Afro-Bolivian women told the world they are also Bolivia. That this dark skin color even though remains Africa, they are now in Bolivia and there they will stay.
In 2003 around 50 Afro-Bolivian men and women took a bus to Oruro. With two hours of trip from La Paz city to Oruro Afro-Bolivians prepared the songs, the rhythm and most important mentally. It was not going to be a surprise to meet people who would say, “These Negros must be from Brazil, Colombia, but not from Bolivia.” Others would say, “They must be African-Americans.” Yet among spectators early on the carnival people were saying, “I know Saya, I know they are from Yungas, but I never meet somebody,” or “I love her braids,” or “What a beautiful skin dark colors!” Then the carnival started, the heart of Bolivia started to beat. Women and men from all different part of the country and the world were in Oruro to see an x-ray of culture, tradition, and identity.
For a very first time Afro-Bolivians showed not only to non Afro-Bolivians, but also to the world that there is Blackness in Bolivia. The Afro-Bolivian community has existed segregated for more than 500 years. A culture and people that was invisible and voiceless among politicians, public policies, and non Afro-Bolivians. Although they face discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization from the Bolivian government, Afro-Bolivians smiled, danced, and enjoyed the carnival. During that day, more than any other, they felt proud of being Bolivians because they understood that they are part of a huge diversity that palpitates in Bolivia.
Since that day more positive things came along. People from the west and the south of the country were back to their cities remembering that in Bolivia there were African Descendents who wanted to stop being invisible and voiceless. Many non Afro-Bolivians contacted the Saya Movement through emails, phone calls, letters, and invitations to participate in other public spaces. They wanted to keep showing to Bolivia that Blackness is part of the Bolivian history and they must be recognized as part of Bolivia’s diversity.
This also was helpful for Afro-Bolivians to get together and unify their voices. The Afro-Bolivian organization became more visible and with a united voice, addressing the Bolivian government with songs like:
Of course, there are many gaps to cover and many things to do. Nevertheless, the music is still the same. The music that connects Afro-Bolivians with Africa continues.