Slavery in Spain

From: Gurumbé, Documentary (2016)

The Beginning...

During the 14th century, Europe was doing a lot of slave trafficking. At least 95,000 slaves from Africa were registered in two centuries. 10% were sent to America. The rest would stay in Spain.

In Seville, people would wait for the slaves boats and would make slaves auctions. The same way you would go to a book shop to check the new books, people would go to the port and check what new slaves there were.  There are documents that say: “Mrs. XXX SLAVE of Mr. xxx…”

At the end of the 14th century, there was so much black population (more than 15% that a bishop opened a religious association, but it was closed because it was thought that meetings of black people might become dangerous.

There were owners that treated their slaves very badly. As in, they would take hot iron and write an S and a nail in their cheeks.

There was a slave from Portugal, Cándida, who arrived to Huelva and then Cadiz. At the beginning no one wanted her but a few gypsies took her in. At the end, everyone loved her and she adapted to society, but she’s not that well known.

About women...

The presence of women in slavery is rarely talked about, but it is believed that there were more and were more expensive. The reason is that they could do hosekeeping and the owner would be able to fulfil his sexual wishes. In some documents you can find how they highlight the beauty of the slaves to take into account for their price. 

The owners did not accept them to have a partner or a family, because they would not be as attentive towards the housekeeping. A lot of slaves die being slaves, so many do not get to settle or create families of any kind.

About Society...

In 1700, Cadiz has more slaves than Seville. If there were 40,000 people living in Cadiz, at least 4,000 were slaves. In the 18th century, Cadiz becomes the industrial centre for Spain. At that time, there were boats coming from Africa (Angola, Guinea, Senegal) to sell slaves directly. It was not like they went to America and then back to Spain.

In Spain, we have the unconscious idea that black people are unmoral, treacherous, even if you prepare them, they won’t completely integrate… But slaves were not part of a guetto or away from society, they were part of the daily life.

There was never a debate about abloishing slavery. It’s always been about the interests of the owners of territory in the colonies and about the freedom of the colonies. In 1821, Spain signs a treaty with England and they compromise on stopping the slave traffick. Up until 1867, from 600,000 to 700,000 African slaves were illegally transported from Africa to Cuba and Puerto Rico. 18% did not survive, but even with that loss, the owners would make 3 and 4 times the investment made.

One of the people that participates in this is Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies. Since Spain is getting started with capitalism, they decide to invest in the textile and construction industries. The expansion of Barcelona and the construction of one of the poshest areas of Madrid is done with the money of slave trafficking. This was done to give a more respetable look to that money…

What in English is known as Money Laundry, and in Spain “Money Whitening”.

About Music

Artists in Spain have slaves and are their disciples and helpers. They are in charge of preparing the materials and they start learning. In fact, Juan de Pareja becomes a really famous painter when Velázquez gives him freedom.

Gypsies mixed with black slaves and propably created flamenco equally. However, gypsies are thought to be from Egypt and they have certain respect. Black people are still seen as “others” and they are from the lowest social class. Spain cannot have a black person representing their art, while France and Italy have a more serious and elegant demeanour. 

In a 1700 dictionary the word “fandango” is defined as noisy music with drums and which people from the “Indies” do very well.

This rhythm arrives to Spain and expands widely. It joins other rhythms such as jotas and seguirillas which are today known as “fandango”.


“Fanda” in Kikongo, one of the Bantú languages, means party.

“Engó” is a suffix that indicates that the word is African.

The way both gypsies and black people do the dance, the music and the party in the streets is very similar. It is not documented anywhere because they were the lowest social classes. All the rhythm that black people did with drums, gypsies do it with their hands and feet and the rest of the body in flamenco. “Since we can’t touch the drum’s skin, we touch our own skin. Also, the gestures are towards ourselves, it’s not to put on a show, it’s about expressing a feeling”.

The compass of 12 beats (Cuban “clave” 3 x 2) is common and classic from that period. The way to mix and match with the rhythm that the slaves from Africa brought to Spain is what allows the jump from classical music to other rhythms.

In the 19th century flamenco is stablished and there are intelectual people who now say what is authentic and what is not. What they do not like is the freedom of black people while improvising and doing whatever they wanted. The thing is, that is exactly what is essential in flamenco.

Black people have been deleted from the creation of flamenco because of this institutionalisation of flamenco. If it is not cannon, it is not flamenco. On top of this, slaves were not in charge of their own freedom, let alone trying to give them any title…

As a privileged Spanish who has been able to travel, I feel sad and enraged to see how black people have been completely erased from our History. I understand why and I understand that it may hurt and make us feel guilty, but I feel it’s more important to bring it to light. 

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