An African King in Bolivia

An African King in Bolivia

The New York Times

David Gonzalez, Side Street Columnist; Lens Blog Co-Editor

King Don Julio Pinedo being helped by his son, Rolando Pinedo, the prince, into a royal cloak. Queen Angelica oversees the details of her husband’s royal dress. Don Julio is shy and does not feel comfortable dressing as a king. (Susana Giron)

Tucked away in an isolated part of Bolivia, there is a royal family whose existence is as surprising as it is humble. Despite his title, King Don Julio I and his wife live in a small apartment atop a small store in Mururata, Bolivia, where he farms coca leaves and other crops.

Yet this modest monarch can trace his lineage to West Africa, where his ancestor Prince Uchicho was enslaved in 1820 and taken by the Spaniards to work in the silver mines of the region. That era gave rise to the country’s Afro-Bolivian population, which sustained the tradition, which was largely ceremonial, said Susana Giron, a Spanish photographer who was intrigued by the life of the current king, who was born 73 years ago as Julio Pinedo…

…Ms. Giron said that a historian who purchased the old hacienda — where the Pinedos had taken the names of the slave owners — learned about the royal connection to Africa and set about to find an heir. His efforts, she said, led him to Julio Pinedo, who was named king in 1992.

“He is a symbolic figure,” she said. “For the Afro-Bolivians, he is important because he gives them a cultural identity. It shows they are a people descended from Africa. It is about their history and culture.”

The history of Africans in Latin America has been coming more and more to the fore in recent years. In Bolivia, it was not until recently that they were even counted in the national census, with their 2012 population pegged at some 23,000 in a country of 10 million. They still face discrimination and socioeconomic obstacles

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