Thursday, January 24, 2008

Afrocaribbean Roots in Costa Rica

My preliminary research on the presence of Africans and their decendents, Afrocaribbeans in Costa Rica indicates that they share a similar history with African Americans in that they too were kidnapped and brought to the "New World" in the 17th century as slave labor. In 1655 Spain was defeated by the British and one of Spain's possessions, Jamaica became a colony of Britain. Sugar plantations based on free labor renewed the demand for slave labor. The majority of these slaves were forcibly taken from the Ashanti Empire in Ghana. Many slaves resisted the oppressive conditions of plantation life and escaped to freedom. It took almost two centuries of waging a bloody war for Jamaicans to gain their legal freedom. An economic crisis devastated the sugar cane industry in 1860. This crisis had an equally devastating affect on Jamaicans, forcing them to seek their livilihoods in places like Panama, Cuba and Costa Rica.

Worker Migration
In 1870 Costa Rica's President, Tomas Guardia, obtained a loan from the British to build a railway line to link with the port of Limon. Thus, the second wave of Afrocaribbeans came from the Antilles, especially Jamaica, around 1872 to help build the railroad that eventually linked the Atlantic Coast with the Central Valley. The construction began in the small village of Limon which caused it to expand to a flourishing city. (Alvin Williams. Black People: Struggle for Equality Continues. Mid Ocean News, 28 Feb. 2003, Tues 4 May 2003)

On December 20, 1872, the ship Lizzie pulled into Puerto Limon from Kingston, Jamaica carrying 123 Jamaican workers that had come to work on the railroad. A year later about 1000 Jamaican workers, most of them orginally Ashantis had already arrived. While most of the workers over the years migrated from Jamaica, others came from the Caribbean, Honduras, Curacao, Belize and Panama.

The Plantation Economies
The plantation economies were based on several major crops including cotton, coffee, tobacco, indigo and sugar. In the Caribbean and South America, sugar plantations created the biggest demand for African labor from the 16th to the 19th centuries. During the 17th century, enslaved Afrocaribbeans were taken against their will primarily from the Equatorial region and Western Africa and included the Congo and Angola, in the basin of the Congo River. Those taken hostage and eventually shipped to the New World included the Asaras from the Dahomey Empire (Benin), the Wolofes (Guinea), the Mandingas (Gambia), the Puras (Sudan) and the Ashantis from Ghana. The cocoa industry in Matina forced the escalation of the slave trade, particularly in Limon, according to the Caribbean Way, a Costa Rican tourist handbook.

Slave labor also promoted and made possible cattle farms in Guanacaste, the Central Valley Plantations and the cocoa farms of Matina. Some sources contend that the working conditions were most harsh on the cocoa farms in Matina.

Costa Rica gained its independence in 1821 after many years of colonial rule by first the Spanish then the British. Slavery was officially abolished in 1832. In 1821, miscengation, that is, intermingling of Blacks, Whites and Indians despite social norms to the contrary, resulted in 17% of the total population having  African bloodlines.

This brief essay is the result of my desire to better understand the presence of Afrocaribbeans in Costa Rica. It appears that the two most significant circumstances that resulted in a large presence of Africans in Costa Rica is linked to the slave trade during the 17th and 19th centuries and the huge migration of workers drawn to the railway line that began development in 1872. The greatest influx of railway workers migrated from Jamaica and were decendants that were orginally forcibily brought from the Ashanti Empire in Ghana to work on the plantations. Thus, workers were drawn to the railway from the Caribbean, Honduras, Curacao, Belize and Panama.

Perhaps, I will be able to continue tracing the diapora of Africans as I am able to travel. Until then, Blessed Be!
Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman

Diverse Peacebuilding Efforts

As I explore peacebuilding efforts I am impressed with the diverse approaches to peacebuilding. A preliminary examination leads me to speculate that many of these approaches have been shaped by the cultural context, historical circumstances and experiences, research findings, global partnerships and discourse and sometimes pur desperation. Among these factors we might also include the spirit of curiosity and imagination forged through the efforts of peace studies and advocates that are comprised of faith communities, non-profits, government leaders and everyday citizens that simply desire to see and experience a world where peace can exist. In the most recent newsletter of Global Exchange, Sanaz Meshkinpour,staff contact for their Iran Rality Tours, described their Diplomacy Not War Campaign. Read about the preliminary efforts of Turkey and Greece towards peacebuilding. And finally, Stephen Funk, the fist public conscientious objector to the war in Iraq, will alert you to the frightening reality facing low income youth who are being targetted by military recruiters and the high rates of suicide experienced by veterans.

Diplomacy Not War
This Campaign focuses on passing peace resolutions in cities across the country to "increase public awareness of US-Iran relations, dispell false justifications for war, and build a critical movement at the grassroots level" in an effort to stimulate accountability from Congressional representatives for a peaceful resolution with Iran.

Take Action to Pass a Peace Resolution - Any individuals or organizations interested in passing a peace resolution in their city are invited to do so by contacting: Sanaz Meshkinpour at

Take Action and Invite a Local Iranian Speaker - Individuals interested in a better understanding about what is going on in Iran is invited to contact Kate Raven at or 415 575 5550

Greece and Turkey Reach Out to One Another

While global conflicts often consume major air time in the media and the front page in print media, many peacebuilding efforts are ignored or given short shrift. Below is a brief account of the efforts of Greece and Turkey to stretch forth hands of friendship.

"Greek people have very good feelings toward Turkish people. I believe they are looking for a new page in relations."

-- Greece's Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, arrived in Turkey on Jan. 23 for the first official visit by a Greek leader in almost half a century, as part of an effort to overcome decades of mutual distrust. Karamanlis' three-day stay is significant more for the fact that it is happening than for any agreements it is expected to produce, the New York Times report. The visit, which began in Ankara, the capital, had been rescheduled three times since 2004. Karamanlis walked on a red carpet with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A marching band played the Greek and Turkish national anthems, and the leaders struck cordial tones at a news conference after meeting for more than two hours. "I believe 2008 will offer new opportunities for our countries to improve bilateral relations," Erdogan said. "I'd like to see the period ahead of us as a window of opportunity."

(source: Global Development Briefing - Turkish Delight)

Military Recruitment
Stephen Funk, a young Asian American male was the first public conscientious objector to the war in Iraq. As a result of his staunch comittment to his beliefs, he served six months in military prison. Since then, Funk has gone on to become an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War where he has been active since
2004. Vets4Vets is another important commitment of Funk's. Vets4Vets is a non-partisan veterans peer support organization dedicated to helping Iraqi and Afghanistani era veterans. Funk, currently an undergraduate student at Stanford University, majoring in International Relations, and interning with Global Exchange joined the Marine Corps right after 9/11. In contrast to his views at that time, Funk states, "I refuse to surrender my dignity, I refuse to kill. . . the military demands obedience, but I will not obey." Funk cites some chilling statistics that should cause concern:

*the military is granting waivers to thousands of would-be-troops who have criminal convictions or do not meet age or medical requirements
*over 20% of those enlisted this year have not completed high school
*many youth remain vulnerable to enlishment tactics that are agressive and offer free goods, sponsor popular hip-hop concerts, war simulation video games, sporting fancy hummers and blatantly target youth from low-income areas
*while education budgets are slashed and teachers laid off, the US is spending $4 billion annually on military recruitment
*65% of enlistees never see a dime for college and 88% of male veterans say they did not learn any useful civilian skills
*veterans are two to five times more likely to be homeless and according to the VA, generally earn less income
*most veterans are not receiving the care they need after returning to the States
*there is currently an epidemic of suicides with 120 veterans committing suicide each week.

Take Action - If you are interested in inviting an Iraq Veteran or Iraqi human rights activist to speak to your community or school, contact: Kate Raven at or at 415 575 5550.

Blessed Be! Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman
Seeking Diverse Peacebuilding Efforts

Additional Peacebuilding Resources:
All African Conferences of Churches - http://www.aacc-ceta.orglen/default2.asp?active_page_id=360

Interfaith Voices for Peace and Justice -

World Conference of Religions for Peace - (to find out how to plug into peace actions and events near you)