Angélica Larrea

By Holly Marsden

The Bolivian Yungas forests are home to the Afro-Bolivian kingdom. At the centre is Mururata, where lives ‘el rey afroboliviano’ or ‘the Afro-Bolivian king’ Julio Bonifaz Pinedo and queen consort Angélica Larrea. They were crowned in 1992, after an interregnum period.

Pinedo, Larrea and their people are descendants of enslaved Africans brought to work in the silver mines of Potsí by Spanish colonisers in the 16th century. Pinedo’s enslaved ancestor Uchicho, a prince of the Kingdom of Kongo, formed the kingdom with his contemporaries in 1820.

The kingdom is subject to invisibility, despite the Afro-Bolivian diaspora living all over Bolivia. Pinedo and Larrea were only crowned and recognised by the Bolivian government in 2007, under its first indigenous leader, Evo Morales, who declared Bolivia as plurinational.

According to Pinedo, he does not act like a ‘rich’ European king, but rather as a representative of his community. The Afro-Bolivian people refer to the rulers as Don Julio and Doña Angélica, who co-manage a grocery shop and small farm where they sell goods to the community.

After their governmental coronation, Pinedo and Larrera attend stately events. Bolivia’s promotion of them through events and publications as fundamental authority figures is criticised, as in reality they do not treat their people as subjects, but as their community.

The Don and Doña’s official crowning has given a voice to people of African descent in Bolivia, aiding activism that began in the 1980s. This Afro-Bolivian ‘identity movement’ started due to young people moving from the Yunga mountains to larger urban centres.

The position of the ‘rey negro,’ or black king fights against marginalisation and exploitation. In 2009, Afro-descendants were included in the Bolivian Constitution and in 2010 an Afro-Bolivian, Jorge Medina, was elected to national government for the first time.

Although consort, Doña Angélica Larrea, born in Santa Ana in 1944, is no less a figurehead to her community. Having no biological children, she and Don Julio raised his nephew Prince Ronaldo, born in 1995. She continues to sell goods and mediate arguments between her citizens.

Recommended Reading

Alexandre Embaba Da Costa, “Afro-Brazilian “Ancestralidade”: critical perspectives on knowledge and development,” Third World Quarterly 31.4 (2010): 655-674

Henry Louis Gates and Franklin W. Knight, eds., Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

Sara Busdiecker, “Crowning Afro-descendant Memory and Visibility in an Indian/Mestizo Country,” Transition 127 (2019): 191-215.

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