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Pardos in Vallegrande : an exploration of the role of afromestizos in the foundation of Vallegrande, Santa Cruz, Bolivia


The story of the foundation and settlement of Vallegrande, a region on the western edge of the department of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, has varied considerably over the years. In one account from the 1780s, the region and its central city were founded by runaway slaves, in another, developed between the 1920s and 1950s, noble Spaniards and their descendants conquered and settled the region. This study examines both narratives and how they came to be constructed, but it also returns to available primary and secondary sources to explore the role of Africans and their descendants in the conquest and settlement of Vallegrande. The study concludes that colonial officials did consistently categorize a large proportion of Vallegrande's population according to one of the mixed African and European and/or indigenous, or afromestizo, race categories in the colonial racial hierarchy or sistema de castas over many years. However, the study also uses parish baptismal records to demonstrate the shifting meaning and uncertain reliability of the racial categories employed by parish priests in late colonial Vallegrande, particularly in regards to the afromestizo race category pardo. Beginning in at least the late seventeenth century and continuing into the first third of the nineteenth century, the pardo category evolved to become the most flexible of all race categories in Vallegrande, eventually subsuming the casta term mestizo. These findings challenge both those who contend that Vallegrande was principally settled by Africans, and others who attempt to erase the contributions of Africans and their descendants from Vallegrande's historical record

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