Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Ethnicity, Religion and Repression: The Denial of African Heritage in Costa Rica

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Ethnicity, Religion and Repression: The Denial of African Heritage in Costa Rica

Article excerpt

Les experiences des Antillais de Costa Rica dans les premieres decennies du vingtieme siecle etaient remplies d' exemples de racisme et d'intolerance. Les immigrants Antillais de descendance africaine, etaient de langue anglaise et de religion protestante. Ils se retrouverent dans un pays latino-americain qui avait la reputation d'etre une societe colonisatrice blanche en Amerique centrale. Les Antillais souffrirent de discrimination aux mains de leurs voisins hispaniques, des employes de la United Fruit Company et du gouvernement de Costa Rica. La tension s'intesifia d'avantage des que l'industrie de la banane chancela et que periclita l'economie mondiale des annees trente.

Cet article examine la reaction des dirigeants de la communaute antillaise et du gouvernement de Costa Rica devant la proliferation des sectes religieuses a Limon durant les annees trente. Ces sectes etaient une source de division dans la communaute et une cible de discrimination par les Hispaniques. Cet article s'interesse aussi a la hausse de popularite de ces sectes et analyse certaines reactions vis-a-vis de ces groupes religieux au profil eleve. Le bon sens fit vite place a l'hysterie des que la presse locale pretendit que les sectes etaient coupables de toutes sortes d'atrocites. Pour toute reponse, le gouvernement apprehenda les praticiens suspects et tenta de les deporter. De son cote, l'elite Antillaise locale, consciente de la position precaire qu'occupait leur communaute au Costa Rica, se joignit aux attaques et a la condamnation des groupes religieux dissidents. La popularite grandissante des religions de source africaine ne devait pas etre seulement une episode de courte duree dans l'histoire de la communaute Antillaise de Costa Rica. Elle etait, au contraire, une des composantes d'un malaise social plus vaste qui marqua un tournant dans les rapports entre la minorite Antillaise et la majorite Hispanique de Costa Rica.

ETHNICITY, RELIGION AND REPRESSION:

THE DENIAL OF AFRICAN HERITAGE IN COSTA RICA

He had a grievance that he nursed Against the bad white man

He nurtured it until it worsened And grew dear out of hand

Joe Gordon could not understand This man's arrogance and pride

It galled, as did his oppressive hand And would not let him bide

A. J. Roden's poem about brigand Joe Gordon's struggle against the injustices of plantation life underscores recurrent themes in the West Indian experience in Costa Rica.(1) Since the first West Indian immigrants arrived in Costa Rica over a century ago there have been many instances of discrimination. This article examines the reaction of West Indian community leaders and the government to the proliferation of African-influenced relbous sects in Limon during the 1930s. The sects were a source of division within the community and a target for discrimination by Hispanics. The article examines the apparent rise in popularity of the sects and examines the response of community leaders and the Costa Rican government to the perceived threat posed by the religious groups.

The first West Indian labourers to arrive in Costa Rica at the end of the nineteenth century worked in the construction of a railroad link between San Jose and the Atlantic port of Limon. They brought with them a myriad of cultural and religious practices which flourished alongside the new agricultural industry. Between 1910 and 1915, Limon led the world in the production of bananas and West Indians continued to immigrate to Costa Rica in search of employment opportunities. Some obtained skilled positions with the railway or on the banana plantations while others became independent farmers who relied on the United Fruit Company for prosperity. In 1925 a study of labour conditions in Limon by the U.S. consul indicated that 75 per cent of the United Fruit Company's farm employees and 60 per cent of the people working for independent banana producers in the province were of West Indian origin. …

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