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Thu Dec 7, 2017, 01:45 AM

Bolivia's Afro king leads a long-neglected group stepping out of the shadows

King Julio I, who runs a grocery store in a jungle village, has no plans to celebrate his 10 years as monarch but he represents ‘what our Mother Africa left us’

Laurence Blair in Mururata
Wednesday 6 December 2017 02.30 EST

The last king in South America boasts a lineage dating back centuries. Yet Julio I’s crown and leopard-trimmed robe are rarely seen in the humble grocery shop he runs with his wife, Queen Angélica, in a small jungle village in rural Bolivia.

The 10th anniversary of the reign of Julio Piñedo, 75, falls this December, but, he says, “there’s nothing special planned” for the occasion. His symbolic dominion extends to a few dozen rural communities and the city dwellers that make up the 25,000-strong Afro-Bolivian community. But now, partly thanks to Piñedo’s offices, this long-neglected group is stepping out of the shadows.

“Without doubt the king’s role is important,” says Zenaida Pérez, 25, coordinator of the Afro-Bolivian Language and Culture Institute, part of umbrella organisation Conafro. “He represents much of what our Mother Africa has left us.”

From the 16th century, Europeans shipped west African slaves in their thousands to colonial Bolivia. Many perished in the deadly conditions of the infamous Cerro Rico silver mine, the churning motor of Spain’s imperial economy. “Of those they brought to work in Potosí, half of them died,” Piñedo reflects.


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