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Afro-Bolivian Royalty

Courtesy of Andres Schipani

June 23, 2011

Bolivia has a king. And he is not one of indigenous descent, but surprisingly, African. Julio Pinedo—one of the many Afro-Bolivians who make a living growing coca—found out a few years ago that he is a direct descendant of Bonifaz, a tribal king from Central Africa. Now, he’s the country’s first Afro-Bolivian king in 500 years.

“I had no idea about my royal lineage,” he says, humbly. “I knew my ancestors were, like other Africans, brought to work in the Bolivian gold and silver mines of Potosí. But because of the weather—it was too cold for the Africans to stay there—the Spaniards realized that they were losing slaves and had to move the ‘Afros’ to a place where the climate was friendlier.”

It was his great-grandfather who moved from the mines to the coca fields in Los Yungas region. There, others recognized his royal lineage but protected his identity from the patrons. That is until a secret crowning of Julio’s grandfather, “Bonifacio I,” in 1932. His grandfather, who was then leading the personnel at a country estate, raised King Julio “Bonifacio” Pinedo...

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Andres Schipani is the Miami reporter for the Financial Times. He was previously based in the Andean region.