SAYA: DANCE AND SURVIVAL IN AN AFRO-BOLIVIAN VILLAGE Image

Dr. Beret E. Strong’s documentary short offers an overview on the social and economic challenges that continue to plague Bolivia’s black population. The Afro-Bolivians, as they are known, are the descendants of the African slaves brought to the Andes by the Spanish conquistadors.

Bolivia did not abolish the last vestiges of slavery until 1952, but the Afro-Bolivians continue to face racism and poverty. The Afro-Bolivian population lacks political muscle – in one of the film’s most shocking moments, a black woman is shooed away from a polling station during a local election – and the national census does not acknowledge the existence of this demographic. Coca farming has been one of the few areas where the population can thrive, but this has been threatened due to American pressure based on the plant’s use in creating cocaine.

Many Afro-Bolivians are banking on higher education – especially nursing – to create a new wave of employment opportunities. The film offers the hope that the unique Afro-Bolivian cultural expressions, particularly the saya dance that originated in Africa, can break down racial barriers. In one of the film’s most buoyant moments, an all-black dance group entertains the multicultural participants at a regional festival, resulting in a happy mix of people of different heritages dancing together in the streets.

One could wish that Dr. Strong devoted more time to this extraordinary subject – there is certainly enough material to fill a feature-length documentary.

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