Afro-Costa Ricans

Afro-Costa Ricans are Costa Ricans of African ancestry.

Afro-Costa Ricans
Total population
c. 384,000[citation needed]
Regions with significant populations
Related ethnic groups
Afro-Caribbean, particularly Jamaicans; other Black Latin Americans

Costa Rica has four small minority groups: Mulattoes, Blacks, Amerindians and Asians. About 8% of the population is of Black African descent or Mulatto (mix of European and black) who are called Afro-Costa Ricans. Most of them are English-speaking descendants of 19th-century black Jamaican immigrant workers.[1][2] They represent the largest group of Jamaicans living outside of Jamaica's Anglophone dominated diaspora.


The first recorded arrival of people of African descent in Costa Rica came with the Spanish conquistadors. Slave trade was common in all the countries conquered by Spain, and in Costa Rica the first blacks seem to have come from specific sources in Africa- Equatorial and Western regions. The people from these areas were thought of as ideal slaves because they had a reputation for being more robust, affable and hard-working than other Africans. The slaves were from what is now the Gambia (Mandingas), Guinea (specifically Wolofe), Ghanaian (Ashanti), Benin (specifically Ije / Ararás) and Sudan (Puras).[3] Many of the slaves were also Minas (i.e. slaves from parts of the region extending from Ivory Coast to the Slave Coast), Popo (be imported tribes as Ana and Baribas), Yorubas and Congas (perhaps from Kongasso, Ivory Coast).[4] Slaves also came from other places, such as neighboring Panama.

However, the following century witnessed a gradual lessening of the differences between blacks and their white owners. As whites took black women as their concubines, they freed the children that were born from this union. The same thing started to happen with the "zambos", born of Amerindians and blacks. During the time of slavery, the slaves worked on cattle ranches of Guanacaste and the Central Valley plantations and cacao plantations in Matina, whose situation was more difficult. Over time, many whites freed their slaves and slavery was abolished in 1823, along with the other Central American countries.[3]

The largest Costa Rican black community is from the Caribbean, which today constitutes the majority of the Costa Rican black population. Costa Rica has the largest Jamaican diaspora after Cuba and Panama and its development as a nation is witness to this contribution.[5]

Since 1850, fishermen of Afro-Caribbean origin began to settle in the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, especially from Panama and the West Indies. They stayed in temporary camps during fishing seasons, from March to September, to plant coconuts, cassava, and yams, which were then harvested the following season. Since 1828, some of these fishermen began to settle in Costa Rica permanently with their families.[3]

Towards the second half of the 19th century, coffee became the main export of Costa Rica. The crops were transported from the Pacific Coast, by an inaccessible jungle terrain of the Atlantic Coast. To be taken to Europe, they had to turn back to South America, which increased the cost and removed competitiveness . To remedy this situation, in 1871 a railway and a port on the Atlantic Coast were constructed. Because of the scarcity of local labor, workers were imported from Italy, China, and the Caribbean and Central America. This coincided with an employment crisis in Jamaica that caused an exodus to neighboring countries.[5] So on December 20, 1872, the Lizzie, the first boat from Jamaica, arrived at the port of Limón with 123 workers to work on the railroad. From this moment, the number of Jamaican workers in Limon increased rapidly and the next year already saw over 1,000 Jamaican workers in the port.[3]

Many Jamaicans intended to return home, but most remained in the province of Limón on the Caribbean Coast. In 1890 the railways suffered a financial crisis, forcing many workers to sustain themselves by working in agriculture. This in turn saw the laborers establishing relationships and cultural exchanges with native populations of these areas.[3] Later, the Jamaican workers began working for the banana industry, whose production grew to its peak in 1907.

Usually these workers lived on the plantations and had little knowledge of Costa Rica beyond their immediate environment. The contact was minimal because the Costa Rican banana plantations were in foreign hands. They did not speak Spanish and retained Jamaican customs. They had their own schools with teachers brought from Jamaica. Until 1949 Costa Rica had segregation laws where Blacks lived exclusively in the Caribbean Province of Puerto Limón. By 2011 Afro-Costa Ricans were spread in all 7 Costa Rican provinces: 32% of them in San José, 16% in Alajuela, 15% in Limón, 10% in Heredia and 8% in Cartago and Guanacaste. Today, Afro-Costa Ricans are part of different disciplines and fields in Costa Rica.[5]


Eight percent of the population is Afro-Costa Rican (black or mulatto), compared to 2.4 percent who are Amerindian and 83 percent who are of European heritage (including castizo and mestizo). In the province of Guanacaste, a significant portion of the population is Afro-mestizo, descended from a mix of local Amerindians, Africans and Spaniards. Until 1949 most Afro-Costa Ricans lived in Limón and were denied Costa Rican citizenship and thus the right to vote.


  1. ^ Schulman, Bob. "'Little Jamaica' Rocks on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica". Huffington Post. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  2. ^ Koch, Charles W. (1977). "Jamaican Blacks and Their Descendants in Costa Rica". Social and Economic Studies. Jamaica: Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, University of the West Indies. 26 (3): 339–361. JSTOR 27861669.
  3. ^ a b c d e Costa Rica way Archived October 21, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Mujeres Esclavas en la Costa Rica del Siglo XVIII: Estrategias Frente a la Esclavitud Archived January 5, 2013, at the Wayback Machine (in Spanish) (Slave women in Costa Rica of the 18th century: Strategies against slavery)
  5. ^ a b c América latina en movimiento. La comunidad negra en Costa Rica Archived January 4, 2013, at the Wayback Machine (in Spanish) (Latin America in Movement. The black community in Costa Rica), by Francis Hutchinson.