There, hidden amid the tapirs, jaguars and spectacled bears that call the Yungas home is a remarkable community that has remained largely unrecognised by the outside world for nearly 200 years: the Kingdom of the Afro-Bolivians – the spiritual capital of thousands of Bolivians of African descent and one of the last kingdoms left in the Americas.
The roughly 2,000 inhabitants of this hidden, humble kingdom are mainly farmers who live next to their small land plots, where they grow coca, citrus and coffee. In Mururata, a village of around 350 inhabitants, free-range chickens cluck loudly on dirt roads, children play together in the streets, and men and women work the land with hoes and emerge from the forest carrying newly chopped bundles of firewood. Others sit in front of their tin-roofed homes, greeting passersby and waiting for the first stars to appear in the sky at dusk.
Afro-Bolivians are descendants of the enslaved West Africans brought by the Spanish between the 16th and 19th Centuries to work in the mines of Potosí, a city in south-western Bolivia that was more populated than London in the early 17th Century. According to Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano, the mines are notorious for claiming the lives of roughly 8 million enslaved indigenous South Americans and Africans over a 300-year period – many of whom died as a result of being overworked, underfed and suffering in the region’s extreme cold.