Today it is hard to imagine that one day their was a vast number of black people in Argentina. During the 18th and 19th centuries, in some provinces, like Santiago del Estero and Catamarca, even half of the population were of black slaves. In 1810 in Buenos Aires the almost 10,000 blacks (about 1/3th of the popation) lived in Montserat which at that time was called the ‘barrio del tambor’. They have had a huge influence on the Argentine culture as we know it today. Isn’t tango originally a slave dance?
Today, studies say that only about 3% of the population are descendants of these ex-slaves coming from Africa. So what happened to them? First of all the percentage blacks diminished because of the huge immigration wave coming from Europe in the 2nd half of the 19th century. Besides that they were also used as foot soldiers in the war against Paraguay (1865-1870) where a lot got killed. And thirdly the yellow fever epidemic in 1870 wiped out another big amount. It was already in 1887 that only 1,8% of the population was black.
There is at least one little place that testifies their existence, and that is in Chascomus. There they also had ‘barrio del tambor’, where the blacks lived. It was close the old castle. In 1861 the black community asked the municipally for a piece of land where they could build a house to perform their African religious rituals and store the festival artefacts. They never called it a ‘chapel’. They were given this piece of land next to the lake where they build this house.
In 1868 during the epidemic of cholera, and in 1871 the one of yellow fever, it was used as hospital to nurse the dying blacks.
In time it was converted into a place where Catholics went to pray. As it is not recognised by the Catholic Church there are no church services given. Today it is still a very modest and simple place that can hardly be called a chapel. It has a mud floor; the walls are full of images of saints and rosaries. On the chimneys and where ever there is room stand little statues representing different saints.
There is a very peculiar atmosphere in this little chapel. There always seems to be someone praying, or at least someone had just been there and let the candles burn. it is quiet and serene. It is a ideal place to pray. An unusual one.
La capilla de los negros, Chascomus (km 115 ruta 2), esquina Lamadrid and Venezuela. Declared historical monument in 1962.