Benkos Biohó: The Runaway Slave Who Escaped Captivity and Established the First Free African Town in the Americas

Domingo Biohó Also known as Domingo Biohó, was born in the 15th century into a royal family that ruled Bioho one of the Bissagos Islands off the coast of what is today Guinea-Bissau.

Benkos Biohó: The Runaway Slave Who Escaped Captivity and Established the First Free African Town in the Americas

He was kidnapped by the Portuguese slave trader, Pedro Gomes Reinel a Portuguese merchant who was already the king of the slave trade in Angola. Biohó was then sold to businessman Juan Palacios and transported to what is now Colombia in South America.

Benkos Biohó he was sold again in 1596 to the Spaniard Alonso del Campo in Cartagena de Indias.

The former African royal made his first escape when the boat that was transporting him down the Magdalena River sank. He was recaptured but escaped again in 1599 into the marshy lands southeast of Cartagena where he founded San Basilio de Palenque. There he organized an army and also formed an intelligence network and used the information collected to help organize more escapes and to guide the runaway slaves into the liberated territory, known as settlement. He used the title “king of Arcabuco”.

Benkos Biohó: The Runaway Slave Who Escaped Captivity and Established the First Free African Town in the Americas

On 18 July 1605, the Governor of Cartagena, Gerónimo de Suazo y Casasola, unable to defeat Biohó’s army, offered a peace treaty to Biohó, recognising the autonomy of his community’ San Basilio de Palenque’. As part of the treaty, the palenque promised to stop receiving more runaway slaves, cease their aid in escape attempts, and stop addressing Biohó as “king”.

Peace was finalized in 1612 under the governorship of Diego Fernández de Velasco.

The treaty was violated by the Spaniards in 1619 when they captured Biohó as he was walking into the city. He was hanged and quartered on 16 March 1621. Governor García Girón, who ordered the execution, argued bitterly that “it was dangerous the extent to which Biohó was respected in the population” .

In 1713, San Basilio de Palenque became the first free village in the Americas by decree from the King of Spain, when he gave up sending his troops on futile missions to attack their fortified mountain hideaway.

The village of San Basilio is today inhabited mainly by Afro-Colombians who are direct descendants of African slaves brought by the Europeans during the Colonization of the Americas.

In 2005, the Palenque de San Basilio village was proclaimed Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Benkos Biohó Established the First Free African Town

The inhabitants of Palenque de san Basilio still preserve customs and language, religious practices as well as musical and oral traditions, many of which have African roots to this day.

Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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