History April 02, 2019 at 11:30 am

King Bayano, the Mandinka king who escaped slavery in the 1600s and fought off the Spanish for several years

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson | Staff Writer

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson April 02, 2019 at 11:30 am

April 02, 2019 at 11:30 am | History

It is recorded that the first set of slaves arrived in the Americas in the 17th century specifically 1619 when 19 Africans were brought to James Town, the British establishment in Virginia, by Dutch travellers marking the start of the Transatlantic slave trade in all of the Americas. However, it remains a debatable fact to date.

Perhaps it was the very first time Africans stepped foot into what is now the United States of America but several findings have come to show that it wasn’t the first time they were entering the Americas or even North America.

Africans working on Gold Mines for the Spanish. Photo: daily mail

Africans being captured into slavery goes as far back as the 16th century. According to the Smithsonian, in 1526, enslaved Africans were part of a Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina. Also, as early as May 1616, blacks from the West Indies were already at work in Bermuda providing expert knowledge about the cultivation of tobacco.

Panama is one of the first countries in the Americas to have Africans work as slaves. They were brought in by the Spanish to transport goods at long distances and work in gold mines in Veraguas and Darien. By 1531, the first slave rebellion had occurred in the country. Panama was home to one of the biggest slave markets in 1610 known as the House of Genovese.

In 1552, King Bayano was captured in his village in West Africa en route to Panama along with several other people from the village where he ruled. While some sources indicate that Bayano traces to the Mandinka Muslim community of West Africa, another source indicates that he was of Yoruba origin, however, it is more possible that he was indeed a Mandinka king due to the fact that the Spanish and Portuguese first arrived in West Africa around the areas where the Mandinka lived.

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Luck was on the side of King Bayano and the 400 captives when the ship that carried them sank very close to Panama enabling them to escape. The freed Africans elected Bayano who was already a royal as their king and leader and he immediately trained them for war against the Spanish who were plotting to return them into slavery.

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Later in 1552, King Bayano led what is now described as the largest rebellion in Panama which is now known as the Bayano Wars. The brave leader led his army to fight off the Spanish colonists. Due to the strength of his military, the Spanish were unable to defeat the Africans who for several years lived as free maroons and developed their community in the areas around the Bayano River and Bayano Caves together with the native Indians in the area.

It is from Panama that the word Maroon originated. The word derives from the Spanish word cimarrones (wild ones) which is what the Spanish called the runaway slaves.

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During his reign and battle with the Spanish, King Bayano succeeded in taking control of the trade units of the Spanish after several attacks at slave markets and points. He freed several enslaved people and managed to take over trade by monopolizing trade with Peru in food, gold and silver.

Seeing that they needed external help to defeat the King and his people, the Spanish sought help from the Spanish crown which sent an army troop to fight King Bayano but again the king defeated them. It was during the last fight that the then Spanish governor Pedro de Ursua decided to sign a peace treaty with the Maroon leader for trade. But the treaty was a trap for King Bayano.

According to the Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion, King Bayano and his men went unarmed in the name of peace to sign the treaty and were poisoned by the Spanish. While several of his men managed to escape to inform the people, King Bayano and a few of his men were taken, hostage.

After negotiations and signing of the Peace Treaty, King Bayano was exiled to Peru and later Spain where he lived until he died. His exile caused the Second Bayano Wars which ended in 1582 but the Maroons in Panama managed to defend their community.

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Bayano Caves,Panama

Despite being exiled and never allowed to return home, King Bayano from Africa holds a significant place in Afro-Panamanian history with a lake, river and cave, all in his name. He is also considered the father of resistance. Other versions of his name include Ballano and Vaino.

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