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The story of the enslaved Black man who became king in Venezuela in 1552

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His reign was shortlived, but his resistance and that of his followers in what would be one of the first challenges to Spanish colonial rule in Venezuela and the rest of Latin America inspired thousands of slave revolts over the next three hundred years. That is the story of Miguel de Buria, who is believed to be the first and only king of African descent in Venezuela.

History says that in the 16th century, enslaved men and women were transported all over the New World, and in Venezuela particularly, around 100,000 slaves were imported from Africa to work on sugar and indigo plantations, as well as mines that were being managed by the Spanish crown. Those mines included the popular Real de Minas de San Felipe de Buria, where both African slaves and indigenous Jirajara natives extracted valuable minerals from the earth.

Among those workers was Miguel. Born around 1510 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Miguel was brought to Venezuela by slaveowner Damian del Barrio before he was later inherited by his son, Pedro del Barrio. While working on the Real de Minas de San Felipe de Buria in the province of Yaracuy, Miguel, who had then gained fame as a rebellious slave, resisted an attempt by a Spanish foreman, Diego Hernandez de Serpa, to punish him.

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An account states that Miguel grabbed a sword from the foreman and fought him before escaping to the nearby Cordillera de Merida mountains. It was from his base in the mountains that Miguel started a maroon colony and ultimately led a rebellion of enslaved workers in the San Felipe Mines. Miguel’s forces included freed Africans, mulattoes, Zambos, and Jirajara indigenous Americans — numbering 1,500. It is not known the exact location of his maroon colony which eventually became known as the kingdom of Buria, but what is known is that Miguel was made king of the colony in 1552 while his wife and son became the queen and prince.

With his weapons and followers, Miguel was able to attack Spanish guards at the San Felipe Mines. He captured many of them and killed those who had been so cruel to the enslaved workers. Miguel and his followers then attacked other plantations and mines across the Yaracuy province, and in the midst of the raids, he freed enslaved workers and brought them to his colony, where some became administrators, governors and military officers.

At this point, Miguel had started becoming a pain in the neck of the Spanish, who made several attempts to get rid of him and his newfound kingdom. But Miguel and his followers were always ready to fight back, and in one of the attacks from the Spanish colonial troops at Nueva Segovia de Barquisimeto, a report says Miguel and his troops painted their faces using genipa Americana, a plant from the region, to intimidate the Spanish forces.
Now having the upper hand, Miguel and his men attacked the town, burned a church, and killed a priest, Toribio Ruiz, and six settlers in 1555, the report adds.

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The battle between Miguel’s followers and the Spanish colonial troops continued until Miguel was killed in 1555 by Spanish troops commanded by Captain Diego de Losada. Following his death, his kingdom fell and most of his followers who survived the war were re-enslaved.

Miguel did rule for only three years but during his short reign, he became a liberator, leading enslaved men and women he freed back into the safety of his colony. To date, his story inspires many, as it became a part of Venezuelan folklore and literature.

His resistance, of course, influenced other enslaved workers who would flee from mines and plantations to form their own maroon communities from the 1800s. All in all, Maroons were a special class of “runaways.” For various reasons, they did not seek refuge in “sanctuary cities” as they would be known today. Instead, they left the cities and towns created by whites and chose to create settlements, big and small, in harsh climates where the whites were unlikely to pursue them. Swamps and bayous, mountains and forests became their new homes.

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