by:Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Yanga also known as Nyanga is believed to have been born in the year of 1545, on the 14th of May.Some researchers say he came from the Bran people of the coastal central African nation of Gabon, and was a member of its royal family. He was eventually captured and sold into slavery in Mexico (then called New Spain, which had the 5th largest slave population in the Americas at the time). There he would be given the name “Gaspar” Yanga.
In 1570, Yanga led a slave exodus into the highlands of Mexico, near the state of Veracruz. There, Yanga and his fugitive slave followers would build a maroon colony. Due to its isolation and mountainous location, the colony was well-protected for about 30 years. They survived by living off the land and by raiding caravans, and taking their goods.
A Form Of Freedom
In 1609 the colonial Spanish government, who were angry about the continued conflict with the Maroons decided to go to war with the fugitive slave colony,and to regain control of the territory. The Spanish would send over 500 troops to invade the disputed area, the Maroons had about 500 fighters, armed with various weapons including guns, stones, machetes, and bows and arrows. Because Yanga was an elderly man at this time in history, the Maroon army was led by a man named, Francisco de la Matosa, who was of Angolan descent. Yanga did however, assist his troops by sharing his experience and knowledge of the incredibly harsh terrain. Their objective was to frustrate the Spaniards and force them to negotiate. Once the Spanish army arrived in the Maroon colony, Yanga sent a captured Spaniard to speak with the Spanish troops with his terms of peace. The terms included an area of self-rule, like the colonial Spanish government had previously made with Native Mexican tribes. Part of the treaty would require the Maroons to pay them tribute, and to support the Spanish in any armed conflicts. The last neccessary concession required the Maroons to return any future runaways to the Spanish colonists. The Spanish inevitably would decide to refuse to sign the treaty with the Maroons, and instead decided to go to war against the Black freedom fighters. The Spanish with their superior weapons eventually advanced into the Maroon colony and burnt it to the ground. The Maroons would flee into the surrounding territory, which they knew extremely well, denying the the Spanish troops a final victory. The two sides would go on to battle each other for years, resulting in various stalemates.
In 1618 a treaty was eventually signed, Yanga and his family would be granted the right of rule in the Maroon colony.
Decades after the Independence of Mexico, Gaspar Yanga was designated a national hero of Mexico and El Primer Libertador de las Americas.