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     Land of winds > Traditions > Legend | Issue 12 (Nov.-Dec. 2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Zambo Salvito

Zambo Salvito

Salvador Sea was born in 1838 in Chicaloma, in the yungas of La Paz. He was the son of Zacarías and Rosa, a couple of black slaves who worked for an estate owner. At the age of 7, the child witnessed how the foreman whipped his father to death. His mother fled with him to La Paz, where they settled down in the Tambo San José de la Ch'appi Calle. In that colourful and noisy neighbourhood, Rosa worked as kitchen assistant while Salvador grew up free and uncensored. Besides washing and ironing on demand, Rosa soon went on to work with another Afro-Bolivian woman, the Negra Norma (Black Norma), who sold witchcraft items. Because of the long hours and harsh working conditions, Rosa’s health worsened and died shortly after. Salvador was then cared for by the Negra Norma, who instilled in him a hatred for the whites and the mestizos. She was the one who nicknamed him "Salvito".

As a teenager, and protected by his step-mother, the "Zambo Salvito", as he was known by the time, began a prolific career as thief; his first theft ended up with the death of the victim. He formed a gang patronized by the Negra Norma, who was in charge of selling what they stole. Some months after having begun their criminal "activities", and with the police on their track, the members of the band took shelter in a cave located near the route that joined La Paz with the yungas. Here they continued assaulting traders, raping women, decapitating all of them and keeping their belongings. Their hideout, named "the Cave of the Five Fingers" (Spanish, "la Cueva de los Cinco Dedos"), was close to a small lake where, as the story goes, the bodies were thrown into. Popular accounts depicted "Zambo Salvito"’s personality with melodramatic touches: for some he was a warlock and a murderer; for others, an avenger and a passionate lover.

One night in 1870, Salvador Sea was betrayed and arrested. He and the rest of the band were sentenced to execution by firing squad. The date of their execution, the whole city of La Paz was present, including the Negra Norma. It is said that, as his last wish, the "Zambo Salvito" ask to whisper a secret in the ears of her step-mother. When she came closer, he bit her ear off; before dying he shouted that she deserved the punishment for having taught him to do wrong.

His death gave birth to the legend, a legend that, in many cases, has served as an excuse to despise Afro-Bolivians as criminals.

Article. "El Zambo Salvito, un ladrón hecho leyenda", in La Página de Mónica Oblitas [es].

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