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Title: Mulattoes  
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Subject: Hispanic, Demographics of Cuba, Spanish Argentine, Latin American culture
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"Mulato" redirects here. For other uses, see Mulato (disambiguation).
"Mulatos" redirects here. For the river in Colombia, see Mulatos River.
Total population
Official population numbers are unknown.
Regions with significant populations
Latin America, Caribbean, United States, South Africa, Angola, Cape Verde, Mascarene Islands
Portuguese, Spanish, English, French, Dutch, Afrikaans, Creole languages, others.
Related ethnic groups
Europeans (mostly Irish, British, Dutch, French and Iberians), Native Americans and African people.

Mulatto is a term used to refer to a person who is born from one white parent and one black parent, or more broadly, a person of any "mixed" ancestry. See Forbes, 1993 and mixed ancestry.[1] Contemporary usage of the designation is generally confined to situations in which the term is considered relevant in a historical context, as now most people of mixed white and black ancestry rarely choose to self-identify as mulatto.[2]

The term is not common in contemporary settings but is generally considered archaic because of its association with slavery, colonial and racial oppression. Accepted modern terms include "mixed" and "biracial".

Mulattos may also include admixture of Native Americans, or indigenous groups of South America, and African Americans[3] according to Henings Statutes of Virginia 1705, which reads as follows: "And for clearing all manner of doubts which hereafter may happen to arise upon the construction of this act, or any other act, who shall be accounted a mulatto, Be it enacted and declared, and it is hereby enacted and declared, That the child of an Indigenous and the child, grand child, or great grand child, of a negro shall be deemed, accounted, held and taken to be a mulatto."[4]

In colonial Latin America, mulato could also denote an individual of mixed African and Native American ancestry.[5] However, today those who are mixtures of indigenous peoples of the Americas and black Africans are called Zambos while those who are mixtures of African American and Native American are called black Indians and sometimes are solely classified or identify as African American.[3]

To further complicate matters, in early American history the term mulatto is also seen regarding Native American and European mixed offspring, and certain tribes of Indians of the Inocoplo family referred to themselves as mulatto as well.[6][7]


The etymology of the term may derive from the Spanish and Portuguese word mulato, which is itself derived from mula (from old Galician-Portuguese, from Latin mūlus), meaning mule, the hybrid offspring of a horse and a donkey.[8][9][10] Some dictionaries and scholarly works trace the word's origins to the Arabic term muwallad, which means "a person of mixed ancestry".[11]

Muwallad literally means "born, begotten, produced, generated; brought up", with the implication of being born and raised among Arabs, but not of pure Arab blood. Muwallad is derived from the root word WaLaD (Arabic: ولد direct Arabic transliteration: waw, lam, dal), and colloquial Arabic pronunciation can vary greatly. Walad means, "descendant, offspring, scion; child; son; boy; young animal, young one". Muwallad referred to the offspring of Arab men and foreign, non-Arab women.

The term muwalladin is still used in Arabic to describe children of Arab fathers and foreign mothers. According to Julio Izquierdo Labrado,[12] the nineteenth-century linguist Leopoldo Eguilaz y Yanguas, as well as some Arabian sources[13] muwallad is the etymological origin of mulato. These sources specify that mulato would have been derived directly from muwallad independently of the related word muladí, a term that was applied to Iberian Christians who had converted to Islam during the Moorish governance of Iberia in the Middle Ages.

However, the Real Academia Española (Spanish Royal Academy) casts doubt on the muwallad theory. It states, "The term mulata is documented in our diachronic data bank in 1472 and is used in reference to livestock mules in Documentacion medieval de la Corte de Justicia de Ganaderos de Zaragoza, whereas muladí (from mullawadí) does not appear until the 18th century, according to [Joan] Corominas".[nb 1]

Other scholars like Werner Sollors cast doubt on the mule etymology for mulatto. In the 18th and 19th centuries, racialists like Edward Long and Josiah Nott began to assert that mulattoes were sterile like mules. And they projected this belief back onto the etymology of the word mulatto. Sollers points out that this etymology is anachronistic: "The Mulatto sterility hypothesis that has much to do with the rejection of the term by some writers is only half as old as the word 'Mulatto.'"[15]


In Portuguese-speaking Africa, the term mestiço is used officially to describe people of mixed European and African ancestry.

Of São Tomé and Príncipe's 193,413 inhabitants, the largest segment is defined as mestiço[16] and 71% of the population of Cape Verde is also classified as such.[17] The great majority of their current populations descend from the mixing of the Portuguese that initially settled the islands from the 15th century onwards and the black Africans brought from the African mainland to work as slaves.

In Angola and Mozambique, they constitute smaller but still important minorities; 2% in Angola[18] and 0.2% in Mozambique.[19]

In Namibia, a current day population of between 20,000 and 30,000 people, known as Rehoboth Basters, descend from liaisons between the Cape Colony Dutch and indigenous African women. The name Baster is derived from the Dutch word for 'bastard' (or 'crossbreed'). While some people consider this term demeaning, the Basters proudly use the term as an indication of their history.

In South Africa, the term Coloured (also known as Bruinmense, Kleurlinge or Bruin Afrikaners in Afrikaans) used to refer to individuals who possess some degree of sub-Saharan ancestry, but not enough to be considered black under the law of South Africa. In addition to European ancestry, they may also possess ancestry from India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, China and Saint Helena. Besides the extensive combining of these diverse heritages in the Western Cape, in other parts of southern Africa, their development has usually been the result of the meeting of two distinct groups.

Thus, in KwaZulu-Natal, most Coloureds come from British and Zulu heritage, while Zimbabwean coloureds come from Shona or Ndebele mixing with British and the Afrikaner settlers. Griqua, on the other hand, are descendants of Khoisan and Afrikaner trekboers. Despite these major differences, the fact that they draw parentage from more than one "naturalised" racial group means that they are "coloured" in the southern African context. This is not to say that they necessarily identify themselves as such – with a small number preferring to call themselves "black" or "Khoisan" or just "South African". The Coloureds comprise 8.8% (about 4.4 million people) of South Africa's population.

In Mauritius, Réunion and the Seychelles, there are many people of mixed white and black ancestry. In Mauritius, these are called creoles and in Réunion they are called cafres.

Afro-European clans

Latin America and the Caribbean

Mulattoes represent a significant part of the population of various Latin American and Caribbean countries:[20] Dominican Republic (73%) (all mixed race people),[20][nb 2] Brazil (49.6% mulattoes, mestizos/mamelucos and blacks),[21] Belize (25%), Cuba (24.86%),[20] Colombia (25%),[20] Haiti (15-20%).[20]

The roughly 200,000 Africans brought to Mexico were for the most part absorbed by the mestizo populations of mixed European and Amerindian descent. The state of Guerrero once had a large population of African slaves. Other Mexican states inhabited by people with some African ancestry, along with other ancestries, include Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Yucatán.

Other sources cite that more than 50% of Cubans are mulatto, about 40 percent of Brazilian people are mulatto/mestizo, and 67% of Venezuelans mestizo with African ancestry.[22]

Puerto Rico


In one recent genetic study of 800 Puerto Ricans, 61% had mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from an Amerindian female ancestor, 27% inherited mitochondrial DNA from a female African ancestor and 12% had mitochondrial DNA from a female European ancestor.[23] Conversely, patrilineal input as indicated by the Y chromosome showed that 70% of Puerto Rican males in the sample have Y chromosome DNA from a male European ancestor, 20% inherited Y chromosome DNA from a male African ancestor and less than 10% inherited Y chromosome DNA from male Amerindian ancestor.[24] As these tests measure only the DNA along the direct matrilineal and patrilineal lines of inheritance, they cannot tell with certainty what percentage of European or African ancestry someone has.

During this whole period, Puerto Rico had laws like the Regla del Sacar or Gracias al Sacar where a person of black ancestry could be considered legally white so long as he could prove that at least one person per generation in the last four generations had also been legally white. Therefore people of black ancestry with known white lineage were classified as white, the opposite of the "one-drop rule" in the United States.[25]



Studies carried out by the geneticist Sergio Pena conclude the average white Brazilian is 80% European, 10% Amerindian, and 10% African/black.[26] Another study, carried out by the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, concludes the average white Brazilian is (>70%) European.[27]

According to the IBGE 2000 census, 38.5% of Brazilians identified themselves as pardo, i.e. of mixed ancestry.[28][29] This figure not only includes mulatto people but also includes other multiracial people, such as people who have European and Amerindian ancestry (called caboclos), as well as assimilated, westernized Amerindians and mestizos with some Asian ancestry. A majority of mixed-race Brazilians have all three origins: European, African, and Amerindian ancestry. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics census 2006, some 42.6% of the Brazilians have identified themselves as pardo.[30]

The majority of White Brazilians (48.4%) are of mixed-race (both Subsaharan African and Amerindian ancestry), but also the average ancestry of the Afro-Brazilians self-identified as de raça negra or de cor preta, i.e. Brazilians of Black African origin (6.9%) and not self-perceived multiracials (42.6%), is 50% European, 10% Amerindian and 40% African. If so, a much larger number of Brazilians (about 80% to 95%) are "mulattoes and mestizos" in a broader meaning, although their constructed identity can be based in many another factors.

The term mulatto (mulato in Portuguese) does not carry a racist connotation and is used along with other terms like moreno, light-moreno and dark-moreno. These focus more on the skin color than on the ethnicity, although they can refer to hair color alone - e.g. "light-moreno" would be "caucasian brunette". Such terms are also used for other multiracial people in Brazil, and they are the popular terms for the pardo skin color used on the 2000 official census.

According to an autosomal DNA study conducted on a school in the poor periphery of Rio de Janeiro, the "pardos" (including mulattos) there were found to be on average over 80% European. "The results of the tests of genomic ancestry are quite different from the self made estimates of European ancestry", say the researchers. In general, the test results showed that European ancestry is far greater than the students thought it would be. The "pardos", for example, thought of themselves as 1/3 European, 1/3 African and 1/3 Amerindian before the tests.[31][32] Along the same vein, it turned out that white students had overestimated their ratio of African and Amerindian genetic ancestry.[31]



Mulattoes make up nearly 5% of the nation's population. In Haiti, they have been the socially elite, and racially privileged, group in the country. The mulattoes have retained their position of entitlement which is highly evident in the political, economic and cultural hierarchy in present day Haiti and in the fact that numerous leaders throughout Haiti's history have been mulattoes.[33] Alexandre Pétion, born to a Haitian mother and a wealthy French father, was the first President of the Republic of Haiti.

The struggle within Haiti between the mulattoes led by André Rigaud and the black Haitians led by Toussaint Louverture devolved into the War of the Knives.[34][35]

United States of America

Colonial Era

During the European colonization of the Americas, some mulattoes resulted from the rape of African slave women (rape was not held to be a crime under Colonial Law)[36] Author and historian F. James Davis wrote:

Rapes occurred, and many slave women were forced to submit regularly to white males or suffer harsh consequences. However, slave girls often courted a sexual relationship with the master, or another male in the family, as a way of gaining distinction among the slaves, avoiding field work, and obtaining special jobs and other favored treatment for their mixed children (Reuter, 1970:129). Many of the sexual contacts between the races at this time took still other forms, such as prostitution, adventure, concubinage, and sometimes love. In rare instances, where free Blacks were concerned, there was even marriage (Bennett, 1962:243-68).[37]

A famous example was Thomas Jefferson's mistress, Sally Hemings[38] Others resulted from relationships between African men and European women who were indentured servants.[39][40]

Some of their descendants, like those of Anthony Janszoon van Salee assimilated, or "passed" into the European population. This practice continued throughout the course of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, involving many generations, producing descendants with varying degrees of sub-Saharan and European genetic ancestry and a very broad range of phenotypes. For example, present-day descendants of these mulattoes can appear solely sub-Saharan in lineage, including having extremely afro-textured hair, or possess purely Nordic physical traits. This type of legacy has produced the debatable sub-Saharan/Caucasian admixture that exists among Americans today, as well as in populations in other parts of the world.

Some slave owners were members of the mulatto class. For example, Andrew Durnford of New Orleans was listed as owning 77 slaves.[41] Their descendants, enduring changing social and political climates in American history, often intermarried among other populations, such as Native Americans; and some resulting from miscegenation, such as Black Indians (see Melungeon). These circumstances further contributed to the modern day genetic melting pot in America.

Contemporary Era

Further information: Multiracial American

Mulatto existed as an official census category until 1930. Although it is sometimes used to describe individuals of mixed European and African descent, it originally referred to anyone with mixed ethnicities; in fact, in the United States, "mulatto" was also used as a term for those who were African American and Native American ancestry during the early census years.[42][43][44][45] Mulatto was also used interchangeably with terms like "Turk", leading to further ambiguity when referring to many North Africans and Middle Easterners.[46] In the 2000 United States Census, 6,171 Americans self-identified with mulatto ancestry.[47]

In addition, the term "mulatto" was also used to refer to the offspring of whites who intermarried with South Asian indentured servants brought over to the British American colonies by the East India Company. For example, a Eurasian daughter born to an South Asian father and Irish mother in Maryland in 1680 was classified as a "mulatto" and sold into slavery.[48] Although still in use by some, the term mulatto has fallen out of favor, and is considered offensive by some in the United States.[49] Today, more popular terms include biracial, multiracial, mixed-race, and multi-ethnic.

Colonial references

See also




Further reading

  • Ho, Engseng, an anthropologist, discusses the role of the muwallad in the region. The term muwallad, used primarily in reference to those of 'mixed blood', is analyzed through ethnographic and textual information.

External links

  • An article on the mulatto depictions in fiction
  • At Race Relations, in depth research on Mulattos
  • Archived 2009-11-01)
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