Francisco de Arobe was a leader of the coastal Afro-Indian Maroon communities of Esmeraldas in early colonial Quito (modern Ecuador).
Arobe was born around 1560 in the province of Esmeraldas, reportedly to an African slave named Andrés Mangache and a native woman from Nicaragua, who escaped together from a ship anchored on the Esmeraldas coast. Arobe and his brother Juan Mangache were two of the “mulatto” leaders of Maroon communities began by his father in the late 1550s and 1560s. By 1577, Francisco’s father had been killed in confrontations with nearby native communities. In that year the maroon leader, Alonso de Illescas, attempted and failed to submit Francisco and Juan to his leadership.
At an unknown date, Arobe married a woman named Doña Juana and had at least two sons. By the 1580s, the brothers were dealing directly with Spanish colonizers. In 1586 Juan repeatedly traveled to Quito, where he received gifts from Rodrigo de Ribadeneyra in exchange for assistance in establishing a colony of Spanish settlers in Esmeraldas. In 1589, Arobe placed his community under the religious instruction of Mercedarian Fray Juan de Salas. Arobe is credited with establishing a church and founding the village of San Mateo, which he and his people further populated after 1598. The records show little additional activity until the late 1590s. By then, Arobe had gained a reputation for assisting shipwrecked travelers who washed up on the Esmeraldas coast. Royal judge Juan Barrio de Sepulveda traveled to Esmeraldas in order to pacify the Maroons, resulting in Francisco traveling to Quito in 1599 with two of his sons, Pedro and Domingo, to pledge his loyalty to the Crown.
On this visit, the royal court commissioned a now famous portrait by the native artist Andrés Sanchez Galque. In the painting the honorific “don,” a title of minor nobility, precedes the names of Arobe and his sons. Judge Barrio described them as rulers over Esmeraldas and “lords of the land.” Arobe also received the military title of captain. The portrait was sent as a gift to King Philip IV, and it remained in the royal collection until the late nineteenth century. While Arobe disappears from the historical record after 1599, his progeny would continue to rule over the Maroon communities for generations. In addition, his portrait is considered the first signed painting of the Americas and has become one of the most recognized portraits of the early colonial period.
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