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Mulatto denotes a person with one white parent and one black parent or a person who has both black ancestry and white ancestry. The term may be perceived as pejorative in some cultures and situations. Its current usage varies greatly.


The etymology of the term is uncertain. It may be derived from the Portuguese and Spanish word mulato (referred to casta), which itself is derived from mula, mule; from Old Spanish; from Latin mūlus), by analogy with the mule, which is the hybrid offspring of a horse and a donkey.

Some dictionaries and scholarly works trace the word's origins to the Arabic term muwallad, which means "a person of mixed ancestry". Muwallad literally means, "born, begotten, produced, generated; brought up, raised; 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). 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 contemporary Arabic to describe children of Arab fathers and foreign mothers. According to Julio Izquierdo Labrado, the nineteenth-century linguist Leopoldo Eguilaz y Yanguas, as well as some Arabian sources 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 Iberianmarker Christians who had converted to Islam during the Moorish governance of Iberiamarker 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 del Justicia de Ganaderos de Zaragoza, whereas muladí (from mullawadí) does not appear until the 18th century, according to [Joan] Corominas".


In Portuguese-speaking Africa, the term mestiço is used officially to describe people of mixed European and African ancestry. However, the term mulato is widely used and no longer has pejorative connotations.

Of São Tomé and Príncipemarker's 193,413 inhabitants, the largest segment is defined as mestiço and 71% of the population of Cape Verdemarker is also classified as such. 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 Angolamarker and Mozambiquemarker, they constitute smaller but still important minorities; 2% in Angola and 0.2% in Mozambique.

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 South African law. In addition to European ancestry, they may also possess ancestry from Indiamarker, Indonesiamarker, Madagascarmarker, Malaysiamarker, Mauritiusmarker, Sri Lankamarker, and St. 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."

Latin America and the Caribbean

Mulattoes represent a significant portion of various countries' populations in Latin America: Dominican Republicmarker (73%), Cubamarker (70%), Venezuelamarker (30%), Brazilmarker (38.5%), Puerto Rico (up to 11%), Belizemarker (25%), Colombiamarker (14%), Haitimarker (5%).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 Guerreromarker once had a large population of African slaves. Other Mexican states inhabited by people with some African ancestry, along with other ancestries, include Oaxacamarker, Veracruzmarker, and Yucatánmarker.

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

Mulatto are also important in Argentina (in Provincia de Buenos Aires), Uruguay, and Ecuador, but their numbers are undefined. In Argentina and Uruguay, mulattoes tend to have more European than African ancestry. An Inter-American Development Bank Study accomplished by Cowater International in Canada and written by Michael Franklin and Margarita Sanchez provides some additional data into populations with African ancestry in Latin America. The study provides a breakdown of populations with African ancestry in Latin America. This IDB study reports that non-blacks with African ancestry make up more than 30% of Colombia's population. Record keeping on race in Latin America has always been suspect, and the numbers of mulattoes or mulatto-mestizos are likely to be higher.

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. 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. As these tests measure only the DNA along the matrilineal and patrilineal lines of inheritance, they cannot tell with certainty what percentage of European or African ancestry someone has.


According to the IBGE 2000 census, 38.5% of Brazilians identified themselves as pardo, i.e. of mixed ancestry. This figure not only includes mulatto people but also includes other multiracial people such as people who have European and Amerindian ancestry (called caboclos). A majority of mixed-race Brazilians have all three origins: European, African, and Amerindian ancestry. According to the IBGE census 2006 even 42.6% of the Brazilians have identified themselves as pardo.

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.) 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.

United States

Mulatto existed as an official census category until 1930. In the Southern United States, mulattoes inherited slave status if their mothers were slaves. As for free mulattoes, in Spanishmarker and Frenchmarker-influenced areas of the South prior to the Civil War (particularly New Orleans, Louisianamarker), a number of mulattoes were free and slave-owning. Although it is commonly used to describe individuals of mixed European and African descent, it originally referred to anyone with mixed ethnicities; in fact, in the United Statesmarker, "mulatto" was also used as a term for those of mixed white and Native American ancestry during the early census years. Mulatto was also used interchangeably with terms like "turk", leading to further ambiguity when referring to many North Africans and Middle Easterners.In the 2000 United States census 6,171 americans self-identified with mulatto ancestry.

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 East Asian father and Irish mother in Marylandmarker in 1680 was classified as a "mulatto" and sold into slavery. Although still in use, in the last half century the term mulatto has fallen out of favor among some people and may be considered offensive by some in the United States. Today the preferred terms are generally biracial, multiracial, multiethnic and hybrid.

See also


  1. Corominas describes his doubts on the theory as follows: "[Mulato] does not derive from the Arab muwállad, "acculturated foreigner" and sometimes "mulatto" (see "Mdí"), as Eguílaz would have it, since this word was pronounced "moo-EL-led" in the Arabic of Spain; and Reinhart Dozy (Supplément aux Dictionaires Arabes, Vol. II, Leyden, 1881, 841a) rejected in advance this Arabic etymology, indicating the true one, supported by the Arabic nagîl, "mulatto," derived from nagl, "mule." Joan Corominas and José A Pascual. Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico, Vol. ME-RE (4). Madrid, Editorial Gredos, 1981. ISBN 84-249-1362-0
  2. In the Dominican Republic, the mulatto population has also absorbed the Taíno Amerindians once present in that country
  3. Based on a 1960 census that included colour categories such as white, Black, yellow, and mulatto. Since then, any racial components have been dropped from the Dominican census
  4. Mulatto ancestry in 2000 U.S census

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.

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