Saturday, July 16, 2011

Colon, Home Of The Congo

This Caribbean province is on the north side of the Panama Canal. Columbus is the land of the Congos, descendants of African slaves who have preserved the legacy of their ancestors, primarily expressed in their music vibrant and inviting, sensual dances in the rhythm of drums and their flashy costumes. The African heritage is also noticeable in how to prepare your meals, especially seafood, which are greatly appreciated. In the towns of Portobelo and San Lorenzo, silent walls of the Spanish forts preserve the memory of the attacks of famous pirates like Henry Morgan and Edgar Vernon and privateers as Francis Drake, whose remains lie beneath the waters of the Bay of Portobelo.(source: Republic of Panama)


  1. The city is named Colon and not Columbus. Christopher Columbus' Spanish name was Cristobal Colon. Spain had sent him and I do not know why his name was Anglicized. The title should be Colon,Home of the Congos. Colon is the land of the congos. Google's translation can be problematic, they tend to translate literraly. The woman in the photo is dressed as a Congo Queen for a national or regional celebration or festival. Panama is famous for national and regional festivals throughout the year.

  2. Thanks, Ana.

    I changed the title.

    The woman in the photograph just looked beautiful, regal, and proud.

    You really should consider writing something in English to explain these festivals. Personally, I prefer to get authentic voices. Voices of the people to tell THEIR story in their own words. Unfortunately, with the language barriers I miss the nuances of culture.

    The story of the diaspora IS our US heritage. The only difference is where the ships disembarked. Since enslaved people were considered chattel or movable property, then there was much movement between the islands and among the Americas.

    For example, South Carolina was started by 8 Lord Proprietors (one was the uncle of the King of England). These Lord Proprietors enticed their successful sugar planters to move to South Carolina from Barbados, offering them 20 acres of free land for every male African slave that they brought with them. Therefore, the black South Carolinians have tacit kinship ties with the blacks on Barbados.

    Moreover, the black men from Barbados were shipped to the Panama Canal Zone to work on building the canal in the early 1900's. Along with many black Americans, and other blacks in the West Indies.

    I could go on and on about this stuff, that's why I have a blog. It is utterly fascinating like some mystery novel (only fact is far more compelling than fiction).

    1. The theory of connections between South Carolina and Barbados has been DEBUNKED by many historians.

      You have to keep in mind that many islands and mainland areas were often used as pit stops or resting places and to ship goods to one area or another. 

      In addition many newly imported slaves may have been contained in ports or areas and auctioned or sold right on the spots to slave captors looking for slaves for their colony or society. So this goes to show that just because the slaves were coming from Barbados does not mean they were Barbadian. The slave captors might have purchased slaves that were just passing through that were of a certain suitable or desirable tribe of Africans that were in high demand for purchase and use.

      Many slaves or imports were not locally born.

  3. If you want history about the blalk men who built the Panama canal, You need to check out the blogs:

    the silver people chronicle
    They are in English and the authors are black Panamanians

  4. Ana:

    You are a treasure trove of information, because that's just what I was reading about. I found a travel journal from a white European that was published in 1914. Although I do like his voice and his 1914 perspective, he certainly objectifies the black people, idealizes the English, and he does tend to "I-IT" black people (Martin Buber's term).

    With that said, there was an interesting blurb in his piece about the United State's acquisition of the US Virgin Islands that dated the talks back to Abraham Lincoln.

    He also has a first hand account of the intense poverty in the islands and the enormous wealth of the Britts along with the seeds of the crumbling Empire of sugar.

    Perhaps it's not for the Panama Canal piece, but it would add some light to the US Virgin Islands.

    Most people in the USA, regardless of race, don't even know that the USA OWNS the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and the Water Islands. Nevermind its history. I know I'm not out on a limb to say that most folks in the USA don't know that Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa, and the Midway Islands.

  5. Most whites during the early 19090's were racists. It was a cultural thing. This was how they thought they were supposed to behave towards non-whites.
    When the US took over Puerto Rico and the areas in the Pacific like Guam,the Philippines,Samoa etc., they applied the same Jim Crow laws of segregation against them in their own land.
    Most Puerto Ricans are embarrassed to say it. In Panama, in the Canal zone area, there were the same two set of drinking fountains and blacks and other groups were paid in silver while white people were paid in gold.
    Luckily, Filipinos rebelled and gained their independence and Panama was able to get full control of the canal and the Canal Zone later in 1999 but with a struggle by getting both the UN nd the OAS involved.
    Right now it is going to be hard for the Puerto Ricans and the people from the Virgin Islands to gain their independence because they have become so accustomed to being a US territory.
    The US wanted Panama to become a US territory but Panamanians said: "hell no."

  6. What you said about Barbados and South Carolinas is very interesting because I share Barbadian and Panamanian heritage.
    I have a good African American friend who is from South Carolinas and I feel and see her as blood family. We worked together many years ago and there was another Panamanian woman there too and she shared the same view with me regarding the African American woman. A very strong connection.
    Another thing, there are many African Americans whose ancestors came from the Congo region . That region was vast during the early years.
    Years ago I had a strong desire to visit Brazil. It was an ancestral pull. I planned my trip without knowing how?, what? and where? One day I went to a museum and there I met an Afro Brazlian and we talked; found out he owned a condo where his sister, a lawyer lived and he offered to rent me a room there. The price was not bad. That day he gave me a lot of phone numbers of his family and friends in Bahia, Brazil.
    When I landed in Brazil, my plane was delayed in Rio, the first stop and when I arrived in Salvador, Bahia, his sister could not wait, she had to go back to work.
    I was confused and did not know what to do. At the airport, a tourist taxi driver I did not know helped me call one of the phone numbers, Paulo had given me , I spoke with a friend and the taxi driver took me there safely and just charged me the regular fair.

    I stayed at this woman's house until Paulo's sister came and got me and then we went to the condominium which was facing the majestic Atlantic ocean. My ancestors protected me but it was obvious they wanted me to visit Bahia and I am convinced that some of their relatives ended up in Brazil.

    Brazil was magical and spiritual.I recommend that evey black person in the Americas should visit Bahia,Brazil because a large number of Africans went there.

  7. As long as the USA has an "adult" relationship with its territories, being apart of the USA can be a positive thing.

    If, however, the USA treats the people, land, and resources of its territories like they were "small stupid children" then it is certainly problematic.

    After visiting Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Cancun there certainly were marked differences.

    First, Bermuda was way too English! Too formal for a fun vacation spot. Moreover, it seemed just like everything bad about colonization. The blacks held marginalized jobs in the hotel, no front desk clerks, mo management positions, only housekeeping and waiters. There was even a sister working at the gift shop with a Master's Degree for some white person that barely graduated from high school. I just didn't see a lot of political empowerment or economic empowerment among the blacks in Bermuda. Although we did find the black people delightful, when we looked in the black section for stories of enslavement, emancipation, apprenticeship, or ANYTHING from an Afro-Bermuda perspective it was lacking. We even traveled to the "black section" of the island, to find a black bookstore. We thought finally we can take home some first person literature about the black experience in the islands....and do you know what we saw....titles featuring Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, Jesse Jackson, etc....Okay, where were their national heroes? I don't know.

    But, Bermuda was beautiful, orderly, clean, with good roads and clean drinking water.

    Now, Puerto Rico was different. Puerto Rico used the island people ALL over the hotel, from the front desk to housekeeping. In the malls they were the managers and store owners. They had books that told their story from their point-of-view. Plus, the water was clean and the infrastructure was good. Again it was a beautiful island, not as pristine as Bermuda, but more fun for vacationing.

    Lastly, Cancun was not nearly as clean and tidy as either Bermuda or Puerto Rico. The people were certainly more empowered as merchants, shopkeepers, and restaurant owners. Again, like Puerto Rico, the front desk and the housekeeping staff were the people of he region. But, the water was crap, the streets were iffy, the currency exchange was 10-1. It was certainly a fun place to vacation, but when you left the touristy areas you were confronted with third-world poverty. Big beautiful hotels contrasted with the shacks for the locals. But, the locals seemed to be proudly aware of their Aztec and Mayan heritage. There were tons of books and literature about the people of Cancun, not just their Spanish colonizers.

  8. I like your Brazil story.

    My sister thinks I'm nuts, but it's good to see that somebody else hears the calls of the ancestors. Every entry on this blog has been from a call from the grave. I hear the ghosts and they say, "don't forget about me."

  9. This is an interesting post here.

    They actually have that site source post you got this information from in English on the same website

    Anyway I think it's important for you to know that not all black Panamanians descend from Barbados or West Indian immigrant laborers as you claimed.

    Many people have the misconception that all or most Panamanians are West Indian or West Indian descent due to the significant population of Panamanians of West Indian descent in the USA and abroad outside of Panama.

    In actuality and in fact the vast majority of black Panamanians and Afro-descendant Panamanians in the Republic of Panama are those of colonial Hispanic origins and these are known as Afro colonials, or colonial blacks. They are monolingually and traditionally Spanish speakers and traditionally Roman Catholic. Some have and partake in African influenced spiritist cultural vestiges.

    The Congos as mentioned here are a subset of Afro-colonial Panamanians. However they are not the only Afro-colonials. Keep in mind that Afro-colonials are very widespread throughout Panama and diverse in culture. The Congos are almost like an Afro-Panamanian brotherhood (somewhat reminiscent of the Afro Dominican Republic Congos of Villa Mella brotherhood although with some differences).

    Congos can be found in virtually all of Colon Province (in Costa Arriba, which is east of the Panama Canal And Colon City and in Costa Abajo which is west of the Panama Canal and Colon City, respectively). They also have their own unique dialect as well which has African influences.

    In Panama province some areas practice or carry unique vestiges of the Congo culture but it's died out in some of these areas but there are still some that are fighting to maintain it and keep it alive.

    Other important Afro-colonial Panamanian groups can be found in the Archipelago of the Pearl Islands which have a very important and unique culture. In Panama province and in Eastern Panama and in the province of Darién are found in extremely large numbers as well. They have their own unique cultural traditions like bundé, bullerengue etc.

    These are all some of the oldest maintain and longest descended Afrodescendant groups in Panama. All of these Afrodescendants can trace their ancestry back to as early as 1500.

    Other areas that have African descendants are Río Hato, Antón in Coclé. In Pacific Veraguas province in places like Sona, and Montijo there are descendants of black slaves. In other central provinces and in Azuero Peninsula of the interior there are Afro-colonials however they are not often showcased and are scattered and dispersed out much more or they may be intermixed in or out with(in) the (rest of) the general populations but if you look hard enough and do deeper searching you will find them.

    Panama is also important because it was the most important source and center of transit of goods and slaves during and throughout most of the colonial period. Much of the slaves that were brought and made it to the rest of South America came through and passed through Portobelo and El Camino Real and out of Pacific Panama. So there is a connection there.

    The Afro-Hispanic Pacific Lowland cultures as historians and anthropologists have termed it refers to the large long run and long spanning series of black communities beginning in Darien Province all the way down to Choco and Pacific Colombia and Pacific Ecuador and Esmeraldas Ecuador since all of these areas are connected and share interrelated and imterconnected Afro Hispanic culture(s) along with Zambos (mixed African, and Native American descent) and history of maroonage (cimarronaje) striving for survival and freedom since the colonial period and the series and continuum of culture(s) all of these lands and areas share.


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