Photo Credit: TN
Panama’s Black Heritage Month Celebrates 500 Years of African Legacy
May marks the celebration of Black Heritage Month, or “Fiesta de la Etnia Negra” in Panama. May 31 is known as Día de la Etnia Negra Nacional (National Black Heritage Day). The month celebrates the arrival of Africans and Antilleans to Panama and their impact on Panamanian culture.
This year’s festivities include the Journey of Atonement and Reconciliation of Mother Africa, a special celebration in Panama City. Panamanians from all over will gather along with members of the Afro-community from the Caribbean, Latin America, and North America.
According to Dr. Melida Harris-Barrow, a Panamanian resident of the United States, “Panama will make history because the event will have worldwide exposure and will become the first country in the world to hold an event of this magnitude, which will bring together the kings, queens and tribal chiefs of Africa, to apologize to all African descendants scattered around the world.”
Dr. Harris-Barrow says, “The idea is to strengthen the historical and natural ties of the continent with its diaspora during this meeting in Panama.”
Panama’s Afro-descendants make up about 14 percent of the population and reside mostly in Panama City. Afro-descendants also reside in the provinces where their ancestors first settled: Colon and Bocas del Toro. Ancient rituals, traditions, arts, and customs have been preserved in these communities.
If you’re not in Panama this year during Black Heritage Month, here are ways you can learn about the country’s African heritage year-round.
Dance with the Congo Queen in Colon
Head a few hours from Panama City to Portobello to experience a beautiful coastal town with vibrant colors and Congo culture. UNESCO recognizes Portobello as an Intangible Cultural Heritage site.
African slaves brought to Panama by the Spanish have kept the Congo culture alive through generations. Experience musical rituals, theatrical dances, and celebrations in Portobello and drumming lessons at “La Escuelita del Ritmo.”
Offered by the Portobello Bay Foundation “La Escuelita del Rito” or “The Little School of Rhythm,” provides free music lessons to children to help develop social skills while preserving their culture. Visitors to the school will learn about Congo’s art of music and the importance of learning through the arts.
Visit the Afro-Antillean Museum
Located in the Calidonia neighborhood in Panama City, history buffs will learn about the influence of West Indian migrants in Panama.
The museum pays homage to laborers from Barbados, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands who impacted Panamanian culture and infrastructure.
Delight Your Tastebuds in Bocas del Toro
Old Bank and Carenero Island is home to the Afro-Caribbean Guari Community and exceptional Afro-Caribbean food. Here, you’ll find dishes cooked with fresh seafood and local spices.
Try the Saus (pork legs in vinaigrette, picadillo de bofe (beef lung) dumplings, and Bragada (friend codfish cake made with flour). Add extra spice to your meal with Aji Chombo, which is a Panamanian pepper!