Cartagena is a must-go city for international tourists in South America. With a rich history, culture, gastronomy and astonishing landscapes, this city can give offer the visitor a plentiful of joy and happiness making it one of the favorite destinations in the region. Besides its unique tourist attractions, Cartagena also holds historic figures that represent the Afro-Colombian people as a most. They are the Palenqueras and carry a very amazing trajectory. Their brightly coloured dresses earned them one of the most photographed icons of Cartagena.
These beautiful Black women, who roam the extensive strips of land of the Colombian Caribbean, greet the tourists with their huge smiles, dressing in rainbows and carrying a menu of the most exotic fruits characteristic of our land.
The story of these Black Colombian women began centuries ago when Colombia was still a Spanish colony and slavery was a legal practice as well as it was across the Americas.
It’s 1691, and San Basilio de Palenque – a small village located in the southeast of Cartagena ruled entirely by runaway Enslaved Africans signs a Royal Decree stating the town’s independence from Spanish colonial powers. The very first free town of the Americas is born, and so are the first free men and women of the New World: Palenqueros and Palenqueras.
In this first free Black people settlement in the Americas, they could maintain many African traditions. That is precisely why Palenquero emerged, a language based on Spanish and on languages spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The women of Palenque decided to exploit what they had around them in abundance: fruits! The Palenqueras would pack in their hand-woven baskets, ripe tropical fruits, put on their traditional African dress and make the long and exhausting journey into the Cartagena, which is the city by foot.
They would walk and sell the fruit under the hot sun while passing through Cartageneros until their baskets were empty and as time passed, the selling of fruit became a steady income for San Basilio de Palenque. That was how more and more women joined in the fruit selling journey into the city on a daily basis, unknowingly moulding themselves into the history of Cartagena and transforming the Palenquera into one of the biggest Colombian icons.
Although fruit selling continues with the Palenqueras, they instead make their money from posing for photographers, journalists and curious tourists with their beautiful smiles, colourful traditional dresses and hand-made jewellery using the Cartagena crumbling mustard walls.
So, when next you make a stop at Cartagena in Colombia, take a pose with the descendants of the Palenques knowing what history is behind these smiling women.