Panama is a country of remarkable diversity, and one of its most vibrant and rich cultural traditions is Afro culture brought by enslaved Africans.
The history of Black people in Panama dates back to the 16th century, when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the country. According to some historians, they initially worked in the gold mines in Acla and then in Concepción in northern Veraguas. They also worked in the Pearl archipelago as divers in search of pearls and as muleteers on the transisthmian road.
The presence of a Black population has enriched the history of Panamá. The influence of the inherited customs of West Africa and the Antilles has definitively marked what Afro-Panamanian culture is, in architecture, gastronomy, music, and in its traditions. Congo, for example, is a form of music and dance from the Afro-Antillean parts of the country, mostly located in the Cólon province.
Discovering and embracing the vibrant Black culture in Panama offers a unique and enriching experience. From Afro-Panamanian history to the pulsating rhythms of traditional music and the flavors of authentic cuisine, here’s a guide on how to truly immerse yourself in the heart of Panama’s Black culture.
1. Panama City:
Your journey into Afro culture in Panama can start right in the heart of the country’s capital, Panama City. The historic district, known as Casco Viejo, is a melting pot of Afro-Panamanian heritage. Here, you can delve into the essence of this culture through its music, dance, and delectable cuisine. Local artists often display their Afro-Panamanian art, showcasing the creativity and talent of the community.
To truly get a taste of the culture, consider visiting one of the many local eateries serving Afro-Panamanian dishes. These dishes, often influenced by African, Caribbean, and indigenous traditions, offer a flavorful journey for your taste buds. Savor classic dishes like rice and peas, sancocho (a hearty stew), and the beloved fried plantains known as patacones.
The cultural immersion doesn’t stop at food. Be sure to catch live music performances and dance events featuring traditional rhythms like cumbia, tamborito, and congo. These musical expressions are deeply rooted in the Afro-Panamanian culture and have a unique energy that’s hard to resist
2. Visit Afro-Panamanian Communities:
Explore neighborhoods like El Chorrillo in Panama City or Portobelo on the Caribbean coast, where Afro-Panamanian communities thrive.
Engage with locals, attend community events, and witness the lively atmosphere that defines their daily lives.
3. Celebrate Afro-Panamanian Festivals:
Cultural Festivals: A Celebration of Tradition
To fully immerse yourself in Afro-Panamanian traditions and customs, consider timing your visit to coincide with one of several cultural festivals that take place throughout the year. In addition to the Congo Carnival in Portobelo and the Congo Festival in Colon, you can also attend festivities in cities like David and Bocas del Toro, where the local Afro-Panamanian communities proudly showcase their heritage through dance, music, and art.
These celebrations showcase traditional dances, music, and colorful costumes that are deeply rooted in African heritage.
4. Museum and Historical Sites:
Explore museums like the Afro-Antillean Museum in Panama City, providing insights into the history and contributions of Afro-Panamanians.
Visit historic sites such as the Church of San Felipe in Portobelo, a UNESCO World Heritage site with ties to the African diaspora.
5. Attend Traditional Dance and Music Performances:
Experience the heartbeat of Afro-Panamanian culture through traditional dance performances like the Tamborito or Congo dance.
Attend live music events featuring genres like reggae, calypso, and jazz, which have strong influences from African rhythms.
Delight your taste buds with Afro-Panamanian cuisine, characterized by dishes like sancocho (a hearty soup), rondón (coconut-based seafood stew), and fried plantains.
Seek out local eateries in Afro-Panamanian communities for an authentic gastronomic experience.
7.Engage in Community Initiatives:
Contribute positively by participating in community projects or initiatives that support Afro-Panamanian culture and heritage preservation.
Volunteer opportunities may provide a deeper understanding of the challenges and triumphs within these communities.