PANAMA. On Saturday March 14, the town of Portobelo in Colon will dress in red and black as townsfolk and visitors celebrate the VI Dia...
PANAMA. On Saturday March 14, the town of Portobelo in Colon will dress in red and black as townsfolk and visitors celebrate the VI Diablos and Congos Festival in honor of the rich traditions of the region. On display will be all the magic, color, and beauty of this important branch of Panamanian folklore and customs.
Held every two years, the festival is the country’s main afrocultural showcase. The ‘congos’ and ‘diablos’ (devils) dances make historical allusions to the experiences and lifestyles of the West African slaves who were forcibly brought to America to work for the colonies.
To the sound and rhythm of drums, the two forces, the slave masters and the slaves, face each gether. The ‘congos’ usually paint their faces with charcoal and red color and through dances and music portray slave uprisings and depict the cruelty of their masters. The ‘diablos’, have several bells tied to their legs and a whip on their hands to lash the ‘congos’ (men and women) who flout them by trying to dodge their lashes.
The Diablos and Congos Festival started in 1999 when two Portobelo residents felt the need to create an outlet through which to promote and maintain their culture and customs. What started off as an idea led to a ‘diablos’ contest, which through the years turned into a festival.
According to Noel Gonzalez, the fair’s artistic director, “the decoration staff were the children of the town”, who would approach the organizers and ask if they could help paint. “That’s how we gathered a crowd, painting red and black, the colors of the diablos,” he said.
As they slowly garnered more help, and a larger audience, the festival expanded its objectives, now also aiming to strengthen the sense of identity and community ties among locals.
This year’s theme is “Angeles y Diablos” (Angels and Devils), reflecting the ‘congos’ iconography where angels represent ancestors who protect locals from evil. The XVII century city of Portobelo will have a Crafts and Gastronomic Fair, where savory regional sweets and drinks will be sold, as well as local crafts, at the Customs building. A Congo-themed art exhibit will be set at the IPAT center.
This year, the ‘diablos’ and ‘congos’ will dance on a big stage in front of the Portobelo park instead the San Jeronimo fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which traditionally served as a backdrop for the dances. The National Culture Institute (INAC) has restricted the use of the site for preservation purposes.
The Festival is an important economic avenue for Portobelo residents.
For more info: 264-4560.