I woke up one Saturday morning and decided I had to get out and do something different. I was looking through the latest Facebook updates and saw an announcement for the Festival Pollera de Conga. I knew right away what my day was going to look like.
I got in the car and drove 2 hours to Portobello. I have been in Panama for nearly 10 years and I thought I had seen and done it all. I realized that I had heard and read about the Congas but I had never actually seen this festivity in action.
As I was driving down there I thought to myself “what did I get myself into”. At the time I thought it was far away because I had to take a route that I never took before. But once I arrived I was so glad that I went.
It was a great event. Women and children all dressed up in the most beautiful dresses. There was color everywhere!
The men were dressed a bit scary. I’m glad it was day time as I would not want to walk into them at night. But after getting to know the story behind it, I understand what they represent…I still wouldn’t want to have to see them at night though.
The Congo’s is a culture found around the Caribbean coast in the province of Colon, Panama. This culture is a theatrical representation of the African Slave Trade and their rebellions during the times of the conquest and colonialism. It is considered the oldest festival with drums and dance in Panama.
In 1514 slaves were brought from West Africa; mainly Angola, Cameroon, Guinea and Congo to work in plantations in Panama.
The presence of this ethnic factor determined the basic musical-cultural features of the Panamanian people.
With the African immigrants came their songs, instruments and dances.
The Congo’s dresses are colorful, which represent the beauty of nature. Women use a skirt of two-pieces made of left over clothes. They wear flowers in their hair and colorful necklaces. You will recognize the queen as she wears a big colorful crown.
Men use old clothes and put them on backwards. They wear a hat adorned with feathers, shells, mirrors or animal fur. They paint their face with coal all in symbol of rebellion.
The king or “Juan de Dios” uses a crown smaller than that of the queen. The ropes and strips of wood refer to the chains of slavery and they carry their most dear belongings in big bags in the case that they have to flee their homes.
It was so much fun to be there and get a taste of this culture that not many people get to experience. To see their joy while dancing and singing celebrating the fact that that dark period is no longer here.