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Colombia: Preserving Afro-Colombian Culture in San Basilio de Palenque

The village of San Basilio de Palenque, a small village in northern Colombia, was one of the first communities of escaped African slaves during the Spanish Colonization. The descendants of these African slaves are now working on preserving their cultural heritage, as well as the Palenquero language, a Spanish-based Creole language estimated to be spoken by 2,500 people. Through stories of the slavery passed along from generation to generation, as well as the musical traditions being kept alive, this village appears to bring the African continent to this corner of Colombia.

Photo of San Basilio de Palenque by Royale_With_Cheese and used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo of San Basilio de Palenque by Royale_With_Cheese and used under a Creative Commons license.

The blog Azadón de Palo [es] interviews M. Elena Salgado, a resident of the village and answers the question, “What is it like to live in San Basilio de Palenque?

Es un lugar pequeño, donde todos nos conocemos. Somos generaciones de todas las familias, desde las primeras que se refugiaron en los Montes de María (así se llama la zona que rodea a San Basilio). Nuestras casas son humildes, hechas con material que nos da la naturaleza; tierra, bahareque, tapia y cemento a la vista. Nuestros techos son de palma y lata, que ayuda a refrescar y soportar el calor.

It is a small place, where we all know one another. We are generations from all of the families, from the first families that sought refuge in the María Mountains (that is what the area the surrounds San Basilio is called). Our houses are humble, made from materials provided by nature; dirt, adobe, and cement. Our roofs are made from palm leaves and tin, which helps it keep it cool and withstand the heat.
Musical group Las Alegres Ambulancias that hails from San Basilio de Palenque. Photo by Troskiller and used under a Creative Commons license.

Musical group Las Alegres Ambulancias that hails from San Basilio de Palenque. Photo by Troskiller and used under a Creative Commons license.

In the homes, the sounds of Afro-Colombian resonate, and in which many sectors of society want to claim. The essence of that concept takes strength and it is in that way that the blog Colombian Passport [es] publishes the following paragraph about this history:

Lo que bien se sabe acerca de los colombianos negros es que son las personas descendientes de los que fueron traídos como mercancía, forzados por las compañías negreras europeas entre los siglos XV y XVIII a todo el territorio de las Américas.

What is known about Black Colombians is that they are descendants of those that were brought over as merchandise, forced by European slave companies between the 15th and 18th centuries, throughout the Americas.

Patricia Quintero Barrera of the blog Etnicográfica [es] writes:

La Afrocolombianidad o Identidad étnica Afrocolombiana es el conjunto de aportes y contribuciones, materiales y espirituales, desarrollados por los pueblos africanos y la población afrocolombiana en el proceso de construcción y desarrollo de nuestra Nación y las diversas esferas de la sociedad Colombiana. Son el conjunto de realidades, valores y sentimientos que están integrados en la cotidianidad individual y colectiva de todos nosotros y nosotras. La Afrocolombianidad es un patrimonio de cada colombiano(a), indistintamente del color de la piel o el lugar donde haya nacido.

The Afro-Colombian or Afro-Colombian ethnic identity is the sum of contributions, material and spiritual, developed by the African peoples and the Afro-Colombian population in the process of construction and development of our nation, and the diverse areas of Colombian society. These are the set of realities, values, and feelings that are integrated into our individual and daily life. The Afro-Colombians are the heritage of each Colombian, regardless of skin color or place of birth.

Finally, on Asabbagh's channel on YouTube, there is the trailer of a documentary that shows what San Basilio de Palenque is like now, a community that was not declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in vain.

Translation by Eduardo Ávila


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