Ritual and festive expressions of Panama’s Congo culture inscribed in UNESCO’s list of Intangible Heritage

The ritual and festive expressions of the Congo culture encompass the contemporary vision of a collective celebration of the descendents of black rebels enslaved in the colonial period, who back then escaped into the jungle and formed communities of exiles called cimarroneras.

During the Congo season, participants use a palisade to stage a matriarchal society ruled by a queen and her court. Everyone must help protect the queen and members of the palisade from the devils (diablos), and the season concludes with a confrontation between the diablos and the Congos.

With the recent inscription of the Congo culture in UNESCO’s list of Intangible Heritage, these cultural traits have been internationally recognised and protected including its colourful dresses and local people, powerful rhythms and music of the drums as a mean to express their deepest felt emotions, singing about their daily life and performing barefoot dances in order to create communication with the earth.

The Congo and Diablos Festival is held two weeks after Carnaval in the small historical town of Portobelo, on the Caribbean side of Panama, marking the start of Lent. Everyone takes part in the festival, which has contributed to social integration over generations.

Portobelo cordially invites you to experience the Congo culture and its rich cultural, historical and natural heritage throughout the entire year, not only during the festival season. Explore the Portobelo National Park, its mangrove rivers, Caribbean beaches, historical Spanish fortifications, local artisans, visit and participate in the local Escuelita del Ritmo, a school of music and artistic expressions created in 2009 to encourage and promote the Congo culture and art through musical education, enabling education to all, regardless of gender, religion or social economic background. It counts with 90 students today!

Experience the diversity of Panama and fall in love with its people, culture and vibrant energy!

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