Cultural Bytes | Interactive Language Program

Festival of Congos and Devils

Festival of Congos and Devils

Festival of Congos and Devils
Photo by Luis Gonzalez on Unsplash

Welcome back to our Byte Blog! Continuing our Spanish learning journey with ViLaCa we will see time and time again all the fascinating topics our students will be learning! These last few weeks we have been sharing the many different festivals that are celebrated throughout Latin America. Do you have a favorite one so far? If you have not been keeping up with us check out last week’s blog to read up on The Palmares Festival. Festival of Congos and Devils,  Spanish learning.

This week we are introducing the Festival of Congos and Devils! Every two years in the province of Colon in Panama this festival revives the history of its country. The struggle between good and evil, between the enslaved Black people and the White Spaniard. This celebration manifests rhythm and folklore that depicts colonial times and its rememants are still seen throughout this historic town. Portobelo is a town that has inherited many African traditions. It has a long history and tales of enslaved Africans reaching its shores like that of many Latin American countries during the Spanish colonization. The Congolese and their descendants contributed greatly to the culture of Panama. Spanish learning  Festival of Congos and Devils

“Portobelo is a town that has inherited many African traditions

Portobelo was a strategic military and political point of interest during the 16th and 18th centuries. The Spaniards’ obsession with gold from Peru traveled through Panama to reach Spain. Their ships also carried silver, tobacco, chocolate and leather. Ships from Spain arrived with wine, oil, iron, wood, and groups of enslaved people arrived as part of the merchandise as well. Those that managed to escape from the Spanish plantations found refuge in the mountains and formed communities called Palenques. They regained their freedom, kept and preserved their African customs.   Spanish learning  Festival of Congos and Devil

The festival centers around an important practice. The Congolese who were forcibly brought over, have a dance that shows a struggle between those in power and the repressed, a battle between good and evil. The dance depicts the Congolese who were enslaved and whipped by the Spaniard, who is embodied in the figure of a devil who wears black and red. Protected by Angels, the Congolese rise up against their oppressor and while they dance they persecute the devils. They expose them and “baptize” them, to convert them to “good” – granting them their freedom.

The streets of Portobelo are filled with joy, with many dances taking place in the central parks. Many craft stalls and food of Congolese influence are found everywhere. People know the festivities have begun when the clock strikes noon and the beating of drums are heard. Women dress in traditional Congolese dress, a two piece outfit with many colors. They wear necklaces and crown their heads with beautiful flowers. Men are seen carrying crosses to scare away the devils. They also paint their faces with charcoal as a sign of rebellion. The Devil’s outfit is the most showy and elaborate.

Dressed in black and red, their calves covered in a sea of bells that are heard as the devil dances. Their masks that show a terrifying expression, and their shoes that are designed in the same material as the costume are adorned with rooster feathers. The dance between the Congolese and devils typically lasts late into the night. This event not only adds to the rich culture of Portobelo but it also recounts the history of the descendents of the enslaved Congolese people who were brought to the unknown shores of Panama. 

  Spanish learning  Festival of Congos and Devils

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