Congos invade Portobelo

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Dancers wear the traditional dress at the First Festival of the Pollera Congo.

Dancers wear the traditional dress at the First Festival of the Pollera Congo.

The “Festival de la Pollera Conga” will be celebrated for the second time in the coastal town of Portobelo, Colón on Saturday, March 15 with a day of parades, food and dancing to honor the Afro-Antillean culture of Panama, in particular the afro-colonial female attire, the “pollera conga.” Entrance is free and the public is invited to wear costumes and join the party.

Congo is a dance with Afro-Caribbean origins that is performed mostly among Panamanians of African descent along the Atlantic Coast of Panama; most notably in Portobelo, Colon, and various small towns.

Visitors to this historic town, founded in 1597, will witness the unique traditions of Colón’s “Congo” culture with its colorful dress, dances and music. The theme this year is “Travesías,” which means “voyages” or “crossings.”

Congo dancing is very energetic.

Congo dancing is very energetic.

The proceedings start at 10 a.m. with the Aquatic Parade in the Bay of Portobelo. The fifteen participating dance groups from different regions of Panama will be welcomed to the town as they arrive in their decorated boats, a way of honoring those who were brought to the New World during the Middle Passage, the ancestors of today´s Afro-Caribbean population.

After the arrival of the groups, the official Pollera Conga Parade begins as they dance through the streets of Portobelo, starting at the Fuerte Santiago dock and ending at the main stage located in the town park. The parade will be led by the Congo Queen, Her Majesty, Delia Barrera.

A Gastronomic and Artisan Fair will take place at the festival grounds in stalls that resemble “palenques,” the thatched roofed refuges of the escaped slaves known as Cimarron. Handicrafts and food will be sold, giving visitors the opportunity to sample the delicious Afro-Caribbean fare, such as the “saril” hibiscus brew, “saos” (pickled pig feet) and coconut rice.

There will be plenty to keep children entertained, with jugglers and other activities just for them.

Congo dancing is very energetic.

Congo dancing is very energetic.

The night closes with a drum circle at the Gazebo at Portobelo’s Central Plaza. There the Congo dance troupes will unite to render tribute to the Congo Queen. People are asked to bring their drums and learn to play the Panamanian “Congo” and African rhythms.

Portobelo is a small town, so visitors are encouraged to arrive early in order to find parking in one of the two designated lots. If you wish to stay the night, check online for the latest deals.

For more details visit www.portobelo.org.

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