Why Focus on Portobelo?

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Although it inhabits the overlapping geographical categories of North America, Central America, Latin America, and the Caribbean, Panama represents an underresearched site of African Diaspora identity, culture, and performance, especially within the U.S. academic community. Moreover, the town of Portobelo stands as a rich case study for Congo performance not only because it is believed to be the probable birthplace of the tradition in Panama (Smith 1976, 64), but also because it is one of the few Afro-Colonial communities in the Republic with sustained global engagement for trade and/or tourism. In the last decade, festivals related to Congo performance have created an even stronger link between Congo culture and Portobelo in the public imaginary. These factors make the town a unique location in which to analyze the Congo tradition and its evolving relationship to Panamanian Blackness.

Portobelo Bus (Photo by Saleem Reshamwala)

Portobelo Bus (Photo by Saleem Reshamwala)

Excerpted from “Epilogue,” When the Devil Knocks: The Congo Tradition and the Politics of Blackness in 20th Century Panama, The Ohio State University Press (January 2015)

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