Lonely Planet Writer

Panama’s Festival de la Pollera Conga celebrates country’s African heritage

This Saturday, 16 April, Panamanians will celebrate the country’s African heritage at the third Festival of the Pollera Conga in the coastal town of Portobelo, once one of the most important Spanish ports in the New World.

The festival will feature several activities including a boat parade through Portobelo’s bay, a parade of polleras congas that will start at the Fuerte Santiago de la Gloria and continue through the town, a series of dances performed by costumed participants, and the crowning of the Congo Queen at the town’s central plaza. Vendors will also be serving up a variety of fare native to the Colón coast.

According to the Panamanian publication The Visitor, the biannual event serves to strengthen the conservation of the region’s heritage and educate attendees about the history of its people, and the celebration will specifically focus on the contribution of the black woman and the cimarrona. The term cimarrón, or Maroon in English, refers to Africans that escaped slavery in the Americas and formed independent settlements.

The name of the festival refers to the colorful outfits worn by local women, a vibrant variation of Panama’s national dress, the pollera. The pollera conga is found in the communities along the country’s Atlantic coast, and it is made of various brightly-colored pieces of fabric. Women usually don flowers in their hair as well, though the queen of the festival will have her own elaborate crown.

The event is organized by the Portobelo Foundation, the Group Realce Histórico and the Portobelo Municipality, in conjunction with the Tourism Authority of Panama and the National Institute of Culture.