Each year during the month of May the country of Panama proudly recognizes and celebrates the Afro-descendant segment of its population within the country; including its ancestral heritage, culture, and significant contributions to the development of the Republic. It is noteworthy that people of African heritage first arrived by large numbers in Panama during three distinctive periods in history.
The first migration of Africans occurred during the 16th century when for the most part, they were brought involuntarily by European expansionists engaged in the infamous slave trade. As a result of African resistance to chattel enslavement, many gained their liberation by fleeing into the swamplands, lagoons, and mountainous regions of Panama; and ultimately being called, "Cimarrones." It is now known as a result of scientific DNA studies that Africans brought to Panama during this colonial period, originated from the West African region of Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and Republic of the Congo. And because of their original homeland in Africa, they are also known as "Congos." Much of the culture and language of the "Panama-Congos" has been preserved in their unique tapestry of clothing, food, poetry, music and dance.
A second great migration of people of African heritage into Panama surrounded the United States construction of the Panama Railroad (1850 to 1855). The significance of this Railroad was attached to transporting people, goods, and services from Eastern to Western U.S. during the "Gold Rush" period in American history. Thousands of migrants of Afro-Caribbean heritage arrived in the country to work on that project, primarily from Jamaica. They were reportedly the most productive workers of that project.
A final wave of Afro-Caribbean immigrant workers were recruited by the U.S. primarily for the construction of the Panama Canal (1904-1914). At some point, there were an estimated number of 40,000 Afro-Caribbean workers during this period, the majority of which were from Barbados. They worked under harsh tropical conditions, life threatening illnesses, dangerous work conditions and low wage compensations. Still, many remained in Panama, even after the completion of the Canal. They evolved into an indefinite workforce for the continuity of service in the operations of the Panama Canal.
Over they years, Panama's Afro-descendants grew in numbers. And not without significant integrative challenges, they became entwined in Panama's national census as citizens, making innumerable contributions to their country.
Celebration of Panama's Black Heritage -Rio Abajo, Panama
105 Years of the Opening of the Panama Canal
HAP Celebration of the 100 Years of the opening of the Panama Canal.
Panama's Afro-Colonial (Congo) Culture - by "Raices de Panama"
Panama's Afro-Caribbean Culture - Quadrille Dance by "Raices de Panama"
HAP Celebrating Panama's Independence with a Parade of Caribbean Nations