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diablos y congos

Portobelo’s ‘diablos’ and ‘congos’ Festival

Posted on May 27, 2019 In Categories Blog Cultural Activities Las Clementinas Website Featured

You could affirm, without any major doubt that Panama is a land of devils.  Its roots and folkloric expressions are plagued by an authentic multiplication of these amusing and fearsome creatures. Of the many families of ‘diablos’ or devils present in Panamanian culture, the devils of Portobelo are among the most spectacular and expressive.

diablos y congosDevils of Portobelo by Paola Montilla

The cultural heritage of Devils and Congos

During the local game of Devils and Congos, they function as an emblem of evil and represent the colonizers. While the Congos, their counterparts in the game, embody the former slaves who escaped their oppressors and who through all kinds of items can be captured by the devils.

This confrontation between Congos and devils has its maximum expression during the Panamanian carnivals, but it has also found a privileged space every two years, during the thrilling Festival of Devils and Congos. The event was born as an initiative of the people of Portobelo to preserve and disseminate their rituals and customs.

Originally, this was a competition that tested the expressive dexterity of the devils and the originality of their costumes. Today it is a huge event involving devils and Congos, along with musicians, dancers and singers, who project their expressive skills in the midst of the exuberant nature of Portobelo and its ruins loaded with history and beauty. It is a party of pleasant exchange, coexistence and intense expression, which will allow you to enjoy a culture that was recently declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

diablos y congosCongos of Portobelo by Elsie Muñoz

Portobelo colonial past

Portobelo is a town located on the Atlantic coast of the Isthmus of Panama. It was discovered and baptized by Christopher Columbus on his fourth trip, on November 2, 1502. There he stored all the gold that was extracted in the Spanish colonies in South America and in a few years it became a busy and very active space of commercial exchange.

During the famous fairs of Portobelo, peninsular merchandise was exchanged for precious Peruvian metals. Thus, Portobelo, during the colony, became a relevant commercial epicenter, to which an active floating population arrived annually.

For that reason it was attacked several times, mainly by English corsairs. The first incursion (1596) by Francis Drake, happened one year before the official foundation of the city. Drake fell ill with dysentery during that campaign and died on February 7, 1596 when his fleet entered the bay of Portobelo. His remains were thrown into the sea of  Portobelo’s Bay in a lead box. To this day, they remain there.

Years later the famous corsair Morgan would also take Portobelo.

In 1738 the last Portobelo fair was held. And a year later Edward Vernon presented himself with his six warships in front of the city and made her surrender without great difficulty. Then he devoted himself to systematically destroying all its defenses, demolishing the forts and throwing the cannons into the sea. The Hispanic Portobelo, the old terminal of the galleons, had ceased to exist.

diablos y congosDevils of Portobelo by Paola Montilla

Visit Portobelo

However in addition to its fascinating history and wonderful expressive traditions, Portobelo offers you marvelous hotel offers. From these we must definitely highlight El Otro Lado (The Other Side). It is a luxurious boutique hotel located in the bay of Portobelo. They integrate design, nature, culture and beauty, providing extraordinary experiences to their guests.

It is perfectly integrated into the local culture through the Bahía de Portobelo Foundation, which projects various cultural entities, such as the Escuelita del Ritmo, the Congo House of Culture, the Art Gallery and the Carpentry Workshop. Guests can participate, immersing themselves in the vivacity, color, sensuality and rhythm of the cultural experiences offered by the conga culture, through the foundation.

El Otro Lado is located in the Portobelo National Park, which covers an area of  35,929 hectares in the middle of a nature reserve. The park has extensive green areas covered with forests, mountains and trails; In addition to the ruins of Spanish fortifications of the seventeenth century, also declared cultural heritage by UNESCO.

diablos y congosCongos of Portobelo by Elsie Muñoz

*Portobelo is a little over an hour away travelling by road from Panama city.

*The Diablos and Congos Festival is a biannual celebration. We recommend that you check the dates beforehand.