12 January 2017

African Heritage Remembered at Colombia’s Black and White Carnival

PASTO, Colombia – Typical rhythms from Colombia’s Pacific region can be heard on Thursday in the streets of the southwestern city of Pasto to celebrate the Day of the Blacks, a tribute to the portion of the population descended from African slaves during the traditional Carnival celebration in this zone bordering on Ecuador.

“This day is celebrated (to commemorate) the free day our ancestors who arrived from Africa as slaves received to hold their festivals and rituals and at the same time to calm the anxieties the blacks felt at being bound and imprisoned,” the director of the Los Alegres de Telembi folkloric group, Liloy Ortiz, told EFE.

At the Black and White Carnival “what we want is to show people the cultural legacy our ancestors left us that we still experience in African music, dance, poetry and theater,” said Ortiz, who has been part of the musical group for the past 10 years.

To the rhythms of the marimba, an instrument with African origins, residents and tourists in Pasto, the capital of Nariño province, smudge their bodies black to begin a game of exchanging identities where mixed-race people take on the appearance of blacks.

“This event is the chance to leave to the side those racial differences and social prejudices that exist in the country among the black and white races, and to see that we’re all humans and brothers,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz added that the music at the Carnival is also designed to denounce the problems that currently exist in the Pacific region.

“The Pacific (region) is a zone with great biodiversity. However, we’re ignored by the state and there’s very generalized corruption that results in the region not prospering economically, and so it’s one of the poorest in Colombia,” the musician added.

Meanwhile, Lisenia Gallo, the executive director of the Cueros y Chonta Musical Foundation, a musical group participating in the Carnival, said that “through rhythms such as the ‘currulao,’ the ‘bunde’ and the ‘juga,’ among others” the performers sing about corruption “but also about peace, love and life.”

The Black and White Carnival, in 2010 designated as part of the World Heritage by Unesco, will conclude on Jan. 6, the Day of the Whites, with a parade of floats the main aim of which is to present the myths and legends of the region through the talent of Nariño’s artisans.