Panama slave descendants’ ‘congos’ recognized globally

NOMBRE DE DIOS, Panama (AP) — Under a shelter of dried palm fronds and wobbly limbs, women in colorful outfits and men in tattered clothes — some with foreheads smeared with ash — sing and dance vigorously in a circle to the beat of drums.

Men wearing enormous masks of diabolical characters dance and whip the air to terrorize those present. They lash out at those who dare to dance with them.

The celebration is held on Ash Wednesday by “Afro-colonials” — the descendants of African slaves brought to Panama during Spanish colonialization. The dances and the rituals are known as “congos” and are receiving greater attention since UNESCO designated them as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in December.

The festivities commemorate the slave rebellion against the Spanish along Panama’s Caribbean coast.

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