The Congo Dance of Panama is the most unique and colorful manifestation of folklore in the province of Colon. The dance has its roots in Africa and came to Panama by way of escaped former slaves known as “Cimarrons.” The dance has been passed on from generation to generation, and can be seen today in the province of Colon, in costal towns such as Portobello (1 ½ hours from Panama City) where the Afro-Panamanian legacy remains very much alive.
The Congo is not just a dance, but is also a form of expression by which the “Cimarrons” convey their feelings of anger, pain and joy. It was also a way to strengthen their spirit. The dance tells a story, as the characters acting out a fight with the devil who is said to be loose during the Carnival. At the end they are saved by the “Reina Conga” (the Queen of Congos), helped by “Pajarito” (little bird) and “Juan de Dios” (John God). The Congo Dance represents a fusion between the Catholic religion and the African culture.
The women dance swaying their hips in an almost erotic manner, using hands and feet to mark the man limits. They wear a long skirt made up of a patchwork of very bright colors fabric, a blouse with a colorful frill necklaces, flower in her hair, and bare feet. The men wear a fringed shirt and pants (made of strips of colored cloth), masks, and bare feet and dance around the women, doing their best to get close and kiss them. The rhythm of drums, singing and applause invites everyone around to participate in the Congo.
To experience the Congo dance for yourself, be sure to visit Portobello or surrounding towns along the Caribbean Coast for the Festival of Diablos and Congos held in February or March or during Carnival. You’ll be glad to you did!
Check out the video below of a local news report about the 2013 Festival of Diablos and Congos: