As the month of May approaches, we want to divert our attention momentarily from our chronicle and focus on the coming Black Ethnicity Day Celebrations here in Panama.
Although the undeniable presence of the Black African race has been genealogically, culturally and linguistically evident in Panama since before it became a Republic, it is only recently that real attempts have been made to recognize it in a significant way.
Panama, with its large scale “mestizaje”- mixture of races- has acted as a stage for the meeting and mixing of basically two groups of Africans, those who were here since colonial times, the Afro-Coloniales, and the Black Westindians (the Afro-Antilleans, as they are identified in our country) who began arriving in large numbers during the California Gold Rush/Panama Railroad construction days of 1849.
Panama, however, has always taken a very negating attitude towards its Black population and it has only been in recent years that it has yielded to pressure to not only recognize its population of African descent but to measure and value it.
A small step was taken with the passage of Law #9, which was signed into law by President Mireya Moscoso back in the year 2000. A Commission was created appointing May 30 as the official celebration day commemorating “Panama’s National Black Ethnicity.” As we’ve stated in our article “Black Ethnicity Day Celebration,” however,
the original idea for this celebration, in fact, had been born from the inspiration and vision of one of Panama’s native sons born in the Province of Chiriqui, in the area of Arena of the district of Puerto Armuelles. The Honorable Claral Richards Thompson, an afro Panamanian champion discus thrower during the First National games in the year of 1955 in which he represented the Republic of Panama, also represented the country as a baseball pitcher, having signed a contract with the San Francisco Giants in their minor league as a professional ball player. This outstanding athlete, up and until the date of his retirement, was also a supervisor for the United Fruit Company in the area.
Why May 30th ? This day in particular was chosen because on May 30, 1820, the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, declared the abolition of the slave trade in Spain and all its colonies due to pressures exerted by blacks who were part of the National Assembly of France during its revolutionary period at the time.
As originally conceived, the Commission would coordinate a series of cultural activities during this period in order to provide a sampling of the dances, cuisine, music and linguistic expression that characterizes the community of African descent in Panama. It aimed to draw attention to the cultural contribution of the black groups who arrived in Panama during the colonial period and to develop an investigative spirit of the historical type with regards to many truths and experiences lived by Blacks in the Republic of Panama.
We, at The Silver People Heritage Foundation envision a broader view of Black Ethnicity Celebration in our proud country since our Westindian forefathers (and many of us descendants today) played a very important role in making Panama what it is today. We’ve undertaken to amplify the study and valorization of the heritage of our ancestors to place them on Panama’s cultural and historical map in a dignified manner worthy of their legacy.
This story continues.