Requiem for the Carnaval in Colon

Archival photo of Carnaval circa 1920. Image thanks to our friends at

Another vintage photo shared by our friends at This was Carnaval back in the 1920’s with the West Indian flavor.

This precious Carnaval photo is from the 1960’s and it was taken in Colon. Image thanks to our friend Quintín Aguilar, Artist Colonense at ColondeAyer.

I had known that the City of Colon, from its early history since the 1820’s, had been populated mainly by Westindian families. How many, however, and how closely they were associated with the Panama Railroad or the Panama Canal Zone or how early had they been coming to these shores was one of my questions back then. The Silver Roll, the ranks of the real working people of the nearby Canal Zone, reflected some important figures in my imaginary census of the students I would find at any of the public elementary and secondary schools of that time.

By then I had written so much in the note book I brought with me from Panama that I impulsively read and reread it and added more notes for my own research. It was evident even then that, in many ways, we the Westindians were in the majority. Overall, the visible numbers of black West Indian people outnumbered the Latinos and the mixtures within both and also the black and other people such as the Chinese, and East Indians. With our background within all of the races it still appeared that the Westindians overshadowed all other races in Panama right up until those times.

Since we shared more than a common history, as always I took those of us who were now grown up seriously. In fact, all first and second generation born, of which I was a member, still had immigrant grandparents who were living in Colon as well as Panama and Bocas. We were still very close to our original progenitors.

Although libraries were non-existent I was able to trace memories of the past. Such memories opened a window for me of being part of our grander past. The old days came into view for me in sequences of bright colors and magical scenes of those carnavales past in Colon, of how we enjoyed these festivals in previous years in a Colon that was fading quickly in those times of my adolecence.  I remebered being almost a baby boy immersed in clusters of people crowded on the sidewalk of one of the main streets of Colon watching the Congo Devils dance by with their masks and the tun-tun-tun of their drums and the endless parades of cars and people in carriages all dressed in intricate costumes as multitudes of people sat on their balconies watching the Carnaval pass by.

But, by 1953, with the onslaught of modern times things like Carnaval had come and gone so quickly that I would forget it had passed and nobody, it seemed to me, cared or noticed. I was suffering exile in Colon, or so I viewed my predicament for a while. “What crime had I committed?” I asked myself, for aspiring to be something that the entire youth of my day would have never dreamed of becoming; a doctor or dentist. And so I took comfort in realising that I was just one of the victims of my times when there was an apparent and concerted effort to remove all traces of us Westindians in the culture of Panama, especially in such things as the Carnavales that we all loved about Colon’s cultural life.

The loss of the Carnaval in Colon made me think about my own reality and about all the problems I was dragging around. For I was still a youngster and felt I was missing out and still wasting time thinking about something as trivial as the yearly national festivity. Carnaval was not going to solve any of my problems, I thought, for I needed money to feed myself or to pay some lady to wash my clothes, or to cover some of my costs at school which was approaching.

The memories of those days gone by were replaced by the belief that the Carnaval must have been canceled, as it was customary in those days for the successive governments in power to cancel, at will, the one national event that was so close to all the people.

This story continues.

2 responses to “Requiem for the Carnaval in Colon

  1. Richard A. Honeywell

    Thank you so much for your cultural work through which some of us “youngsters” can catch back a glimpse of the history of our people, the challenges we continue to face, and the precious moments of victory.

    Rich Honeywell

    • Rich,

      Good to see you here and we always welcome feedback! We are in the month of February which is supposed to be Black History Month in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.. I wish there was a greater outpouring of zeal for our own history as black West Indian Panamanians as I have been noticing lately. Otherwise our history and contribution to Panama’s national history and culture will go the way of Colon’s Carnaval.

      Again, good to see you here.