The Congos of Panama

Panama was the site of one of the most prolonged Afro-Hispanic demographic contacts, since almost all enslaved Africans destined for the Pacific coast of Spanish America passed through Panamanian ports, particularly Portobelo. The Afro-descendents of Panama’s Caribbean coast maintain the tradition of the Negros Congos, a series of folkloric manifestations occurring during Carnival season, and including a special cryptolect based loosely on Spanish. According to oral tradition, Congo speech was devised among captive and maroon Africans in colonial Panama as a means of hiding their speech from their colonial masters. Widely felt—both by Congo participants and by outside observers—to consist only of deliberate deformations of Spanish words and semantic inversions, Congo speech in reality also contains numerous elements traceable to Afro-Hispanic communities in other former Spanish American colonies.

 

Map of Congo communities studied 

Photos

Congo dialect samples and examples

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