Africa Heritage Panamá

Art Africa, the Spirit of the Ancestors: The Bond between Panama and Africa

Summary: We present the history of Panama and Africa since colonial times. Likewise, we show the details of an African ancestral collection presented in the country with the purpose of strengthening Afro-descendant culture in Panama.

What is the cultural connection between Africa and Panama?

The historian, geographer and diplomat Omar Jaén Suárez, in an article authored by him, published in Lotería magazine, explained how the African presence in Panama arose.

He recounted that the first period (No. 296-297 of November-December 1980) began during the colonial era with the arrival of groups of slaves who remained in the national territory, and the rest were only passing through and were transferred to other countries.


Estatua Trono Real Bomoun- Camerun. Source: Astrid Chang.


He specified that between the African continent and Panama there was only a short transshipment stay in the Antilles. “The phenomena of cultural interactions and the weight and intensity of acculturation and transculturation were notable during the 17th and 18th centuries due to the magnitude of slaves present, especially in the transisthmian region and particularly in Panama City.”


Estatua fetiche Hemba- El Congo. Source: Astrid Chang.


With the purpose of strengthening the cultural and historical ties between this continent and Panama, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Ministry of Culture of Panama, the National Secretariat for the Development of Afro-Panamanians, the Tourism Authority, the Ministry of The Presidency of Panama, the Ministry of Social Development and the Mayor’s Office of Panama joined efforts to bring to the national territory the exhibition, “Arte África, el Espíritu de los Ancestros.” It was exhibited with 196 pieces that are part of a private collection of Guillermo Martínez Castro, who has been visiting different countries on the African continent for more than 25 years, and throughout this time has acquired the objects directly from the artisans.


Estatua Ovimbundu- Tchokwe. Source: Astrid Chang.


In this sense, the General Secretariat for the Development of Afro-Panamanians (Senadap) stated that it is important to know the traditional life of African people who, at a historical moment in the country, involuntarily arrived at a colonial process and that it is part of the Diaspora that from that fact was generated in the Americas.


Estatua Igbo de Nigeria. Source: Astrid Chang.


In addition, Senadap pointed out that this type of exhibition has the objective of promoting knowledge of the ancestry as Afro-descendants and in compliance with the Action Plan for the Decade of Afro-descendants 2015-2024, established by the United Nations Organization (UN).


Estatua de la representacion de la madre africana- origen del lugar sin especificar. Source: Astrid Chang.


According to the 2017 Multiple Purpose Household Survey (EHPM), it is estimated that 17% of the national population of Panama self-identifies as Afro-descendant. The five provinces with the largest Afro-Panamanian presence are: Colón (41.8%), Darién (24.3%), Coclé (20%), Panama (18.6%) and Bocas del Toro (15.3%).


Estatua Idoma- Nigeria. Source: Astrid Chang.



The pieces in the collection come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Tanzania, Mali, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Ghana. Each art shows the various trends of the different eras of the African continent. Many of the pieces are related to daily life and rituals, so acquiring this knowledge nourishes us. In these you can see part of the traditions, idiosyncrasy and customs of the countries of this continent.


Estatua perlada Bansoa Mandankwe- Camerun. Source: Astrid Chang.


‘Arte Africa, the spirit of the ancestors’ was divided into two parts: the large-format pieces were located at the headquarters of MiCultura, in the Old Town, while the masks and their variants are in the Juan Manuel Cedeño gallery. The exhibition was open until January 15, 2022 and soon the collection will be available to the public in countries of the region and Europe.

A journey for culture

How did Mr. Guillermo Martínez Castro, owner of the collection, come to collect so many pieces? The fact is that his journey began between 1983 and 1984. As a collector of paintings, during a visit to an art gallery in Paris, he was able to appreciate a collection of African art and that is when he fell in love with African art and culture.


Estatua Bamileke de Camerun. Source: Astrid Chang.


This passion for the traditions of this continent led him to make an expedition to Cameroon, where he collected several pieces from different tribes. Later he dedicated himself for several decades to go through the towns, the tribes, and looked for pieces of which he had previously documented.


Estatua de bronce -Mfon Mandouh- Reina Bamoun – Camerun. Source: Astrid Chang.


Until 2005 Martínez made his first exhibition, then together with his wife he decided to make exhibitions through agreements with public or private institutions to carry out the project and thus have greater scope. In all his years of travel, Martínez managed to acquire 426 pieces, of which only 196 were open to the public in Panama. The curator process was carried out by Martínez in the company of his wife.


Astrid Chang | Correspondent for Panamá

Astrid Chang has a degree in Journalism with an Emphasis in Audiovisual Production. Since 2018, she has been a journalist at La Estrella de Panamá. Her work in the newspaper was initially as an intern, where she developed in the area of sports, nationals, social networks and the web. Later, she was hired to lead the themes for World Youth Day and to be a presenter for the segment “Flash Economy.” She later became part of the Café Estrella team, a new content proposal by ‘La Decana’. In this booklet she has written articles on the environment, technology, health, sports, society, music, culture, sexuality, art, fashion and tourism. Likewise, she has organized and directed projects with visual artists for the International Book Fair of Panama. She too, was sent special to cover the Lima 2019 Juegos Parapanamericanos, and currently she is the coordinator of sports issues in the newspaper. She has training in journalistic leadership.