Celebrating Cultural Visibility

Month of May: Cultural Visibility and Contributions of the Etnia Negra in Panamá

In 2000, Panamá approved Law 9 of May 30, which declares that date as the Day of the Black Ethnic Group in the isthmus with the purpose of highlighting the scientific, cultural, economic and labor contributions of Panamanian Afro-descendants; however, one day was not enough and for several years the activities have been extended throughout the month of May.

This year has not been the exception and multiple events have been held that showcase the contributions of the Afro community in the country. In recent weeks there has been the presence of kings, queens, sheikhs from the African continent who have come to Panama to observe the various cultural manifestations and at the same time strengthen both cultures.

Ninna Ottey, activist and communications consultant for the General Secretariat for the Development of Afro-Panamanians (Senadap) says: “These meetings are intended to join forces to continue fighting for our rights as African and Afro-descendant people.”

In Panama there have been achievements related to the issue of the rights of Afro-descendants and one of them was the creation of Braid Day, which is celebrated on the third Monday of May, to pay tribute to one of the hairstyles of the culture of the Afro population.

In addition, the creation of Senadap, a government agency that was consolidated through Law No. 64 of December 6, 2016, is responsible for directing and executing the policy of social inclusion of Afro-Panamanians in the national territory and promoting the inclusion of Afro-Panamanians in the public policies of the Central Government and Local Governments.

Senadap monitors compliance with international commitments such as the “Decade for Afro-descendants 2015-2024,” and the different international conventions related to Afro-descendants.

Art and Tradition

Recently at the Balboa Theater in Panama, the Manengue 2022 Festival gala was held together with the University of Panama and the dance school. Here, African kings and queens were in attendance, as well as the granddaughter of Nelson Mandela who visited Panamá to learn first-hand about the cultural and historical manifestations existing in the country through dance and music.

Ottey states: “Today the cultural activities of the Afro population have gained strength compared to 10 years ago. Before, there were no such events in schools or in private and public companies, but little by little they have been carried out and for that reason. Now we see that more people wait for the month of May to commemorate our roots and also reflect on the issue of self-recognition as Afro-descendants. We hope that for the next census that is about to take place, more Panamanians will recognize their roots.”

For Ottey, who is also a cultural manager, the importance behind the celebration in May goes beyond the outfits, the music or the gastronomy and it is that for her and for the rest of the Afro-Panamanian community it is a significant achievement “to have more visibility of issues involving Afros in the media and other spaces.” For the activist, it is necessary to continue commemorating this month since “there are still challenges to overcome related to racism.”

For her, a clear example of discrimination is that “complaints have been registered since Afro-descendant children have not been allowed to enter school with braids,” but despite this scenario, she admits that things have improved today and is optimistic that in the future, episodes like this, will not happen again thanks to all the efforts being made today.

Next activities

On Saturday, May 28, “El Festival Afro 2022” will be celebrated in the Plaza Catedral in the Casco Antiguo. On Sunday, May 29, the Mosquitown is scheduled to take place on board an emblematic public transport of Panamanian culture that is the “Red Devil.” That same day the “Great Gastronomic Festival” will be held in the Huerta Sandoval de Santa Ana.


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.