Barranquilla, Where Carnival Celebrates The Triumphs Of Africa’s Descendants   3 comments


When I visited Barranquilla (Colombia) during the beginnings of Carnival my sense of Black pride was shaken to its very core. During Carnival you will see plenty of people in black face, afros and huge ruby red lips. Some will paint their bodies black, wear loin cloths, and carry spears; put fake bones in their noses; wear eye balls on springs that bug out of their sockets; put what we call pick-a-ninny bows in their hair or afros; and walk around like savages. Having grown up with what we called “Black pride” in the United States such images were startling to me when I first saw them. They made me bristle. They were offensive. In actuality, they hurt because Black pride taught me that you never embarrass or bring shame to the race.

Back in the day when we used to say “Black Pride” we let our hair grow into what we called afros. We work dashikis and other African inspired fabrics and garments. We listened to music that challenged the establishment, which many of us loosely labeled as “the man.” The Last Poets, Parliament, Bird, Miles, Gaye, Hathaway, War, Holiday, Simone and many more defined a generation seeking liberation from oppression. We immersed ourselves in the writings of Wright, Ellison, DuBois, Baldwin, Wheatley, Hurston, Hughes, Cleaver and many, many more. We listened to the teachings of Hamer, Garvey, X, Martin, Davis, Newton, Cleaver, Elijah, Farrakhan and more. We reveled in the accomplishments of Robinson, Poitier, Owens, Chisholm, Powell Jr. and others. We mourned the deaths of Goodman, Schwerner, Chaney, Evers, four little girls in a Birmingham church and many more.

What I was seeing in Barranquilla was not the uplift the race message that Black pride brought to our generation in the late 1960’s. These are the stereotypical put downs that I was taught to loathe. They are the images of Black folks that White people had since before the slave trade. They are the images that we, African Americans, spent decades trying to distance ourselves from. They are the images that led to the ridicule of Bill Bojangles Robinson, Stepin Fetchit, Rochester, Amos and Andy, and for a time even Louis Armstrong. And here they were in my face. Whites, black and brown Colombians alike in Barranquilla dressed in ways depicting the very essence of the word nigger that still strikes many of us to our core.

And perhaps therein lays reason that the Black Power movement never really lifted the egos of the masses. At its core Black Power white washed (no pun intended) the psychological damage that slavery, racism, Jim Crow laws and segregation, economic subordination. Truthfully, it needs to be acknowledged that legal segregation was never a part of Colombia’s slave heritage. Neither was the genocide like brutality and familial dysfunction that Africans who came to North America faced. Colombia was the first nation in the Americas to free slaves. It took a war and presidential edict (though Lincoln did not free all of the slaves) for the same to occur in North America. And though Colombia did go through a period of time where national policy focused on the eradication of Black blood from the country, it is estimated that between 26% and 40% of the country’s population is of African descent, 60% on the coast where Barranquilla is located. Ultimately, I do not feel, we ever really emerged from beneath DuBois’ veil. We never really acknowledged that their images of us had been internalized so deeply that what was really needed was collective therapy not a catchy slogan

Within Carnival Barranquilla the mockery, the black face, body paint and other exaggerated depictions, says to the conquistadores this is what you thought of us. This is what you thought of our ancestors. We are here. We survived your slavery and cruelty. And we made this country great. This the way they celebrate Black pride. This is how they recognize the triumph of mother Africa’s descendants against the imperialistic ideologies that gave rectitude to the slave trade. Most psychologists say when a person can laugh at themselves, not take themselves too seriously, that is a sign of good mental health. The power of laughter and self-degradation is used as an anthem – we have overcome. Having been teased when I was a youth for having too African like features, I wish that I had that kind of strength. I wish that one day I would have showed-up at school in black face with exaggerated features and a this-is- what- you- think- of- me-then-kiss-my-pretty-black-ass attitude. More so, I wish that those around me had had the kind of perspective and pride in our African roots to be able to say; you look like you just arrived from the mother land, how cool is that. It would have been great if our conditioning came more from strength rather than what I perceive as the kind of defensiveness that gives more weight to the ways other people think of us as opposed to the way we think of ourselves.

Barranquilla Carnival gives people the opportunity to laugh at the images that have been created of them. The exaggerated features and parodies of pre-slavery Africans provide no room for the kind of self-hatred that caused many African Americans to lighten their skin, pass of white and conk their hair. It took me a minute to get used to, but I like the version of Black pride being displayed during Barranquilla Carnival. Barranquilla Carnival blends mother Africa traditions with native aboriginal ceremonies and the musical heritage of African slaves to observe the Catholic festivities of Lent brought by the Spaniards. They pride in their heritage. This is another example of how the coast of Colombia is very different from the interior parts of Colombia. The coast of Colombia, where Barranquilla lies, is diverse and rich because of their African heritage. Carnival Barranquilla celebrates this fact. It is uplifting. It is dancing. It is a party with a purpose. It is too late to attend Carnival Barranquilla 2012, but I think African Americans should put Carnival Barranquilla 2013 on their calendars. Especially those that have any doubt that Black is indeed beautiful!

For more info on Carnival Barranquilla, please see


Posted February 24, 2012 by Wayne

3 responses to “Barranquilla, Where Carnival Celebrates The Triumphs Of Africa’s Descendants

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  1. Gracias wayne,,por esa imagen tan linda que tienes de Barranquilla tu sabes que esta es tu casa por siempre!!!!

  2. Hello; My name is Rob. I am African-American. I am very interested in moving to Colombia. Would you recommend it and which city or cities to live?

    • I love Colombia. Where you live depends on you and what you like. Medellin is a big international city. Three hours or so north is Manizales and Pereira, in what is called the cafeteria region. They are small towns by Medellin and Bogota standards lying at the base of the Cordelero mountain range. And then there is the coast. The three pearls of Colombia: Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. Cartagena and Barranquilla are rich in their African and Caribbean roots. Nice beaches and hot climate. Santa Marta is rich in natural beauty, surrounded beautiful beaches and the Sierra Nevada mountain range and home to the world famous Tayrona National Park. All three are home to people from all over the world. I have never been to Cali though I know people who love it there. My question is where have you been and what do you like. My advice is live in a place for a while, at least six months with an open mind before deciding. I lived in Barranquilla for almost a year. And loved it. I just hated the heat. Manizales where I spent lots of time also is my favorite. I just needed o be closer than the two plane rides needed to get back to the States and then another plane to get where I needed to be. I am sure if I think about living there seriously it is Manizales because I love the small city feel, the cooler climate and the close proximity the mountains with all of that natural beauty.

      I hope this helps. I wish you the best, Travel safely, the culture is different even though most people are warm and friendly, especially on the coast, and enjoy.

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