Visiting the First City for Free Black People in South America

I launched GabarIskuFilan to document Black liberation from the perspective of a solo female traveler. So far, I’ve traveled to Trinidad & Tobago and Colombia with the intention to learn about the universal struggle for Black liberation and self-determination.

In Colombia, I had the incredible opportunity to visit the first city for free Black people in South America. Colombia has the third largest Black population after Brazil and the United States. Cartagena is situated on the Northeast coast of Colombia. Cartagena, Cali, Barranquilla and Chocó have major Black populations. Cartagena was the first slave port of South America.

San Basilio de Palanque was established by Benkos Biohó, who hailed from a royal family that ruled the Republic of Congo and Angola. After a successful escape, he created intelligence networks to facilitate freedom for his fellow Africans. He was executed by public hanging in 1621 to set an example and dismantle any efforts towards another uprising. As a beacon of Black liberation, an image of Biohó is in Palenque where he is breaking free of bondage. Enslaved African women also utilized hair braiding to map their escapes. 

Have you seen the famous Palenqueras women featured in guidebooks? These women hail from San Basilio de Palenque. Palenquera women travel about 2 hours to Cartagena to sell fruit and pose for photos. They are business women supporting their families. Despite the harassment they experience from the police, their bright and vibrant traditional African dresses, infectious smiles and unapologetically Black representation of Afro-Colombians continues to be the most profound memory I have of Colombia. Palenqueras have become the image of Cartagena’s vibrant and colorful landscape. 

When I went to Colombia, people would approach and ask for directions. Colombians assumed I was Afro-Colombian. I had never experienced anything like that before. One day, I will return to Colombia and actually communicate with Palenqueras and offer my reverence. They’re Black women who are fighting against racist policing, gender discrimination, and workplace harassment to improve the lives of their families. I am reminded of Black women in my life who embody fortitude, self-determination and courage. In the face of struggle and inequity, they inspire me to continue fighting for the liberation of Black women worldwide.

I launched GabarIskuFilan to capture my experiences as I document Black liberation from the perspective of a solo female traveler. For the month of August, I will be posting a blog every day about a plethora of topics including: solo female travel, Black liberation, politics, carnival, womanhood and immigration. Stay tuned! This will be a transformative experience! 

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