Nomadic Journey to Palenque, Colombia: The 1st Free Town for Africans in the Americas


By Kimatni D. Rawlins

Suta Ma Black translates to “We are Black” for the Afro-Colombian people of San Basilio de Palenque, founded by South American leader Benkos Bioho who escaped slavery and led a rebellion of enslaved maroons from Cartagena to freedom. In 1603, the Governor of Cartagena arranged a peace treaty since they couldn’t defeat Benkos’ small army and guerrilla tactics. This monumental moment in history took place more than two hundred years before Colombia achieved independence from Spain. Unfortunately, the King of Spain would later violate that peace agreement, capture the leader, and hang him on March 16, 1621. 

Some of the interesting strategies to escape bondage were how the Palenqueras braided their hair in the form of maps to help other enslaved maroons escape since they had access and intel from the Spaniard’s houses. Brilliant! 

We learned about their ancestral culinary secrets, such as the illustrious coconut cake, and also partook in a traditional ritual customary to both sad and happy melodies. My father Randi Payton demonstrated his tribal roots through African drumming and Capoeira. 

While visiting the village, the Fit Fathers crew got in some rounds to pay homage to National Hero and Palenque boxing champ Antonio Cervantes Reyes aka Kid Pambelé. To honor his legacy, the Colombian government built a full-size gym and boxing ring for the community to give the kids inspiration and daily exercise.

To bridge the language barrier from slavery, they mixed Castilian, Portuguese, English, French, Bantu, and Pingui to create their own language, still spoken today in Palenque. It is delivered with a rhythmic cadence that is akin to singing. With a small population of about 1,400 residents today, they live free and are proud of their African heritage and Blackness. 

Yes, yes, our goal when traveling nomadically is to continually build new energy with the people and embrace their culture and customs while simultaneously shedding our light. We feel them, and they feel us. Travel wide people while exploring indigenously. Your spirit will thank you.

Please reach out to Juan or Wilson of Cartagena Discoveries for all of your touring desires while visiting Cartagena, Colombia, whether it’s renting a boat to visit Cholon Island or taking a day trip to Palenque.

And when the need to eat hits you stop in Gokela Cartagena  inside the wall for an array of powerful meals like their falafel and lentil patty wrap. There is nothing like healthy vegan grub when traveling internationally. We also met the owner Bella who is excited about bringing nutrition to the people of Cartagena. Well done.

Live life people!

Visit Palenque