17 October 2012

Back to Palenque for the Drum Festival!

Palenque street (photo:ElUniversal)
I was just back in San Basilio de Palenque! In my other post about this pueblo I mentioned there's a drum festival every October; it was last weekend and I was invited on a day trip with a group from my old Spanish language school. We took an air conditioned van for the hour trip between Cartagena & Palenque--not as adventurous as last time but more comfortable, plus I got to meet a number of new people (mostly travelers), some here for just a few weeks & some for much longer. 

Palenquero sweets
Almost as soon as I stepped out of the group van after we arrived, I ran into a student of mine who'd been in one of my classes for the September cycle & who was from Palenque. It was great to have him tell us about his town and the women of Palenque ("Palenqueras"), who have become symbols of Cartagena. Their becoming Cartagena symbols came about relatively recently & was the result of a lot of struggles by these women. They've traditionally sold fruit & sweets that they carry around in the bowls on their heads, but they were having a hard time being able to do it in the old city of Cartagena. It was only in about 1990 that they were finally given permission to do so, but then there were also certain regulations imposed on hygiene, etc., which all agreed that was not a bad thing, but also they were asked to wear the colorful dresses, which some consider costumes, as they are not a Palenque tradition.
Our lunch cooking outside!

While the homes in Palenque are very humble (many don't have indoor plumbing, have outdoor kitchens and dirt floors), many Palenquero parents work hard so that their children don't have to "work from the bowl", as the women traditionally do, or "work with a machete" in the fields as the men usually do. My student is one of those whose parents have stressed the importance of education; he and his siblings are all pursuing university degrees or have professional careers.

Her hairstyle took about 5 hours to do.
I revisited the parts of the village I'd visited the last time and wandered further on the small streets. We listened to a talk on the various hairstyles of the Palenque women and what they meant--I didn't realize that different hairstyles were worn for different occasions or had different meanings. And I realized they were likely time consuming but didn't think it might take several hours to get your hair done! In addition, there were various dance and music groups performing at various times of the day so we were well entertained & cultured.

Gracias, Ronal!
By not staying overnight, I missed the Sunday morning 4 am wake up call. A colleague said that the whole town was awoken to the beating of drums and everyone gathered to sing. She said it was quite impressive, although I think I was happy to be in my bed in Cartagena!

More photos from the Drum Festival Day in Palenque found here.


John said...

Hello Barbara

I'm heading to Colombia next week. I read an article in the NYT about San Basilio de Palenque. I would love to visit for a few hours. I see that there is nothing ' to do', but also what a historical place it is. I'd like to be respectful and not view the citizens as watching a play. Do you have reccomendations of visiting from Cartagena?



Barb(ara) said...

Hi John,
How fun to be coming to Colombia & that's great you'd like to visit San Basilio de Palenque! Check out this link for an option for visiting with a local guide: http://www.cartagenaconnections.com/palenque-tour.html
If I think of any other options will let you know. If you'd like to contact me directly for any other help in/around Cartagena, you can do so via this site: http://www.vacationrentalscartagena.com Either way, would love to know how your trip goes!
Thanks for reading my blog!

Barb(ara) said...

Here is another option for visiting Palenque, a new company organized by two brothers who are from the village: http://travelpalenque.com