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The life-sized wooden statue of the Black Christ in St. Philip Church in Panama.
Panama’s “Festival del Cristo Negro,” the festival of the “Black Christ,” is an important religious holiday for local Catholics. It honors a dark, life-sized wooden statue of Jesus, “Cristo Negro” – also known as “El Nazaraeno,” or “The Nazarene.”
Year - Homage - Statue - Christ - Cross
Throughout the year, pilgrims come to pay homage to this statue of Christ carrying a cross, in its permanent home in Iglesia de San Felipe, a Roman Catholic parish church located in Portobelo, a city along the Caribbean coast of Panama.
But it is on Oct. 21 each year that the major celebration takes place. As many as 60,000 pilgrims from Portobelo and beyond travel for the festival, in which 80 men with shaved heads carry the black Christ statue on a large float through the streets of the city.
Men - Style - Solemn - Parades - Steps
The men use a common Spanish style for solemn parades – three steps forward and two steps backward – as they move through the city streets. The night continues with music, drinking and dancing.
In my research on the relationship between Christianity, colonialism and racism, I have discovered that such festivals play a crucial role for historically oppressed peoples.
% - Panama - Population - Claims - African
About 9% of Panama’s population claims African descent, many of whom are concentrated in Portobelo’s surrounding province of Colón. Census data from 2010 shows that over 21% of Portobelo’s population claim African heritage or black identity.
To Portobelo’s inhabitants, especially those who claim African descent, the festival is more than a religious celebration. It is a form of protest against Spanish colonialism, which brought with it slavery and racism.
Portobelo - Christ - Statue - Artifact - Panama
Portobelo’s black Christ statue is a fascinating artifact of Panama’s colonial history. While there is little certainty as to its origin, many scholars believe the statue arrived in Portobelo in the 17th century – a time when...
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