Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

San Basilio De Palenque (Re)visited: African Heritage, Tourism, and Development in Colombia

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

San Basilio De Palenque (Re)visited: African Heritage, Tourism, and Development in Colombia

Article excerpt

Palenques or quilombos were organized communities founded by escaped slaves during the colonization of the Americas. Established throughout Central and South America, they had a strong presence in Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, and Peru. Palenques were strategically located in areas of difficult access, becoming a haven for slave refugees (cimarrones) and a place for organizing freedom uprisings. With time, palenques developed their own economic and social structures and acquired political recognition from the colonial powers. San Basilio de Palenque (Colombia) henceforth referred simply as Palenque, is the most popular palenque that has survived to this day. It symbolizes the struggle of Afro-Colombian communities for the abolition of slavery, ethnic re-vindication, coexistence, and recognition of cultural diversity in Colombia.1 In recognition of its intangible cultural heritage and historic significance, this village was declared a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.2

As the Palenque struggles to meet its basic socio-economic needs, ethnic tourism has emerged as an alternative to bring development to their historically marginalized and discriminated residents. In this case study, we examine issues associated with ethnic tourism planning and development and the economic and socio-cultural changes taking place in the community as a result of increasing attention from tourists, tourism developers, and government officials. Expanding on frameworks by Swain ("Developing Ethnic Tourism") and Yang and Wall (2009) that examined critical areas in ethnic tourism planning, this study discusses important considerations regarding the community's readiness for tourism development, ethnic tourism product, conflict and tensions within the ethnic groups, and cultural equity. A particular consideration will be given to the (re)presentation and gender relations in the production of tourism, through the commodification of the Palenquero women in tourism imagery and marketing that perpetuates pervasive stereotypes about blacks and thus contrasts with Palenquero self-conceptions, as descendants of cimarrones freedom fighters.

Palenque History and Culture

Located in the northern part of Colombia, approximately 38 miles from the popular city of Cartagena, in the state of Bolívar, Palenque (population 4,978) was supposedly founded by a group of slave rebels commanded by Benkos Bioho, an important leader of the slave resistance in Colombia.3 Recent studies done by María Cristina Navarrete (2008) and Armin Schwegler (2012) argue that, contrary to the legend, the Palenque was not founded in 1603 (as inscribed on the statute of Benkos Bioho). The exact date of the foundation is unknown. Graciela Maglia further reported that the Palenque was founded between 1655 and 1674 (291). Additionally, Armin Schwegler (2012) reveals that Del Castillo (1984) has already challenged the validity of Benkos Bioho as the founder of the Palenque, using the studies of Escalante (1979 [1954]) and Bickerton and Escalante (1970). Del Castillo and Schwegler argued that the foundation of the Palenque by Benkos Bioho and the date of 1603 are product of fiction based on no verifiable historical data.

Despite these allegations about the foundation of the Palenque, it is worth mentioning that the efforts of Benkos Bioho to seek freedom for slaves started the bases and mechanisms for political negotiations between cimarrones and Spanish colonizers. In 1713, after years of struggle, persecution, and failed agreements, the Spanish government granted official pardon, autonomy, and freedom rights to all escaped African slaves living in the area of Palenque; for this reason, this community is considered as the first free territory of the Americas. For the next two hundred years, Palenque became an isolated community dedicated to subsistence activities and detached from the political, social, and economic changes taking place in the rest of the country. …

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