San Basilio de Palenque

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UNESCO World Heritage Site
Cultural space of Palenque de San Basilio
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Fiesta Palenque.jpg
Fiesta in Palenque

Location The village of Palenque de San Basilio, Colombia
Type Intangible cultural heritage
Reference 00102
UNESCO region Latin America and the Caribbean
Inscription history
Inscription 2005 (29th Session)

San Basilio de Palenque or Palenque de San Basilio is a Palenque village and corregimiento in the Municipality of Mahates, Bolivar in northern Colombia. In 2005 the village was declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Palenque is also considered the first free town in America.[1]

The First Free Africans in America

Spaniards introduced kidnapped African slaves in South America through the Magdalena River Valley. Its mouth is close to the important port of Cartagena de Indias where ships full of Africans arrived. Some Africans escaped and set up Palenque de San Basilio, a town close to Cartagena. They tried to free all African slaves arriving at Cartagena and were quite successful. Therefore, the Spanish Crown issued a Royal Decree (1691), guaranteeing freedom to the Palenque de San Basilio Africans. These Africans were the First Free Africans in America.[2]


The only one Spanish-Bantú language (pidgin) is now spoken by Palenque de San Basilio Afroamericans.[2]

The Village

The village of Palenque de San Basilio has a population of about 3,500 inhabitants and is located in the foothills of the Montes de María, southeast of the regional capital, Cartagena.[3] The word "palenque" means "walled city" and the Palenque de San Basilio is only one of many walled communities that were founded by escaped slaves as a refuge in the seventeenth century.[3] Of the many palenques of escaped slaves that existed previously San Basilio is the only one that survives.[3] Many of the oral and musical traditions have roots in Palenque's African past.[3]

The village of San Basilio is inhabited mainly by Afro-Colombians which are direct descendants of African slaves brought by the Spanish during the Colonization of the Americas and have preserved their ancestral traditions and have developed also their own language; Palenquero. In 2005 the Palenque de San Basilio village was proclaimed Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

In the village of Palenque de San Basilio most of its inhabitants are black and still preserve customs and language from their African ancestors. In recent years people of indigenous ancestry have settled at the borders of Palenque, being displaced earlier by the Colombian civil war. The village was established by Benkos Bioho sometime in the 16th century.

Palenquero language

Statue of Benkos Bioho in the main square of Palenque

The New York Times reported on October 18, 2007 that the language spoken in Palenquero is thought to be the only Spanish-based Creole language still alive worldwide and the grammar is so different from Spanish, that Spanish speakers cannot understand it.[4] The language Palenquero was influenced by the Kikongo language of Congo and Angola, and also by Portuguese, the language of the slave traders who brought African slaves to South America in the 17th century.[4] Exact information on the different roots of Palenquero is still lacking, and there are different theories of its origin. Today fewer than half of the community’s 3,000 residents still speak Palenquero.[4]

A linguist born in Palenquero is compiling a lexicon for the language and others are assembling a dictionary of Palenquero.[4] The defenders of Palenquero continue their struggle to keep the language alive.[4] “Our ancestors survived capture in Africa, the passage by ship to Cartagena and were strong enough to escape and live on their own for centuries," said Mr. Salgado, a schoolteacher.[4]

Notable residents

See also


External links

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Additional Reading