Jhe Messiah was born in February. Quinamayó’s ancestors, black people abducted from Africa, were not allowed to celebrate Christmas in December. It was an exclusive month for owners of haciendas. This is why the Quinamayó ancestors decided to celebrate their own festivities 45 days after the date dictated by the Catholic Church, at the same time as the Virgin Mary maintained her regime once she gave birth.
It is an act of cultural and racial resistance preserved for more than 170 years by the inhabitants of the town, located in the south of the department of Valle del Cauca. When the party comes, the children act out biblical characters from the New Testament, the matrons – women leaders – dress in their traditional costumes and almost the whole town dances the juga, a musical genre from Quinamayó.
Mirna Rodríguez, matron and singer, says: “They are children of the community who dress as angels, who give the ceremony before the arrival of God on Earth; as soldiers, who are those who guard his way; like Mary and Joseph; like the Star of Bethlehem, played by a girl who marks the path to follow, and the godfather and the two godmothers, who carry the basket where the black Child Jesus rests.
In Quinamayó there is pure syncretism. The pride of its African roots does not conflict with the Catholic fervor of some of its inhabitants. They venerate religious figures with black faces, to feel identified.
For Wilmer Izajar, Cathedra Afro teacher at the village school, “having black skin is not enough to recognize oneself as Afro. You must return to your history and your customs. Izajar says Quinamayó was born as a palenquéa Colombian expression to designate the communities descended from slaves who fled the haciendas.
“After leaving Hacienda Japio, they descended the Quinamayó River. And that is why the name of this city, because of this river that helped them achieve freedom,” recalls Wilmer Fernando Izajar, teacher at the Institution Sixto María Rojas.
What was once a symbol of repression is now reinterpreted as an act of resistance and freedom. This is the case of juga, which is not only a musical genre played mainly by wind instruments, but also a dance performed with dragging feet. It’s a direct reference to how people with ankle shackles had to walk, but the juga turns it into dance steps, which are performed at all kinds of parties.
“Maybe young people are losing some of that history and that’s why we keep teaching it in school,” says Izajar. According to residents over 60, Christmas celebrations are no longer as massive as they used to be, as they now depend entirely on state public resources, and there are years when the festivities fail to take place. , as happened in 2022 because of the third Covid peak.
In any case, Quinamayó continues to be a benchmark for Afro-Colombian identity in the south of the country. In a city that seems frozen in time, with its cobbled streets and ranch-like houses, cultural and spiritual expressions do not die, even among younger generations.
I believe that this ongoing project, which I started in 2019, is important today, because Colombia is a racist country. We grew up with the idea of “improving the race”, as if people of African descent were a population that had to be fixed. And today, racism is manifested by discriminatory remarks in the street or on social networks. The people of Quinamayó fight against this by manifesting a syncretism that invites us to reflect on our racial and cultural diversity in Colombia.