Palenque: Un Canto

The African Heritage of a Colombian Village
Year Released
Film Length(s)
48 mins
Remote video URL


The villagers of San Basilio de Palenque, descendants of African rebel slaves, preserve and maintain the culture of their African forebears in their music, dance and other aspects of their social lives. This very personal film provides both an historical account of their situation as well as sensitive documentation of their day-to-day struggles, both in their rural existence and their interaction with the neighboring city of Cartagena, where filmmaker Maria Raquel Bozzi grew up.

Featured review

This film has significance far beyond Palenque or Colombia: it challenges all of us to find the social processes which have made the existence of some people as servers possible.
Richard Williams
Ph.D., Department of Sociology, Rutgers University


Palenque de San Basilio, a village near Cartagena, Colombia, was founded by runaway slaves who resisted many Spanish attempts to recapture them. With a variety of images and multiple voices, the documentary portrays the community and then links it with the coastal city. As we watch their daily life, we realize that many African customs have survived in the town.

This film presents the townspeople' customs and traditions, their livelihood, and the economical/labor relationship they have had to develop with cities on the coast. Today Palenqueros make their living from agriculture (especially corn) and the women-folk make daily trips to sell their fruit and produce. In candid voice over interviews, the Palenqueros speak for themselves, discussing their struggles to survive and the racial discrimination and stereotypes they face (one of the visual stereotypes of Cartagena has become the Palenqueras on the beach selling fruit from large basins carried on their heads). They describe their desires for social mobility for their children, who they wish "won't have to work out in the sun."

In Comparative Culture, Anthropology, Ethnography courses, this documentary can help to illustrate the life in one of the few remaining maroon villages in the Americas. It should be shown after establishing the historical context of the maroon society during the slave era in Spanish America. An introduction might include a map of Colombia, showing Cartagena and the town of Palenque de San Basilio in Cartagena's hinterland. Another map showing the location of several other palenques (“runaway slave communities”) during the colonial period and the nineteenth century will help set the stage for the discussion as well.

The film is also useful for comparing North American and Latin American concepts of "blackness" and "racial mixture.


Very useful for teaching Latin American history, society, music and culture. It also provides helpful insights about multicultural relations.
Margarita De La Vega Hurtado
Acting Director, Latino Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
An engaging perspective on the descendants of African rebel slaves in Colombia.
DOX International Documentary Magazine
DOX International Documentary Magazine

Awards and Screenings

Robert Flaherty International Film Seminar
Margaret Mead International Film Festival
Leipzig International Documentary Film Festival
Cartagena International Film Festival

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