For centuries, San Basilio de Palenque has been a symbol of resistance, one that shines through in its language, culture, and identity. The small town is known historically as the first free settlement in the Americas; escaped African slaves bound for Colombian plantations settled the town in the 17th Century and were granted their freedom in perpetuity in the 18th Century after nearly a century of fighting Spanish colonialists. It’s the only settlement of its kind that survives into the present.
As a result, In 2005, Unesco recognised San Basilio de Palenque by adding it to the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Kombilesa Mi have dedicated themselves to preserving this legacy, in the same way it was passed on to the group’s members. “That’s what our teachers used to tell us, that Palenque culture goes from generation to generation,” says Padilla Julio.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, workshops on language, hairstyling, and community identity are held. On the remaining weekdays, the groups offers music and dance classes. “We do this so that the kids can grow up with a solid identity,” says Guillermo Camacho, manager of Kombilesa Mi. “Our work is to strengthen Palenquero identity through music and language has always been an element that’s allowed us to strengthen our community.” The group also works on community murals, which often feature phrases in Palenquero.