November is here and in Bocas that means holidays, parties and a lots and lots of drumming. You’ve probably noticed the little ones practicing their drumming these past few weeks and you might be asking yourself “What is it all for?” (among other questions). Well, this is what the excitement is all about:
November 2nd Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead) Although not one of the “fiestas patrias” (patriotic holidays), it is a special day in Panama and all over Latin America. This is the day people pay homage to their loved ones who have passed away. Traditionally, Panamanians go to the cemetery, visit the graves of their friends and family, bring flowers and gifts and make any necessary repairs to their tombstones (like new paint).
It’s also important to know that this is one of the “dry” Panamanian holidays. Bars close at midnight on November 1st and stay closed until midnight the following evening. Sale of alcohol in the province of Bocas del Toro is prohibited on this day.
November 3rd Separación de Colombia (Separation from Colombia) What we recognize as the nation of Panama today didn’t come to fruition until the year 1903. November 3rd of that year marks the day that Panamanian separatists proclaimed their separation from Colombia. With this date, we embark on a very important part of Panamanian history and it is well celebrated with 3 days of good old-fashioned “rumba, bomba y plena”, (dance, party and music, loosely translated).
Novermber 4th Dia de la Bandera (Flag Day) The flag of Panama was drafted in secrecy and presented the day after the separation was proclaimed. The red and blue rectangles represent the liberals and the conservatives (respectively), the two political parties of the time. The white stands for an agreement of peace between both factions. The blue star symbolizes purity and honesty and the red star authority and law. Make sure you hang it correctly, which would be horizontally with the blue star and red rectangle on top.
November 5th Día de Colon (Colon Day) This is a commemoration of the day that the separation of Panama from Colombia was secured. Five-hundred Colombians under the command of Colonel Eliseo Torres were trapped in the city of Colon (Panama), which began the talks of Colombian troops vacating the isthmus altogether. Juan Antonio Henriquez sent a telegram that day stating “Only now, 7:30 pm, can it be said that the independence of Panama is assured.” One-hundred and ten years later, the telegram might as well have been: we’re no longer part of Colombia, we don’t have to work today and it’s time to party!
November 10th Primer Grito de Los Santos (First Cry of Los Santos) Officially this date marks an uprising in the village of Los Santos in the year 1821 and is recognized as the first step toward independence from Spain. Legend has it that during the battle of Los Santos a woman by the name of Rufina Alfaro was the first to scream “Somos libres !” (We’re free!) or “Viva la libertad” (Long live freedom!) or “You can take our lives, but you will never take our freedom!” (Ok, that was William Wallace from the movie Brave Heart), but whatever she might have said, everyone paid attention and 2½ weeks later; they were free (from Spain at least).
November 16th Dia de la Fundacion de Bocas del Toro (Bocas Day) The province of Bocas del Toro was founded on November 16th, 1903, only 14 days after the creation of Panama as a sovereign state. This day also marks the culmination of all the percussion practice you’ve been hearing these past few weeks, as Bocas Day features a parade on Isla Colon with students coming from all over the province to participate. These kids have good reason to be practicing so much; it’s a contest. There are three categories competing for three prizes: niños (10 years old and younger), colegio (high school) and independiente (adults). “We’re competing for trophies, glory and $500 cash”, says Hernan Villagra, seasoned leader of the marching band known as “La Revolución” (The Revolution). Good luck Hernan!
The parade is a must-see: all the kids marching proudly for their province, throwing drums 20 feet over their head, catching them and not missing a single beat; all the while dancing and smiling like crazy. Undoubtedly one of the coolest cultural events Bocas del Toro has to offer.
November 23rd Dia de Bastimentos (Bastimentos Day) Bastimentos was founded in the same month (November) during the same year (1903) and much like Bocas Day, this is a day full of parades, parties and pride, and it’s absolutely lovely. The only difference is that it takes place in Old Bank (Isla Bastimentos) and the youth them never skip a beat marching up and down those hills.
November 28th Independencia de España (Independence from Spain) What began with the “first cry of Los Santos” resulted 18 days later in the proclamation of a new nation, independent from Spain: Gran Colombia. Gran Colombia consisted of modern day Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. As such, Panama has two Independence days; one from Spain and one from Gran Colombia.