Have a merry Afro-Colombian Christmas, in February

Quinamayo (Colombia) (AFP) –


Afro-Colombian communities in the southwest of the Latin American country are celebrating Christmas, like every year, a little later than the rest of the world.

The mid-February festivities are a tradition that dates back to the days of slavery, when their ancestors were banned from marking Christmas at the same time as the country's white landed gentry.

For 53-year-old teacher Balmores Viafara, December 25 is "any day," while the Adorations -- to give the Christmas celebration its Afro-Colombian name -- is the time that "we blacks celebrate by worshiping our God, our way".

At the center of the festivities in the village of Quinamayo is a doll representing the Baby Jesus, carried in a colorful procession through the town.

After her mother died eight years ago, Mirna Rodriguez, a 55-year-old midwife, took on the "great responsibility" of looking after the black Jesus.

Her job is to ensure it is in perfect condition for the day of the Adoration of the Baby Jesus -- the third Saturday of February, when Christmas is celebrated -- with music, fireworks, theatre, dance and colorful costumes.

The rest of the year, it lies wrapped in several layers of protective cloth at the top of her wardrobe.

-- Dance of escape --

One of the most popular dances is the traditional "fuga" -- the dance of escape -- which sees the townspeople commemorate their ancestors by imitating the shuffling of shackled slaves.

"It's danced with the feet dragging, because the chains that bound their feet did not allow them to make other steps," said Olmes Larrahondo, a local choreographer.

The entire town of Quinamayo, in the Pacific seaboard Valle de Cauca department, turns out for the annual procession through the streets, which moves from house to house in search of the Baby Jesus.

When the statue is finally discovered, it is ceremoniously carried the rest of the journey by elaborately dressed children and placed for adoration in a crib.

"The children take part from when they are very young. And for that reason, I think the tradition will never disappear," said Rodriguez.

The party is animated with drink and the rhythms of music and dance brought to the region by African slaves during the Spanish conquest.

Quinamayo, like other black communities in Valle del Cauca that celebrate the Adorations, became established as a town on the edges of old haciendas after the abolition of slavery in 1852.

The Afro-Colombian community, which makes up 20 percent of the population, has suffered exclusion and poverty throughout its history.

"For some black communities (the Adorations) have increasingly become an element of resistance," said Manuel Sevilla, an anthropologist at Cali's Javeriana University.

He said the Adorations "are a combination of Catholic beliefs and the fruit of evangelization, with rituals coming from Africa."

"It's not just a spiritual celebration, but a sort of cultural banner, which is gaining strength," said Sevilla.