Black Baby Jesus awaits to be born every February

Jul 19, 2021

On going-project

Selected for the Photo Vogue Festival 2021

When slavery existed in Colombia more than 170 years ago, Quinamayó’s ancestors were not allowed to celebrate any cultural expressions that where also celebrated by their slavers. Many traditions were adapted and resignified by them as a way of expressing dignity and resistance. So for Christmas, they decided to make their own celebration 45 days after the traditional date of the birth of Jesus Christ with their own modified rituals based on the catholic celebration and their african rituals in an expression of religious syncretism that has lasted for years. 

For example, the ‘Juga’ is one of them: it is a native rhythm that uses wind and brass instruments, and that is danced with the feet dragged and the hands behind the back to symbolize the slave repression of which they were victims. Or for example there is the mission that people have of not letting their Afro roots die in the new generations, for which the professors teach an ‘Afro Cathedra’ in the village school.

This on-going project aims to make the historical celebrations of Quinamayó visible to contribute to an aspiration that the community has had for decades: that it’s Christmas celebration could be recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Nation in Colombia.

The most important Christmas procession in Quinamayó is known as the ‘The Road to Bethlehem’, led by two children who dress up as María and José, while three young people play the role of godparents of the Black Child God, the protagonist of the event.
(From left to right) Luz Nelly Balanta, 58, Mirna Rodríguez, 58, and Luciala Balanta Peña, 57, are some of women who lead the realization of Christmas in Quinamayó. In the photo, they wait their turn to participate in a television recording of the celebration.
Midwife María Dey Bejarano performs a series of massages on Leidy Catalina Camacho, 23, while her granddaughter (on the far left of the photo) Briana Sofía and Simón, Leidy’s first-born, observe the procedure. María Dey, who has attended more than 120 births in Quinamayó, is the last traditional midwife in the town.
The main square of Quinamayó is the most important meeting place in the community. During the Christmas, it transforms in a place for playing for the kids.
Juliana Ávila Viáfara, 17, shows the cover of the notebook she uses for ‘Afro Cathedra’, one of the classes that School Sixto María Rojas teaches to high school students from Quinamayó. The cathedra not only teaches the cultural traditions of the community, but also the afro resistance history around the world. During 2020 and 2021, all classes have been carried out virtually.
Alicia Bermúdez Carabalí, 75, was one the main cultural leaders during Christmas for past years. “However, I am still a very fervent Catholic and respectful of my afro roots”, she says. 
A girl dresses as the Star of Bethlehem, a role that during the festivities has the mission of guiding the processions throughout the town.
Heiber Fajardo, 53, enjoys the fireworks that close the Quinamayó festivities.
Hairdresser Yelena Carabalí, 35, braids her neighbor Irene Carabalí, 48. In Colombia there is increasing recognition of curly hair to reaffirm the afro identity in women.
Two men dance to the rhythm of the Juga, a native rhythm that uses instruments such as the saxophone tuba, clarinet, trumpet, snare drum, bass drum, trombone, and plunger trombone.
Sarahy Andrea Peña, 17, is one of the godmothers of the Black Baby Jesus. Her dress is a reference to the ‘Quinceañeras’ party, a tradition that takes place in Latin American countries such as Cuba, Colombia or Mexico and celebrates the entry into adult life of women at that age (15).
A painting of the Holy Family hangs in front of one of the oldest houses in Quinamayó, made from wattle and daub. All the cult images or catholic symbols in the town have black faces so that the community feels identified with them.

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