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Cimarronaje en Panamá

A documentary about African self-determination in the isthmus.

An African Kingdom in Panama.

Two centuries before George Washington or Simon Bolivar dreamed of liberation from European tyranny, there were Africans in the Americas who had fought for and won their independence. Throughout the New World, enslaved Africans resisted their subjugation in a variety of ways, from quiet acts of sabotage to armed uprisings. Many escaped into the forests where they reclaimed their freedom and

started communities of their own. The Spanish called these fugitives from slavery "cimarrones," from the Taino term for “flight of an arrow.”


Where possible, these Africans sought the company of others like themselves who spoke their language and shared their customs. This led to the formation of communities based on common homelands and ethnicities. In effect, cimarrones recreated African societies in the Americas. Prioritizing their mutual survival, the various palenques cooperated with each other against their common enemy, the European enslavers.


In the mid-16th century, the confederation of cimarrones had become so powerful that Spanish colonists lived in fear of an African takeover. 

Cimarron Iconography

Cimarrones have been portrayed as desperate half-naked criminals who, were either

dangerously aggressive or reclusive to the point of invisibility. Cimarronaje en Panamá

explores the spaces between these extremes to find the stories of real people who

displaced against their will, struggled to find safety and dignity in a strange land.

Instead of seeing “escaped slaves,” this documentary looks at a spectrum of origins, adaptations and outcomes.

Cimarron Iconography
Re-thinking Panama

Re-thinking Panama

The common interest in the Congo culture of Panama led anthropologist Sheila Walker and filmmaker Toshi Sakai to travel to many parts of the country. They noticed there were many places with names that made clear references to African homelands, ethnicities and to cimarron presences such as Guinea, Cuango, Mandinga, Rio Congo and Bayano. This map shows that Africans and afrodescendants have played a significant role in the history of Panama.

The making of...

The making of this video

The historical engravings and paintings used to illustrate events in Panamá come from different parts of the Americas and Africa. Although disconcerting at times, the juxtaposition

reminds us that slavery and resistance to it occurred everywhere during the colonial period. Cimarron settlements existed in Brazil, Surinam, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico and the United States.

*                    *                    *                    *

Many of the people photographed as cimarrones in this video are actual descendants of cimarrones. In Portobelo, a village on Panama's Congo Coast,* where the road arrived in 1970 and changed everything forever, the people had lived off the land and sea for centuries. The models did not have to reach far to portray the daily life of the cimarrones,

they simply channeled the lives of their ancestors.
(*a name coined by Arturo Lindsay.)

Me in 1978

Me in Portobelo 1978


I am grateful to the many people who have helped tell this story. Here is a list of some who appear in the video.

Celestino Arauz


Krishna Camarena


Marcela Camargo


Digna Caraballos Gómez


Richard Cooke


C. Daniel Dawson

Scholar of the African diaspora

Kevin Dawson


Sylviane Diouf


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Howard Dodson


David Eltis


Paul Firbas

Professor, Colonial Literature

Ignacio Gallup-Diaz


Boris Gondola

Congo, Mayor of Santa Isabel, Panamá

Jane Landers


Kris Lane


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Arturo Lindsay

Artist, Scholar, Educator

K. Russell Lohse


Gerardo Maloney


Tomás Mendizabal


Eunice Meneses


Yvette Modestin

Activist, Poet

Gwendolyn Midlo-Hall


Mario Jose Molina Castillo


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Aminta Nuñez


Robert Schwaller


Jean-Pierre Tardieu


John Thornton


Arystedes Turpana


Sheila Walker

Cultural anthropologist

David Wheat


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Cimarronaje en Panama




  • Festival Icaro Panamá 2017: (Largo Documental) Dirección y Producción: Toshi Sakai. Por tener una estructura narrativa y un trabajo investigativo impecable. El realizador nos lleva de la mano a través de entrevistas a conocer la historia de nuestros antepasados cimarrones con una mirada de respeto por su lucha. Es un ejercicio de recuperación de la memoria histórica necesario y muy valioso.


  • August 14 - 15, 2019, Feria del Libro, Centro Atlapa, Panamá, Rep. de Panamá

Toshi Sakai

New York    •    Portobelo, Panama

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