Cartagena de Indias – a gem of the Caribbean. The city is surrounded by a wall, which was supposed to protect it from pirate attacks. It is easy to spot on the colorful streets of cartagena women balancing baskets full of fruit on their heads. Many do not know that they are not Cartagena’s inhabitants. They are considered Palenqueras of Cartagena de Indias by many tourists however they are not. Their history is interesting but also complicated.
When the Spanish arrived to Cartagena with slaves from Africa, some of them managed to escape. They settled 50 km from Cartagena and set up a town Palenque de San Basilio. They did their best to free the slaves arriving to Cartagena. They were so successful that the Spanish Crown issued a Royal Decree in 1691 that guaranteed the freedom to Palenque de San Basilio. It was the first town in America to be free from the Spanish Colonization.
The inhabitants of the town of Palenque de San Basilio are called Palenqueras (women) and Palenqueros (men). They also developed their own language called Palenque.
Palenqueras found a way to support their families by using what they had in abundance – fresh fruit. They used to put on their long colorful dresses, put baskets with fruit on their head and headed to the city of Cartagena to the sell them to locals. They did not go back home until the baskets were empty. The fruit selling quickly became a steady income for the town and many other women started to go to Cartagena from Palenque with baskets to sell fruit.
The palanqueras are now a part of a difficult history but also the symbol of not just Cartagena de Indias but also of Colombia. Nowadays they pose for photos to make money apart from selling fruit. Behind their smile, there is courage of generations of hardworking mothers and women supporting their families.