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Bayano  

Yvette Modestin and Toshi Sakai

(fl. 1540s–1550s) is the most famous of several black liberationist leaders of colonial Panama. By the mid-sixteenth century, thousands of Africans in the isthmus had escaped enslavement and were living free in the forests. Called Cimarrones, from the Taino word sima meaning “flight,” they formed self-governing, African-rooted societies. Bayano was the leader of some 1,200 Cimarrones (Pike, 2007; Araúz, 1997) in the eastern region that extended from the Darien to the Rio Chagres. The earliest references to him appear in the mid-1540s when Spanish colonial authorities warn travelers of the danger of Cimarron ambushes on forest roads.

Details of Bayano’s birth, ethnicity, early life, and path to power are not known, but theories abound. The historian Fernando Romero (1975) speculated that his name may indicate Vai origin one of many ethnic groups from the large area then known as Guinea in West Africa but ...

Article

Biohó, Benkos  

Ángela Lucía Agudelo González

and possible founder of San Basilio de Palenque, the first free black town in the Western Hemisphere, was born in West Africa on the island of Bissagos in Guinea-Bissau. In 1596 he was captured by the Portuguese slave trader Pedro Goméz Reynel and was sold later on to a Spaniard by the name of Alfonso del Campo at Cartagena de Indias, a major slave-trading port on the Caribbean coast of the New Kingdom of Granada. Campo baptized him with the Christian name Domingo Biohó and employed him as a rower on a boat on the Magdalena River.

After trying various times to escape from his master, in 1599 Benkos managed to escape with a group of other slaves, his wife, and his children. Together they fled the city of Cartagena and installed themselves in swampy, difficult-to-access lands. It was there that they founded the continent’s first palenque maroon community ...