Muntú Bantú, the only Afrodiasporic Memory Center in Colombia, is located in Quibdó, the capital of Chocó, the department with the largest Afro-descendant population in the country. For more than a decade, historian Sergio Mosquera has been running a ship where the memories of the enslaved African people in America are at the heart and not dismissed to some annexed room of Eurocentric history which, until now, has served as the official record of this territory.
Muntú Bantú, Main room, Afrodiasporic Memory Center, Quibdó, Chocó
To move forward, you must first descend.
Located on a vegetated hill, the building of Muntú Bantú extends downwards. Sergio Mosquera, who is our personal guide during our visit, invites us to go down the stairs after showing us his photographs of the “doors of no return” which the millions of captives who embarked from the ports of the West African coast had to pass through before coming to work as slaves in America. Descending the stairs is like climbing down the hatch of a European slave ship, like the ship Lord Ligonier which emblazens the façade of Muntú Bantú. But it is also like walking down the Baudó mountain range in Chocó, where many children of African women have found their freedom since the 18th century.
Façade Muntú Bantú, Afrodiasporic Memory Center, Quibdó, Chocó.
Moving downward seems counter-intuitive and somewhat unsettling. Paradoxically however, on this journey it makes perfect sense. The journey itself challenges the colonial memory with which our bodies were taught and even questions the course of time itself as a line of ascent.
It is a transformative movement; a simple gesture that summons the advent of another time.
A time in which memory itself becomes the very center; a compass to retrace the steps of those who preceded us on the road to freedom.
More than individual and self-contained pieces, the profusion of images and objects in this center are stimuli for remembrance. At the bottom of the stairs a framed photo of Malcolm X is suspended bearing a quote from the activist and thinker himself: “See for yourself, hear for yourself, think for yourself.”
On another wall is a poem attributed to Manuel Saturio Valencia, a martyr from Chocó, the last person to be legally executed by firing squad in Colombia in 1907 for a crime he did not commit. It reads:
Saint Benedict was black
Black were his paintings
And in the holy scriptures
I have seen no white letters
The main challenge for the memory center is to propose representations of Black people that go beyond iconographic clichés and to foster new ways of thinking and imagining Afro-Colombian identity. Not only by remembering and depicting survival, but also by celebrating the resistance as an essential part of the country’s collective identity and as an antidote to the dominant ideologies of whiteness and miscegenation.
Religiosity room, Muntú Bantú, Afrodiasporic Memory Center, Quibdó, Chocó
Naming and portraying key figures in the history of the Black movement is an important undertaking. With regards to representation however, the museographic script of this history is not limited to imagery and so census records of enslaved people from the mining provinces of Chocó, historical settlement cartographies, ethnolinguistic considerations of the Spanish language, and early anti-racist political discourses and fables all have their place.
Even before descending the stairs, a good part of the tour is dedicated to stories about the anthropogenic fauna of the Afrodiasporic: in a room full of sculptures and paintings of animals, the cusumbi, the ananses, uncle tiger and uncle rabbit reside among lions, giraffes and African elephants. Professor Mosquera tells us about the meeting of two worlds, and how it is precisely at the frontier between the human and the non-human that we must also go to explore the African cultural heritage in America. It is here, at the crossroads between life and death, where the Black presence must be traced.
Muntú Bantú is a non-profit organisation, which would benefit greatly from contributions by people who are interested in supporting its work, either in form of donations or management assistance. If you are interested in collaborating, click here
Text and photos: Nicolás Vizcaíno Sánchez (1991) is an artist, writer and researcher working from the mountains of Colombia.
Translation from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen