A Palanquera making cocadas..

This text, originally printed in Spanish in Cuentos Para Locos Cuerdos has been published here with the permission of its author, Andrés Durán De La Puente.

Let us know if we’ve done a good job with the translation! 🙂

Editor’s Note: If you’ve been in Barranquilla or Cartagena for any time, you’ve likely heard the call of a Palanquera woman, “ALEGRÍAAA, COCAAADA” walking up and down the streets selling her goodies. Their hometown town (Palenque) relies on these women for their sustenance, so if you see them, go buy some tasty treats!

By the way, ‘alegria’ means ‘joy’ or ‘happiness’..


I was born with ‘joy’ in my cocadas!

With undeniable Caribbean malice, she bursts out laughing with no sign of blushing. A sassiness on the tongue that surprises the unwary and seduces the malicious.

In this part of the world, people eat ‘joy’, and devour ‘caballitos’ (delicious treats made from green papaya), preceded by a question: “en bo’sita o no? (in a bag or not)..

So can we say that ‘alegria’ is measured by the size of the bag? Not really – it’s as the romantics say: ‘it’s what’s inside that counts..’

The Palenquera is tall, slim, and adult, with ebony skin, tanned sandals and piercing black eyes that sparkle when someone ‘vivo’ (local slang for someone slick) wants to be smart enough to ask for a discount.

It’s not a sin to ask for a discount, since it’s a normal part of the transactional dynamics present on this part of the Caribbean coast. The sin is believing that the ‘joy’ in this case (the work of the Palenquera) is worth less than $1,000 barras (pesos), a unique currency that fluctuates as good as the dollar and as bad as the bolivar, depending on which side of the bed the buyer and, even more important, the seller get up.

“Blanco y monda’o? Bonita vaina,” (white and broke? what a thing) she mumbles through her teeth recalling one of the many episodes she has endured in her 15-year career as a Palenquera, a term that some women mistakenly use as an insult to others.

Because being a Negra Palenquera is an act of collective resistance:

To the physical pain of carrying a giant bowl (palangana) on your head, at temperatures of up to 40ºC for kilometers. And heralding your arrival with a unique proclamation at maximum volume: “Aleegríaaa, Cocaaaada”!

To the moral pain of being discriminated against by foreigners and locals who don’t understand – or are not interested in – the eternalization of the uses and customs of their own, of their Palenquera essence, their black essence, of a people that suffered the vicissitudes of a slave-owning and abusive past.

To the pain of sadness, which they fight with caramelized popcorn compacted in a ball; with some pieces of what seems to be a baked yucca cake with ingredients packed with flavor and aroma. And some cocadas (delicious coconut balls) with shredded coconut, but also loose pieces, as if at random, in panela or sugar candy.

A single bite into the ‘joy’ is more effective than any RedBull or Vive100. And as an added benefit, this redemptive snack injects you with healthy, artisanal brio.

And all with a smile, a smile from ear to ear that shows pearls, sometimes white, sometimes yellowish, sometimes incomplete, that invite the diner to feel confidence. It’s as if for the minutes that the transaction lasts, a non-verbal language of millennial bacanería was spoken.

So, do you want to take it in bo’sita or not?

For more on Palenque, click here.


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