An essay written by Professor Renee Alexander Craft, which includes an excerpt from the novel based on her ethnographic research in Panama, was recently published in a special issue of Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society focused on Blackness and Tourism. The essay title is “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”.
Portobelo, Panama is a small town located on the Caribbean coast of Panama whose tourism reflects a cultural heritage rooted in Spanish colonialism and African resistance. Once a nexus for trade in the Spanish colonial world, contemporary Portobelo is an Afro-Latin community known for its natural beaches, colonial forts, a festival dedicated to El Nazareno (the “Black Christ”), and an Afro-Latin carnival tradition called “Congo.” With Congo carnival as its anchor, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is a work of creative fiction that responds to this issue’s theme of African diasporic tourisms by traveling between the lived social reality of local Congo practitioners and the imagined reality prospective tourists encounter in travel literature. Drawn from 16 years of ethnographic research in Portobelo as well as my roots in the U.S south, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” introduces readers to three fictionalized generations of Congo practitioners in the midst of Carnival celebrations when a U.S. African American missionary student arrives in the town. It rehearses the potential discursive and physical violence of rendering sophisticated Black cultural spaces, traditions, and bodies as ludic, laughable, and dangerous.