This Calendar is Preserving Colombian Culture by Sharing a Folktale Each Month

Courtesy of Aguapaneleando

With the passing of oral traditions has come the loss of local myths, legends, songs and riddles that give us a glimpse of the knowledge, history and cultural values of our ancestors. Hoping to preserve the rich stories of their homeland, friends Vanessa Andrea Urbina Bermúdez and Maria Angelica Ramirez Barrera created Aguapaneleando, a bilingual calendar of Colombian folktales.

MORE: Colombia's Underground Block Parties Bring Folkloric Cumbia to the Next Generation

For the women, who both moved from the South American country to Miami during their teenage years, the calendar is a way to keep the fables they were taught during their childhood alive and ensure that they are shared with a new generation.

“I have a son, and it’s very important for me to pass this information onto him and the generations to come. It’s important that they grow up learning about all these fantastic creatures and heroes, these stories of bravery, liberation and some that are just funny. These are amazing stories we don’t often, or ever, hear about in popular culture, so, for me, it’s crucial that it’s passed on,” Ramirez Barrera, 30, told us.

The women also hope Aguapaneleando – a play on aguapanela, a popular Colombian drink made from hardened sugar cane juice and boiled water – will make people proud of their land and ancestors.

 

“Colonialism wants us to deny the parts of ourselves that are indigenous or Black. We want our people to be able to learn about the beauty and power they come from,” Urbina Bermúdez, 26, added.

Each month shares a new beautifully illustrated folktale, like the story of Cacica Gaitana, an indigenous woman who sought revenge against cruel Spanish invaders, or Mohan, a sorcerer of the water who saw the Spaniards’ arrival before they reached land and took treasures to the bowels of the rivers, where he hid and remains.

Urbina Bermúdez’s favorite legend is María Varilla, a fandango dancer and domestic worker who she describes as a “badass feminist” for her activism around women’s rights and domestic laborers.

“I’m a folkloric dancer, so I have a strong relationship with music and dance, but when I came to the U.S. and started doing activism, I noticed that this wasn’t really connected to culture. So when I learned about María Varilla, a dancer and activist, it was inspiration for me; it showed me that I can do both,” she said.

 

Ella es María Varilla. Personaje histórico de la Costa #Colombiana, cuyo poder la hizo leyenda. #Activista trabajadora del hogar, #bailarina de #porro y #fandango, y #feminista. Ejemplo de #fuerza, #pasión y #dignidad. Que el espíritu de esta inspiradora #mujer camine con nosotros <3 She is Maria Varilla. Historic character from the Colombian Coast, whose power made her a legend. Domestic worker activist, porro and fandango dancer, and feminist. An example of strength, passion and dignity. May the spirit of this inspiring woman walk with us <3 #aguapaneleando #Colombia #folktales #myths #legends #domesticworker #trabajadoradoméstica #strongwomen #mujeresfuertes #mariavarilla #ColombianCoast #CostaColombiana

A post shared by Aguapaneleando (@aguapaneleando) on

 

Ramirez Barrera, who illustrated the calendar, says Curupira, a popular character who protected the trees and animals of the Amazon jungles, is her favorite. She believes that stories like this one can help Colombians understand that the battles they’re fighting today – from displacement and environmental injustice – aren’t new, and that they should feel proud and powerful knowing that they continue that legacy of resistance.

Along with the myths and legends, the calendar also includes the dates of fiestas populares, festivals of the people that celebrate just about everything, from music and regions to fruits and even folklores. 

The entire project, which the women raised funds for through an Indiegogo campaign last year, took several hours of research and conversation, with Urbina Bermúdez and Ramirez Barrera both discovering new things along the way. The pair learned about several legends and was fascinated when they found out that there are different versions to many of the tales depending on which region in Colombia, or Latin America, they are told from.

Once the two agreed on the 12 legends and myths they’d highlight in the calendar, Ramirez Barrera went to the drawing board, creating illustrations that are true to the story being shared. Every element of the drawings, Ramirez Barrera says, has a meaning, with the flora and fauna sketched indigenous to the lands from which the tale originates to the patterns on the clothing of the mythic heroes true to the tribe of which the story arises.

 

For Urbina Bermúdez and Ramirez Barrera, creating the calendar became a journey of self-discovery, a re-learning of their history that helped them better understand themselves. But it was also a way for them to travel back to the country they left years ago, one where Ramirez Barrera, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, has been prohibited from returning to.

PLUS: 7 Terrifying Latin American Legends

“I haven’t been able to return to my country for 16 years, and I feel there is so much that I have lost, partially taken away from me, like my right to return, my right to savor my food and my right to go back to my family,” she said. “But through this project, learning about myths and legends, through culture, no one is going to take this from me. It’s in me, and that is very powerful.”

Visit Aguapaneleando to learn more about the calendar and the captivating myths and legends inside it, and help preserve these folklore by emailing the women and purchasing one (or more!) today.