No one will doubt – much less in Latin American societies where one learns at the pace and to the extent of the family in which one is born – that family is the center of people’s lives. It is through family that the values of culture, goods and, of course, the surnames that lead to the extension of the lineage are transmitted.

In Colombia one of the best-known families is the “Castañeda” family, a surname known by everyone. Not because of its influential last name or because their highly recognized personalities back in history, but because over the generations they have managed to transcend as the ideal traditional family back to their forefathers and grandparents having been inserted into the cultural imagination.

It is well known that Colombia is a country of celebrations, carnivals and popular festivals that exalt life, work, and beauty, especially carnivals such as those of Blacks and Whites in Pasto Nariño, which precisely opens with the commemoration of the arrival of the Castañeda Family every January 4. It is said that this numerous and extravagant peasant family arrived in Pasto in 1928 on a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Las Lajas, coming from the neighboring department of Putumayo.

This family traveled with children, grandparents, pets, household gadgets and within they did not miss the muleteer, the priest, harlots, the pregnant daughter in her wedding dress, to meet all once a year. This event was instituted as part of the festivities of the city as an element that promoted harmony and made the carnival more attractive for both, locals and visitors. However, there is information that locates the origin of this tradition a little further north, in the department of Antioquia.

It seems to be the result of a little-documented historical event in which for the first time in Colombia the manumission of African-American slaves took place: “Doña Javiera Londoño de Castañeda (widow of Don Ignacio Castañeda and Atehortúa), born in Medellín, who died in Guarzo in 1767 and made her will, in which she gave freedom to 125 of her slaves, leaving them a mine in the vicinity and lands to live as far away as possible, so that they will not be enslaved again, and with only one condition that the liberated build the chapel of the Virgen de Los Dolores, in the current head of the Municipality of El Retiro (Antioquia) and that every year a mass will be held for her soul in that chapel”.

From that time on until the middle of the 19th century, the freed men, who acquired the surname of the master who liberated them, fulfilled their promise to meet every year to participate in the mass and then celebrate in the streets of the town that gathered them.

I remember that my family, like the Castañeda in the past, gathered around the great-grandmother Rosa, the one we called mamita, the midwife who brought together the sense of the family and the joy of sharing. All the present generations sang songs and participated in the preparation of the dinner, made the novena of aguinaldos and danced until dawn. Perhaps this type of family reunion is part of the memory of most Colombians because little by little the sense of meeting with the extended family has been lost to celebrate and share the best that the year coming to an end had left them.

It may be that memory, that longing for the past that promotes maintaining the tradition of calling on the Castañeda’s as comparing family model, but in that story other vital characteristics are also manifested that although they are part of a character representation of the family, they give lead way to highlight the diversity, the joy, the spirituality, the freedom, the great courage and the jocular form with which Colombians face their lives day by day; not in vain have we been catalogued as one of the happiest countries. This being the case, in Colombia there will be Castañeda families for a long time, and they will be present in most of the carnivals and festivities that are celebrated in the country; without a doubt a tradition that should not be forgotten.

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Luis Mendoza

Luis Mendoza was born in Armenia / Quindío (Colombia) and studied Spanish and Literature. He studied law at the University of Quindío, too. Later he completed his studies in law and has worked for NGOs and social organizations. He currently lives in Spain where he has taken time to reflect on life and its purpose, understand different world views and learn from other cultures. Luis shares the Scouting idea of "leaving the world in better condition than we found it".
Luis Mendoza

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