Carnaval in the Canal Zone

Recently, we came across a collection of photos from Balboa in February 1958 as Carnaval (also spelled Carnival) celebrations were underway. Carnaval is still one of the most anticipated holidays in Panama and other parts of Central and South America. The festival lasts for about four days before Ash Wednesday, allowing attendees to indulge in foods and activities that are forbidden during the Lenten season.


Here, you can see the “Carnaval Queen” in costume. It is customary to determine a “King” and “Queen” of Carnaval, which is rooted in the beginnings of Carnaval in colonial Panama, when participants would satirize and mock political figures.


In these photos, Governor William E. Potter interacts with Balboa citizens.



Governor Potter and the Carnaval Queen on stage.




Pictured: “Chipi” Azcarraga, the son of world renowned Lucho Azcarraga, on maracas; Vic Herr, BHS band director is playing the conga; Edgar Ameglio (BHS ’58) has a bandage on his head; Don Randel (BHS ’58) is playing the organ.

From Don Randel, regarding the photo above: “Photo is of a rehearsal for the Carnival Tuesday parade in Panama City, in which we played on a float, which required a generator to produce 60 cycle 110 volt current for the organ. We played strictly Panamanian music–tamboritos, etc.”


A giant figurine of a woman is paraded, followed by marchers wearing large masks.


At the 2018 Panama Canal Society Reunion in Orlando from June 27 – July 1, 2018, there will be an exhibit about popular culture in the Panama Canal Zone on display. We hope to see you there!

Did you ever participate in Carnaval celebrations? What was unique about celebrating Carnaval in the Canal Zone?