Institutional Spotlight: Society of Friends of the Afro-Antillean Museum of Panama (SAMAAP)

Interview with Mr. Arcelio Hartley, President of SAMAAP By Lourdes Ranero

In December 1980, the Panamanian government founded the Afro-Antillean Museum of Panama. A year later, the government created SAMAAP, an organization that supports the Afro-Antillean Museum of Panama by raising funds for the maintenance and expansion of the institution’s work. SAMAAP is a non-profit organization dedicated to sponsoring activities that contribute to the social and cultural development of the community of Afro-Caribbean Panamanians.

Currently, the organization has approximately 300 hundred members, 60 percent of whom reside in Panama, while the remaining 40 percent reside in the United States. SAMAAP’s Board of Directors comprises 11 members who work closely to help fulfill the organization’s mission. 

The Afro-Antillean Museum is housed in what was formerly the Christian mission church built by Barbadian workers in 1910. The Museum is located inside the church with the purpose of commemorating and remembering the contributions made by tens of thousands of workers from Jamaica, Barbados and other Caribbean islands.

The Afro-Antillean Museum. Image credit: SAMAAP.

MAC interviewed Mr. Arcelio Hartley, president of SAMAAP, to learn more about the organization, their programs, and future projects they offer to their members and the Afro-Caribbean community of Panama.

Mr. Hartley, could you describe your experience as a member of the community and SAMAAP?

I grew up within an Afro-Antillean community within what was then the Panama Canal Zone. I have always been active within the community through participation in civic groups and also through church. In the last 20 years, as a result of my integration into SAMAAP, I began to be more active on issues related to ethnic identity and Afro pride. SAMAAP cooperates with various other Afro groups to cultivate respect and pride towards our Afro participation in national development.

What is the mission of your organization?

To preserve the history of the contribution of Afro-Antilleans to the integral development of Panama and promote the culture of this ethnic group; the museum serves as a means to that end.

Mr. Hartley, what active and upcoming educational projects does SAMAAP have for its members and the Afro-Caribbean community?

SAMAAP promotes the participation of schools in activities that offer the opportunity to learn about the history of people of African descent, particularly the history of Afro-Antilleans. There is a lot of participation in talks during Black Heritage Month (in May) and in what we call Know Your Channel Week, which is celebrated every year in the month of August. We also recently coordinated a training session with a history expert with the intention that more members would be prepared to give talks.

Left: Kamille Mullings, Queen of SAMAAP 2023 at Antillean Fair 2023. Right: Earl Holder (second from right), the first Black pilot in the Panama Canal and honoree of the 2023 Gala Dinner, who turned 100 on September 14. Others pictured (left to right): Earl’s son Isaías Holder, his niece Herminia Williams, his daughter Karen Holder Fletcher, and SAMAAP President Arcelio Hartley. Image credits SAMAAP

Why did SAMAAP join the Museums Association of the Caribbean (MAC)?

SAMAAP is not a museum owner nor is it an expert in museum management. Partnering with MAC allows us to consolidate the knowledge relevant to the best care of museums.

What benefits has SAMAAP obtained since joining MAC?

We have strengthened our knowledge by being exposed to the best practices in museum management and have established ties with people who share the cultural essence that is the basis of the Afro-Antillean Museum of Panama.

What are the characteristics and needs that your organization offers to the Afro-Caribbean community?

We contribute to promoting an appreciation of the historical roots of Afro-Antillean descendants, thereby promoting a sense of pride in their ethnic identity.

What goals is SAMAAP interested in achieving this year?

As an organization, we have set a goal of expanding our youth base with the desire to guarantee the continuity of the organization for many years to come. We are working to strengthen and formalize our relationship with the Ministry of Culture, a government institution that is the regent of the museum.

Describe your ideal ways of interacting with the community. How would you prefer to connect with other members?

Our main interaction with the community is through the very popular Antillean Fair that we hold coinciding with carnival days. Additionally, in recent years we established a fund through which we offer scholarships to young university students. Annually at Christmas time, we offer entertainment and toys to children from low-income families. During the pandemic, we were not able to hold the event, and instead, we provided digital tablets to several children to help with the virtual learning.

Our activities within the community serve as the main path to attracting new members. People express their appreciation for the work we do and express their desire to join the organization.

To learn more about SAMAAP, visit their website!

Consider joining us for the 2024 MAC Annual Conference in Panama, which will be co-hosted by the Afro-Antillean Museum of Panama and SAMAAP, for more information visit our website:

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