Black King Balthazar in Malaga jumped over the fence in Melilla

by Lorraine Williamson
Balthazar -

MALAGA – King Balthazar will be played this year by Hady Coulibaly. This 29-year-old African from Mali ascends the throne on the chariot in this year’s parade of the Three Kings in Malaga. However, he arrived in Spain after jumping over the Melilla border fence. 

Media regularly report on the storming of the border fences in the Spanish enclave in North Africa. Sometimes hundreds of refugees try to storm the border fence at the same time. This is to increase the chance that some of them will succeed in reaching Spanish territory. According to international rules, they then immediately have the right to apply for asylum. 

Thus, Coulibaly is not the only one who ever decided to leave home and heart and embark on a long and difficult journey to a land of peace and a brighter future. On January 5th he will climb high once again. But this time, in the carriage of black king Balthazar in the traditional Cabalgata de Los Reyes Magos in Malaga. His only goal is to make as many children happy as possible from his throne. 

Hady fled the complicated situation that plagued his country at the age of 18 when Mali was in a war and economic crisis. But now, more than ten years later, he has been fully integrated into Spain. 

He tells the newspaper Nius that a lot has preceded the moment that he can ascend the throne as Balthazar. He was working on the land in Mali when he decided to leave, leaving behind, among other things, seven brothers. His complicated journey took two years. Fate led him through Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco before reaching Spanish territory in 2013. 

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“A Very Happy Moment” 

On that trip, he did “anything to survive”. Together with other immigrants, he eventually jumped over the Melilla fence that separates two worlds. He remembers his “rescue” as “a very happy moment”. Although he realises it wasn’t legal to get to Spain that way. But he was on the run from death and war in his country. 

New life 

Hady stayed in Melilla for two months until he was transferred by boat to a refugee centre in Malaga almost a decade ago as an asylum seeker. Then his life began to change. He found “a new family” in the Spanish Commission for Aid to Refugees (CEAR). Employees gave him support and affection, sheltered him and helped him find work. 

Countless jobs 

The first four years in what he now calls “my city”, learning Spanish which he now masters well and taking courses. In the meantime, he looked for all kinds of jobs. He had asylum status for three years. Therefore, every six months he had to renew “the red card”. Socially, he took root by acquiring a one-year contract as a gardener after all this time working in Spain. This allowed him to regularise his situation in 2016. 

Sometimes he was called in to cover a caretaker’s vacation, he worked for a while in a warehouse with products for oriental bazaars and at the municipal garbage collection service in nearby Vélez-Málaga. These were all short-term contracts until he started working at CEAR at the end of 2017 in the maintenance and cleaning of the centre in the capital Malaga. 

He still works there and studies next door with the aim of “helping the people” who “need support and solidarity”. Over time, he was even able to return to his country three times. 

A Malian King Balthazar 

Hady is Muslim, but appreciates the Christian tradition of the Three Kings Parade as it “gives joy to children”. He is grateful to be able to bring King Balthazar back to life in Malaga and “share a magical day” with the children and their families. 

He gets that opportunity after the local tradition is broken that Melchior should be represented by someone from the media, Gaspar someone suggested by the association of brotherhoods and Balthazar by a councillor of the town hall. 

After it was officially announced that the black king would be played by Nicolas Squiglia, spokesman for the Unidas Podemos party, he declined the offer. Squiglia stated that “King Balthazar should preferably be played by a ‘dark person'” from the city and handed that mission over to Hady. 

A world where peace reigns and everyone lives with equality 

“That the wise men from the East make all the dreams and desires of boys and girls come true”, is the wish of this Malian Baltasar. He takes the opportunity to plead in the newspaper Nius for a world “where peace reigns and where everyone, regardless of country of origin and skin colour, is brothers and sisters and live in equality”. 

Balthazar increasingly controversial figure in Spain 

Balthazar has grown in Spain in recent years to become a controversial figure. The debate is somewhat reminiscent of the Pete discussion. In some places, the order of the Epiphany’s Parade is reversed. Balthazar then leads the procession instead of trailing behind; the white kings Melchior and Caspar follow the dark king. In recent years, more and more Spanish municipalities have Balthazar not played by a painted white Spaniard, but by a dark person. According to organisers, a painted Balthazar has a “colonial and racist origin”. 

Three Kings 

The Three Wise Men, also known as the Three Kings or the Magi, were three men who appeared in the New Testament of the Bible. They are said to have been wise men or scholars from the East who followed a star to Bethlehem, where they found the baby Jesus and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The story of the Three Wise Men is told in the Gospel of Matthew and is an important part of the Christian tradition. 

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