Panama has always been a meeting place for cultures, earning its nickname of “Racial Melting Pot.” The National Institute of Culture (www.inac.gob.pa) administers 23 centers dedicated to the preservation of diverse artistic expressions, organizes artistic competitIons, and literary fellowships.
Its resources include 13 regional centers, it administers the Anita Villalaz Theater, the National Theater, and the Balboa Theater. It coordinates activities for the National Symphony Orchestra and the National Ballet, as well as administering 18 museums, among which are highlighted the Museum of Religious Art, the Reina Torres de Araúz Anthropological Museum, and the Afroantillean Museum
Panama enjoys great cultural wealth, demonstrated in the conservation of five groups of monuments and 90 pieces of real estate designated as Patrimonies of Humanity by UNESCO.
NATIVE AMERICAN GROUPS
Panama’s seven native ethnic groups are concentrated in semiautonomous territories. In the western end of the country, in the provinces of Chiriquí, Bocas del Toro, and Veraguas, one can find the Ngobe, Bublé, Naso-Teribe, and Bri-bri peoples. Together, they comprise 70% of Panama’s Native American population. The eastern end of the country is populated by the Emberá and Wounaan tribes in the Darien, and the Kuna in the District of Kuna Yala. The Emberá and Wounaan live in the tropical rainforest, as their ancestors did for centuries. Their respect for mother nature, and their understanding of it, is innate, and their skills in woodcarving and basket weaving are exquisite. The Kuna were settled in the coasts and islands of the Caribbean Sea, and are characterized by an iron-willed protection of their traditions and their famous “molas,” crafts woven through layered threading on cloth.
Originally, Panama’s black population was brought to the Isthums by Spanish settlers, as workers in the sugar cane plantations. A second wave of immigration arrived on the Isthmus from the West Indies for construction of the Panama Canal, at the dawn of the 20th century. This latter English-speaking group settled in Panama City, Colón, and Bocas del Toro. The country’s mestizo and mulatto population emerged out of years of intermarriage between diverse races and ethnicities, and spread throughout the country. Their folklore is expressed through music and dance, cuisine such as “arroz con pollo” (rice and chicken cacerole) and “sancocho de gallina” (a hearty chicken soup that includes many local tubers), their festive attitude showcased in fairs and festivals, as well as their friendly treatment of foreigners.
Our country’s privileged geographical position has turned it into a meeting ground for different ethnicities and races, nowadays accessible to all travelers, making them feel at home whilst allowing them to commemorate their local traditions and to evolve culturally.