An abbreviated history of the province - Los Santos

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Panama is an exceptionally diverse country, with an unimaginable natural and cultural wealth. Since it emerged from the sea 3 million years ago, impacting the planet's biodiversity, the destiny of small isthmus has been to connect the world as a natural bridge. With the inauguration of the Panama Canal 104 years ago, Panama honored that destiny and now it is a meeting point for the youth in this global cultural event.
In every corner, from Panama coasts to the green roads in the Highlands, one can feel the thrill of this great news. A cheerful and hospitable people take pride in welcoming the young people of the world, to show Panama country and to share local culture.

In Panama, there is a whole universe to discover. Different rhythms, landscapes sporting thousands of colors and two oceans at your doorstep, spice up the flavors of Panamenian kitchen. A modern city, flanked by two ancient cities, will tell you the history of a country called Panama, whose natural and architectural wealth is a World Heritage Site and where everyone want you to feel at home. 

Los Santos Province

In 1850, the province of Azuero was created in honor of Vicente de Azuero y Plata. In 1855, with the establishment of the "Estado Federal de Panamá", the province was divided into the departments of Los Santos and Herrera. After the union with Colombia, and later with Panama becoming a sovereign state, Los Santos underwent many political and administrative changes. In 1941, with the presidency of Ricardo A. de la Guardia (1941–1945), Los Santos and Herrera were established as one province, Los Santos. By Cabinet Decree Thirteen, on January 8, 1945; Herrera and Los Santos became two different provinces, as they remain today.

And the province of Los Santos is no exception to these wonders. As is common in most of Panama, the province took its name from its ancient capital, La Villa de Los Santos. Founded in November 1569, All Saint's Day, the town takes its name from this Catholic celebration.

In the region of what is now the province of Los Santos are the oldest human settlements in the Isthmus of Panama. It was part of the cultural region of Gran Cocle, where one of the first ceramic styles of the Americas developed. The first Europeans to explore Los Santos were the Spanish in 1515 under the command of Gonzalo de Badajoz. When the Europeans arrived, the area was ruled by the cacique Antataura or Cutara. Known as the Land of Mr. Paris or Parita (from Ngäbere Bari-ta meaning Confederation of Peoples), the region was composed of six tribes: Guararí, Quemá, Chiracoitia, Huere, Guanata, and Usagaña.  In 1516 Gaspar de Espinosa conquered and annexed Pariba to the Spanish Empire, decimating most of the native population.

Los Santos Province

Located in the southern part of the Azuero Peninsula, the province reaches from the La Villa River in the North to the Pacific Ocean in the south and east. It borders Herrera to the north and northeast and Mariato district in Veraguas to the West.
Las Tablas is the capital of the province of Los Santos, with a population of approximately 9, 000.  It is located a few kilometers inland from the Gulf of Panama on the Azuero Peninsula. Las Tablas is a recognized national center of Panamanian folklore: art, music, gastronomy, architecture, culture, and literature.

There is no known document that provides information on the origins of Las Tablas, its name, or the reasoning behind the worship of Santa Librada.

What we do know is that Las Tablas was founded on July 20, 1671. According to tradition, a group of rich Spanish families from the city of Panama founded Las Tablas. Faced with an imminent attack by the pirate Henry Morgan, they fled by ship and found refuge on the lands surrounding the Port of Mensabé. There they dismantled the ship and with the boards built their first houses. This was the reason why the old settlers of the region used to refer to them as people of the boards. Likewise, it is said that these families brought with them an image of Santa Librada, whose worship was imposed over the years, to the Holy Cross, that the ancient inhabitants of the region they had practiced many years ago.

Alternative telling refers to an old Spaniard who judged disputes among the ancient inhabitants. His use of boards to settle these lawsuits caused people to refer to him as "the man of the boards."

Los Santos Province

Another theory claims that in the mid-sixteenth century, Spanish families from the city of Natá de Los Caballeros began colonizing lands irrigated by the Parita, Cubitá, Guararé, and Mensabé rivers. They did not found settlements but did establish their respective haciendas, distant from each other. These families devoted themselves to agriculture and, to a lesser extent, livestock. A few years later, on November 10, 1569, some of these families founded the Villa de Los Santos. After Morgan's attack on the city of Panama, some of these families fled La Villa, seeking refuge in the haciendas. The owners of these haciendas used the irrigation system used in some parts of Spain, known as "tablas" for those fields of irrigated crops.

On June 12, 1686, pirates led by Captain Towney raided Villa de Los Santos, which resulted in a new and larger population. More families fled to the haciendas, leading to the founding of a new town.

A fourth version claims that some inhabitants of the region found the image of Santa Librada on a cape covered with grasslands and pitahayas. After taking it back to that Church, the image appeared again in the same place. The inhabitants took this as a sign that the Saint wished to be venerated in this place. The people built a chapel, and a bell was also brought from the church of La Villa de Los Santos.

July 20th is considered the date of founding and the chosen Saint responded to two reasons:
  • First, July 20th was very appropriate to celebrate and sanctify the first annual corn harvest
  • Second, the 20th of July is the day of Santa Librada, and it is believed that the Galician Spaniards wished to make their veneration of the saint alive.
  • The image of this saint was taken from the Church of the Villa de Los Santos to the new town, which they called Santa Liberata de Las Tablas. Over the years the legend referring to Santa Librada has been elaborated on and accepted as true, giving the town an explanation of its origins.
  • The only Panamanian president to serve three terms, Belisario Porras, was from Las Tablas. Three other Santeños have occupied the presidential seat.
  • The local communities are picturesque towns of hard-working men and women, and most are well known and respected for cultivating folklore and traditions. Great personages have been born in the province, giving glory not only to this dear town but to the province and all Panama.

Cultural identity has been a distinct mark on Los Santos because local pride in their roots has let people to make significant contributions to the nature of Panama. Music, dance, clothing, and festivities tout the existence of a happy and hardworking people.

The province of Los Santos enjoys the lowest crime rate in the country. You will benefit from a widespread sense of security that resonates on their willingness to open their doors to foreigners and strangers.

Panama is a land of traditions with an enriched cultural heritage that comes from Spanish, Indigenous and African mixed roots, which reflects in music, dances and foods. 

Panama sense of community is very strong, and you can see it in the way local people organize and participate in events such as building a house, planting and harvesting, fundraising and such.  All towns are vibrant in their own particular way and welcoming.