History, Culture & Demographics
Panama has a very interesting history and is very rich in culture due to the influence from different ethnic groups that found their way into our country and left their legacy. In this section we want to give you a brief background of our country and try to help you understand our origins. Enjoy!
Before the arrival of the Spanish, Panama was mainly inhabited by several indigenous groups, each one of which was running a "Monarchy" with their own military and political organizations. The population was calculated to be between 700,000 to 1.5 million inhabitants.
Panama was visited for the first time by the Spanish in 1501 under Rodrigo de Bastidas expedition. Bastidas sailed the Caribbean coast, where Colon province is, and the Archipelago in Comarca Guna Yala. In 1502, on his fourth trip, Christopher Columbus visited Panama for the first time, also in the Atlantic coast, visiting current Bocas del Toro and Veraguas.
The first city founded in the continent by the Spanish was in Panama by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa in 1510. The city was called Santa Maria La Antigua del Darien, located in Darien Province where the current Panama-Colombia border is.
In 1513, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa took an expedition conquering the lands of other indigenous groups where he heard for the first time about the existence of another Sea where there was a kingdom so rich that they used gold vases for eating and drinking. After this "rumor", he took the expedition to find this place and finally found the, at the moment unknown, Pacific Ocean. He took possession of this region and claimed it to be part of the Spanish conquest and called the new Sea the South Sea (Mar del Sur) due to the south route taken by the expedition to get there. This discovery is considered, by Panamanian history, the most important moment of the Spanish conquest after the discovery of the American continent.
In 1519, Panama City was founded by Pedro Arias Davila and was the first Spanish city in the south coast. This city (now Old Panama city) is considered the oldest city in America still standing (although in ruins now).
In 1821, Panama became independent from Spain when a movement that started in Los Santos reached the city. With complicity of the Royal Army’s General, Jose de Fabrega, who was a Panamanian Creole, the movement managed to call a Town Hall meeting where in a solemn ceremony the City Hall declared broken the relationships of Panama with Spain. The act was rather peaceful and due to several battles that the Spanish lost in other areas of the continent by Simon Bolivar, they accepted this decree and left the Isthmus.
Panama, with almost no military forces, afraid of a potential attempt by Spanish to re-claim the territory and with great admiration of the victories of Simon Bolivar, took the rush decision to voluntarily join The Great Colombia (Republic of Colombia).
Later in history, after Panama was affected by several battles in Colombia that moved into Panamanian territories, the failure of the Panama Canal construction by the French and the rejection by Colombia to a treaty for United States to build the Canal; Panamanians thought it was time to take over their own country again. By getting the support of several members of the military, high level politicians and United States government, Panama finally separated from Colombia and was declared an independent nation called Republic of Panama in November 3, 1903.
Panama is characterized by its very diverse culture mix. Panamanian culture is influenced by Native indigenous groups, Spanish, Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, Colombians, North Americans and Chinese that have came to the country at different times and have left their legacy with us. The different influences can be seen in the architecture, art, music and gastronomy.
When it comes to national costumes the most popular ones are the Molas, used and manufactured by the Gunas (main indigenous group), and the Pollera, Panama’s national costume, which is clearly influenced by our Spanish heritage.
The Spanish architecture is present in our colonial cities, Casco Antiguo and also in the central provinces in Panama while the modern architecture is totally americanized.
Regarding our food, you will see the seafood recipes from the Caribbean part of us, the mass consumption of rice from the Chinese influence and the herbal and tubers based dishes from the Spanish.
All and all, it is very difficult to define the Panamanian culture as such and the varieties of ethnic groups you will find in the country are testament of this.
Population: 3,460,462 (July 2011 estimated)
Urbanization: 75% of total population (2010)
• Mestizos (mixed Amerindian, white and/or black) and mulattoes (mixed white and black):70%
• Black/African descent: 14%
• White: 10%
• Ameridian: 6%
• Roman Catholic: 85%
• Protestant, Jewish, Baha, Muslim and Hindu: 15%
• Spanish (official),
• 14% English (many Panamanians are bilingual)
• 7 indigenous languages (only spoken by each indigenous group respectively)