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Panama

 

Geography & Topography

Capital: Panama City

Area: 75,517 square kilometers

Population: 4,100,000

Language: Spanish

Religion: Catholic and Protestant

Ethnic groups: Mestizo (68%), Black (10%), White (10%), Amerindians (6%)

Currency: Balboa

History

Panama is the result of a tectonic movement that occurred approximately 3 million years ago which caused the separation of the Pacific and the  Atlantic oceans and linking south and central America. Eventually these two continents would be separated again at the beginning of the 20th century by the Panama canal. This new link between the two oceans gave rise to a massive interchange of the flora and fauna between the north and the south that included the passage of the humans who populated the entire continent. Panama became independent  from Spain in the early 19th century followed by a union with Colombia in 1821. It gained independence in 1903 as part of an American sponsored revolt against Colombia that led to the signing of a treaty granting the United States the right to build the Panama Canal.

From 1903 to 1978, the United States controlled the Canal Zone. In 1925, the United States intervened in a revolt by Kuna Indians on the northeast Atlantic coast and established a tribal reserve. The Kuna enclave was successful. In the 1930s, the United States’ military hired Kuna laborers to work at U.S army basis. After the transfer of sovereignty over the canal, those workers migrated to Panama City.

Performing Arts

Music

Music in Panama is a rich blend of the  many different cultures from a diverse group of people including the indigenous tribes of Kuna, Teribes and Nobe Bugle, the African slaves, Colombian as well as Caribbean influences. All of these influences made Panama musically diverse with styles ranging from Cumbia to Jazz and from Bolero to Calypso. Folkloric music, Pindin and Tomborito make up for the popular national music today.

The most recognizable instruments in traditional Panama music are:

 

Accordion: the accordion is a box shaped instrument that  belongs to the aerophones family. Although it was first created in Vienna in May 1829, it arrived in the Americas by the end of the 19th century where it adapted to a great variety of local styles.


Pujador: The pujador is a kind of drum with a very heavy and above all deep sound, it is mainly used to accompany the Panamanian cumbias and tamboritos. Its much thicker and bigger compared to other drums.



La mejorana: The mejorana is guitar like instrument which identifies “los Manitos” (non-christian relgious). It is a plucked instrument and has 4 to 5 strings and was originally built out of one single block of  cedar wood. This instrument plays an important role in the culture of Panama, indeed it is the favored instrument to play mejoranas, a ballad only sung by men in their private home or during public celebrations.

 


Dance

Dance in Panama is inevitably linked to the different kinds of music from the country. Costumes and clothing  for example, trace back from 16th and 17th century Spain where the ladies daily clothing became a traditional dress in Panama known as ‘La Pollera’ which is worn  while dancing ‘El Tamborito’.

Examples of traditional Panamanian dances are:

El punto: El punto is considered as the most elegant in Panama, it includes a whole range of technique, art and grace. The lady displays a lot of grace and finesse, making an impression the whole time for the gentleman.  At the beginning of the dance, the male dancer has to bow for the lady dancer before standing up. Once he is back to his original position he stares at the lady with love and veneration while she flirts with him.

 

The Tamborito: It is easily recognizable through the rhythm of drums, stomping, clapping and singing of harmonic poems called Coplas. The dance is one between a man and a woman and is often referred to as a courting dance. It kicks off with the clapping of the crowd and the percussion band, after that the female and male dancers take place into a circle waiting for the 3 knocks  signal from the repicador drum after which the female dancer will give the drummer three curtseys (a traditional way of greeting). Following this the male dancer will kneel 3 times to give the start to the tamborito dance. The dance is a series of shuffling steps where the woman is provocative while the man remains very protective.

 

 

Some interesting facts:

  • The canal generates fully one-third of Panama’s entire economy.
  • Panama had their first female president in 1999 – Mireya Moscoso.
  • Panama has the smallest population in Central America.

Community of Panama in Australia:

More information on the community of Panama: