Cultural Heritage: A Reflection of Panama's Roots

As a meeting point in the history of the countries of Latin America, Panama is a country forged by various cultures and traditions that come together to create a unique complexity and exotic environment. The country’s ethnic diversity is reflected in the traditional products, such as woodcarvings, ceremonial masks and pottery, as well is in its architecture, cuisine and festivals.

Panama travel often dazzles the senses, indigenous and European cultures combine to create a country without equal. Panama’s architecture is a reflection of the different groups that make their home there. The Ngöbe Bugle region, home to the Ngöbe Bugle Indians with their traditional huts, stand in contrast to the homes built by Swiss, Yugoslav, Swedish, German and American immigrants.

Cultural Centers

Casco Antiguo, this old city of Panama is undergoing restoration and is the site of great historical and architectural importance, and was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO on December 6, 1997. Visitors to the site can see homes with colonial, French, neoclassic and African architecture, built at the beginning of the last century, narrow lanes with ancient ruins, beautiful colonial churches, the National Theater, the Church of San José, with its famous golden altar that was saved from the greed of the pirates. Panama City also has several Museums, such as the Canal Museum, the History Museum, and the Reina Torres de Arauz Museum, which focuses on the anthropology of the isthmus -the Art Museum and the Museum of Religious Art - among others.

Local Folklore and Dance

The local folklore is a symbol of the diverse culture in Panama. It can be experience through a multitude of festivals, dances and traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. The beautiful “pollera” is the typical dress for Panamanian women. The “pollera” is embroidered on fine weave fabric with intricate, brightly colored designs that take over a year to complete. The men’s finery consists of embroidered, long sleeved shirts, three-quarter length pants and the traditional “Montuno” straw hat.

The different festivals reflect the influence of the different ethnic groups that make up the country. To the north, in Colón Province, one can observe traditions of African influence, such as Congo drums dating back to the era of slavery and the Black Christ feast. In contrast, the May Pole ceremony is found in Bocas del Toro, which is a European tradition. Throughout the country year-round festivals take place in each town in honor of the Patron Saint of each town. The Panamanian Carnival, which is held before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, is world famous for its processions, bands and singers – which, together with the rich folklore of street musicians and beautiful women dressed in the traditional “polleras” and adorned with gold jewelry — make it a colorful celebration of the mix of different customs of all the ethnic groups.

The artisan pottery offers travelers a great variety of designs to choose from. Styles range from imitations of Pre-Columbian motifs to folk images and of varied uses--from dishes to flowers pots.

Traditional Food

Panama is an ideal place to enjoy local cuisine, which varies from region to region. Some of the local dishes include sancocho de gallina (chicken stew), carimañolas (deep fried meat-filled yucca rolls), new corn fritters, fried pork rinds and jerked beef, a delicacy for any discriminating diner. Fish and seafood are prevalent in several areas, including the famous dish known as “Fu-Fu”--a soup made from coconut milk, green plantains and fish with a pinch of a distinctive spicy condiment called “chombo” chile.

Information sourced from IPAT