As in many Latin American countries, the culture of Panama has become a blend that represents its diverse history and people. European music and art that were brought to Panama by the Spanish have joined Native American and African traditions to form Panama’s cultural spectrum.
Panama is distinctive in Latin America, where for most countries their national sport is soccer, while Panama is a nation that prefers baseball. This is due in large part to the influence of the U.S. occupation of Panama, and Panamanian stars on U.S. baseball teams are celebrated nationally. There are no professional teams in Panama, but amateur games are played in stadiums throughout the country.
While Panama is something of a melting pot for different types of music, including Latin, rock, reggae, jazz, and calypso, salsa is the most popular, and live bands abound in Panama City. Ruben Blades is Panama’s most famous salsa singer and Renaissance man (in addition to being a musician, he is a lawyer, politician, and Hollywood actor). Tipico, or folk music, features the accordion and is also popular.
While 77% of Panamanians are Roman Catholic, visitors on a tour of Panama can witness the wide diversity of religions practiced as they synagogues, mosques, Greek Orthodox churches, Hindu temples and a Baha’i house of worship, all in the capital city. Christian missionaries currently challenge the continuation of indigenous belief systems, and evangelicalism is spreading rapidly.
Art / Crafts
The indigenous people of Panama create a wide variety of beautiful, high-quality handicrafts. Some are still traditionally used by these groups, while others continue to be made for the sake of tourism revenue. In any case, these are treasures to help travelers to Panama remember their journeys. The Wounaan and Embera groups are known for producing woven baskets, carvings of jungle wildlife made of a tropical hardwood called cocobolo, and also carving small figures from cream-colored nuts called tagua. The Kuna are well-known for their brightly colored blouses, made from textile patches called molas. These depict nature scenes and wildlife such as birds and turtles, and are known for their intricate stitchwork and designs.
While Spanish is the offical language of Panama, English is also used widely, particularly in business, banking, and tourism sectors.
The Kuna are one of the indigenous groups of Panama and Colombia. They are often misidentified as the extinct Cundara people; while the two groups share some traditions, their backgrounds are very distinct. During the Spanish invasion the Kuna lived in what is now Colombia.
The Kuna language is currently spoken by between fifty thousand and seventy thousand people, and is a language of the Chibchan family. Spanish is also used widely in Kuna culture, particularly in writing. The Kuna language is considered endangered.