Country Infos

Origins

The name of « Panama » has various origins: The first one comes from comestible fruits growing on a tree that was called « Panama ».

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The Indians Kunas, as far as they are concerned, state that « PA NA MA » means « far away from here » in their own language. It was the answer they would give to the Spanish Conquistadors in their quest for gold.
Another theory is that Panama in native language means « abundance of fishes ».
The Panama Isthmus was discovered by Spanish explorer Don Rodrigo de Bastidas in the year 1501 who was accompanied by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa. One year later, in 1502, Christophe Colomb visited the Isthmus during his fourth and last journey. Before the Spanish would arrive, about 80 native tribes were living on the Panamanian soil.

History

PRECOLOMBIAN AND COLONIAL PANAMA
In the Province of Chiriqui, Archeologists found civilization vestiges going back to 12 000 years before Christ. Ruins of monuments, quite a great deal of ceramics were discovered as the famous « Huacas » and other gold jewels. The oldest piece in Latin America dates 2 130 years before Christ and was found in the Central Province of Herrera.

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In 1502 Christopher Columbus, who was heading to Hispaniola Island (island comprising The Dominican Republic and Haiti) with his galleon crowded with treasures, shored in Belen River, because of a storm, place where was later on built the first colony named Santa Maria de la Antigua.
In 1511, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa arrives in the Darien region and discovers the South Sea in 1513. Six years later, in 1519, following conflicts of opinion he had with the governor of the time Pedro Arias de Avila , called Pedrarías, Vasco de Nuñez was beheaded in the village of Acla . The exploration of the Pacific helped discovering a safe and sound place: Panama.
With the foundation of the first city on the Pacific coast, the Spanish crossed the Isthmus through the Camino Real in 1519, and later on in 1533 following river Chagres and Camino de Cruces enabling to transport the wealth found in South America. The pirate’s proliferation, filibusters and other privateers led to the edification of fortifications on the Caribbean Coast: Portobelo and San Lorenzo.
In 1671, pirate Henry Morgan attacked Panama City (ruins of Panama la Vieja), compelling Governor Don Guzman to set blaze to it and forcing the population to run away. It took shelter on the flanks of Cerro Ancón where the new town was created on January 21 st, 1673 (Casco Viejo or Antiguo). The main aspect that was taken into account in order to establish the new town was the defensive one so as to prevent further attacks from pirates.
All along the 18th century, the city will change appearance: Italian and French style constructions are erected amongst the old colonial buildings thus transforming the town into a cosmopolitan city. Numerous civil wars lead Panama to proclaim its independence on November 28th, 1821. The country was then part of Great Colombia (currently Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia).
THE SAGA OF THE CANAL OF PANAMA: On the 19th century, many expeditions took place in order to study the feasibility of a transoceanic way. On the French side let’s mention the expedition of Lucien Bonaparte Wyse and of geographer Armand Reclus. In 1855, the town experienced a huge commercial boom due to the discovery of gold mines in California thus generating the construction of the Transisthmus Railways: Le Panama Canal Railway.
The endeavor, referred to in the history books as the « scandal of Panama » started in 1875 with Count Ferdinand de Lesseps, brilliant constructor of the Canal of Suez. The French Universal Company could not fight the tropical diseases nor the financial scandals. In 1889, French thus step aside for United States people who completed the navigable way by 1914 and in the same manner supported the separation of Panama from Colombia on November 3 rd, 1903.

Geography

Panama is located at the center of the Western hemisphere and is bordered North by the Caribbean Sea (Atlantic), South by the Pacific Ocean, East by Colombia and West by Costa Rica.

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The whole country is 75 000 square kilometers wide. It consists of a cordillera a few peaks of which rise above 3400 meters (Baru Volcano), thus constituting the ridge of the country in the shape of an «  S  » lying down. Plains represent 85% of the territory. Tropical forest presides over the Canal area, the Caribbean coast as well as half of the eastern part of the country. Its 1518 islands are classified within the territorial area of Panama that counts with three Archipelagos: The Pearls, Bocas del Toro, San Blas or Kuna Yala. 150 rivers flow along the country and more than half of Panama is covered with forest. In the Canal area, the narrowest part of the country, since only 52 km separate the Pacific Ocean from the Caribbean Sea.

Climate

Panama has two very distinct seasons; dry season and rainy season. The first one goes from December to April. The rest of the year, tropical rains fall once or twice a day. Temperatures are quite different from the mountain to the sea side since they can vary from 26º to 32º in the Capital City.

Population

Panama official language is Spanish. English is also spoken and understood in the main cities. The most representative religion in the country is Catholicism with various religious celebrations all along the year. There are also other religions as Protestantism, le Judaism as well as the Muslim religion.

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The population amounts to about 2.8 million inhabitants with an average density of 34 inhabitants per square kilometer. It’s a young and urban population with multiple race mixings. The Panamanian ethnical melting pot is made up of European immigrants descendants (Spanish, Italians, French, German…), former black slaves who were freed, various native communities coming from the coast or the mountain, Chinese, Indians etc. This huge ethnical diversity composes the Panamanian population.
The country counts 5 native autonomous territories (Cemaco, Wargandí, Madungandí, Kuna Yala, Ngobe Bugle) settled all along the Isthmus, provinces with breathtaking landscapes and abounding with wealth. The three most present native ethnic groups are:
The Kunas : This ethnos counts with about 60 000 people who live on Kuna Yala Archipelago as well as in the capital city. Without doubt one of the most beautiful places in Panama with its 350 islands constituting the Archipelago. The handcraft: the Molas designed by the Kunas women are of an incredible precision and enable them, through the selling to the tourists to get an economical income which is not insignificant. French anthropologist Michel Perrin is one of the best specialists of this community.
Caribbean Coast to Veraguas passing by Bocas del Toro. The Ngobe-Bugle is also known as the Guaymie and can be differentiated through their colorful clothes and necklaces. Isolated from the big cities, this ethnos lives in conditions of extreme poverty. French Anthropologist Francoise Guionneau-Sinclair studied their traditions in detail.
Emberas and Wounaan: They are two ethnos coming from the Colombian province of Choco with a population of 30 000 people spread between the jungle of Darien up to the banks of Chagres river that supplies the Canal of Panama. Emberas and Wounaan live on fishing, hunting as well as gathering fruits and other comestible plants. Their handcraft is especially valued for its delicacy, with vegetable ivory carving, the tagua and the baskets weaving, based on palms fibers.