Back to Blog
An analysis of the country of Panama and It's value.
This is a discussion on the significance of Panama and its value to the world. The resources, culture, land and indigenous traditions of Panama highlight its economical achievements, cultural diversity, and inter global connectivity.
How does one determine the importance of a country to the diversity of the world? It can be quite easy to simply analyze its political climate, environmental contributions, and gross domestic product per capita. But what about looking deeper into the cultural roots that make a country so unique? When considering the importance of Panama to the rest of the world, it is imperative to look at all of these factors. Panama is an astonishing country that has never ceased to show off its distinctiveness in comparison to the rest of Latin America. Its economical achievements, cultural diversity, and opportunities for learning prove its worth.
There is no sense in writing about Panama without first discussing the incredible achievement of the Panama Canal. This vast work of engineering perfection has advanced global trade significantly by essentially connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans despite them sitting at different sea levels.
Originally built to make the United States a global power, the canal did not begin to yield benefits to Panama until 1997 when President Carter signed a treaty that gave Panama control of the canal beginning in 1999 (Wagtendonk, 2014).1 It is an understatement to say that Panamanians have done a great job running the canal since this redirection of power. This treasure has become an amazingly efficient system that has created thousands of jobs in the shipping industry. The canal has gained increasing success with each year that passes; In 2018, 442.1 million Panama Canal tons passed through the structure, representing “a 9.5 percent increase from the previous year” (Offshore Energy, 2018).2 In addition to this, the country has succeeded in leaving the surrounding forest untouched by man, making it a prime destination for ecotourism (Wagtendonk, 2014).3 Along with its obvious financial advantages, this feat of engineering has only added to Panama’s embrace of their heritage. The project has become one of its prized possessions that are shown off as a crown jewel of the country. The canal is by far one of the most significant advancements made to global trade, and it will continue to provide economic success to the rest of the world as long as Panamanians remain in charge of it.
Cultural diversity is an important feature to most countries in Latin America, but Panama’s potpourri of cultures and religions make it stand out amongst the rest. The country remains heavily influenced by both Spaniards and Native Indians. There are several indigenous dialects relating to the Guna, Ngabe, Emberá, and Wounan Indian groups, and of course, the Spaniards (De Corró, 2013).4 Along the Chagres River that runs through the Panama Canal’s watershed, the indigenous Emberá tribe finds home in handmade huts and miles of a prosperous land.
They specialize in catching Tilapia and are more than welcoming to visitors of the country. While this is only one of the several Indian groups that reside in Panama, the Emberá is the most well-known to the public due to their love for tourists spending the day with them. They engage their guests with traditional song and dance, delicious meals, and playtime with the many children growing up on the land.
The Emberá tribe is beyond proud of their culture and they do the most to ensure that it remains unchanged. They make a point to show their visitors their local schools, their unique dress, and several of their practices. It is truly a powerful display of staying true to one’s roots.
Apart from the preservation of this friendly tribe, Panama has also maintained several religious affiliations from its Spanish descendants, including Catholicism, Evangelicalism, and Adventism (De Corró, 2013).5 These faiths are highly incorporated into many religious festivals, or patronales, that take place throughout Panama. A notable figure within the religious community of Panama is the “Black Christ of Portobelo,” which was brought to the country in the 17th century.
People believe that the Black Christ came to the village to protect those who have gone through slavery, have worked on the canal, and more recently, have been fighting poverty-related diseases (Catholic Review, 2012).6 Both locals and tourists travel to Portobelo to stand in awe of the statue that provides such an immense faith. Along with this worship, one could say that the religious celebrations of Panama make it effortless to celebrate differences that ultimately make our world such a balanced entity.
Although it is not an event that is affiliated with a religion, Carnival is a holiday that is celebrated in most of Panama’s major cities. Carnival takes place four days before Ash Wednesday, so typically in February or March, and ends at dawn on that Wednesday. Once Carnival is over, Panamanians head to the beach for a ceremony named El Entierro de la sardinia, which translates to The Burial of the Sardine (Soley, 2008, p. 37).7 Carnival can be compared to the Mardi Gras of New Orleans as it includes gorgeous floats, vibrant costumes, and many instruments that all come together to create an exciting atmosphere for the coming four days. It is a celebration that Panama’s citizens take very seriously, as they put a temporary halt to their daily lives to participate in the festivities. Even though it is accessible to all nearby regions, the festival is a beautiful encapsulation of Panamanian culture that aims to commemorate the very traditions and culture that give Panama its reason to be.
Panama is unique in that it still often practices its national dance after all of these years. El tamborito, which means little drum in Spanish, originates from Spain but also has noticeable Indian influences. In this partner style routine, the female singer is backed by a chorus and several drummers as she sings beautiful songs in a call and response manner. Although many instruments are used to create the music that guides the movement, the three major drums utilized by the musicians are the Caja, the puja, and the repicador. These drum names roughly translate to the “box,” the “pusher” and the “chimer.” Each of these drums is essential to providing the dancers with the engaging beats to which they carry themselves.
In respect to the women, the fashion worn during el tamborito is quite fabulous and represents much dedication. They typically wear polleras, which consist of an off-the-shoulder white blouse paired with a long, full skirt decorated with lace, ribbons, and intricate embroidered designs (Kopka, 2011, p. 122).8 The polleras serve as both a costume and a prop that the women use to entice their male partners throughout the dance. Fortunately, many tourists that visit Panama have the opportunity to witness and even take part in this brilliant art form that symbolizes hundreds of years of culture and entertainment.
For a country to be deemed as “important” to society and its development, it should be able to teach both its citizens and visitors about the beauty that comes from art, wildlife and ancient civilizations. Panama is home to several universities that emphasize dance, music, and the arts, one of the most prominent being the University of Santa María La Antigua, which was established in 1965 in collaboration with the National Institute of Culture. Along with its dedication to the arts, the country is also known for its preservation and research of several wildlife communities. These are studied through both the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory of Tropical and Preventive Medicine, which were both founded in the 1920s (UNESCO World Heritage Center, n.d.).9 One of the more tourist- friendly attractions that teach valuable lessons of both human and animal life is located on the Amador Causeway, which is near the entrance of the Panama Canal in the Pacific Ocean.
The Biomuseo combines art and science to foster an incredible learning experience about not only the life that has arisen in Panama but also the development of life throughout the rest of the world. This is an obvious reason why Panama can be labeled as important to the understanding of our world and how we have grown into the population that we are today. This museum mainly focuses its attention on the creation of the Panamanian Isthmus and its influence on the biodiversity of the country. It includes several wildlife galleries, aquariums, and its most famous exhibit, “Panama: The Bridge of Life.” This exhibition details the work of the tectonic plates that created the isthmus and goes on to describe how this geographical formation has led to a vast majority of the species that we see on Earth today. Along with its exhibits, the Biomuseo is also known for its amazing architecture, which was curated by Frank Gehry, who is one of the most important contemporary architects in the world. He designed the building to tell the story of how the isthmus of Panama rose from the sea and in consequence changed the world’s biodiversity (Fundación Amador, n.d.).10 Panama is not shy when it comes to teaching its visitors about both its historical and biological origins, which is a major contribution to the country’s significance to our society.
While it is impossible, to sum up, this outstanding country in a single piece, it is not hard to consider the meaningful mark that Panama has made on humanity. Through its facilitation of critical thinking in regards to its emergence into the developed world, the country emphasizes not only accepting our foundations but also embracing them. In this day and age, attempting to conform to what we think others want us to be is effortless action. For this reason, it is beyond important that we take the time to appreciate countries like Panama who are doing everything in their power to ensure that they have not lost their sense of self.
Catholic Review. (2012, January 19). Locals, tourists flock to Panama's Black Christ. Retrieved June 21, 2020, from https://www.archbalt.org/locals-tourists-flock-to-panamas-black-christ/
Centre, U. (n.d.). Archaeological Site of PanamÃ¡ Viejo and Historic District of PanamÃ¡. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/790
De CorrÃ3, M. (n.d.). Panamanian Culture. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https:// revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/panamanian-culture
F. (n.d.). The Building. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://www.biomuseopanama.org/en/ meet-biomuseo/building
Kopka, D. (2011, September 01). Welcome to Panama: Passport to Central & South America. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://books.google.com/books?id=UxSeCwAAQBAJ
Offshore Energy. (2018, October 12). Panama Canal Sets Record Cargo Volume for FY 2018. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://www.offshore-energy.biz/panama-canal-sets-record-cargo- volume-for-fy-2018
Soley, L. (2008, December 30). Culture and Customs of Panama. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://books.google.com/books?id=cNEcEyZs254C
Wagtendonk, A. (2014, August 15). How the Panama Canal helped make the U.S. a world power. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/panama-canal-helped-make- u-s-world-power
Author: Kayla Heinemann
Editor: Muika Yohannis
Contributors: Abdalrahman Elmahdi and Tex Wambui