Culture Of Panama

Ruins of Panama Viejo near Panama City, Panama.
Ruins of Panama Viejo near Panama City, Panama.

Panama is a Central-American country bordering Colombia and Costa Rica and is a diverse country. The country is home to mestizo, mullato, Native American, Afro-Panamanian, and white ethnicities that all have shaped the cultural landscape of the country. Native Americans can be defined as having the real indigenous culture which later morphed into hybrid forms after blending with African and European cultures.

7. Social Beliefs And Customs

The social beliefs and customs practiced in Panama are drawn from ethnic communities native to the country and those who came from different parts of the world. While the country is embracing modernism and foreign social beliefs most of which are practiced in the major cities, the traditional customs and beliefs are still observed particularly in the rural regions of Panama.

6. Cuisine

The cuisine in Panama features a wide array of foods and is mostly inspired by the diverse ethic cultures in the country. The local cuisine is comprised of a wide array of delicacies which is a reflection of the diversity in Panama. The most common ingredient in the local cuisine is corn, various types of meat, seafood, cassava (locally known as Yuva), wheat, and plantains. Some of the common main meal foods in Panama include the tortilla (particularly the maize-based tortilla) which is popular thin unleavened bread.

Another common food in Panama is the Carimanola, a popular breakfast item all over the country. The Carimanola is a cassava-based meat-pie which is usually stuffed with ground meat and cheese. Another delicious meal popular in Panama is the Roja Vieja which is made of shredded beef stewed with tomatoes and onions and is usually served with rice. Of all the meals in Panama, the Tamale is perhaps the meal with the longest history with the Tamale being prepared in Central America for thousands of years. The tamale is a corn-based food with chicken, pork or onion fillings usually prepared wrapped in banana leaves and is popularly served during special occasions such as weddings and holidays.

5. Clothing

The popular attires donned by Panama residents range from modern, western-style clothing such as jeans to traditional attire usually worn during special occasions. The diversity in Panamanian attire is best portrayed in female clothing. The pollera is one of the most popular traditional attire worn by women in Panama. The pollera was introduced in Panama by the Spanish colonialists and is found in many Central-American countries, and has distinct characteristics in Panama. The Pollera has a sophisticated design with tailors spending months to make a single pollera dress. July 22nd is celebrated annually in Panama as the Pollera Day, a testament to the pollera’s great cultural significance in the country. The most popular traditional attire for men is the formal montuno which features a camisilla (a long-sleeved shirt with a closed collar), the Sombrero Pintao (a traditional hat made of straw), and long, black trousers which is accessorized with a small bag known as the Chacara and black and white shoes locally known as Chinelas. The more casual traditional attire worn by Panamanian men is the montuno ocueno which is made up of knee-length shorts known as chingo and a shirt locally known as cotonoa. The montuno ocueno has beautiful embroidery which usually resembles animals or local flowers.

4. Music And Dance

Panama’s music scene is made of both traditional genres as well as modern genres (predominant in urban areas of the country). The original indigenous ethnic tribes in Panama such as the Nobe Bugle, the Kunas, and the Teribes influenced the traditional music. African slaves who settled in the region between the 16th century and the 19th century also influenced the style, composition, and performance of traditional music. One of the most popular traditional genres of music includes the cumbia which was popular in the 19th century together with the pasillo and Danza Salon dances. Another famous traditional dance is the tamborito that features male and female dancers wearing costumes. The Congo is a traditional music genre popular among Panamanians of African heritage, particularly in the Costa Arriba region. Some of the modern music genres include calypso, salsa, soul, Reggae en Espanol, and jazz. Reggae en Espanol is extremely popular among the youth and is the originator of another famous music genre, reggaeton. Some renowned musicians and dancers from Panama include award-winning Reggae en Espanol musician El General who is one of the pioneers of the genre. Ruben Blades is a world-famous, award-winning jazz musician and salsa performer from Panama.

3. Literature And Arts

Panama is home to many popular writers and has a bustling literary culture. The earliest literary work from Panama is dated back to 1535 in a publication from Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdez titled “Historia General y Natural de Las Indias.” The country is also home to many renowned poets including Consuelo Tomas, Ofelia Hooper, Stella Sierra, Jose Franco, and Alvaro Menendez Franco among many others. Other popular publications are short stories with the first publication being written by Horas Lejanas in the early 20th century. Popular themes in Panamanian publications are fiction as well as romance. Other forms of art in Panama include wood carvings, pottery, and ceremonial masks. Panama is home to numerous museums which house thousands of artifacts and include the Museum of the Panamanian, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Religious Colonial Art.

2. Religions And Festivals

Freedom of religion is a right enshrined in the Constitution of Panama. Christianity is the dominant religion in Panama with the Roman Catholic denomination believers accounting for over 70% of the total population and Protestant Christians accounting for about 19% of the population. The country’s capital, Panama City, is home to the Islamic and Jewish minority who are estimated to have 20,000 believers combined. There is a significant number of Buddhists in Panama who number about 15,000 followers. The biggest festival of the year in Panama is the Carnaval de Las Tablas, a four-day carnival which features singing and dancing and is held in all the principal towns and cities. Originating in the 19th century, Carnaval de Las Tablas was initially held by Calle Abajo and the Calle Arriba communities. The other main annual festivals held in the country include the Festival de la Mejorana en Guarare (held in September), the Fiestas Patrias (held in November), and the Festival de Cristo Negro de Portobelo (held in October).

1. Sports

Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Panama and is a testament to the influence of the United States on the country’s culture. Panama has produced several international baseball players including Carlos Lee and Carlos Ruiz. Another popular sport in the country is boxing with Panama producing international boxing champions which include Roberto Duran who is widely regarded as “one of the greatest boxers of the 20th century.”


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