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Ethnical Groups of Panama

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Panama counts on seven distributed ethnic groups all over the Isthmus, from high territories of Chiriqui to the dense forests of the Darien. Everyone has they one characteristic, customs and traditions that make them only and interesting. The visitor who coexists and see to depth his habits, meals and dances, wonders will have an unforgiving experience.

These tribes are the following:

  • Emberá – Wounaan



The Darién National Park is inhabited by the embera-wuonan or chocoes ethnic group that live in communities within the forest where they conserve their ancestral hunting, fishing and food harvesting customs, as well as their traditional huts that transport us to the indigenous past of America.

The Embera ethnic group – Wounaan previously was well-known as Chocoes, term imposed by investigators and anthropologists since they lived in Colombia in the Department of Choco. At the moment, this important indigenous group divides itself in two: the Wounaan and the Emberas, first inhabit the areas of the Darien (scattered in the borders of the rivers Chucunaque, Tuira, Rafts, Boy, Jaqe, Sambu, Bagre River, etc.) and the seconds also live in the borders of the Chagres River in Stop Chagres, Mocambo Down, San Antonio, Gamboa and Embera Gatun.


Their clothes, habits and customs are the same ones, for that reason they are only differentiated through his language that is totally different. The Emberas speaks to the Embara and the Wounaan the Nomara.

Its main occupation is the fishing and the products that use to negotiate are the fruits like the banana and the Guinean, which does transporting them in canoes by the rivers to the places of sale. Its colorful and showy clothes consist of ample skirts of printed textiles and the naked torso in the women, and the taparrabos men or “paruma” in order to hide its genitals. Both use corporal and face painting. The Emberas women – Wounaan loads necklaces elaborated with chaquiras and currencies of silver of legal course in its necks, thicknesses silver bracelets, and the Wounaan additionally adorns their hair with natural red papos.


They stand out by its artisan manifestations of greater attractive variety and: the elaborated and fine the wood baskets, carvings of high quality and the command batons (wood made according to the hierarchy of the Indian). Also they carve the Tagua with manual instruments of ingenious way creating a unique and imaginary art inspired by the flora and fauna that surrounds them. These taguas are painted with natural Earth dyes gone away and the plants, applying the traditional method used to dye fibers of their baskets. These sites have been visited during years as much by national tourists as international who are received by flautas, drums and other musical instruments that gives one him cheer welcome.

They enjoy the indians of his delicious meals (they prepare fish and banana or yucca generally) and of their singular dances in which they represent the life animal. The face and the body with “jagua” can acquire crafts of tagua, cocobolo, chaquira, etc., be painted; which lasts around 8 days, to know its style life, to see its houses. In short, to become involved of each small detail of these ethnic groups of exquisite cultural value.




This is a proud indigenous culture of Caribbean origin that inhabits the Archipelago of Kuna Yala and that is governed more by one of partner-political and religious them structure ordered and functional of the world.

Kunas live in an archipelago formed by more than 365 islands and they have simple house architecture based on cane. However they are strong, able to stand strong winds and rain. The Islands, where they live, are small pieces of paradise, possessing white sand beaches and very clear water. The beauty of the place is simply magnificent.


The Region Kuna Yala has been enjoying political independence and self-regulation for decades. Colorful houses with walls of cane brave and ceilings of straw where they place the Molas that sells, located throughout straight, clean streets and sandy, they give the welcome him in each one of the Kunas communities. Most important they are: The Future (head), Nargana, Heart of Jesus, Wichubwala, Nalunega, Sidra River, Carti-Sugtupu, Ailigandi and Achutupo. The same ones vary in their degree of western aculturation and in his infrastructure to welcome tourists, they offer from echo-lodges to more rustic cabins, but all still conserves the enchantment of the Pre-Columbian Caribbean. The molas comprise of clothes of the woman kuna and their several applications like pictures, neckties, hooks of hair are commercialized by them, forming most of their economic entrance.


Other articles to dress are the earrings round and golden (the great ones for celebrations are used) and the gold hoops in their nose (perforated after the puberty), like the red handkerchief with yellow or target, used when it keeps mourning. The delineated black red in its noses is extracted of a called fruit jagua or “zaptur” (in kuna) or of the white liquid of a tree, this last one is looked for within the forest.

The typical dances of this ethnic group are called Noga koppe and are danced to the compass of the music of flautas elaborated by they themselves with thin bamboo and thread and the maracas done with pumpkins and seeds of plants, are painted and varnished, others remain with their natural style. Its language is extensive and each element of this culture will be for you an adventure worthy to discover.

The Kunas are hard working people and jobs are defined according to sex. Men fish and take care of the plantations and women cook, take care of children and sew the colorful Molas which are pieces of thread finely cut and sewn together that resembles images of their culture, nature, animals, etc

Money is very important to this culture, then, they sell their Molas as souvenirs and commercialize their marine products. Fishing is rustic and they do not use any mechanical methods to catch their fishes. When tourists visit their Islands, it is mandatory to pay US$1.00 per picture if you want to photograph a person and a free for your movie camera. Scenic or field still pictures are free.




It is the indigenous group with greater population of the country; inhabit the highlands provinces of Chiriqui, Bocas del Toro and Veraguas where they live amidst green mountains and beautiful landscapes.

Food Habits

They are dedicated mainly to the agriculture of consumption with products like banana, rice, maize, yucca and frijol of rattan; chickens, pigs, turkeys, and bovine cattle raise; the hunting and the fishing practice. Many of these natives work in the exporter of bananas, coffee growers and sugar bowls, being an excellent manual labor for these industries.


Their feminine wardrobe presents a variety of colors and geometric forms while male attire presents the “chaquira” (a multicolor necklace) that can be acquired easily in their communities and crafts shops. They still practice ancestral rites like the “traditional Balseria” and other rituals.

The feminine dress is an ample nightgown of smooth colors with geometric applications in the area of the chest, coarse and sleeves. The masculine dress is equal to which it gets dressed in the city. This ethnic group is very well-known by the preparation of “chácaras”, bags done of fiber and colorants that are done of different sizes depending on the use that is going to give to it him.


Also they elaborate “chaquiras”, geometric necklaces of a showy polychrome made with obtained accounts of shells and bones, that are mainly of masculine use, although tourist are used in general form.

Near the Ngobes there is the small indigenous community of the Bokotas, scattered in small villas similar to those that existed when the first settlers arrived on the Isthmus of Panama. To get to the Bokotas village you have to journey into the deepest sector of the tropical forest that is full of adventure, surprises and unpredictable natural consequences.




This indigenous group lives in small communities scattered between Veraguas and Bocas del Toro.


Between his more outstanding crafts are the preparations of hats of dyed vegetal fiber and with designs characteristic of each craftsman. Also baskets, motetes and knapsacks of fiber or crust elaborate.


The men get dressed generally trousers and shirt of western cut and the woman regularly dresses the typical dress Ngobe, although some times replace the geometric applications pro fabric of colors.

  • [image]TERIBE (NAZO)


Lives in the western region of the province of Bocas del Toro, mainly that borders of the river that takes its name.



Its artistic expression is varied; conserve dances and dances like a bird, the dance of the tiger, among others.

Artesany and Food Habits

Baskets of different sizes, hammocks woven with “majagua” elaborate manually, and wood articles of laurel, cedar and pixbae as trays, pylons, body of drums, and mainly canoes in which are excellent carvers.




This small indigenous group is located in the border with Costa Rica, by the affluent of the River Yorkin and Sixaola in the province of Bocas del Toro.

Habits Food

Its nutritional practice consists of bananas, cacao, ñame, banana trees. The fishing and the hunting are dedicated to.


Their customs and traditions are similar to the one of the Ngöbes and Bokotas, although they maintain its language bri-bri.

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Citar este texto en formato APA: _______. (2013). WEBSCOLAR. Ethnical Groups of Panama. https://www.webscolar.com/ethnical-groups-of-panama. Fecha de consulta: 6 de diciembre de 2019.

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