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Diversity Is the Essence Of Panamanian Culture

Panamanian culture is as rich as the history of Panama. Starting from native Indian people to the colonial era settlements to the present times of multi-race communities, Panama has been a witness to varied cultures. And though Panamanian culture is believed to have derived chiefly from European artistic, literary and musical traditions brought to the land by the Spanish during their 300 or so years of rule, the influence of the indigenous cultures have been too strong to deny. North American culture has been a significant influence especially in the Panama Canal region. Consequently, what we see today in Panama is a cultural fusion, a cultural mixed bag!

The hybrid Panamanian culture is well reflected in Panama customs regarding their music, their dance, their festivities, their literature and even in their cuisine.

Speaking of the ways of life, the co-existence of the many influences in Panamanian culture is strongly evident in how the people of Panama lead their lives. People inhabiting the urban areas, particularly the Panama Canal area (where the US army was based in the days when the construction work of the Canal was under progress), lead refined, sophisticated lives. Be it in the field of art, architecture, music or sports, the cities represent a contemporary society where the US influence is much-too apparent.

In contrast, the Panama countryside with its cattle ranches and horses and Spanish folk songs, continues to be the stronghold of Hispanic culture. The native people of Panama restricted in the small land pockets here and there also continue to contribute immensely to Panamanian culture. Thus, the netted bags and beaded necklaces made by the Guaymí people and the brightly embroidered textiles called Molas (made by Kuna women) have brought Panama’s artwork and handicrafts worldwide recognition. The epic poems (extending to some hundreds or thousands of lines) of the Kuna people focus another aspect of the Panamanian culture.

Dance and music are the other great examples of the happy matrimony of diverse cultures in Panama. Thus, the traditional dance Tamborito introduced by the Spanish invaders borrows steps and rhythms from native dance forms. The influence of Afro-Caribbean music and that of other popular local music like salsas cannot be missed. Though Spanish is the preferred language for compositions, the themes, plots and even characters have their roots steeped in the colorful Panamanian culture.

The many festivities held year-round in Panama like the Carnaval or carnival, Festival of the Black Christ, Fair of Azuero, Semana Santa (or Easter Week), too uphold the land’s cultural diversity. Most of the festivals are excellent blending of Pagan and Catholic beliefs and rituals.

The diversity in Panamanian culture is evident in far too many ways than you would expect. Tours of the museums will surely help you but then you will need to read about Panama’s history, visit places of historic importance, talk to the people of Panama, taste varied cuisines served here, know about the religion of Panama and even be part of festivities to best appreciate Panama’s blended culture.

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