Culture of Panama
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The culture of Panama derived from the cultures of Indigenous peoples of Panama as well as European music, art and traditions that were brought over by the Spanish to Panama. Hegemonic forces have created hybrid forms of this by blending African and Native American culture with European culture. For example, the tamborito is a Spanish dance that was blended with Native American rhythms, themes and dance moves. Dance is a symbol of the diverse cultures that have coupled in Panama. The local folklore can be experienced through a multitude of festivals, dances and traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation.
Local cities host live Reggae en Español, Cuban, Reggaeton, Compas, Colombians, jazz, blues, salsa, reggae, and rock performances. Outside of Panama City, regional festivals take place throughout the year featuring local musicians and dancers.
Another example of Panama’s blended culture is reflected in the traditional products, such as woodcarvings, ceremonial masks and pottery, as well as in its architecture, cuisine and festivals. In earlier times, baskets were woven for utilitarian uses, but now many villages rely almost exclusively on the baskets they produce for the people.
The Kuna people are known for molas, the elaborate embroidered panels that make up the front and back of a Kuna woman's blouse. Originally the Kuna word for blouse, the term mela now refers to the several layers of cloth varying in color that are loosely stitched closely together made using a reverse appliqué process.
Performance arts are relatively new to the country’s art scene. The first expressions date back to the late 1990s, when local painters explored and incorporated some aspects of performance to their art shows and exhibits. Cabeza de Vélez, a Panamanian painter, was one of the first artists to introduce it. Performance arts are somewhat relegated to what is locally called ‘alternative culture’ but it is slowly gaining recognition and acceptance in the local contemporary arts circles. Today, artists such as Diego Bowie are at the forefront of the Panamanian performance arts.
The best overview of Panamanian culture is found in the Museum of the Panamanian, in Panama City. Other views can be found at the Museum of Panamanian History, the Museum of Natural Sciences, the Museum of Religious Colonial Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of the Interoceanic Canal, and the national institutes of culture and music.
A number of museums located in smaller communities throughout Panama's interior strive to preserve numerous aspects of the country's pre-Columbian, colonial and post-independence heritage. Examples include the Museum of Nationality in Los Santos, located in an original colonial home and exhibiting relics from the region’s pre-Columbian inhabitants, colonial period and nascent struggle for independence from Spain. The Herrera Museum was ranked #2 of 6 things to do in Chitre by Lonely Planet travelers. The two-story museum includes permanent exhibits covering the pre-Hispanic period, the region’s first mammals, and the contact between the Spanish and the natives. The main highlight of the second floor is a carefully constructed replica of the burial site of the Indian chief (Cacique) Parita.
An additional museum will soon be opening in Chitre as part of a unique tourism/residential project currently being developed. The Cubitá Museum will allow visitors and residents the opportunity to explore the variety of cultural influences that have shaped the history, art and folklore of the Azuero Peninsula, and to appreciate the unique and painstakingly crafted work of local artisans.
A scholarly analysis of Panamanian Museums, their history, exhibitions and social, political and economic contexts is available in the 2011 book "Panamanian Museums and Historical Memory".