|Traditional dress: "La Pollera", worn by women during national celebrations, festivals, carnivals and dance performances and by brides on their wedding day, is a national symbol. — Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Culture of Panama
On the occasion of the National Day of the Republic of Panama on November 3, the country's ambassador to Viet Nam Eduardo Young Virzi writes to Viet Nam News, introducing his country's land and people, history and typical cultural features.
The history of the country was determined by the geological emergence of the Isthmus of Panama more than three million years ago. The natural land bridge formed between North and South America became a route for hundreds of species of flora and fauna from both continents and home to the original human settlers of this bountiful land. Thousands of years ago, Panama was inhabited by the ancestors of today's Amerindian groups that thrive across the length of the country.
The population of Panama is very diverse, with almost four million inhabitants. Most people (67 per cent) have mestizo (indigenous Amerindian mixed with Caucasian) or mulatto (Caucasian mixed with Afro-Caribbean) origin, while 14 per cent are Afro-Caribbean and 10 per cent are completely Caucasian or Amerindian. About 3 per cent of the population is made up of varied ethnic backgrounds, predominantly Chinese and Jewish.
Most people are Catholic and are deeply bound to the traditions and cultural expressions of that religion. In the interior of the country, the greatest religious and cultural celebrations are related to the Saints. However, freedom of religion is respected.
Panama has a diverse array of cultural traditions. The cultures of several indigenous ethnic groups as well as other traditions have combined to produce a rich diversity of languages, religious celebrations and rhythms. Visitors can enjoy tipico and pindin music and traditional cuisine, like arroz con pollo (chicken rice), sancocho de gallina (chicken soup broth, prepared in a wood-burning stove) and the popular Panamanian tamal (traditional dish steamed or boiled in a banana leaf wrapper). The tamal can be filled with pork or chicken and vegetables according to taste.
One of the greatest cultural and traditional festivals of the people in Panama is the Carnival, which lasts four consecutive days and is the most anticipated event of the year. The Carnivals of Las Tablas, La Villa de Los Santos, Ocu, Chitre and Penonome are the most famous. Starting in the morning, people enjoy themselves by partaking in the tradition called mojadera or culecos, where people play with water guns and everybody is allowed to get wet, characteristic of festival celebrations in Panama. In the evening, crowds join spectacular parades in public places and avenues, the queens wearing luxurious and colourful costumes, accompanied by the traditional tamborito (a dance to the rhythm of Panamanian drums).
The National Dress of Panama, La Pollera, is the symbol of the Panamanian identity. It is worn by ladies during national celebrations, festivals, carnivals and folk dance performances and by brides on their wedding day. This hand-sewn costume consists of the pollerin (long skirt), petticoats and blouse decorated with laboriously embroidered designs of flowers, butterflies, birds, lace and crochet. It is a unique dress with lots of folds and frills. The beauty of the empollerada (a woman wearing the Pollera) is enhanced with tembleques and peinetas (hair ornaments), gold jewelry and accessories. The origins of La Pollera come from the female dress of the Panama Colonial era, which was highly influenced by Spanish clothing in the 16th and 17th century. Over time, it has been modified to suit the tropical climate in Panama. — VNS