home | basket gallery | mola gallery | tagua gallery
 masks | chacara bags | mola craftsartisans | email

Indigenous Artisans of Panamá

Emberá  Wounaan  Kuna  Ngobe-Bugle

Panamá has a diverse and culturally rich Indigenous population which accounts for approximately 8 percent of the total population. 

Although threatened by environmental degradation of their lands and incursions by outside groups,  the tribal people of Panamá have managed to preserve much of their culture and traditions.  They are engaged in a ongoing struggle to have their homelands legally recognized and the boundaries respected. 

Crafts for sale to outsiders have developed from the traditional material culture and now help maintain tribal identity as well as provide a supplemental means of support when people can no longer depend completely on a traditional lifestyle. 

The Emberá, with an estimated population of 20,000, inhabit the Darien rainforest of Panamá.  This tribe along with the Wounaan were formerly known as the Choco because they migrated from the Choco province of Colombia in the late 18th century.  Both the Emberá and the Wounaan have a similar river basin culture.

The Wounaan people number about 20,000 and also live in the Darien rainforest.  In 1983 the government of Panamá recognized the Comarca Emberá-Drua, a semi-autonomous Indigenous territory for both tribes.  This territory overlaps the Darien National Park and Biosphere Reserve.

The Kuna (Dule) have a population of around 47,000 members.  They migrated from the Darien region of Panamá to the San Blas Islands on the Atlantic coast in the mid nineteenth century.  In 1938, after a long struggle,  the Comarca of San Blas (Kuna Yala), a semi-autonomous territory, was recognized by the Panamanian government.

The Ngobe-Bugle (formerly Guaymí) are Panamá's largest Indigenous group with around 164,000 members. They inhabit the mountainous western provinces of Chiriqui, Veraguas and Bocas del Toro.  Although the Ngobe-Bugle have recently had their territories recognized as a Comarca by the government they continue to be threatened by outsiders.

Teribe and Bokotá
Panamá is also home to two other Indigenous tribes, the Teribe numbering 2,000 and the Bokotá with a population of 4,000.  Both these groups inhabit the western part of Panamá near the Costa Rican border.

For a list of books and articles with more information about
the indigenous people of Panama please click here . . .