Panama – The Naso Tribe

Schülerin Cosima

written by Cosima

After our stay with the Naso people in Panama I would like to write a short text about this ancient tribe in which I will give an overview over their everyday life as well as give some recommendations about the most interesting activities there.

Panama is primarily known for its beautiful tropical forests and the Panama Canal which connects the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean but only few people are familiar with the fact that Panama is also accommodating some of the most traditional living native tribes in the world.

One of the most interesting certainly is the Naso tribe. Living in 14 communities (Spanish comunidades) along the banks of river “Teribe” in the Panamanian rain forest the Naso still hold on to their ancient culture which dates back to the time before colonisation. Every community belongs to one lineage but only one person from the Santana family can be elected as king of all Naso. Apart from ancient customs they have their own language as well although nowadays it is only preserved in nursery rhymes and not used in their everyday life anymore.

The Naso are very nice people although they might seem small compared to the European norm.

Both men and women have round, friendly faces and are of an imposing physique.

This article is going to focus mainly on Bonyic, one of the biggest communities with approximately 800 inhabitants. The village consists of several small houses – bungalows all together – which are either built directly on the ground or on stilts. All of them are composed of wood, palm leaves and corrugated iron and therefore give an insight into the impressive craftsmanship of this native tribe which is also presented in their kitchen.

The recipes include many regional plants, fruits, vegetables and roots and are cooked in giant pots above a fire. Especially notable are rice, yucca, yame, orange, banana and chicken which might have a weird taste at first but tourists usually get accustomed to the foreign dishes pretty soon.

Furthermore, the food is presented in self-made plates (so-called „Kalabassen“) with a banana leave on top which provides for an aesthetic appearance.

Although the Naso still live very traditionally, a project initiated in order to design a new hydroelectric power station flooded huge parts of the tropical forest and brought civilisation to the natives.

Therefore, they have access to running water as well as to electricity and mobile phones but all of these things are limited and as the water is not very clean we would suggest tourists to bring their own water or water cleaning pills with them.

Another interesting place to visit is the “Parque Nacional La Amistad” on the other side of river Teribe.This protected area is home to an astounding diversity of plants and animals and visitors get a chance to see exotic and toxic animals like the sloth, frogs or serpents in their natural habitat.

Additionally guided tours are offered by the Naso which will introduce tourists to the usage of plants in regional pharmacy and the dangers but also opportunities presented by nature.

Furthermore, tourists get the chance to enjoy themselves during a trip on the river by boat, dugouts to be precise and experience the breathtaking beauty of the untouched nature.

Finally, it is a paradise for soccer fans because the Naso biggest passion is playing against each other and visitors are always welcome to join their teams.

In conclusion, living with one of Panamas most ancient tribes is an interesting and imprinting experience and is definitely worth the time.