The last indigenous kingdom of Central-America and their rights to the ancient land
Panama’s indigenous groups
Panama’s diversity is undeniable. The country gives home to seven indigenous groups; they are located in the Caribbean coastline, the Colombian and the Costa Rican border. They make up 13% of the population according to the 2010 census. Most of the tribes kept their traditional lifestyle, and to various degrees they have autonomy as well.
The indigenous territories recognised by the Panamanian government called ‘comarcas’, and there are 4 with autonomous and 3 with semi-autonomous rights. The comarca is basically a region where the groups can apply their traditional form of authority without interference.
The newest comarca
The newest comarca with autonomous provincial rights is the Naso Tjër Di. They have come a long way to own the rights to their land.
The last part of the 50-year-long process started in November 2018, when their authority was promised by Juan Carlos Varela, the president at the time. However, the act got vetoed in December the same year by Varela. The Nasos taken their case to the Supreme Court of Justice and they finally got to celebrate their authority on the 4th of December 2020.
The Nasos were also called Teribe by the conquistadors. A small indigenous group residing in the Caribbean side of the Panama-Costa Rica border, by the Rio Teribe,
Changuinola and San San, with the population around 4000 people. The Nasos are one of the last indigenous groups in Latin-America with a traditional monarchy.
The king lives in Sievic, that’s the capital of the comarca. In the past, the title was hereditary, and normally for life. After the king passed, usually his brother succeeded to the throne. Nowadays is a mixture of old and new, the king (or queen) has to be a member of the royal family, but elected by the people and can be removed from his (or her ) throne. The current king is Reynaldo Santana (since 2011).
Message from the king
He speaks about the importance of becoming a comarca, as it has an effect their politics, the preservation of their culture and identity. He also emphasises that the newly gained title will help to look after the natural treasures of their land as it was threatened and destroyed in the past by various forces.
“As Naso people we have lived for centuries in our ancestral lands protecting its forests and rivers. But we were under threat from hydroelectric dam projects and cattle ranchers. In fact, a dam has destroyed a large part of the fish population in one of the rivers.
With this Supreme Court ruling, we will be able to continue doing what we know best and what our culture and way of life represents: take care of our mother earth, conserve a majestic forest and protect the country and the planet from the effects of climate change.“ (https://www.landrightsnow.org/the-naso-people-of-panama-have-their-land-rights/)
The Naso People
The Naso people are traditionally farmers who life from the sales of their produce (such as cacao, fruits, animals, lumber) or their handicraft. Traditional houses made of palm stilts and leaves.
Most Nasos speak Naso and Spanish, and while the majority are Christian, some of the older people kept their traditions. The name Tjër Di is the name of one of their main god(dess), Grandmother Water.
While preserving traditions is very important, the other side of the coin is that a lot of the Nasos (just like most indigenous people in Panama) live in poverty. Young people often leave the land of their ancestors in the hope of work and better living circumstances.
—Liz Szalai is a writer, traveller, expat and yogi. She currently lives in El Valle de Anton, Panama. She has a background in psychology and education. She writes for immigrationnews.co.uk This is a media platform that helps to raise awareness about immigration related news and helps people to find professional help