Clothing, Shelter and Transportation in Panama
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Panama, a small country located in Central America, is very diversified in both its people and its climate. Considered to be the isthmus connecting South America to North America, Panama has played a key role in global transportation since the creation of the Panama Canal. The canal goes through the midsection of the country connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, allowing for much faster sea travel. Because of its location, Panama has been heavily influenced by several countries including Colombia which they were ruled by until 1903 and the United States which played such a large role in the realization of the canal. These foreign influences can easily be found in Panama's cuisine, music, and artwork as well as all the tribes that have settled within the country.
The climate of Panama is substantially different on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the country, namely in terms of annual rain fall. So much so that 'on the Caribbean slopes of the Tabasará Mountains' average rainfall is approximately twice as heavy as on the leeward Pacific slopes' (www.britannica.com). Furthermore, the Pacific has heavy rainfall almost all year round whereas the Atlantic side has distinct seasons, making it easier for agriculture to flourish.
Found in the western provinces of Chiriquí, Bocas del Toro, Veraguas and the San Blas Islands, the Kuna tribe is the second largest Indian group in Panama with approximately 35,000 people. While the Kuna speak their own language called ?Tule?, many speak Spanish and English because of the Colombian and US influences. Largely living in the rain forests, the Kuna live in ?traditionally thatched roof huts made from materials readily found in the jungle? (http://public.cwp.net). By using a combination of straw, palm leaves and reeds they use the resources found in their region to make shelter that is suitable for living in such a hot, humid climate. Their clothing, however, differs from other tribes in the country because of their location. Instead of preferring loin cloths like other tribes on the Pacific, rainier side of Panama do, the Kuna women wear ?wrap around skirts and beautifully hand-made blouses known as ?Molas?. The Mola is an intricately sewn picture made from layers of cloth in a reverse appliqué technique? while the men wear ?traditional Kuna shirts and less traditional pants, jeans, or shorts? (http://public.cwp.net). It?s easier for them to wear more clothing because they don?t have to continuously deal with rain.
The Embera and Waounan people of Panama live in the Darien of Panama, a region bordering the Pacific Coast. Living on the side of Panama which receives rainfall consistently all year, the Embera and Waounan choose to dress in loin cloths, or ?taparabo? as they are called, which only covers the genitals. In the US and other western countries we associate the ?loin cloth? as being indicative of a primitive group but it?s actually a very intelligent form of dress for tropical jungle environments. ?Pants and long shirts soaked with mud and water are heavy and burdensome and they facilitate skin problems such as rashes and infections? (www.nativeplanet.org). Both the men and women of the Embera tribe prefer to be bare-chested but do sometimes wear skirts called palomas. Like everything, they use the resources available to them to create their clothing, so while today some skirts are made with imported dyed cotton, palomas were traditionally made with palm fibers.
As was stated earlier, the thatched huts many indigenous people live in are very suitable for the climate. The houses traditionally made by these tribes were built on stilts, sometimes as high as ten feet, to protect themselves against tigers and to avoid flooding from all the rain. The houses used to all be made using bamboo or wood for the walls and thatch for the roofs to allow for breezes to keep the house cool and allow them to dry quickly. With outside influences, however, ?more recently houses have been constructed with walls on all sides ? and villagers with money now use corrugated zinc for roofing? (www.britannica.com). The reason they?ve been doing this is because it?s a status symbol since it?s more expensive but it has proven to be much less practical since these houses are ?noisy under the rain, and it transforms houses into Saunas during the mid-day heat? (www.britannica.com).
The traditional costume of Panama called ?Pollera? for women and the ?Montuno? (www.theworldly.org) for men has lost popularity for every day dress but still appears in festivals and national celebrations. There are several different types of Polleras that differ in style and materials based on the region they are made in. Typically, the fabric is completely white ?in order to enhance the contrasting appliqués and embroideries stitched along the dress? (www.theworldly.org). The colored pompoms are made of colored wool often imported from neighboring countries and locally made lace called Mundillo around the ruffles.
Housing in the cities is comprised of what we would consider to be modern housing, increasingly made of concrete as opposed to wood. As is the case everywhere, the conditions of shelter depends very heavily on peoples socioeconomic background. The major cities offer everything from ?fashionable high rise condominiums to slum and squatter settlements? (www.britannica.com). These kinds of houses, however, are of less concern to us because they aren?t effected as heavily by climate or region.
Transportation in Panama, compared to many other countries, is somewhat limited. Motor vehicles transport most agricultural products yet in 2002 there were a total of 11,592 km (7,203 mi) of roads and only 4,079 km (2,534 mi) were paved (?Impact of Development on the Panama Canal Environment?). Many of the unpaved roads are made by and for the convenience of lumber and mining companies which they usually have no plans of maintaining once they are no longer needed. Even more disturbing is that they clear the rain forests and cut down enormous numbers of trees with no concern of the environmental impacts, further aggravating the problem of deforestation. These roads may be useful at first but without proper upkeep they get destroyed by tractors and heavy rainfall and devolve rivers and streams.
Although it may not always seem obvious, the climate we live in not only effects but often times dictates many aspects of our lives. In the US and other developed nations we are able to minimize the effect climate has but for other people around the world they?ve really had to adapt to their environment and learn to use the resources they have available because they don?t have the luxury of importing products. The heavy rainfall may be a difficult obstacle to adapt to but the Panamanian people have been very successful in finding ingenious ways to work around it and use their location to their advantage.
1- Ouyang, Caroline. "Old Fashions, New Twist - Panamanian Clothing." 10 Dec. 2007
2- "The Embera and Waounan: Indigenous People of Panama and Colombia." Native Planet: Preserving Cultures. Empowering People. Native Planet: a Non-Profit Organization. 8 Dec. 2007
3- Bowerman, Eddie L. "About the Kuna Indians." Reaching the Kuna of Mandungandi. 2 Dec. 2007
4- Moreno, Stanley H. "Impact of Development on the Panama Canal Environment." Journal of Interamerican Studies & World Affairs: 1-13. Academic Search Premier. Miller Library, Colby College, Waterville. 1 Dec. 2007. Keyword: The Panama Canal.
5- "Panama: Daily Life and Social Customs." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2 Dec. 2007