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David S. Parker
Charles I. McGinnis
Frank A. Baldwin
PANAMA -'. )CANAL
Morgan E. Goodwin, Press Officer
Willie K. Friar, Jose T. Tufi6n
Eunice Richard, Fannie P. Hern6ndez,
nal Information Officer Official Panama Canal Publication and Franklin Castrell6n
Review articles may be reprinted without further clearance. Credit to the Review will be appreciated.
The Panama Canal Review is published twice a year. Yearly subscription: regular mail $1, airmail $2, single copies 50 cents.
For subscription, send check or money order, made payable to the Panama Canal Company, to Panama Canal Review, Box M, Balboa Heights, C.Z.
Editorial Office is located in Room 100, Administration Building, Balboa Heights, C.Z.
Printed at the Panama Canal Printing Plant, La Boca, C.Z.
This special edition features arti-
cles on Panama reprinted from THE
PANAMA CANAL REVIEW, which be-
gan publication May 5, 1950. These
articles, for which there have been
many requests for reprints, have
been selected from issues published
between 1965 and 1973. Orders for
this special edition should be sent to
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW, Box M,
Balboa Heights. Each copy comes in
a special envelope with a gift card,
ichich will be inscribed as you re-
quest. Single copies, regular mail are
$1 each, airmail $2. Check or money
order should be payable to the Pan-
ama Canal Company.
U R ll
I I N
;rz i &
Real Panama Hat
Panama's Money Trees
All About the Mola
Cane Cages Come in Many Shapes
From Panama's Primitive Past
Comes the Chaquira
A Bird Watcher's Paradise
It's More Than Pot Luck at La Arena
Down in the Darien
Panama-Focal Point of History
The Panama Canal
RitElW THE COVER-Credit for our cover goes to Don Goode for the photograph of the Cuna woman, of the San
Bias Islands; to Kevin Jenkins for the photograph of the pollera-clad young Panamanian and the aerial view
of Panama City; and to Mel Kennedy for the aerial view of Gatun Locks. The photograph of the porthole
,I or., i.r ,. i.r r.iidd b., "The Port of Long Beach Artluor is by Carlos Mcndcz.
SPECI I EDITION
THE HOLY GHOST ORCHID, the national flower of Panama, appears to have a perfectly formed white dove nestled
in each waxy-white cup-shaped blossom. This fragrant orchid blooms from July to September and can he found at low to medium
elevations in shaded areas, but commercial collecting has made it increasingly rare in Panama.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 3
5 ~ c.~ c
PANAMA IS SMALL, old, and most
g$ of the year, green, lush, sundrenched,
rain-washed and beautiful. As a residen-
tial area or as a crossroads for those
who have come and gone since the
Spanish conquest more than four cen-
turies ago, it has meant many things
to many people. To persons who today
$ live and work on this narrow neck
of land that joins two massive conti-
nents and separates two mighty oceans,
Panama is home-a happy home.
In its essential aspects, Panama has
much in common with other Latin Amer-
ican nations, sharing a common cultural
heritage, traditions and language.
The pattern of home and community
living for a U.S. citizen on the Isthmus
S is similar to that of an average town
or city in the United States. Each res-
ident carves out his own interests at
his own pace. He works and plays at
more or less the same vocations and
hobbies as in the U.S., with the advan-
tage of more leisure to pursue hobbies
and sports. Usually, there are enough
daylight hours after work to enjoy nine
holes of golf, play two sets of tennis, go
horseback riding, or do a little fishing.
The climate is tropical and the
relatively high but even temperature
permits year-round enjoyment of out-
door activities and water sports. The
two oceans hugging the Isthmus offer
swimming, boating, skin diving, surfing,
water skiing and have produced record
shattering gamefish. A total of 528
pleasure boats registered in the Canal
Zone reflects the large number of lei-
sure-time sailors in the community.
White sand beaches stretching for miles
invite sun worshipers, particularly such
Pacific side beaches as Rio Mar and
Santa Clara which compare with the
finest in the hemisphere.
Panama is one of the leading sport
centers in Latin America and offers such
spectator sports as horse racing every
weekend and on holidays. From Dec-
ember to February fans jam the Na-
tional Stadium to watch the Panama
Professional Baseball League in action.
Bullfighting may be seen from January
to Aoril at the Plaza de la Macarena
in shubrban Panama City. The Panama
Open brings some of the world's top pro-
fessional golfers and attracts thousands
NATIVE DANCERS-Cuna Indians from the San Bias Islands perform a native dance for
a Canal Zone audience. The women are wearing molas and wrap-around skirts.
YOUNG ANGLER-Fishing from the rocks
on the Fort Amador causeway, this young
angler may bring in a delicious corbina, red
snapper or a kingfish mackerel.
CAYUCO RACE-Explorer Scouts paddle their cayucos through the Canal nearing the
end of an annual ocean-to-ocean race sponsored by the Canal Zone Boy Scouts.
to the Panama Golf Club. Basketball
games are popular, and less known by
U.S. citizens is cockfighting, a spectator
sport that features wagering.
For the hunter, the primitive jungles
offer a chance to stalk jaguar, ocelot, ;4
puma, deer, wildcat, and wild pig. Bird MIR u H
hunting enthusiasts may search out wild '
turkey, duck, quail, and wild dove. The
entire country is a bird watcher's para- -
dise, but the big exotic creatures are'
found in the deep forest.
Church, civic, fraternal and social
daily life. For the men there are Ma-
sonic organizations, Elks, Knights of Co-
lumbus, veterans' organizations, Lions
and Rotary, Canal Zone Pacific Power
Squadron, and baseball leagues. There.
are judo clubs, bowling and softball
leagues, gun clubs, camera clubs, thea-
ter guilds and many other social and
sport groups to occupy all interested -. -
members of the community during the -
evening hours and on weekends.
The Balboa Women's Club and the
Cristobal Women's Club, the Inter-
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
TABOGA-Tamarind trees provide cooling shade for strollers on beautiful Taboga Island,
one of the favorite resorts near the Canal Zone for swimming and boating.
American Women's Club, Order of the
Eastern Star, veterans' organization aux-
iliaries, Pen Women, church groups,
and other social and cultural organiz-
ations offer a wide range of doings for
Appealing to the hobbyists are several
organizations to satisfy the spare time
pursuits of most enthusiasts. The Canal
Zone Gem and Mineral Society, Isth-
mian Numismatic Club, Panama Shell
Club and bottle collectors hold periodic
exhibits which attract community in-
terest. There are also opportunities to
study art, music, history, archeology,
and other subjects. Persons interested
in pre-Columbian and colonial history
of Panama and artifacts may join the
Archeological Society of Panama or the
Friends of the National Museum of
Panama. A Canal Zone svmphonette
and chamber music group offer the
musically inclined a chance to fulfill
Good roads permit residents to travel
to most parts of Panama and on week-
ends and holidays many persons head
for the Interior, famous for its rich,
green mountains, crystal clear waterfalls
and inviting beaches. A number of U.S.
citizens own summer homes in a pictur-
esque valley called El Valle de Ant6n,
home of "golden" frogs and square trees,
which provides a cool respite from the
heat of the city.
On a long weekend, one may venture
further north to Panama's province of
contrasts, Chiriqui, where a short drive
through varied landscapes takes us from
the tropical climate of David, the princi-
pal city, to the lovely and cool mountain
village of Boquete or to the breathtaking
hamlets of Cerro Punta and Volcan.
Here there are excellent fruits and veg-
etables, trout fishing, beautiful flowers
and magnificent mountain scenery.
About 1 hour by car in the opposite
direction from Panama City is Cerro
Azul. Here a man-made lake at 2,500
feet above sea level offers boating,
swimming, fishing, and other recreation.
A sweeping view of the rolling green
mountains and of the lake is well worth
the 25-mile drive.
For a very special weekend there is
Taboga, the "Isle of Flowers," a trop-
ical resort about 12 nautical miles from
the city. Here there are no honking
autos nor exhaust fumes to pollute the
clean sea breezes that mingle freely with
the bouquet of sweet jasmine, oleander,
and a myriad of wild flowers. A modern
hotel, white sand beaches, and pictur-
esque houses skirting the shore make
Taboga one of the favorite resorts.
Bocas del Toro and the San Bias
Islands beckon from the Atlantic side
of the Isthmus. At Bocas, the climate
and beaches are unsurpassed and the
fishing is superb.
On the San Bias Islands, accessible
by air or boat, life goes on much as it
did when Columbus discovered Amer-
ica. The Cuna Indians live in settlements
scattered through 365 islands and main-
tain their tribal customs and ceremonies.
This is where the mola, a decorated
cotton panel, embroidered, and perfor-
ated to show underlying colors, is worn
by San Bias women. Two molas make
a blouse with the addition of shoulder
pieces and short sleeves. Many Canal
Zone residents own at least one mola, not
for wearing, but framed and displayed
on a wall.
Rare is the American in Panama who
does not partake of the merriment of
Carnival which starts 4 days before Lent
and closes at dawn on Ash Wednesday.
Many persons also attend and partici-
pate in the many rural fairs held on the
Isthmus during the dry season-usually
from mid-December to mid-April.
Night life in Panama is as gay as one
wishes to make it. He may dine under
the stars in one of the many tropical
restaurants, luxury hotels in the city or
at an attractive motel-type inn located
near the airport. Excellent food, both
continental and native dishes are served.
Panamanian dishes and seafood to match
those of any country are served at open-
air restaurants on the shores of Panama
Bay. Home barbecues are popular on
the Isthmus and beach parties are held
frequently during dry season.
For picnics, in the Canal Zone there
is Summit Gardens, which has been
called one of the most remarkable trop-
ical gardens in the world. Here the
visitor can enjoy nature in its fullest
tropical splendor walking through the
300 acres of native and imported tro-
pical plants. The zoo at the gardens
also is an attraction for both children
The pattern of children's lives differs
little from that of those in an average
town in the United States. They attend
schools in the Canal Zone, from kinder-
garten through junior college, which
compare favorably with the finest in the
United States. Plenty of recreational
and character building activities are
provided by Boy Scout and Girl Scout
troops on both sides of the Isthmus.
A summer recreational program spon-
sored by the Schools Division keeps
them busy during the summer months.
So does Scout camp. Several riding clubs
give young horse enthusiasts an oppor-
tunity to display their equestrian skills.
A large number of swimming pools ac-
commodate children of all ages. Teen
clubs serve as a gathering place for
youngsters after school and after ath-
letic events and provide a setting for
evening dances. Courses in SCUBA
diving, judo, swimming, weight-lifting
and ballet are available at the YMCA.
Children's activities include bowling,
roller skating, baseball, football, tennis,
amateur theater productions, .river's
training, soap-box derbies, volunteer
work, Boys' State and Girls' State and
working as student assistants for the
Panama Canal organization. One of the
most exciting events is the ocean-to-
ocean cavuco (native canoe) race by the
Explorer Scouts each April.
NCE THE MARKET PLACE OF
the Americas and the Caribbean
port through which the inestimable
treasure of the Incas found its outlet,
Portobelo is about to awaken after a long
sleep of more than two centuries.
The site of many a bloody buccaneer
raid and the final resting place of Sir
Francis Drake is to be restored and re-
built at a cost of $6.5 million through the
efforts of a group of historical monument
experts from the Organization of Amer-
ican States working with the Panama
Government Tourist Bureau and AID.
Plans for the restoration of the his-
toric old town and its system of fortifica-
tions will include the establishment of
a 22,500-acre national park, according
to Dr. Alfredo Castillero C., director of
Historical Tourism in the Panama Tour-
ist Bureau and director of the History
Department of Panama University.
Within the park area, the old town will
be restored. This will include reconstruc-
tion of the old forts, churches, and public
buildings and the reinforcement of the
foundations of the old ruins. The work
should be completed in about 4 years.
Land access to Portobelo was opened
not long ago with the completion of a
modern asphalt highway connecting the
town with the Transisthmian Highway.
For the first time in history, Isthmian
residents were able to travel to the old
fortress town by car instead of going by
sea. Engineers from the OAS already
have started their surveys and have set
aside sites along the beach to the east
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 7
of Portobelo for construction of modern
The history of the little town, with the
magnificent harbor discovered by Co-
lumbus in 15i12, has been turbulent.
Founded by the Spanish more than 300
years ago as a replacement for Nombre
de Dios, which was difficult to defend,
it became one of the strong fortresses
along the Atlantic coast and the third
strongest in Spanish America. It was
named oritiri.dlK San Felipe de Porto-
belo and old records say that by 1618
there were 130 houses in the main town,
not counting the suburbs, "the gover-
nor's house, the king's houses, a monas-
tery, a convent, a plaza, and a quay."
The main city will rise again, accord-
ing to the restoration plans. It was well
built ,riLiin.ill of stone and brick and
most of the ruins of the official buildings
still remain along with the official Cus-
toms House which is nearly intact. The
early town had suburbs, one of which
was set aside for freed slaves. The build-
ings were chiefly of cane with palm
An artist's conception of the plan for the restoration of the town of Portobelo is shown by
Janine Lizuain, secretary in the Historical Department of the Panama Tourist Bureau.
Maria Elena Hart, secretary in the Historical Department of the Panama Tourist Bureau,
holds a picture showing how the Royal Customs House in Portobelo will look when it is
restored under the plan for restoration of historical sites.
The Customs House as it appears today, roofless but with its walls still standing sturdily.
It was built in 1630 and served until the end of the Spanish colonial period in 1821. It
was often crammed with chests of gold and silver.
thatch, all of which disappeared long
ago, without a trace, into the jungle.
It was but an outpost in the jungle
after all. No man alone dared travel the
royal road from the city's gate after
nightfall. In the streets, snakes, toads,
and iguana were frequently seen. The
native wildcat prowled in the suburbs
and, besides carrying off fowls and pigs,
sometimes attacked human beings.
But Portobelo was a market town as
well as a fortress. It came to life at least
once a year during the trading fairs
which lasted from 40 to 60 days. The
flood of gold that poured through the
trails across the Isthmus, after Pizarro
began his plunder of Peru, was traded
for goods from Spain and Europe. The
fair began when the fleet of merchant
ships and galleons arrived in port from
Cartagena and Spain loaded with goods
to be traded for gold and silver. The
goods were shipped to South America
and even to the Philippines.
Bustle and Excitement
The town took on an air of bustle and
excitement at the time of the fair. The
houses were crowded with people, the
square and the streets crammed with
goods, the Customs House with chests of
gold and silver, and the port filled with
vessels. Portobelo became the emporium
of the riches of the two worlds and the
most important commercial depot of
In the square facing the Customs
House, merchants erected cane booths
and tents made of sails from the ships
while all available space was filled with
goods. With the fleet of merchant and
warships came nearly 6,000 soldiers,
merchants with their clerks and porters,
buyers of all nationalities and, of course,
the sightseers. So crowded was the little
town that it appeared to be in the
possession of a mob.
The Customs House, built in 1630
during the administration of Alvaro de
Quifiones, served until the end of the
Spanish colonial period in 1821. The
Council of the Indies had ordered the
Customs House to be built in the most
convenient spot with one entrance and
one exit only to help prevent fraud.
A royal tax collector was on hand to
collect the royal fees.
Because of the wealth stored at Porto-
belo and its use as a trading center, its
fame spread over the Spanish Main.
Although Portobelo was substantially
built and protected by four strong for-
tresses and several minor batteries, the
town was repeatedly taken by the British
and other marauders. The first to attack
was the English pirate William Parker
in 1602, and the last was Adm. Edward
Vernon of the British Navy, who cap-
tured the town in 1739. He caused the
most damage when he blew up and
dismantled the fortress.
The most savage of all the scores of
raids was made by Sir Henry Morgan,
who according to Esquemeling, the
Dutch historian, attacked for the first
time in 1668 and killed or wounded a
majority of the inhabitants. At that time
the garrison consisted of 300 soldiers
and the town was inhabited by 400
The main forts, which are to be totally
restored by the Tourist Bureau are La
Fortaleza de Santiago and San Felipe,
both dating from 1600; Fort San Ger6-
nimo, which is located within the pres-
ent town; and the famous Fort San Fer-
nando, built about 1753, across the
beautiful bay. This fort has a 17-cannon
line that somehow has escaped most of
the ravages of time. High above San
Fernando, a second platform of cannons
points toward the sea and atop an even
higher crest stands Casa Fuerte, Porto-
belo's prime lookout and vantage point,
which gives a superb view of the
complex of forts below.
San Felipe, once known as Todo Fie-
rro or the iron fort, was built in 1600
at the entrance to the bay and was par-
tially destroyed by raiders. At the time
the Panama Canal was being built, the
site was turned into a quarry, and it
was said that what the English pirates
started to do, the Americans completed.
The fort of Santiago de la Gloria was
built in 1604 within the town limits
while Santiago was built on the coast
road leading to the town. The Fort
known as Farnese or Faresio is on the
south side of the harbor and not too far
from the island where history says Drake
is buried. All in all, there are about 12
fortifications to be restored.
The Parish Church
The parish church of San Felipe,
which was still unfinished when it was
dedicated in 1814, is one of the oldest
buildings in the town still in use. It
replaced a smaller church of the same
name, the ruins of which still remain.
The most interesting thing about San
Felipe church is that it houses the image
of the Nazarene of Portobelo, a hand-
some effigy of Jesus bearing the cross,
A.- -4, ..W
One of the old Spanish cannons of Fort San Fernando, its carriage rotted away years ago,
points out toward the entrance to the bay of Portobelo. Two modem yachts can be seen
at anchor in the distance.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
The ruins of the original church of San Felipe in Portobelo. This
church, also known as the Hospital Chapel, will be rebuilt under
the plans for the restoration of the town of Portobelo.
The new church of San Felipe, which houses the famous image of
the Black Christ, stands stark against the brilliant blue sky of
Portobelo. Services were first held here in 1814.
The Black Christ, one of the most revered
images throughout Panama is surrounded by
candles for the annual "Feast of the Black
hewn from wood of southern Spain more
than 300 years ago. Called the "Black
Christ," it has become one of the most
revered images throughout Panama and
the focal point of an annual church fes-
tival which draws thousands of visitors
Legend has it that the image of Christ
came to Portobelo aboard a sailing ship
bound for Cartagena, Colombia. When
the galleon sailed from Portobelo, a
fierce storm sank it. The boxed image
floated free and was washed up on a
nearby beach. There it was found by
the townspeople and taken back to
"Feast of the Black Christ"
The annual celebration of the "Feast
of the Black Christ" began in 1821 when
a cholera epidemic ravaged the Isthmus.
The Portobelo residents made a vow to
celebrate a feast day of the Black Christ
each October 21 if the town were spared.
The epidemic bypassed the town.
The present day town of Portobelo
has only slightly more than 500 citizens
and they have developed a personality
of their own. They are descendants of
the Spanish and Indians and the Spanish
and African slaves, with a third group
made up of people of distinct African
ancestry. Dr. Dulio Arroyo, retired dean
of the Faculty of Law at the University
of Panama, and a native of Portobelo,
says members of this group "carry in
their blood centuries of tradition."
Among these traditions are primitive
dances with a definite African flavor,
called "congos," which they perform
wearing costumes fashioned from the
bark of the palm tree and decorated with
The congo dances have become a part
of Panama's folklore and they are pre-
sented at most typical Panama dance
exhibitions. Congo dancers can be seen
mainly at carnaval time when "congos"
from neighboring villages come to Por-
tobelo to roam the streets and perform
thc.ir lively dances.
Although there has been a slight tour-
ist boom since the completion of the
highway connecting the town with
Colon and Panama, the carnival celebra-
tion and feast of the Black Christ are
about the only times when present day
Portobelo comes to life.
But it is only a matter of time, the
Panama Tourist Bureau says. As soon
as the town is rebuilt and the hotels
completed, Portobelo will become a
tourist mecca. Once again, Portobelo,
the old market center, the scene of so
much adventure and strife, will take its
place on the map and help in the
economic revival of the Gold Coast of
By Jos6 T. Tufi6n
RICH OR poor, young or old, no man
or woman of Panama's interior is ever
caught without a "montuno" hat-well,
hardly ever. For the distinctive native
hat is as much a part of the national
attire as the well-known "montuno" out-
fit is for men and the now internationally
famous "pollera" is for women.
Except that sex makes no difference
in the use of the hat.
At first glance, there is nothing out of
the ordinary in the appearance of Pan-
ama's "montuno" hat. The crown is of
normal size, about 6 inches high, and
Nimble fingers at work, Victoria Domin-
guez of La Pintada prepares the fibers for
the miniature montuno hats which are given
as souvenirs in Panama City.
raised or flat depending on the locality
where it is made. The wide brim is
But the fiber and the weaving are
The raw material is the shoot of a
palm tree that grows wild in the highi
mountains of Cocld and V' rn,.,, Pro-
vinces, in an area some lIll inilh west
of Panama City. In Panama it is known
as "bellota," elsewhere in Latin Amer-
ica as "bombonaje" or "-lpi.ip.i Inci-
dentally, it is the same fiber that is used
in Ecuador to make the once-famous
In the Cocld and Veraguas mountains
of central Panama live the "cholos"-
descendants of the fiery Indians and the
proud Spaniards. It is their women who
have preserved the art of hat weaving
from generation to generation.
A farmer at the San Sebastian Fair at
Ocu proudly wears his "Sunday best" mon-
tuno hat which is woven of white fiber.
For everyday he wears a montuno hat of
A traveler Liki.g the winding moun-
tain trails of El Cop6 and El Harino,
above Penonome, is apt to come upon
the glow of rustic lanterns burning in
the homes of the "cholos" before day-
break. The women are weaving the finer
montuno" hats. For the work must be
done between 4 and 8 in the morn-
;,'-'1I., 1. the moisture in the air is
highest to render the fiber softer and
more pliable. The rest of the day, the
materials have to be kept wrapped in
The painstaking weaving takes many
early ri.-i.air4 hours, but when the hat
is finished, it is a real piece of native art.
The strands are obtained by splicing
the "bellota" shoot with a needle. Then
the fibers are left out in the damp morn-
ing air to acquire the required consis-
tency before being wrapped in damp
cloth for t',liii, Using head shaped
wooden blocks, the women patiently
interweave as many as 15 strands of
fiber to fashion a hat.
There are two distinct styles of "mon-
tuno" hats. One is the "ocuefio," named
for the region of Oc6 where it is most
popular. The "ocueiio" hat is woven
of white fiber, except for a 1-centi-
meter wide black strip around the edge
of the brim. The other is the "pin-
tao" (a corruption of "pintado" or spot-
ted) hat, its name deriving from the
"pintas" or designs obtained from inter-
weaving white and black fiber strands
Each design is up to the weaver's
imagination; hence, the variety is almost
limitless. Look at a collection of "pintao"
hats and you will wonder at the artistic
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
touch of these women from the moun-
tains of Panama. The designs-some in
concentric circles, others in spirals,
in squares, cross-shaped or simply in
dots-evidence a sense of refinement and
exquisite care. The crown of the "pin-
tao" hat is flat instead of raised as in the
Regardless of the color, all the fiber
that goes into a "montuno" hat comes
from the same ballott" palm. The
black strands have been dyed with a
special clay that is a zealously guarded
secret of the "cholos." The jet black
color imparted to the fiber is indelible.
No matter its style, the "montuno"
hat is usually adorned with a delicately
woven cord of black or multi-colored
thread or wood that serves as a band.
The weaving of the cord is another home
craft transmitted from generation to
generation among the women of Pan-
ama's countryside, particularly in the
area of Ocil. It involves an ingenious
technique: pins are stuck around the
hole at one end of an ordinary spool of
sewing thread-one pin for each of the
colors in the finished cord. The colored
strands then are interwoven around the
pins and the finished cord emerges
through the other end of the spool. In
Oci the weaving of cords for use as
"montuno" hatbands is a pastime for
most women-from the richest matron to
the humblest girl.
When should one wear an "ocuefio"
or a "pintao" hat?
Mrs. Dora P6rez de ZArate, an author-
ity on Panamanian folklore, explains
the difference, from a woman's stand-
"The 'campesina' in Oci or Veraguas
prefers her hat plain, rounded, with no
special adornment or particular shape
to the brim. She wears this hat with her
daily attire and also, when she pleases,
with her lace 'pollera'. . The people
of Herrera Province . the Province of
Los Santos and of the rest of the coun-
try . wear the 'pintao' hat only with
their 'pollera montuna' (the common
'pollera'); the headdress is different
when a lace 'pollera' is worn . ."
The Important Thing
And what about the men? They have
an everyday, working hat of a rougher
nature, and for holidays and festive
occasions wear similar hats but these
are better made. Regardless of the style,
the important thing is to wear a "mon-
tuno" hat. Why?
Writer Roman B. Reyes put it this
"The 'montuno' hat is indispensable
to dance the 'tamborito.' It is an emblem
of masculine enthusiasm and of court-
ing, a prerequisite for his gestures of
tribute and admiration to the woman
who shares with him the pleasure of
Panama's "montuno" hat industry is
very old. No one really knows when it
began. Knowledgeable persons such as
Elias Vega, an expert hatter in Peno-
nome, say it goes back to pre-Columbian
A distinguished American educator
played an important part in an interest-
ing chapter of the history of the native
hat industry in Panama. He was Fede-
rico E. Libby, who was employed by
the Panama government in 1914 as
Inspector General of Education. He
spoke Spanish fluently, having worked
in Puerto Rico for a long time. Libby
was convinced that the rural school had
to be adapted to the environment of the
students in order to train them in useful
crafts. When Libby heard of the hat
industry in the Cocl highlands, at La
Pintada and Ocu, he brought an expert
hatter from Ecuador, Francisco Lara,
and established a school in Penonome to
teach the weaving of Panama hats.
Few persons realize it, but Panama
hats made in the Penonome Hatters
School were sold in the United States
and in Germany and were worn by
members of Panama's most prominent
Graduates from this school, which
operated for 20 years, spread through-
out central Panama, mainly in Cocl and
Herrera Provinces, resulting in a marked
growth of the native hat industry.
A Panamanian beauty wears a "pintao"
hat distinguished by the black fiber.
Thus, an American left the imprint
of his work on the "montuno" hat craft
In recent years, the Panama Govern-
ment and the United Nations, through
SENAPI (National Service of Crafts-
manship and Small Industries), have
boosted the industry. In La Pintada,
SENAPI has established small shops for
fiber weaving where expert instructors
teach residents the secrets of working
with materials from native plants. There
are many learners and both the quality
and the variety of the articles are
Still, the most authentic "montuno"
hats-and the finest-are those woven in
the glow of rustic lanterns by the skilled
fingers of "cholas" in the highlands,
between 4 and 8 every morning.
,n i ^ il
A wedding in Oct. All the guests and the bridegroom wear the "ocuefio" or white montuno
hats. The bride is attired in a white pollera wedding dress and wears gold combs in her
hair which are family heirlooms. The flags are used to add gayety to the occasion.
12 SPECIAL EDITION
Shrimp seviche, served with saltines, tops the list of favorite Panama hors d'oeuvres. Its
fame also has spread to the United States where it is served at cocktail parties and dinners.
By Fannie P. Hernandez
ONE OF the most popular and well-
known hors d'oeuvres in Panama is a
raw fish dish that is becoming more and
more popular at the most discriminating
Called seviche, this zippy Latin
American appetizer also is spelled se-
biche, cebiche, or ceviche-depending
upon the locale.
Basically, seviche is made of any
good quality white fish, shrimp or scal-
lops "cooked" in citrus juice. Several
countries claim the origin of this inge-
nious way of serving fish not cooked in
the customary manner. Peru, Ecuador,
and Panama, all refer to it as their
Centuries ago, however, the Japanese
were dipping raw sardines in soy sauce
and popping them into their mouths,
and sashimi, fish marinated in soy sauce
and lemon juice, has been a favorite
Japanese dish for about 2,000 years.
Sashimi could very well be the forerun-
ner of seviche.
Lemon juice for preserving fish was
introduced into Japan from China or
another area of Asia where citrus fruit
had its origin. As Japan is surrounded
by waters swarming with fish, this food
has been an important item in the
Japanese diet since ancient times.
Whoever first hit upon the idea of
cooking by marinating in citrus juice
deserves credit for a favorite hours
d'oeuvre being offered at cocktail par-
ties and dinners, not only in Latin
America, but in many cities in the
United States and other countries where
hostesses have discovered the excellence
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 13
strong mustard. (Note the omission of
2 pounds fish fillets
2 cups lemon juice
% cup soy sauce
% cup thinly sliced onions
3 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
Remove the skin from fillets and slice
Vs inch thick. Mix the other ingredients
and pour over the fillets which have
been placed in a glass bowl or platter.
Let it marinate overnight.
'" .... .. ^ .
,, . ..
~i b 5
of the tasty, spirited appetizer. The idea
has caught on and spread like the fire
of the nippy hot peppers that enhance
the flavor and aid the cooking process.
From its probable humble source in
Japan, to its enthusiastic acceptance in
Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, and Panama,
the respectability of the raw fish appe-
tizer has extended to well-known res-
taurants in New York City. Immediate
acceptance and continued popularity of
seviche may be due to the fact that it
is not only pleasing to the palate but
also nutritious and simple to prepare.
Any food which can be prepared ahead
and served the following day, or even
days later, is bound to win the approval
of today's busy hostess.
Variations in the Savor of seviche
depend upon the particular citrus juice
or combination of juices and the other
ingredients used in the marinade. The
marinade juice could be lemon, lime,
or sour orange, or a combination of two,
or even all three juices. The acid in the
citrus juice and the action of salt called
for in recipes prevent the growth of
micro-organisms in the fish, softening
the fibers as they penetrate. The en-
hancing ingredients-hot peppers, green
peppers, garlic, and onion-give seviche
its pleasing gusto.
Each Latin American country has
given seviche its own touch of indi-
viduality by adding its own particular
garnishes. In Peru, seviche is served
with slices of cold sweet potatoes or
cor-on-the-cob, while in neighboring
Ecuador, it is accompanied by pop-
corn, potato chips, nuts, or the giant
kernels of corn native to that country.
Panamanian hostesses serve seviche
with buttered saltine crackers or in
dainty pastry shells. It is also served in
a large crystal bowl with the guests
helping themselves, either by spearing
it with toothpicks or filling the pastry
shells. In Mexico, seviche is accom-
panied by slices of raw onions and
served on toasted tortillas.
Following are a number of favorite
recipes for making seviche. Depending
on how it is served, 1 pound of fish is
enough for four to six servings.
Here is a version of seviche which
Japanese housewives were making hun-
dreds of years ago. They call it sashimi
and serve it with horseradish or very
The Peruvian cook cleans the fish
and lets it soak in salt water for
10 minutes and then removes it and
pats it dry.
1 pound fresh fillets of corbina, red snap-
per, or any good quality whitefish
juice of three lemons
juice of three sour oranges or limes
one medium onion, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 hot pepper, chopped fine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (coriander)
Cut fish into pieces and place on a
platter. Place the thinly sliced onions
on the fish. Then add the remaining
ingredients, covering with the juices.
Place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours
before serving. Serve on bed of lettuce
and garnish with cold sweet potato or
Enjoying an appetizer of corbina seviche in the DeLesseps Room at Hotel El Panama
are Mr. and Mrs. Stephen A. Bissell of Balboa. Corbina seviche is served at most hotels
and restaurants throughout the Republic of Panama.
14 SPECIAL EDITION
In Ecuador seviche is served with
potato chips, popcorn, sweet potatoes or
kernels of corn that are about an inch
long and almost as broad. Ecuadoreans
usually combine three citrus juices plus
vinegar in their seviche.
2 pounds whitefish
juice of 6 limes, 3 lemons, 3 sour oranges,
or enough to make 2 cups juice
4 teaspoons salt
% teaspoon black pepper
9 cup vinegar
2 medium onions sliced very thin
2 or 3 red or yellow hot peppers, slivered
Cut fish into bite size pieces and place
in a bowl. Pour juice over it. Add salt
and pepper and vinegar. Let stand
about 6 hours in refrigerator. Pour boil-
ing water over the onions and drain.
Add to the fish. Add slivered hot pep-
pers and let set overnight.
Here is another version of Ecuado-
rean seviche using lemon juice only:
3 pounds corbina, washed thoroughly and
dried with paper toweling
juice from about 25 lemons
2 onions (medium size) chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 aji chombo, (hot pepper) cut into small
Cut the fish into bite size pieces and
place in glass bowl with one cup lemon
juice and one teaspoon of salt. Let it set
for 15 minutes and then drain, squeez-
ing the fish gently. Add the remaining
lemon juice or enough to cover the fish.
Add the chopped onions and stir with
a wooden spoon. Let set for 15 minutes.
Then add the aji and the remaining salt.
Let it set for 30 minutes, cover and
place in refrigerator. It may be eaten
in about 2 hours. (Segundo Franco).
2 pounds shrimp
approximately 10 lemons
1 hot pepper
1 chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
Put raw shrimp in boiling water for
5 minutes. Remove and place in cold
water immediately. Remove shells and
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 15
clean shrimp. Place in a glass bowl with
the lemon juice, the onion, pepper, and
salt. Let it set for 1 hour and serve.
Here is another variation of shrimp
2 pounds shrimp, cooked and cleaned
3 pound onions, chopped
9 bottle French's mustard
1I teaspoon salt
% cup olive oil
% cup lime juice
1 hot pepper, chopped
Cut shrimp into pieces. Add remain-
ing ingredients and marinate for about
8 hours. (Mrs. Stanley Fidanque).
Panama's Corvina Seviche
1 pound fillets of corvina
juice from a dozen limes, more if necessary
3 medium size tomatoes, chopped fine
3 onions, chopped fine
2 hot peppers, remove part of it after it has
set about 2 hours
1 green pepper, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Place corvina fillets on a platter. Mix
the remaining ingredients and spread
over the fish, making sure it is com-
pletely covered. Let it set for a few
minutes and then turn the fillets over
so both sides of the fish are well mari-
nated. Cover platter and place in refrig-
erator. Turn the fish several times. Can
be eaten after 8 hours.
1% pounds scallop (Panama Bay scallops
1 hot pepper
1 tablespoon vinegar
9 teaspoon oregano
9 cup lime juice (or more if needed)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed
2 teaspoons mustard pickle
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons catsup
salt and pepper to taste
Clean scallops and put in a colander.
Pour boiling water over them and let
drain. Mix the onion and hot pepper
(chopped very fine), garlic, mustard
pickle, oregano, and vinegar. Put scal-
lops into this mixture and let marinate
for 30 minutes. Then add salt, pepper,
olive oil, catsup, and lime juice. The
lime juice should cover the mixture.
Place in a glass container, cover and let
stand in refrigerator 24 hours before
eating. (Stir with a wooden spoon from
time-to-time. Some metal spoons will
tarnish from the acids.) (Mrs. Robert
Here is La Fonda Del Sol's seviche,
reprinted with permission from CARTE
BLANCHE Magazine. It is a specialty of
this New York restaurant and one rec-
ommended for home-experimenting
with the South American way to
1 pound firm-fleshed, fresh, raw, white-
fish, boned; or scallops
1 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup lime juice
3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons ketchup
3 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped red onions
1 red pepper
3 of a small yellow hot chili pepper, grated
or finely minced
1 green pepper
1/3 cup canned corn kernels
3 or 4 sprigs cilantro, also known as co-
riander or Chinese parsley
About 5 hours before serving, remove
all skin and dark meat from fish. Slice
across fish (or scallops) making strips
about 1% inches long by % inch wide,
no thicker than % inch. Place fish in
bowl; pour about 4 cup lemon juice
over fish. Cover with plastic wrap and
marinate at room temperature about 1
hour. Stir occasionally; let marinade
reach all pieces. Meanwhile, prepare
other marinade. Combine remaining 4
cup lemon juice, lime and orange juices
with ketchup, salt, onion, and finely
chopped red and green peppers; reserve
two slices of peppers for garnish. Add
hot chili pepper, if available, to this mix-
ture. Drain and discard first lemon ma-
rinade; cover fish with seasoned mari-
nade, using airtight container (onions
emit a powerful aroma). Refrigerate
4 hours. Turn fish occasionally. Serve
seviche over a bed of lettuce leaves on
a chilled platter. Include chopped veg-
etables but drain most of the juice
from fish. Garnish with sliced red and
green pepper circles, corn kernels,
finely chopped cilantro, and parsley.
Provide toothpicks. Makes about 50 bite
THE OLD ADAGE that money doesn't
grow on trees doesn't hold true for
S' Panama. It does, and probably in your
own back vard.
Two enterprising brothers saw the
green shimmering in the trees ears
\/ I ago and now slowly but surely are
cashing in on a relatively untapped
I Panamanian resource-dried plants that
can be used for table arrangements.
/ The pair, Davis and Sydney Steven-
son, both U.S. citizens born and reared
in Panama, operate the Tropical Plant
Products Co. on a 50-acre farm in the
Pedregal area between Panama City
and Tocumen Airport.
The products literally grow on trees
and vines. They are the large curly
cecropia leaves, acacia pods, ferns,
hops, sea oats, sea grape leaves, wood
roses, palm sprays, ginger lillies, the
handsome heliconias which grow wild
along the roads, and dozens of miscel-
laneous flora eagerly sought by florists
in temperate climates where tropical
plants are rare.
PF'msn 1 s i oM4
To date, neither brother has taken
a salary nor any profits from the farm
operation. All earnings are returned to
the company in the form of land pur-
chases, salaries, seedlings, machinery,
and raw materials.
But they see a lucrative future not
only for themselves, but for the Pan-
amanian economy as well. All the raw
materials including seedlings, plastic
bags, paper collars for the bags (these
are printed with the name of the plant
and are stapled over the bag opening),
cardboard boxes for shipping, and
many other small items, are bought
in Panama. Even farm machinery not
manufactured in the Republic is pur-
chased through local companies.
The future was not always as bright
as it now appears, however. When the
operation was first starting in 1960 it
came close to failing. Less determined
men might have given up. Following
the first harvest, a Florida distributor
ordered $8,000 in dried plants. But
A collection of dried Panama
plant life transformed into an attractive
table .'rr oIIttilii ld ltild
by M1. 1.1 dI,i Bur.n k of the
Curundu Flower Shop.
With the help of 10 men and women
who harvest, dry, fumigate, and pack-
age the marketable foliage, the Ste-
venson brothers are working toward a
half-million-dollar a year industry. It
may be the largest export company of
dried tropical plants in Central and
Already the "product of Panama"
label printed on the packages can be
seen in nearly every State of the con-
tinental United States.
So far this year they have shipped
to the United States approximately
250,000 wood roses and about 200,000
other plants. Everything is sent air-
freight from Tocumen Airport to the
nationwide distributor, Horticultural
Sales in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Tropical Plant Products has grown
from 10 to 50 acres since the farm
started 10 years ago. Although it was a
struggle for them in the early years,
the Stevensons now feel there is a vast
market for tropical dried plants, not
only in the United States, but Europe.
England, and Japan. They plan to in-
crease the size of the farm to 200 acres.
which will provide jobs for 50 persons.
before the shipment was paid for the
wholesaler went bankrupt and the ac-
count was never settled. Except for
the farm itself, and the energies and
business sense of the Stevenson broth-
ers, the company was just about out
Slowly they brought it out of the
doldrums. Stockholders who invested
in the original venture are being repaid
their original investment, plus interest.
Davis, who takes care of the adminis-
trative side of the company, said the
obligation to the stockholders will be
totally repaid in another 2 or 3 years.
While Panama's weather provides an
ideal growing season, it also creates
something of a problem. Harvest time
on the Stevenson farm is at the begin-
ning of the dry season. But if the rainy
season ends late, as it did this year, un-
seasonal storms damage the plants. Dry
season rains in January destroyed 10
to 50 thousand wood roses. But every-
thing considered, nature is generous to
persons who till Isthmnnian soil.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture
requires that before being shipped to
the United States, all plants must be
With his homemade, plywood collection box
strapped to his back,
Jer6nimo Garcia snips seed pods from
the vine with his right hand and flings them accurately
over his shoulder into the box.
Approximately 100 dozen wood roses are in
this wire box about to be placed in a gas-heated drying room
by Ricardo Torres. Although the
plants are almost dry when picked, further drying is necessary
and assures better coloration.
A closeup view of the seed
pod shows why it is called a wood rose.
It is actually the seed pod of the
IpIun'a Talb roa vine which produces a bright yellow
flower during tile latter part
of rainy season.
Just prior to fumigation
the plants are sorted and packaged.
Mrs. Maria de los Santos Molina,
who lives nearby.
earns extra money during
a- r r
PR. I M-
V Sl '%T 24
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
Surrounded by the lushness of Panama,
David Stevenson, left, and
his brother Sydney, inspect a new hatch of wood roses
before the plants are packaged and
fumigated. Their efforts may eventually turn into
a $500,000 a year industry.
IP.ik .eild in plastic
the finished product is
ready to be flown
for distribution. So far
450,000 dried plants
have been shipped out
fumigated to destroy unwanted and
possibly dangerous insects. Fumigation
is one of a series of processes carried
out between the time a plant is picked
and the time it is shipped to the airport.
In the case of the popular wood roses,
a team of harvesters moves through the
rows of vines carefully selecting and
cutting the flowers. They are then put
into shallow boxes with wire bottoms
and placed in a gas-heated drying room.
Although the plants would dry natu-
rally, the artificial method does a faster
job and results in better color.
The plants spend 48 hours in the
chamber and then are moved to the sort-
ing table where each plant is inspected
for color, size, and general quality. The
best of the plants are then hand bagged
(a dozen to each perforated plastic bag),
stapled closed and moved to the fumi-
gating room where menthol bromide
gas kills the insects. After this necessary
procedure, the plants are placed in card-
board cartons for trucking to the airport.
Braniff International and Pan Amer-
ican World Airways fly the packages to
Florida. An average shipment consists
of 50 cases which contain 4,000 dozen
Besides the pleasant climate of Pan-
ama, there are other advantages for
businesses in the Republic. Davis points
out that the Isthmus has excellent ac-
cessibility to world markets; the invest-
ment climate is good because it is a
dollar economy, and the business com-
munity is a progressive one. Also, there
are certain guarantees for foreign busi-
nessmen; ability to move dollars in and
out of the country without restrictions,
and a liberal dividend tax.
On The Ground
The Stevenson farm does not produce
all the items that Tropical Plant Prod-
ucts exports to the States. Some of the
dried plants such as the white cecropia
leaves are provided by suppliers who
simply pick the leaves off the ground
and take them to the farm. Other flora
supplied in the same manner include
sea oats, sea grape leaves, heliconia,
and royal palm sprays.
Panama, like other tropical countries,
has a wealth of items that can be dried
and made into attractive arrangements
for the home or office. Anybody can
do it. All it takes is the right plant, a
little imagination, and a vase.
TI6 Wood R0 )6 AIwm? A 'rvOaw"
"ROSE IS a rose is a rose is a rose," said
Gertrude Stein, noted author and poet.
And that was fine, for a rose does look
like a rose no matter what the size, shape
If Gertrude had said this about
orchids, she would have been in
trouble. Under no given set of circum-
stances can an orchid be an orchid be
an orchid be an orchid.
In the first place, orchids represent
the world's largest family of flowering
plants. At present there are more than
30,000 different species and the num-
ber is increasing as new hybrids are
In the second place, in spite of the
general popularity of orchids, few per-
sons can give a fairly accurate descrip- I
tion of what distinguishes an orchid
from other similar or allied plants.
Paul H. Allen, who wrote the book
"THE ORCHIDS IN PANAMA," said that
in the American tropics, any plant found
growing on a tree is called by the natives
a planta parssita" or parasite plant and
hence all parasites are automatically
presumed to be orchids.
Orchids are air plants, not parasites.
They grow well with lots of air, water
and plant food but never take suste-
nance from another plant. The roots do
not penetrate the living tissue of the
host plant or extract nourishment from
it as do true parasites such as dodder
Other plants such as bromeliads and
aroids are frequently found on the trunks
and branches of trees along with orchids.
During the dry season, orchid grow-
ers sometimes water their collections
with a hose using a fine spray twice a
day. In the rainy season, spraying may
sometimes be skipped; orchids can die
by too lavish or too limited watering.
Most tropical orchids are known as
epiphytes, a term meaning to "live
upon" some supporting body, usually
a tree or a rock. But there are other
orchids known as terrestrial. These grow
in the ground and, in the tropics, are
far less numerous than the epiphytic
type. Of the terrestrial orchids there are
two classes-those with green leaves and
stems which behave like most other
plants, and those which are saprophytic
or living wholly upon decaying plant
By Eunice Richard
Orchids do not require elaborate
arrangements to bring out
their beauty as the above photo
shows. A single spray
of the scorpion orchid produces a graceful
display. A simple black teapot
below is used by Mrs. Mary Linden
to create an interesting
vanda arrangement. A hint of
of the Orient comes
through in the display at
right by Mrs. R. Arosemena.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
matter. Epiph tic orchids are sometimes
apparentlY terrestrial growing upon the
ground in beds of moss and other plants.
In temperate regions almost all orchids
Well Guarded Secrets
The preface of a book on orchids by
Walter Richter, a German orchidologist,
sa s .1. 1,1..1. ., is a cult and its secrets
are well guarded bY its "high priests."
He said their very name summons up
visions of strange lands and high adven-
ture, and only those persons who are
prepared for a life of rigorous sacrifice
can hope to enter its orders.
Whenever the uninitiated is con-
fronted with literature dealing with
orchids, he is soon lost in a labyrinth of
scientific and Latin terms. It has been
said that man either understands orchids
or he does not, and he who was not
celebrated Spanish voyage around the
world under navigator Malaspine from
1789 to 1794. Nee visited Panama and
is known to have collected plants on
Ancon Hill. Several of the most com-
mon tropical plants were first described
from specimens obtained bv him there.
During the early days of the Canal
construction, workers arriving in Pan-
ama from the United States scarcely
could fail to take notice of the more
conspicuous plants such as the orchids.
Some of the early orchid collectors
were Mrs. D. D. Gaillard, wife of the
division engineer in charge of the Cen-
tral District; Mrs. H. H. Rousseau,
wife of a member of the Isthmian
Canal Commission; and Mrs. Maurice
Thatcher, first chief of Canal civil
affairs. Although theirs were amateur
collections assembled in a haphazard
way, thev were of considerable interest
to visitors. One scientist reported that
is a thing of the past, the interest among
local orchid growers has not dimin-
ished. Members of the Canal Zone
Orchid Society on the Pacific side of
the Isthmus and of the Gold Coast
Orchid Society on the Atlantic side take
their orchids in their stride as part of
a way of life. Most of them, while not
scientists or naturalists, have learned
the language that identifies most species
and are adept at producing fine hybrids.
Some of the fine local collections
were started b\ Harr\ A. Dunn, former
medical chief technologist at Corgas
Hospital, who was one of the pioneers
in the orchid growing business in the
Canal Zone. Before retiring in 1965, he
had one of the finest orchid collections
on the Isthmus.
Writing in the American Orchid
Society\ Bulletin in 1948, he said he had
Mrs. Alice Clark, at left, sprays
some of her orchids
with a fine stream of water, part of
an orchid growers ritual
which keeps the plants in the pink
of condition. At right,
opposite page, this orchid, the Lockhartia
Micrantha, looks more like a spider
than a plant. It is
growing in a piece of tree
fern and is owned by
Mrs. Elizabeth Mercier. At the
far right, Canal Zone Police
Capt. George E. Martin examines
a vanda growing in
his orchid garden in La Boca.
born with the sixth sense required for
caring for these extraordinary flowers
will never acquire it.
That may be so, but the orchid lovers
living on the lush Isthmus of Panama
have not been cowed by the apparent
pitfalls of orchid growing.
The local aficionados have gone
blithlv ahead and acquired some col-
lections that would be famous anywhere
in the world. Approximately 300 orchid
species may be found growing wild in
Panama and many of them are in local
orchid collections. Many others that
have been introduced into this region
are now grown by orchidologists on
Orchid collecting in Panama is not
new. One of the first botanical collectors
on record to visit Central America and
Panama was Luis Nee, botanist of the
he had obtained specimens which were
found to represent species previous]
unknown to science.
The late C. W. Powell, a construction
days employee of the Panama Canal, is
credited with providing scientists with
the first major part of their Isi., ledno'
of the orchids of the Republic of
The Powell orchid garden, which
existed in Balboa from 1914 until the
beginning of World War II, was known
to orchid growers all over the world.
The garden was sponsored by the Mis-
souri Botanical Gardens of St. Louis. It
contained more than 7,000 plants rep-
resenting nearly all of the species of
orchids known to grow in Panama. Many
of the plants were sent by Powell to
Missouri for classification.
Although the Powell orchid garden
been collecting orchids as a hobby for
the past 15 years, but even at that time
the roadside collection of orchids had
become a thing of the past. The enemies
of the orchid were the lumber compa-
nies that cut the trees on which the
plants grew, and the native farmers
who burned the jungle to make wa\
for their crops. In addition, orchid col-
lectors had sought and collected in most
of the accessible places close to home
and it became necessary to go further
afield in the search for rare plants.
Dunn took a 10-day trip each year to
Chiriqui Province in western Panama
and collected as many as 1,500 orchid
plants of about 30 genera and 54
species. It was his opinion that the
Province of Chiriqui was the finest
place in the world to get orchids, mainly
because the area includes three varie-
ties of climates-tropical, temperate.
20 SPECIAL EDrrbON
Panama, in occupying the narrow
land bridge linking the two major divi-
sions of tropical America, has flora
indigenous to both north and south.
Residents of Panama and the Canal
Zone thus have the opportunity of see-
ing a remarkably representative cross-
section of the orchids of the New World.
The Dunn collection was broken up
when he left the Isthmus in 1965. But
Mrs. Alice Clark, who lives with her
husband and family at the top of
Ancon Boulevard, got her start in the
orchid business when her sister-in-law
gave her five orchid plants from the
Since then, she has traded, purchased,
and produced plants that cover two
trees, fill one greenhouse, and grow
along the side of the hill behind the
house in a profusion of white, yellow,
and purple. Most of those that are in
bloom through most of the year are the
parts of Panama including Ancon Hill
and islands in Gatun Lake. She has
imported some from the Far East and
the United States.
Canal Zone Police Inspector Capt.
George A. Martin is another veteran
orchid grower. He started his collection
of plants in 1950 when he was living
on the Atlantic side and has obtained
some from the Gatun Lake region.
Although he began with native blooms.
he has branched out into the hybrids
and the imported plants, many of which
he obtained through trading. Trading,
he says, is as good a way of making
friends in out of the way places of the
world as being a ham radio operator.
Captain Martin, Henry Tooke of Los
Rios, and most other orchid collectors
here have a number of the large
flowered hybrid cattlevas. It is difficult
to persuade the average individual that
In Panama, the Holy Ghost orchid
blooms not in the Easter season as one
might expect, but in August. midway
in the rainy season. New growth starts
with the first heavv rains of the year
The Mariposa, or butterfly orchid, is
another beautiful species native to Pan-
ama. It grows from sea level to 2,000
feet on the espave trees along the banks
Orchids have been used for medicinal
purposes. They cure very common ail-
ments and not as one max think, onl\
exotic diseases. According to orchid
expert Walter Richter in his book THE
ORCHID WOULD, a drug known undei
the name of "salep" is made from the
dried bulbs of certain species of
The drug is important for the treat-
ment of serious intestinal illness in chil-
vanda hybrids and the bamboo orchids,
both of which are terrestrial or ground
orchids. Her garden is on the side of
the hill and is in the line of march for
tourists taking the Ancon Boulevard
route to tour the Canal Zone.
Many visitors arrive at her house
thinking it is part of the old Powell
botanical garden. Although her garden
is constantly putting on a show, she
seldom loses any of the exotic blooms
to human thieves. Orchid-eating deer
are her trouble. They sometimes come
down from Ancon Hill and eat a whole
stand of vandas in one night.
Mrs. Clark savs she has learned to
know Panama as well as many far away
places through the hobby of orchid col-
lecting. She has collected orchids in El
Valle, El Volcan in Chiriqui Province,
Cerro Campana, and many other
there are others. And vet 80 percent
of the wild orchids are small to minute.
The hybrids can be produced bx
sowing the microscopic seeds and bring-
ing the plants to maturity under pre-
cise modern methods, which takes about
2 years. Some of the varieties are
The most celebrated of the Panama
orchids is the Peristeria elata commonly
known as the Espiritu Santo or Holx
Ghost orchid-the national flower of the
Republic of Panama. It is a terrestrial
type that inhabits the lowland forests.
From a cluster of green bulbs, a few
narrow leaves rise and a flower stalk
3 or 4 feet high bears a raceme of
fragrant white waxy flowers resembling
miniature doves which give it the
dren but the production is small because
attempts to cultivate salep pi.,.l, ini,
plants for commercial purposes have
been unsuccessful and the world sources
are becoming exhausted.
The roots of some orchids are used
against inflammation of the joints and
the flowers of another against dysentery.
Orchids are used for many varied
medicinal purposes. Some species from
Mexico are used as fever cures and
for coughs, and some are even good
for the treatment of wounds. The bulbs
of another are eaten in Jamaica to
aid digestion. The bulbs of the Japan-
ese terrestrial orchid are a remedy
No orchid is known to be poisonous
although the Chinese have been known
to extract alkaloids from some species
and the leaves of others can cause
inflammation of the skin.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
By Georgia Corin
FOR THE CUNA Indians of the San
Bias, 1970 may be the "Year of the
The diminutive Cuna women, shy
when it comes to displaying themselves
in their colorful costumes, become ag-
gressive hawkers of their cloth molas,
which are the most sought after tourist
item in Panama.
The rectangular, intricately designed
panels are worn by the Indian women,
young and old alike, but the North
Americans who sometimes seem to over-
flow the small Cuna communities on
buying sprees have other ideas. They
have taken to framing them for wall
hangings, for dressmaking, pillow cov-
ers, curtains, hats, head scarfs, bikinis,
place mats, clothing patches, and in the
Canal Zone the newest fad among teen-
agers is to put them on T-shirts and
The market for molas has reached
fantastic proportions and the commer-
cial demand for them in the United
States cannot be met. Orders for thou-
sands are received by local wholesalers,
but only hundreds at a time can be sup-
plied. On the islands most visited by
tourists the Indian women spend all of
their spare time hand sewing the molas
although sewing machines have come
into use on a few islands.
The design and workmanship of
the unique needlework panels have
changed from generation to generation
during their approximate 100-year his-
tory. Among the molas currently being
made, however, there is a tendency to
reproduce many of the styles and
techniques of the past.
Although there is no documented
evidence concerning the details of the
origin of the mola there is much conjec-
ture. The literature on the Cuna Indian
abounds with all phases of their culture
and frequently describes in general
terms what the Indians were wearing
throughout various stages in history.
It is known that the Cuna Indians
practiced the art of body painting dur-
ing the 16th and 17th centuries. The
women were in charge of the painting
so it follows that they were to become
the "artists" of the society. Using a
wooden stick gnawed at the end to the
softness of a brush and working with
pigments of brilliant colors made from
berries and clays, they covered their
entire bodies with designs. It is easy
to imagine that their abstractions of
plant and animal forms had much of
the same linear quality that we find in
the mola designs of today.
While the men of this period enjoyed
comparative nakedness, the women had
a tradition of modesty. Cotton was cul-
tivated and a homespun-type of cloth
was woven for clothing. The women of
the 17th century were described as
wearing skirt-like garments that were
tied behind, but no upper garments. The
skirts were made of handwoven cotton
or occasionally of old clothes obtained
One explorer in the 1680's reported
the women as wearing cotton clothing
"curiously embroidered," but since this
period preceded the arrival of commer-
cial needles and thread, and the Cuna
Indians did not weave or inlay designs
in their cloth, one could theorize that
the garments were handpainted in a
technique somewhat related to body
There is little information available
on the Cuna dress for the years between
1700 and 1850. But a trend away from
nakedness had definitely begun by 1700,
and by 1850 the women were reported
as wearing handpainted, wraparound
skirts which were worn under knee-
length blouses, usually dark blue and
decorated with a band of red at the
The women still engaged in weaving
at this time but they took much more
delight in being able to secure pieces
of fabric or old clothes, usually of gaudy
colors, from passing traders and prefer-
red to use these since they represented
such prized articles.
A generation or so prior to the close
of the 19th century the ingredients of
the mola which we know today were
the geometric designs and the different
colors of cloth. What remained was the
integration of these elements. In this
case, opportunity was the mother of in-
vention. With the coming of the high-
powered looms and the development of
color-fast chemical dyes in Europe, fac-
tory-woven cloth in a variety of bright
colors and prints soon found its way via
trading ships to the San Bias Islands.
As the traders brought in more color-
ful cloth the women began to decorate
the hems of their basic blue and red
tunics with simple applique. Needles,
thread, and scissors also were easily
procured items from the trading ships
of the late 1800's. The particularly in-
Stricate Cuna "applique" technique itself
appears to have been an indigenous
development. Actually, the term "ap-
plique" is not technically accurate in
this case. The term "cut work stitchery"
would be more descriptive, for the Cuna
method began by cutting slots and out-
lines of figures in the top layer of cloth,
turning under the edges and allowing
the color of the cloth underneath to
show through. It is only applique in the
sense that layers of cloth with designs
cut into them are "applied' to a bottom
New Art Form
The women, apparently carried away
with their new art form, gradually wid-
ened the decorated hem until by the
early 1900's it included the whole area
below the armpits. The yoke and sleeves
were usually white, although one finds
in early photographs that a completely
incongruous printed fabric was often
used to "top" the artistic needlework,
a practice which continues to this day.
It was during this time that a blue,
factorywoven cloth suitable for wrap-
around skirts became available and fash-
ionable, and so the blouse was shortened
to hip length in order that the skirt could
show. Skirt styles have not changed
The cutwork panels which formed
the back and front of the early blouses
were usually of two or three layers of
cloth. Red, orange, and black became
the favorite basic color choices. The
designs were most frequently geome-
tric, continuous-line compositions with
about an equal distribution of back-
ground and foreground colors. When
figures did appear they were highly
stylized and abstract.
This same style of the early 1900's
is still being produced today.
As the mola grew in size, it also grew
in complexity. The brilliantly colored
cloth of good quality that was available
had the same effect on the women of
San Bias as a large box of crayons has
on a small child.
By the 1920's the Cuna women were
known to have one of the most striking
costumes among the indigenous people
of the Americas. No visitor failed to re-
port the colorful apparel and he usually
tried, with success, to obtain an example
of this remarkable folk art.
Visitors were few and hardy in those
days, usually limited to scientists, Pan-
ama Canal employees, and adventurous
tourists. But the mola of this period was
relatively crude compared to what it
would become in the next generation.
The parallel spaces in the cutwork was
often % to 1 inch wide and in some of
the photographs taken prior to 1930 one
can even see evidence of the stitches.
The unique geographical location oc-
cupied by the San Bias Archipelago,
located off the Caribbean shore of east-
ern Panama, is no doubt responsible for
the Cuna having a longer history of
contact with Europeans than any other
Indian group of the Americas.
Beginning with Columbus, who in
1501 gave the San Bias Islands their
name, there has been an unending
stream of explorers, exploiters, bucca-
neers, would-be settlers, surveyors for
the railroad, builders of the Canal, mis-
sionaries, U.S. military forces, scientists,
and tourists. And yet, from earliest re-
corded times, the Cunas have resisted
integration with other groups and have
The author holds a "bird" mola blouse
with a background of appliqued triangles.
managed to retain their own integrity.
The increased exposure to other cul-
tures, however, did have the effect of
creating new inspiration for mola de-
signs. Any subject was fair game for
translation into their unique visual
vernacular. In 1938, the islands were
opened for day tourists and it was not
long afterward that the mola became
an elaborate masterpiece of four or five
layers of cloth and as many colors.
From the 1950's to the present, the
wide repertoire of subject matter in-
cluded such nonindigenous items as pro-
duct labels, magazine pictures, calendar
art, pictures from children's storybooks,
Christian iconography (following the
arrival of missionaries), and illustrations
of current events, as well as interpreta-
tions of their own folklores and scenes
from everyday life. These professional-
primitives had reached the epitome of
fusing originality with borrowed ideas.
Add to this an ever increasing supply
of materials and a growing enthusiastic
market of tourists, private collectors, in-
terior decorators, fashion designers, gift
shop owners, and museums and the re-
sults could be termed the heyday of
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
(Continued from p. 23)
With so many hands busy sewing
molas to meet these demands the ques-
tion of quality arises. Are all molas
works of art? Probably not. In a primi-
tive society, native crafts are originally
made for utilitarian purposes, whether
ceremonial or practical. Art is not a
profession as it is in Western civilization
but a social duty. When everyone not
only can but must produce, it follows
that the clumsier hands are going to
produce inferior work.
Recently, the mola has experienced
a further lessening of quality due to a
speeding up of the length of time spent
on sewing each panel. It is estimated
that the average panel takes from 4 to
6 weeks to complete. How much of this
time is spent in actual sewing hours,
however, is anybody's guess. The women
spend every free moment sewing and
they usually have several pieces of
needlework going at one time.
But despite the fact that for a while
it looked as though there would be
enough of these brilliant panels to cover
the earth, at the rate that molas are
leaving the islands the supply will even-
tuallv diminish. And although a few of
the very complex and good quality mo-
las are still being made, it is at an ever
decreasing rate. There are still some old
but good ones to be found but this sup-
ply is also on the wane, and once they
are gone-like the Old Masters, they
will never be replaced.
The time spent, the care taken, and
the quality of materials used all com-
bine to make the mola an outstanding
achievement among folk art today.
There is such a tremendous variety on
the market that the prospective buyer
could easily become confused. Here are
a few guidelines.
First, styles may vary from very
simple, two-layer designs to the ulti-
mate in complexity with four or five
layers of cloth and intricately embroid-
ered detail. So, examine the mola for
number of layers of cloth.
Second, notice the quality of fabric
used. If you can, try to determine if it
has been worn and washed. This would
give you a clue to its durability. There
are some very old molas which were
made with quality cotton and have sur-
vived countless washings and wear with
little or no fading. But thin and even
synthetic material is often found in the
molas currently being produced.
Third, examine the width and even-
ness of the lines and spaces. The more
carefully sewn molas may have spaces
no wider than 3' inch. And there was a
time when a good mola was one that
had no space greater than one inch
without some work on it. In addition,
good stitching does not show on the top
layer, only on the bottom.
Fourth, besides the more frequently
seen "slot" technique used for filling in
background areas, there are other more
time-consuming techniques. These in-
clude filling large areas with tiny dots,
a modified Greek-key motif, and sur-
rounding the edges of figures with a
saw-tooth pattern or one that resembles
tiny gears, to mention a few.
Fifth, color and subject are largely
a matter of personal taste. There are
those collectors who find the subtle
tones of the old, closely keyed panels
highly desirable. On the other hand,
some prefer the ones made with vibrat-
ing and bright colors. Also, clashing
colors are often used to achieve striking
effects. As far as subject matter goes,
the variety is infinite and whether you
prefer an Adam and Eve wearing top
hats, a portrait of a famous person such
as General MacArthur, or perhaps an
amazing reproduction of a sardine can
label, is entirely up to you.
Prices on the San Bias Islands begin
at $2.50 for a very ordinary mola panel.
A whole blouse, right out of a Cuna
woman's wardrobe, can usually be pur-
chased for from $5 to less than $10.
In Panama City and Colon, prices begin
at around $5 a panel and increase
according to quality.
Collectors' items begin at approxi-
mately $25 and sometimes reach $100.
In the United States it is difficult to find
any of the San Bias needlework for less
than $10. The panels are frequently sold
framed which increases the price consi-
derably. In a May issue of the NEW
YORKER magazine, an article describing
a new gift shop stated that mola wall
hangings sold at $40 to $45 each, and
mounted on a 20 x 24-inch piece of
There are many theories regarding
what the future of the San Bias Cuna
Indians of Panama might be. Their re-
luctance to join the 20th century may
preserve them and their art. And, per-
haps, these Indians, with their fantastic
imaginations, marvelous innate sense of
design and color, and their skill, will
continue sewing in spite of creeping
Mrs. Corin has taught art in the
Canal Zone and recently completed
her master of arts thesis in art edu-
cation on the mola.
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THE MOLA achieved art status i hen Dr Louis Hoover,
head of Illinois State Universit) Art Department. decided
to devote the remainder of hi, life to helping the Ciina
artists Dr. Hooker first collected more than a thousand
quality\ molas from all the areas of the San Bias. These
molas formed a background or research group for shjd\.
classification. and development of nomenclature. After
many trips into the Cuna country and long talks with
the tribal leaders it was possible to begin to understand
the stories being told b\ the molas
In December 1968. the Hoo\er Collection was un-
veiled for the art world. The Center for Inter-American
Relations in New York held an exhibit and turned all its
facilities over to the collection and printed an extensive
catalog The exhibit next opened at the Pan American
Union in Washington. D C where the Ambassador of Pan-
ama held a formal reception attended by President Nixon.
Following these beginnings the collection has been
sought b\ museums and galleries all over the United
States and Canada Molas as art are now accepted and
as a result higher quality molas are being avidh sought
This should lead to the ultimate realization that a mola
as a tourist souvenir and as an art object are two separate
The Hoover collection has made it possible for anthro-
pologists and sociologists to study the "writings" of the
Cuna m great detail. One mola in the Hoover collection
is identical to a third millineum Mesopotamian drawing.
Recent indications are that designs such as this were
transmitted down through the ages b\ grass \\eavings
until the molas offered a better medium.
W. D. Barton, Islandia.
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THE... PANA .'A ANAL ..
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THE P.AM CANA REVIE
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Arthur L. Pollack
W HAT DO PEOPLE DO WITH
While the Cuna women in Panama's
San Bias Islands are doing exactly
what they always did with them-
wearing them as blouses-mola fanciers
in Panama and the Canal Zone are
fashioning them into everything from
purses to lampshades.
And there is no generation gap where
their use is concerned. They are found
on the seat of teenagers' jeans as well
as the skirt of mother's party dress.
Grandmother may have a mola-deco-
rated knitting bag while her grand-
daughter carries a mola shoulder bag.
The traditional mola which is proving
so popular with amateur as well as pro-
fessional designers, is rectangular in
shape and consists of three to 8ve layers
of various colored cotton cloth. The
intricate designs are fashioned by cut-
ting through the layers of cloth to the
color desired and the edges of the de-
sign are sewn so that the stitching can-
not be seen. The technique has been
described as "reverse applique" or
Mrs. Sherry Holland, of Diablo, models a skirt which she designed to be worn opened up the side or the front.
The Cuna seamstress makes no pre-
liminary drawing but starts out with a
picture idea and develops the design
as she goes along. A good mola may
take a month or two to make.
Custom-made molas may be or-
dered-at a slightly higher price. Just
show the inventive folk artists of the
San Bias a picture or sketch of the sub-
ject you want depicted and you'll have
a mola that is not only personalized, but
a unique conversation piece. Of course,
the results are sometimes surprising.
A likeness of your family dog, for exam-
ple, may be so highly stylized that he'll
come out looking like a giant anteater.
But no one else will have a mola like it.
Until recently molas were simply
framed on a background of colored
burlap and hung on a living room or
den wall, but they are now being given
new dimensions by imaginative people
with a propensity toward individualism.
On these pages are some of the inter-
esting ways molas are being used by
Isthmian residents with a flair for
Zindy Wiggs and her colorful shoulder bag attract the attention of the Deakins twins,
Tim and Tom, as she strolls down the street in Gamboa.
Viveca Kochman, Canal Zone College student, wears a brightly
colored traditional mola blouse with white bell-bottomed pants.
MCrffffr k ^irr-U
Mrs. Earl B. McMillin, of Gamboa, models mola-covered shoes.
At left is a handbag featuring the same colors as the shoes.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
Mrs. Charles Griffiths, wife of the Commander of the U.S. Naval
Forces Southern Command, who collects items with a
turtle motif, holds a turtle made from a mola which was given to
her by a friend as a souvenir of Panama. On the floor are a
few others from her collection. At right: A unique piano bench
cover made by Mrs. William H. Beeby, of Balboa Heights.
The Classic Cuna Costume
THE CUNAS USE TWO MO-
las to a blouse, one in front
and one in back, usually of the same
design and color. They add sleeves
and a yoke edged with borders of a
The early Cuna blouses were
knee length and were decorated with
a band of red at the bottom. As
colored cloth became more common
and as island traders brought in
needles, thread and scissors, in ex-
change for coconuts, the women ex-
panded their decoration, shortened
An attractive San Bias seamstress wears
the typical everyday costume of
the women of the Islands.
the blouse to waist length, and
gradually developed the technique
of cutting outlines of the desired
figures in the top layer of cloth
allowing the next layer to show the
Not unlike fashion-conscious wom-
en all over the world, a San Bias
lady discards a blouse when the
colors get dull or when she feels the
need for a change in wardrobe.
Having discovered that tourists
will buy almost anything made of
molas, she usually offers the used
blouse for sale or rips it apart and
sells the two molas separately. Seri-
ous collectors are always on the
lookout for these as they know that
the Indian women save the best
ones for themselves and the used
molas, though faded, are often su-
perior in design and in needlework.
Quite different from the traditional Cuna blouse is this one
made by Mrs. Holland. Around her waist is a mola necktie.
Thirty molas were needed to make this banquet-sized tablecloth
which Capt. Julius Grigore, USNR, took with him when he left
the Canal Zone following his retirement.
Anne Castles, Canal Zone College student,
wears a bikini which she made
from two molas.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
By Jose T. Tufi6n
Si \ I NG waste materials into
something attractive and sale-
able is the dream of every
potential entrepreneur. That dream
coupled with imagination has turned
the hobby of making reedlike bird-
cages into a profitable home industry
A small group of Panamanian farmers
near the highlands of El Valle de Ant6n
spend much of their spare time collect-
ing the raw materials and forming them
into intricate birdcages of various
sizes and designs-miniature houses,
churches, fire stations, airplanes, heli-
copters, pagodas, and recently, one
7-foot model of the Thatcher Ferry
Bridge was made.
The cages are not made of reed, but
from the stem of the sugarcane and from
the hard center strip of coconut palm
The farmers most active in this small
industry are from El Copecito and El
Espino, communities approximately 60
miles west of Panama City near the en-
trance of El Valle-the home of the rare
golden colored frog and the strange tree
with a square trunk.
Growing sugarcane is perhaps the
oldest and most widespread industry in
the Republic of Panama and in the last
20 years it has grown into a major export
The farmers use every part of the
cane. From it they make a sweet refresh-
ing juice called guarapo. In the old days
it was sometimes left to ferment and the
result was a fairly strong drink the na-
tives called cimarr6n. Guarapo also is
boiled until it has the consistency of
molasses or until it sugars. This brown
sugar is molded into blocks and used to
make sweets and candies. Until recently,
families in the Interior sweetened their
coffee with sugarcane molasses or the
brown sugar. As the industry grew addi-
tional refining was necessary to sell the
sugar on the world market.
Another industry which uses the
sugarcane as raw material is the impor-
tant rum industry of Panama. Although
the rums are not widely exported, they
are considered by many rum drinkers as
among the best in the region.
After the juice is extracted from the
cane, the fibrous residue, or bagasse, is
used for fuel. In some areas bagasse is
j r I~
Heriberto Sanchez shows the coconut leaf
fiber used to join the pieces of sugarcane
stem and to reinforce the birdcages.
At top: Holding a helicopter, one of his more difficult designs, and surrounded by other
cages which attest to his skill as an artesan, is Julio Torres of El Espino. Above: Heriberto
Sanchez makes a star-shaped cage on the porch of his home in El Copecito.
30 SPECIAL EDITION
I I 1
made into wallboard. The leaves also
are used, for cattle fodder. What is left
is the slender stem, or viruli, of the
sugarcane blossom which for many
years has been used all over Panama
for making kites and more recently the
birdcages of El Valle.
Viruli is easy to handle and is fairly
strong. The pieces may be cut or broken
at any desired length. Strips of coconut
leaf fiber are used to join the pieces of
stem to reinforce the bird cage con-
struction. Though fragile looking, the
cages are durable and withstand the
weather even if hung outside for years.
One of the manufacturers of the bird-
cages is Heriberto Sanchez. He is an ex-
pert and some of his creations are true
works of art. His tools include a machete
for cutting the coconut palm leaves, a
well sharpened penknife for extracting
the fibers from the leaves, and an awl
for making holes in the stems to place
Most of the cages Sanchez makes are
in the form of a house or a church. But
his pride and joy is a model of the
Thatcher Ferry Bridge. For the base he
used two 7-foot lengths of white cane
(of the same family as sugarcane) often
used for building the rustic native huts
of the Interior. He sold the bridge cage
to Miss Marsha Collins of the Canal
Zone. It was so big it had to be divided
into three sections so it would fit in
According to SAnchez, the best time
to cut viruli is in November when the
sugar cane is in bloom. A 13-year-old
nephew, Enrique Quintero, helps him to
cut the cane and to make the birdcages.
The boy's real ambition, however, is to
go to school in Panama City and learn
to be an airplane mechanic. The money
he earns goes toward his education.
Filled With Cages
Another artist at making birdcages is
Julio Torres, an 18-year-old youth from
El Espino. His father has a grocery
stand on the side of the road. Torres has
a bohio in front of his father's place and
it is practically filled with cages of all
kinds. His creations average about 2 feet
in length and 1 foot in width. In the
cages are little bars for the birds to
perch on. He sells the simple cages for
$1.50 to $2 and the more complicated
ones for $3. Others, depending on the
work involved, cost a little more. It
takes from 1 to 2 days to make a cage,
depending on the size.
A cage in the form of a house, pagoda,
tower, or airplane takes about a day to
make. A helicopter takes a little longer.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 31
Marsha Collins, center, of Diablo Heights, with the help of her sister, Cristina, right, and
Carmen Graciela Lee, displays the model of the Thatcher Ferry Bridge which she bought
from Heriberto Sanchez. In the background is the real Thatcher Ferry Bridge which
crosses the Panama Canal.
A fishing boat with cranes and net
throwers takes much longer to make and
sells for $3.50. Torres, who has a
grade school education, makes his living
on the birdcages. Since business is not
very good during the rainy season, he
makes most of them in November and
has a large supply ready when the dry
season sets in and visitors go to the area.
On some Sundays he earns as much as
$35 selling birdcages.
An effort is being made by the
National Artesan and Small Industries
Service (SENAPI), sponsored by the
United Nations and the Panama Gov-
ernment, to find other markets for
Heriberto Sanchez shows the intricate work
involved in fashioning a star-type cage.
A building material with many uses, viruli
is also used to make picture frames.
Heriberto Sbnchez cuts the fully developed
slender sugarcane stem, the material from
which the cages are made.
. 7 tVr
Mr. and Mrs. Dionisio Santos and their infant daughter with chaquiras which they brought from their home in Veraguas
Province to sell in Panama City. He is wearing a ceremonial hat and a chaquira which the Guavmi men wear on festive occasions.
AN INDIAN warriors' ornament has
made its way from the primitive envi-
ronment of the mountains of western
Panama into the world of feminine
fashion, and it is winning women's
The ornament is the chaquira, a
shoulder-wide collar of brightly colored
beads arranged in geometric designs
now used by women for both daytime
and evening wear. It is also still worn
today by the Guaymi Indian men,
whose ancestors were the formidable
fighters the conquistadors rated among
the most skilled of all the warriors in
the Western Hemisphere.
No longer the fierce warriors of yore,
the present-day Guaymies, some 35,000
in all, live under the laws of Panama in
the provinces of Veraguas, Chiriqui, and
Bocas del Toro. Their children attend
Panama schools, but they still keep
aloof from people not of their own cul-
ture and retain many of their aboriginal
customs and practices.
The chaquira was first mentioned
by European historians in documents
dating back from the early part of the
17th Century. It was quite different
from today's ornament. The colors were
dull and it was not so tightly beaded as
modern-day ones. It was fashioned of
pebbles, pieces of bone, seeds, and sea
shells which the Indians colored with
Sold In Shops
The brightly colored beads and varied
designs of the chaquiras now being sold
in the shops reflect the Indian's present-
day ability to buy beads of whatever
shape, size, or color needed.
Fray Adrian de Santo Tomas, who
ran a mission in 1622 in what is now
the town of Remedios, Chiriqui Pro-
vince, described the chaquira as the
ornament worn by Guaymi men during
their major festivals-a sort of emblem
of Guaymi nationality.
The Spanish conquistadors found
three distinct Guaymi tribes in western
Panama; each named after its chief;
each spoke a different language. The
three big chiefs were Urraca, who ruled
in what is now Veraguas Province:
Nata, in the territory of the Province
of Cocl6; and Parita, in the Azuero
Of the three, Urraca is the most
famous. He not only defeated the Span-
iards several times, but was the only
one among the rebel Indian chiefs who
' Tm PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 33
Mrs. Ginny Arias,
of Diablo, adjusts the
black and white
chaquira which she
is wearing with a
forced a captain of the Spanish Empire,
Diego de Albitez, to sign a peace treaty.
This was approximately 1522.
A measure of UrracA's temper is
provided by the account of his feats
after Albitez's successor betrayed and
imprisoned the Indian chief.
Sent in chains to Nombre de Dios
on the Atlantic coast, probably for
transfer to Spain-according to historian
Bartolom6 de las Casas-Urraci escaped
and made his way back to the moun-
tains, vowing to fight the Spaniards
unto death. And he fulfilled his vow.
In his last years, Urraca's name was
so feared by the Spaniards that thev
avoided combat with his men. When
Urraca died in 1531, surrounded by
friends and relatives, he was still a free
man. He probably was laid in his grave
with a chaquira covering his shoulders.
After UrracA's death, the other Indian
chiefs carried on the fight against the
white invaders, taking refuge in the
steep mountains of Veraguas and the
TabasarA Range where the Spaniards'
cavalry could not maneuver.
By the 18th Century, the Guaymies
were divided into two large groups:
those of the tropical forest (in the high-
lands of Veraguas and Chiriqui) and
those of the lowlands (along the Atlan-
tic coast, from Rio Belen to Bocas del
Toro). They never surrendered, fight-
ing until the collapse of the Spanish
domination in the Americas.
When Panama broke away from Spain
and joined Colombia in the early 19th
Century, the Guaymies remained in
oblivion in their mountain villages.
Slowly they are now being incorpo-
rated into the national fold. Guaymi
teachers and law-enforcement officers
help the effort. At the last graduation
of the Felix Olivares High School in
David, Chiriqui, an honor graduate was
a Guaymi student, Miss Matilde Salinas.
Her ambition: to study medicine and
to return to the mountains to work
among her people.
Other young Guaymies are leaving
their mountain homes in increasing
numbers to work in the banana plan-
tations in Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro.
They bring back new things and new
ideas which they share with their elders
-transistor radios among them.
While the chaquira remains a symbol
of the Guaymi culture, it is no longer
a treasured warrior's ornament fash-
ioned painstakingly by female hands
within the closeness of the family circle,
but a vastly sophisticated commodity
to which mass production techniques
are being applied. Its production is an
established source of income for the
In olden times, it took perhaps as
much as 4 months to fashion a single
chaquira. Today, in much less time,
dozens of the collars are produced in
small shops to fill orders from the cities.
And men now work side by side with
women turning out the ornaments.
Along the Inter-American Highway
near TolB, the town closest to the Taba-
sarA Range, Guaymies and boys from
Told peddle chaquiras of all sizes and
colors, starting from about $6. In fash-
ionable Panama City shops, the collars
sell for $15 and up.
Perhaps the very masculinity that the
chaquira symbolized centuries ago is the
intangible lure that has made it an orna-
ment prized by women in modern times.
The noted U.S. historian and arche-
ologist Samuel K. Lothrop, in his "Ar-
cheology of Southern Veraguas, Pan-
ama," rated the Guavmi warriors thusly:
"In the opinion of manv, the natives
of Veraguas should be ranked with the
famous Araucanians of Chile as the out-
standing fighters of the New World, a
judgement shared by Spanish veterans
who had served in both regions."
,, % ., x...
iS P1 PIECES
By Vie Canel
The artwork on Panama buses and "chivas"
is a colorful expression of individuality
F REE LOVE," "HOT PANTS,"
"Mr. Big Stuff," may sound like
titles for X-rated movies, but they're
These, along with many proverbs,
sayings and catch phrases, are names
given to their vehicles by imaginative
Panamanian bus operators as an ex-
pression of their individuality. Usually
lettered on the rear of the bus in Old
English script with fancy flourishes and
capricious curlicues, the names are a
part of the colorful decorations that
makes Panama's buses unique.
The more elegantly decorated buses
have brightly colored paintings inside
and out, ball fringe on the windows,
religious figurines and fanciful touches
which may include :.iil. dressed dolls
or crocheted items.
Perhaps as a tribute to Panamanian
womanhood-or to womanhood in gen-
eral-a girl's name is often painted on
each of the side windows.
Naming buses is said to have started
when the first self-propelled public
conveyances made their appearances in
the cities, during the second decade of
the century. Those early vehicles,
called "chivas" (goats) were nothing
more than sedans or pickup trucks
with the after end removed and re-
placed by a wood and tin body. They
accommodated six or eight passengers
on lateral benches and the entrance was
at the rear.
The name "chiva" is said to be
derived from the fact that the solid
wheel vehicles jumped like mountain
goats when driven over Panama's cob-
Samuel Lewis, a retired Panamanian
journalist and publisher, recalls that
among the early pioneers of public
transportation in Panama, circa 1911,
was a Jamaican chiva operator who for
reasons known only to himself, per-
mitted no women aboard his rattletrap
conveyance. He would drive down the
street soliciting passengers and shout-
ing: "Men Only!" But apparently his
male chauvinism was no obstacle to
success. Mr. Lewis says he prospered
and soon bought a second chiva.
Operators gave chivas pet names to
distinguish them from those of their
competitors. Their efforts at originality
produced some fairly spicy names and,
at one point, the mayor of Panama
ordered names removed from all public
conveyances. The custom was later
revived however and extended to the
Some of the first chivas were chain-
drive Ford pickup trucks operated by
East Indians in turbans. Hindus were
the principal operators of bus transpor-
tation in Panama before World War II.
In the beginning, there was no or-
ganized transportation and no large
fleet operators. But enterprising indi-
viduals ran their own jitney service to
take employees to work. Among the first
was a Canal employee named Harry
Conley who had a small bus in which
he took coworkers from Ancon to the
Administration Building and back dur-
ing the 1920's. But a great majority of
bus operators in the years that followed
were East Indians.
During World War II, when the
number of workers in the Zone in-
creased with the employment of addi-
tional personnel for defense projects,
concessions were granted to some 20
bus operators to provide service in the
Canal Zone, including military reserva-
34 SPECIAL EDITION
A bigger than life-size
portrait of Franco Nero, star
of Italian Western movies,
peers menacingly at
tailgating motorists from
the rear of this Chorrera
bus. The actor also is
featured in the interior
decorations which include a
cartoon reproduction over
the mirror that says
"Love is . to travel with
Franco Nero every day."
The fancy sign on the
rearview mirror says
"I will always be for you."
tions. Most of the concessionaires and
their drivers were Hindus.
Gas and tire rationing and the un-
availability of spare parts combined to
make this service something less than
efficient. But it was not until 1952 that
the services were consolidated and a
single concession granted. The prin-
cipal stockholder was an East Indian
merchant, Gursan Singh Gill, who
owned two oriental stores in Panama
City, and most of the drivers, of course,
Eventually, Gill bought out his five
partners and sold out to the present
operators of the Canal Zone bus service.
The 70 or 80 chivas still seen in Pan-
ama are destined to disappear as the
country streamlines its public transpor-
tation system and consolidates inde-
pendent operators and cooperatives
into two principal organizations, a co-
Bus paintings portray everything from
comic strip characters to figures of Greek
mythology. This bus, named "Prometheus
in Chains," features a painting of the titan
atop the Caucasus as well as a scene of
Panama City's Balboa Avenue.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 35
PRDHIBOIDD ;J. --tf
iir w/ ^
Teodoro "Billy" Madriiian has specialized
in painting scenes on buses since the 1940's.
^^^^B. m. -
. \ I
operative known as the Cooperativa de
Transporte Metropolitano, and a cor-
poration called Corporaci6n Unica de
The evolution from the eight-pas-
senger chivas to the gaily painted 50-
passenger buses of today was gradual.
Chivas made from cars and pickups
were used until the early thirties. Then,
in 1934, a Colombian, the late Froilan
Arce, got the idea of buying ,a-ton
chassis and motors and building the
Those chivas remained in service
until after World \\'.r II. Then, in 1946,
the first "busitos" made their appear-
ance. These are the small, 16-passenger
blue buses which at that time sold for
$3,600 complete or $900 for the chassis
and motor only.
In 1960, local operators began to
import 24- to 30-passenger buses and,
as the city grew and the demand for
public transportation increased, 40-
and 50-passenger buses costing $9,000-
$10,000, were placed in service.
But throughout, the chiva has sur-
vived and is patronized by faithful
passengers who usually ride the same
one each day and know each other as
well as members of a car pool.
Among the principal routes served
by today's chivas-mostly of 1952 vint-
age-is the one extending from down-
town Panama along Balboa Avenue to
the shanty town called Boca la Caja,
east of Paitilla Airport. The ride to the
end of the line costs 10 cents, but the
chiva will take you as far as Santo
Tomas Hospital for only a nickel.
One driver on this route, Juan Anto-
nio Olivares, has been behind the wheel
of chivas for 32 years. In addition to
the Chiva he drives on the Boca la
Caja route, he owns a small busito. As
a small fleet owner-five buses or less-
he belongs to an organization called El
Tercer Grupo (the third group), made
up of small independents who are not
affiliated with either the cooperative or
So there are basically three types of
buses in Panama-the venerable chivas,
the "busitos" and the larger buses.
Though the earlier chivas were painted
with bright and imaginative designs,
most of the surviving ones are plain.
The greatest profusion of artwork is
now found on the larger buses. There
are paintings of pastoral scenes, reli-
gious motifs, well-known landmarks
such as the bridge that spans the en-
trance to the Panama Canal, the ruins
of Old Panama, likenesses of film and
TV personalities and even comic strip
characters. A random sampling of
buses along busy Via Espafia or Cen-
tral Avenue during rush hour can be
an amusing pastime. One bus is named
"Marshal Dilo"-phonetically honoring
the character portrayed by James
Arness in the TV series "Gunsmoke."
Others are named "The Fugitive" and
"The Untouchable." Still others bear
phrases and sayings such as "Let's
Forget the Past"; "God Forgives, Not I";
"Forgive Them Lord"; "It's All In The
Game"; and "What You See Is What
You Get." A few of the signs are in
Many of the buses have been lettered
and decorated by Teodoro "Billy" Ma-
drifian, a former employee of the Pan-
ama Canal Dredging Division, who
began specializing in the art back in
Billy says the custom of painting
scenes on buses got stai.ed when one
bus operator conceived the idea and it
was later noted that tourists were
stopping to photograph his bus. The
idea caught on quickly and soon oper-
ators were competing for originality.
As they did, the decorations became
more and more elaborate.
The cost of bus decorations' varies
according to how elaborate they are.
A simple scene on the back of the bus
may cost anywhere from $15 to $25.
A complete job, with paintings inside
and out, lettering of names, phrases
and girls' names in the windows can
cost up to $120.
Many Panama bus riders are likely
to view with nostalgia the passing of
this charming custom as the Panama
Government prepares to modernize its
public transportation system with shiny
new buses which have large picture
windows, but, alas, no expressions of
Some "chivas" do double duty. Those that come from
the interior carrying produce, passengers and chickens are
popularly called "Chivas Gallineras" (Chicken Chivas).
Paintings of Panama's famous flat arch bridge and its historic cathedral
along with a couple in typical dress help to publicize some of the
country's tourist attractions.
36 SPECIAL EDITION
More different birds are found here than in all of
North America north of Mexico-approximately 850 species
Pa4adibc 8 t 4td WatfcIt
By Fannie P. Hernandez
IN THE earliest dawn, before the sun
has emerged through the paling sky.
a sleek, black, yellow-eyed, male grackle
nestled in a mango tree breaks the
silence with a serenade to the new
morning. His tune is of long drawn
out notes, cheerful, throaty, subdued,
vet loud enough to awaken anyone in
the vicinity. The female, brown and
smaller, quietly chatters back from a
nearby palm frond.
The handsome fellow singing with
all his heart is also known as a clari-
nero-one of the abundant bird fauna
inhabiting the Isthmus of Panama. An
ornithologist's paradise, there are more
different birds found here than in all
of North America north of Mexico-
approximately 850 species.
Though the abundance of birds is
evident throughout the year, April and
early May are especially favorable for
bird watching. It is the hbeiiiminig of
rainy season, a time when not only the
native species but also the North Amer-
ican birds in migration may be observ-
ed. South American species flying to
Central America also can be seen.
It is estimated that 6 billion birds,
adults and young, moving at night
from Canada and the United States.
migrate to southern United States,
Mexico, Central America and South
America each winter. A large num-
ber of these are seen in Panama.
Besides the striking grackle which
may be seen most anywhere except the
dense forest, are the birds of the tan-
ager family noted for their brilliancy
of plumage. They are blue, yellow,
green, and red. The crimson and black
species locally called "sangre de toro"
is usually seen at the edge of the jungle
or along the roads in the Interior.
At this time of the year, the lovel\
musical notes of the Panama thrush
tanager may be heard ringing out from
the jungle. One of Panama's most
beautiful birds, this tanager is dark slate
with a rose-red stripe on the sides of
the forehead broadening in front of
the eyes. The male has a loud sweet
whistle of notes in different pitches.
Related to the tanagers are the honey -
creepers, the family of small song birds
which abound in the humid, heavily
wooded areas of the Isthmus. Bright
shades of blue and green predominate
in the males and yellow is prominent
in some species. One of the most bril-
liant is the red-legged blue honeycreep-
er. The male is deep sapphire blue with
a turquoise crown. Part of the under-
wing is yellow and flashes out brightly
when the bird is in flight. The female
is olive green with underparts of paler
and brighter green. The honeycreeper
rarely sings in full daylight, but in the
breeding season, the male sings a weak,
unmelodious song at dawn.
Common and comical to watch in
the open fields are the small blue-black
grassquits that leap vertically several
feet and alight again in the same spot,
uttering a few short notes during the
On a spotting tour, a birder may
also observe on the Panama countryside
barred ant shrikes, sparrows, Panama
robins, which resemble their northern
relatives, hummingbirds, woodpeckers,
saltators, wrens, the "pico-gordo," the
thick-billed euphonia, which has a
sweet canary-like sound, and flycatchers,
which probably outnumber them all.
Busy little seedeaters are very nu-
merous at the end of the dry season
and the mangrove warbler is always to
be found in the swamps. Of special in-
terest to the bird watcher is the oropen-
dula which suspends his long h.anuinui
nest from the branches of large trees
The male sings a long-drawn, far-carrv-
ing liquid gurgle as he bows forward
into an inverted position, raising his
wings above his back.
Doves are abundant and very tame
in the fields, gardens, and along the
roads. A flock of ducks is not a rare
Along The Shore
Shore birds, practically all migrants.
are abundant. Sea birds also are numer-
ous and breed in immense numbers on
the islands in Panama Bay. Laughing
gulls, royal terns, brown pelicans and
frigate birds are usually seen along the
Another large family of birds is that
of the kingfisher ranging in size from a
small songbird to a crow. They are
found near the water and feed on small
fish which they catch by plunging into
the water. They nest in holes in trees
The motmots, related to the king-
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 37
(Continued from p. 37)
fishers, are beautiful birds of green, blue
and russet with graduated tails bare
about an inch above the extremities,
forming racket-shaped tips. The bird
itself preens off the barbs. Motmots
are found in the deep forests or dense
thickets, often sitting in one place for
a long time.
A fairly common bird in woods and
undergrowth is the squirrel cuckoo,
somewhat likely the widely distributed
long-tailed members of the family.
A slow, melancholy call, like a whistle
of variations is heard in the savannas.
It is the northern striped cuckoo, called
"tres pesos" by the Panamanians. These
birds call to each other by the hour
bringing music to the open fields
\\l hr ,- there are cattle, the tick bird
or "garrapatero" is surely to be found
as he feeds on insects on cattle.
A frog-like croak which may be heard
more than half a mile across the open
comes from one of the most striking
and distinctive of all tropical birds-
the toucan, a large jungle bird. It has
an enormous, slightly curved yellowish
green bill, nearly as long as its body
and very thick. The brightly colored
toucan roosts in holes in trees and feeds
A favorite of bird watchers and non-
birders too, is the family of parrots rep-
resented by several species on the Isth-
mus including parrakeets and macaws.
Their plumage is highly colored and
variegated, with green being the pre-
dominant color. Parrots are noisy birds
with harsh voices and usually nest in
hollow trees, the large species inhabit-
ing the deep forest. They remain quiet
during the day but can be heard
squawking early in the morning and
The macaw, the large, magnificent,
blue and yellow or scarlet bird, is the
showiest member of the parrot family.
It has a powerful hooked beak which
it uses to crack palm nuts and is ex-
tremely noisv. Fairly common, macaws
are usually seen in pairs and frequent
the tops of trees.
One of the most common and wide
distributed birds of the Isthmus is the
parrakeet. Watchers max observe the
orange-chinned parrakeet at sunset go-
ing from tree to tree keeping up a shrill
chattering as it feeds. The Veragua
parrakeet is apple green passing to
bluish green on top of his head with
greenish blue wings, yellowish below.
The bill is horn color. The smaller "pe-
rico" is bright yellowish green with a
patch of bright orange on his chin and
upper throat. These beautiful little crea-
tures are often caught and sold as cage
Panama, host to many species common
to both North and South America be-
sides its own particular birds, offers a
veritable field day to bird watchers.
38 SPECIAL EDITION
It's M ore
AN ART practiced milleniums ago in
the storied lands of Egypt, Chaldea and
Crete is opening new horizons for the
village of La Arena, some 250 kilo-
meters southwest of Panama City.
Work in ceramics has been known
in La Arena, a community of less
than 3,000 population, from time im-
Most of the residents now engage in
cattle raising, which is the main occu-
pation in the Azuero Peninsula in
southwestern Panama, or in agriculture.
But even before the time of the conquis-
tadores, what is now known as La Arena
was the place where first the In-
dians and then the settlers supplied
themselves with clay utensils: bulging
tinajas to keep the water cool on warm
days; round pots to cook the daily
meals, and a variety of other utensils
all made in La Arena. Of course, the
baking and the finishing were primitive,
but customers in those days were not
as exacting as now.
From the very beginning, women
took over pottery work in La Arena for
reasons no one can explain. Their prim-
itive ovens can still be seen in the
outskirts of the village.
During the thirties, a young woman
from the nearby, progressive city of
Chitr6, Miss Diana Julia Chiari, was
appointed a schoolteacher in the vil-
lage. She quickly became enthusiastic
over ceramics, which she learned from
the village women. Every day after
school, she studied books on pottery
and ceramics, and soon she became
more adept than her instructors. She
turned the tables-teaching the residents
how to improve their techniques, how
to apply decorations with clays of
various colors and artificial coloring,
the method for building indirect heat
ovens and generally improving the qual-
ity of their ceramics. The glazing pro-
cess, in its primitive form, was another
forward method taught by the young
teacher to the people of La Arena.
Miss Chiari, by then a key community
leader, turned her energies to having a
pottery school established in La Arena.
One of Panama's presidents, Dr. Juan
Dem6stenes Arosemena, turned the
young teacher's dream into reality by
founding the National Pottery School in
La Arena. Miss Chiari was the first
Diana Julia Chiari was married years
later to Victor Gruber, an American,
and moved to the Panama Canal Zone.
But she never forgot the village of La
Arena. She took friends from Panama
and the Canal Zone on weekend trips
to La Arena to see the work done there.
Another Canal Zone resident, Mrs.
Theresa Lutz, visited La Arena, accom-
panied by an official of the Canal Zone
schools. They were amazed at the work
turned out from the little pottery school
despite the lack of modern facilities
and with only a firewood oven. On her
return to Balboa, Mrs. Lutz aroused the
interest of Mrs. Emily C. Bolton, then
president of the Balboa Women's
Club, in La Arena's pottery school.
The result was that the Club donated to
The Finishing Room at La Arena. With vegetable and synthetic hues, workers apply the various decorations which grow brighter with time.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
the school a fine ceramics electric oven.
The only condition stipulated by the
Balboa women was that the oven should
be used exclusively for the benefit of
the community. Even today, the oven
donated by the Canal Zone ladies is
still the best piece of equipment in the
oven room of the ceramics center in i
A little over three years ago, the W
Ministry of Agriculture of Panama,
with United Nations assistance, estab-
lished in neighboring ChitrB the Na-
tional Handicraft and Small Industries
Service-SENAPI-for the purpose of
encouraging the development of small .
industries in various communities of the 4:-
central provinces of the Republic. It
has become a large organization, di-
rected by Pedro Bolafios of the Minis-
try of Agriculture, Commerce and
Industries of Panama, and Jean Barroux
of the International Labor Organization.
From the outset, SENAPI centered
its attention on La Arena. Panamanian
and United Nations experts were as-
signed to the town to help the National
Pottery School progress scientifically
and to serve as a model for other com-
munities which might develop ceramics
as a small industry. The National Pot- 4
tery School became the La Arena ,
Center utinder SENAPI in Chitr6.
The project is supervised by Pana- c
manian and United Nations experts:
Ivan Zachrison, a Panamanian artist
who has specialized in ceramics, and
George Cuielle, a French expert in ce-
ramics who also is with the United
Nations. They taught the first 16 stu-
dents who reported to the Center.
Currently they are training more than
30 other apprentices. The ceramic
pieces are designed by Alberto Chan
and Rene Diaz, both Panamanians, and
Malcolm Benjamin, another U.N. expert
from the United States.
One of the most important phases of
the project was to develop the La
Arena Center as a cooperative. This
was the job of Franz Helm, a German- ,-
born authority on cooperatives from the .-..
United Nations. .-
Cuielle points out that top-quality
clay is abundant in Panama, especially
in the central region. "It is a good in-. .
dustry for the inhabitants of the re-
gion," he remarks. "The raw material is
quite available and costs them nothing.
They have only to manufacture a va- Fifteen-year-old Luis Calder6n, the youngest of the workers at La Arena, utilizing a
rietv of utensils for which there is a tiny hand-lathe.
La Arena now
demand, and they have a means of
The La Arena ceramics shop is on
a par with the best, thanks to the help
of Panamanian and United Nations ex-
perts and the equipment furnished by
the world organization. It is supplied
with indirect heat ovens, including the
first one using wood, others em-
ploying gas, and the electric oven
donated by the Balboa Women's Club.
An air compressor facilitates the enam-
eling process which precedes the
baking. In a finishing room, residents
create bright adornments along the lines
of the Indian designs found in the
Conte Site in Cocle province.
All types of fine vessels, dishes, and
decorative pieces are turned out in a
lathe room. Everything from simple
dishes to amphoras of pre-Columbian
design are produced in this room. Sev-
eral of the amphoras which are replicas
of those found in the Conte Site, com-
plete with designs, have been displayed
by SENAPI in the Panama Pavilion at
Hemisfair in San Antonio, Tex. They
have attracted considerable attention
and already European and United
States importers are showing an interest
in the ceramics from La Arena.
The impact of the La Arena Center
(the official designation of the coopera-
tive project in SENAPI is "La Arena
Ceramics Industries") has been tre-
mendous in the three short years since
its establishment. Its direct sales in
1967 amounted to $16,000. These are
handled in the Center offices in La
Arena and through SENAPI in Panama
City and Colon, the Canal Zone and
other areas of the Republic.
The Center's influence touches most
residents of the town. Brothers Victor
and Ernesto Murillo are typical exam-
ples. The former lives in the center of
town and spends his spare time decora-
ting and turning on a lathe vessels
and pots. Ernesto owns an indirect heat,
firewood oven on the outskirts of town.
Mateo Batista removes from the gas-electric kiln a newly baked pot. The oven was donated
to Cooperative Ceramic Industries of La Arena by the Balboa Women's Club in 1963 when
the center was still called the National Pottery School.
He built it under the direction of a
Peace Corps volunteer. Both brothers
learned the art in the La Arena Center
and in a few months after striking out
on their own, Ernesto had saved enough
to buy a small $1,000 delivery truck.
The annual impact on the town from
the ceramics industry is estimated at
more than $20,000, since other families
besides the Murillos work at it during
their spare time.
The results at La Arena have been
so encouraging that SENAPI officials
organized another ceramics shop in
Chitr6 under instructor Toribio Ruiz
Avila, a native of La Arena. Ruiz al-
ready is training the first five of a group
of 20 young men from La Pefia, Vera-
guas Province, 254 kilometers west of
"The talent for ceramics of these
young people is marvelous," Ruiz
says. "After two weeks training, they
were fashioning delicate clay figures."
The young men will form the nucleus
of the La Pefia Center.
Ruiz was a student under Mrs.
Gruver, whom he recalls affectionately.
"All I know, I owe to her," he said,
recalling his school days.
The La Pefia Center is being
equipped with a $16,000 donation from
the Panama National Lottery. Labor for
the building is being furnished by resi-
dents of the town. The Center will
specialize in fine ceramics, copying the
pre-Columbian gold huacas. Because of
their small size, there will be no diffi-
culty in shipping these items to prin-
cipal markets in the United States
Thanks to the dedication of a young
teacher imbued with the ambition to
help others, a small town in Panama-
aided by the Government and by the
United Nations-is now pulling itself
up by its own bootstraps. La Arena has
become a stopping point for travelers
and visitors, most of who come away
carrying a fine ceramics piece decora-
ted with Indian motifs and labeled,
Made in La Arena-Panama.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
the "9J-landJ of
--- -- -s- - -c
P_ E ~ ~ I~I
By Louis R. Granger
LLSTERED OFF the south
coast of Panama lie a group
of more than 100 islands that
during the ne\t decade are ex-
pec-ted to gi e a bit of com-
S petition to the sun and fun
islands of tht Caribbean.
\\ell-knoonii tu the boating and fish-
ing crowd of Panama and the Canal
Zone, the Pe.irl Isljnd Archipelago in
the Gulf of Panama is stepping into the
limelight tha.iks to a group of Panama
businessmen and the Panama Govern-
ment, all bent on putting the island
levels on e\er\ island hopping t urist',
Cabril. Len Pis. pil j.hi, ot I th Pcall
Island Deteloprnitt Corp. is the lead-
ing force behind the proI-trt and this
month n ill otficialll ipen Contadi.lr.a
Island to tourism
Alrcad\ more th.in S1 rnillih, h.a be:-i
spent to develop) thte illnd int.- a lii\ir\
resort, arid ..ppr,, ,inmatel: WSfilO.0)iii
more \\ill go into thle constructi.niii If .
50-room mod,'rn ho.htI .and 16 t ,)-bl.
room cottages to be read\ in januarT
1972 Now available are 10. tvwo-bed-
room. central\ ail-conditione-d trailer..
a restaurant and cocktail li.urntr. and .
small rental store tor spotiint goods and
the usual beach and water nrcessitlis
Although the island is onl\ 2 miles
long and 34 of a mile l de. it has 1.3
beaches and plenty. o.1l room for pri\ac\
An airfield nearly. .3.000 feet long serves
the island, and the corporation orn,
three twin-engine planes for shuttle
sert ice from Paitilla Airport. The fee is
$10 per person round trip, but property.
owners are given a discount.
It's a 15-minute t ip b\ .ar and
approximately 1 to 2 hours bY power-
boat. The island lies at the northern end
of the archipelago approximately 35
miles from Panama Cit\. There are nu-
merous anchorages foi deep-draft v ssels
and the island has a gas diesel fueling
Once the island gets into full swing,
Contadora % ill be a paradise for the out-
door types, as well as for the naturalist
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Peterson who
operated a sailing school at Fort Lauder-
dale, Fla., are resident managers of the
operation and offer skindising and sail-
ing classes. Natives from the surround-
ing islands will conduct pearl diving
expeditions for the more adventuresome
visitors. Pearling was a lucrative busi-
ness around the Peail Islands until the
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 43
With imany tropical beaches
and jungle trails, Contadora
Island othcially opens for
tourism this month. On
opposite page pretty Karen
Hughes, a visitor from
lo" a. "rites her fa orite
island's name in the sand.
and strolls along the beach
in the photo belo%%.
In left photo. Gabriel Lewis.
right, developer, chats
%%ith Frank Morrice whose
comi:ipa holds the
exclusive sales right,
to island property.
Below is a trail leading
through untouched jungle.
A paradise for beachcombers and skindivers, the Pearl Island Archipelago gives up
treasures from its past to sharp-eyed visitors. Here Mr. and Mrs. Lewis display some of
the items found among the islands. Clustered in the foreground and in photo below are
pearls found just off Contadora this year.
1930's when apparently a combination
of over-fishing and disease decimated
But pearl oysters may be making a
comeback. Lewis has collected nearly
100 pearls of various sizes off Contadora
in 10 feet of water at low tide. (Pacific
tides average approximately 14 feet.)
Tennis courts, a 9-hole golf course,
and volleyball courts will be added to
round out the sporting activities.
Lewis has preserved much of the
island- forest of guayacan trees, thorny
cedars, oaks, and typical island growth,
and has let it be known that a good way
not to be invited back to the island is to
kill one of the black iguanas that inhabit
the island. This species grows to about
5 feet and like the rest of the family are
harmless to humans.
Indian pottery and 19th Century
bottles have been found on Contadora
during the construction and clearing.
And on a nearby island Lewis found two
large diving helmets abandoned or lost
by pearl divers.
Lewis plans to retain the natural
beauty of the island and not crowd any
of the residents or visitors. Actually
there is no need to pack Contadora with
people. He owns seven other islands in
the archipelago which he plans even-
tually to develop. "It all depends on how
well the public accepts Contadora,"
Part of the island has been subdivided
for homesites and additional building
sites will be set aside after the hotel is
completed. "The reaction has been fan-
tastic," said Lewis. "Already the entire
subdivided section has been sold."
If Lewis' own reaction to Contadora
when he first saw it is any indication of
how others will feel, then the island is
bound to be a favorite.
Like a Dream
Just 2 years ago in November Lewis
was fishing alone in a small boat when
he had engine trouble. He put into Con-
tadora for help. "I found the island to
be like a dream," he said. After repairing
the engine, Lewis returned to Panama
City. "Immediately I started asking
questions and found that it was owned
by the Pinel family who had been in
the pearl business years before." For-
tunately, the owners were willing to sell.
Lewis set-up a 5-year program and in
February 1969 the first bulldozer started
to clear an area for the airstrip. Since
then a work force of about 70 men has
been kept busy. The Panama National
Guard provided some heavy equipment
to widen the runway.
During the next dry season the airfield
and all the roads including one that
circles the island will be blacktopped.
That project is expected to be finished
in February 1971 along with a water
system supplied by three artesian wells,
and an electrical plant with three gen-
erators supplying 1,000 kw. Comunica-
ciones, S.A., will install 80 telephone
lines for island communications and 6
lines to Panama City by March 1971,
No Crazy Ideas
Original building sites sold for $6 a
square meter for waterfront lots and $4
for inland property. The only building
restriction is that plans be approved by
the management and that the houses
"fit in" with the community. "No crazy
ideas," Lewis said. Lot owners, he ex-
plained, can purchase two-bedroom, air-
conditioned mobile homes from the Pan-
ama Tourist Bureau for nothing down
and $128 a month for 8 years. Trailer
lots, however, must be landscaped.
To Lewis, the archipelago will be-
come the next major tourist area. "These
islands will be booming soon. The Gov-
ernment is backing their development
and is giving a lot of cooperation.
There's a great potential here.
"Panama has an excellent opportunity
to develop a strong tourist industry. We
have what everybody wants-sun, good
beaches, some of the best fishing in the
world, and clean, clear water," he said.
Lewis is not alone in this venture.
Frank Morrice III, a partner of Ford,
Sosa, Morrice, S.A., insurance and real
estate, has the exclusive sales rights to
island property. And like Lewis, Mor-
rice first went to Contadora for a reason
other than business.
"I heard about the island and went
there to see about buying a lot. I fell in
love with it right away," he said. Lewis
and Morrice became good friends and
Lewis offered him the sales part of the
Lewis is a family man, the father of
five boys and one daughter, and has a
close relationship with his business
associates. He is general manager of the
successful family-owned enterprise of
Corrugado Panama, S.A., which manu-
factures banana packing boxes.
He has the easygoing manner of a
man who is sure of himself and knows
exactly where he is going.
Morrice feels much the same way
about the future of the Pearl Islands as
Lewis, but admits that it takes someone
like Lewis to make it work. "Gabriel is
the pioneer; he's the Robinson Crusoe
of the Pearl Islands."
LITTLE IS KNOWN and less is re-
corded of the Pearl Islands except that
they were once the center of important
and lucrative pearl fishing, an industry
which to various degrees continued for
more than 400 years.
The first known written reference to
the islands occurs in a letter to the King
of Spain from Vasco Nifiez de Balboa,
dated January 20, 1513. Balboa had not
discovered the Pacific Ocean-that was
to be in September-but had heard many
stories from the Indians about the great
"South Sea" that stretched to the horizon
from across the Isthmus of Panama.
He told the King: "The Indians state
there is another ocean 3 days journey
from here . they say the other ocean
is very suitable for canoe traveling as it
is always calm . I believe there are
many islands in that sea. . they tell me
that there are pearls in abundance of
great size, and that the native chiefs
possess baskets filled with them, as do
even common Indian men and women.
Since then these islands with their
graceful white sand beaches, craggy
cliffs, good natural harbors, and a wide
and abundant variety of \ ildhfli have
led unruffled lives while their tropical
cousins in the Caribbean were groomed
for the tourist trade.
Sun and Rum
As the Caribbean islands boomed with
pleasure seekers by the hundreds of
thousands soaking up the sun and rum,
the "Islands of Pearls," as Balboa called
them, patiently waited for the limelight.
From 1901 until 1968, when Gabriel
Lewis, president of the Pearl Island
Development Corp., bought Contadora
Island, it was owned by the Pinel family
who used the island for its pearl fishing
fleet. The Pinel's bought it from great-
grandchildren of FMlix Moreno who took
title to the island and several others in
the late 18th Century. Moreno's daugh-
ter inherited it on his death in 1836
when the island was called San Fran-
cisco de Asis de Contadora.
Jos6 Pinel of Panama City, who is en-
gaged in the real estate business, was
a child during the pearl fishing days of
his family. He said Contadora and
several other islands had fresh water
necessary for the fleet. Pinel believes
that Contadora may have been the
island that was used as the counting-
house for pearls and mother-of-pearl
shell during the Spanish occupation. The
Spanish word contador means counter;
accountant; or auditor, and contadu-
ria is translated as accountant's office,
accountancy, and auditorship.
The Pinel family remained in the
pearling business-both for mother-of-
pearl and pearls-until 1931 when the
demand for mother-of-pearl diminished.
Most of it was sent to Germany while the
pearls were sold mainly in Paris, Lon-
don, and a few other European capitals.
Only a few pearls were ever sold in the
United States, Pinel said.
Although the Colombian Government
had established conservation practices
on pearl fishing prior to the turn of the
century (Panama became independent
from Colombia in 1903), the production
of pearl oysters diminished markedly in
According to Dr. Paul S. Galtsoff of
the U.S. Department of the Interior,
Fish and Wildlife Service, who con-
ducted a survey of the pearl oyster
resources of Panama in 1950, the years
of forced inactivity from 1939 through
1943 had no beneficial effect on the
"In 1441-15, when the fishery was
officially resumed, the divers found the
pearl oysters extremely scarce. They also
reported seeing, on several formerly
productive grounds, many dead or dying
oysters," said Dr. Galtsoff.
There are no records available of the
number of pearls and their value taken
from Panama Bay during the Spanish
occupation, but it probably was con-
siderable. Modern-day records on pearls
and mother-of-pearl shells were not
maintained until 1908, and even then
the records were only sketchy.
According to the Panama Bureau of
Statistics and Census, the best year was
1924 when pearls and shell valued at
$57,524 were taken from the bay. The
last year of record keeping was 1938
when it was reported that only 3 carats
of pearls valued at $275 were collected.
But the year before, 339 carats with a
value of $10,818 were taken.
c- -- -
,;-- -- .--
At top of page is an aerial photograph of
Contadora Island taken earlier this year.
It shows the runway, half a dozen beaches
and 16 modem cottages will be con-
structed near the beach at right center. The
*. .-^ -
U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office chart shows
At top of page is northern aerial photograph ofhe archi-
Contadora Island taken earlier this year.
It shows the runway, half a dozen beaches
and some of the roads. A 50-room hotel
and 16 modem cottages will be con-
structed near the beach at right center. The
U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office chart shows
some of the northern islands in the archi-
Isla Pacheca and to the right of Isla Sabo-
ga. The islands are approximately 35 miles
from Panama City.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
By Jose T. Tufi6n
T HE APPAREL OF SLAVE WOM-
en and nursemaids during the
Spanish colonial era of the Isthmus has
become, with the passing of time, the
national costume of Panama and one of
the most beautiful and most admired
typical dresses of the world.
From its humble beginnings in the
servants' quarters of the wealthy of Old
Panama, the pollera gradually invaded
the refined drawing rooms of high so-
ciety, becoming a prized possession of
all Panamanian women, from the rustic
maidens of the countryside to the high-
born ladies of the aristocracy.
There are those who claim that the
pollera had its beginning in Spain be-
cause of its similarity to the modest
dress worn by women in the small towns
of Spain in colonial days. And still others
will insist that the pollera originated
with fashionable ladies of Old Panama.
The idea most accepted, however, is
that the dress was inspired by the gar-
ment worn by the black slaves, later
becoming the dress of the women of
the populace, evolving into what it is
today, the national costume for women
and a symbol of Panamanian nationality.
There are three classes of polleras:
the formal dress known as the pollera
de gala; the pollera montuna, the every-
day dress; and the wedding pollera,
originally from the Oc6 area.
According to Panamanian folklore,
the all white pollera was worn by the
nursemaids, while other female servants
wore the brightly colored calico skirt
that became the pollera montuna, the
The Formal Pollera
The formal pollera for festive occa-
sions and holidays is made of fine white
linen, cambric or voile. At least 12 yards
of material go into its making. It must
he pure white to form a background for
the blended tints of embroidered de-
signs of flowers, birds, garlands or other
combinations of designs, preferably of
native origin and feeling. Exquisite de-
signs are made in cross-stitch or by the
use of a more elegant needlework
known as "talco en sombra," which is
characteristic of Panama. It consists of
two pieces of material sewn together.
A design is made on one piece of the
fabric, and the design is then carefully
cut out and its edges hemmed with tiny
The formal pollera consists of the
blouse (wider than the montuna blouse),
the skirt and the petticoat or petticoats,
as one to three are worn under the
gown. The blouse of all three polleras
is white and worn off the shoulder. For
the formal dress, the blouse has a neck-
hand at the top of the bodice made of
the traditional "mundillo," the fine hand-
made bonelace made in the Interior, and
edged with lace. The band has openings
in the front and in the back, where wool
pompons are placed. The neckband is in-
terwoven with wool of the same color as
the pompons. Two ribbons, called "ga-
Ilardetes," hang from the waist, one in
front and one in the back, and match
the color of the wool. The heelless shoes,
soft slippers in velveteen or satin, also
are of the same color as the wool pom-
pons No stockings are worn.
A beautifully embroidered ruffle of
fine wide Valencian lace is attached to
the mundillo band and falls to the mid-
dle of the bodice. Another ruffle is added
under the first one and this falls to the
waist, or to a little lower than the waist.
Both of these ruffles are exquisitely em-
broidered or worked in "talco."
The blouse has push-up sleeves with
an embroidered ruffle, also trimmed in
The skirt of the formal pollera is
always made of fine white material, fine
enough for the handwork on the petti-
coats to show through. It is loose, full
and long, reaching the ankles. The skirt
is two piece; the upper section comes
to the knees and is separated by an in-
sertion of mundillo lace, with the mate-
rial gathered in such a manner that it
can be spread out and be admired.
Twice as much fabric goes into the
lower part of the skirt, making a circle.
Above: The intricate handwork on
the petticoat of the white wedding pollera
is displayed by Miss Marilyn Escobar
who is seen at right lighting a candle
in Panama's famous
Church of the Golden Altar.
f t A m
Si T*~, ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^?
THE P.NAMA CANAL REV'LEW 47
Participating in the folkloric dances
held at Old Panama during the dry season
is Miss Marta Vega
wearing the montuna.
Golden chains, including the typically Panamanian "cadena chata," and other
gold jewelry, such as coins in filigree frames, are worn with the formal pollera.
.^ ;^ p
Lk i. .'.
The elaborate jewelry and combs, encrusted with pearls, are as impressive
from the back as from the front.
The edge of the skirt is trimmed with
about 25 yards of lace, 4 or 5 inches
wide. The magnificent skirt is gathered
at the waist and tied by four narrow
ribbons, two crossing in the front and
two in the back, running through the
button holes of two gold buttons at
either side of the waist.
The petticoats are handmade of very
fine white linen, as elaborate as the
Framed by the modernistic sculpture which stands in front of the Pacific-Atlantic Bank in Panama, Leyda and Marilyn Escobar
display the magnificent skirts of their polleras. The unusual metal sculpture is by Adolfo Arias, Jr.
skirt, with laces, cutwork and em-
broidery. Usually two are worn with the
pollera, sometimes three.
The hairdress is an important part of
the pollera. The hair is parted in the
center and tightly pulled back behind
the ears, forming two braids. The braids
are covered with several pairs of "tem-
bleques," the glittering sprays of flower-
like filigree ornaments made of gold and
silver and pearls, their flexible stems
"trembling" as the wearer moves. Two
kinds of combs are worn, one crested
with elaborate gold work, called "de
balc6n" as they resemble the design of
balcony railings. These are placed
toward the back of the head on either
side. The others are called "de perlas"
because the gold work is encrusted with
pearls. These are worn a little to the
front of the head. Earrings are large,
of various shapes, in gold or silver, with
rosettes of pearls or coral.
Several gold chains around the neck,
from four to eight, are part of the
jewelry worn with the formal dress.
These include coral and pearl rosaries,
gold coins in filigree frames on plain
gold chains, a gold cross on a chain or
a narrow black ribbon, gold cords with
religious emblems, scapularies, and the
"cadena chata," the flat chain with a
gold fish at the end. It is absolutely
Panamanian in significance and, accord-
ing to legend, in the old days, when a
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
T HE SKILLS AND STAMINA OF
some of the best roadbuilders of
this hemisphere will soon be put to the
test in the dense jungles of the Darien
Province of Panama and northwestern
Colombia where construction of a 250-
mile highway will supply the link now
missing from the Alaska to Argentina
intercontinental road system.
Culinary Capers invites REVIEW read-
ers to go along on an armchair journey
with these forgers of progress and makers
of cement ribbons to savor the region's
primitive nature before it is swept away
by the near-magic of 20th century
Adventurers' tall tales of the Darien
tell of headhunters who blow poison
darts from the treetops, of swarming
blood-sucking insects, of bottomless mo-
rasses, of ferocious jaguars, and wild
boars. Let us have a look at the Choco
Indians and the vital sources which have
sustained them on a jungle-river-based
The roadbuilders and their bulldozers
will cross one of the world's largest
swamp areas, jungle rivers, hills and
valleys, and penetrate wilderness un-
touched even by Indian paths, to bring
change, at last, to an area where Spanish
explorers established their first mainland
colony. Cutting through the dark green
masses of tangled vines, creepers and a
myriad of forest growths, we shall see
the Chocoes' shelters, taste their food,
and feel the pulse of their silent primeval
world before they retreat deeper into
the wilds or opt to join the modern age.
Defying change, we find the copper-
colored Chocoes living today in the wild-
est, most primitive existence, very much
as the Spaniards found them early in the
16th century. Scattered along the banks
of the many rivers that crisscross the
Darien, far from the comforts and prob-
lems of civilization, they seem to be in
complete harmony with their surround-
ings. Proud, peaceful, honest, but sus-
picious of outsiders, they live a day-to-
day existence in which there are few
economic pressures. Ignoring govern-
ment procedures and regulations, Cho-
coes usually make their own laws.
They are the Indians most often ma-
ligned in stories about the Darien. Pos-
sibly because of their savage appearance,
they have stirred the imagination of the
Down in the Darien
50 SPECIAL EDITION
mythmakers. They are, however, more
friendly than their Cuna cousins. Both
men and women go about practically
nude. The male has a muscular frame,
an abundance of straight black hair and
wears earrings. The rest of the attire
of the Choco man consists of a small
G-string and a generous coating of dark
body paint made from the dye of a
native berry from the genip tree. They
also use a red paint made from achiote,
the orange-red seed pod which is com-
monly used to give color and flavor to
The Chocoes are semi-migratory and
dwell independently in small one or two
family groups. They build their shelters
along the banks of rivers which serve as
their highways and source of livelihood.
The dwelling is a platform raised on
posts several feet above the ground.
Overhead is a roof of thatched palms, the
joints tied with vines. There are no pro-
tecting walls. To reach the Choco house,
one climbs up a ladder made by cutting
notches into a pole or a log. At night, the
family turns the steps to the underside
of the log to bar dogs and other un-
wanted callers. At one end of the floor,
which is made of flattened-out split cane,
is the "kitchen." It consists of a cement
or clay platform approximately a yard
square. Three logs placed spoke fashion
rest on the square and the cooking pot
sits over a small fire burning at the hub.
A calabash tree provides the kitchen
utensils. Scooped out small calabash are
for drinking and eating or used as
spoons, though ordinarily the Chocoes
use their fingers to eat from the com-
mon kettle. Another one with a hole
cut into the top and a piece of oily
twisted bark stuck in the hole serves as
a lamp. And still another good-sized
calabash with holes punched into it is a
colander. Long seed pods serve as
Choco women wear only a simple
knee-length sarong, their ink black hair
falling on copper shoulders, their breasts,
bare. Both men and women have a
great fondness for adornments. They
wear quantities of glass beads around
their necks or draped over their should-
crs, and on special occasions, flowers in
their hair. For additional beautification,
they paint the lower part of their faces
and their bodies, often making intricate
designs with different colors of paint.
Scattered about the floor and hanging
from the posts of the dwelling and those
supporting the roof over the "kitchen"
are baskets, earthen pots, bows and
arrows, spears, knives, and other hand-
made hunting and fishing and household
items. The baskets are made of strips
from the fronds of a palm tree which are
light on one side and darker on the other.
The Choco women weave them turning
the strips and making an attractive twill
pattern. Earthen pots are slowly being
replaced by "pailas," the cast aluminum
or iron pots found in Panamanian
Sleep on Floor
The Chocoes sleep on the floor of the
shelters. Their beds are the bark of trees
which women have made soft by beating
under water. There are no bed covers.
A wooden block serves as a pillow. There
is no protection from the excessive heat,
the insects or frequent downpours, and
the Darien is one of the world's rainiest
regions. The shelters are easily replaced
making it possible for the Chocoes to
disappear deeper into the wilderness as
the construction gangs near them. Navi-
gating their long narrow dugout canoes,
they will select another spot on the same
river or another stream which will pro-
vide laundry and bathing facilities and
also serve as the fish market and water
Fish are caught with nets, spears or
bows and arrows. If not consumed im-
mediately, thev are smoked and dried.
The rivers also provide turtles and cai-
man, favorite foods of the Chocoes. They
shoot the turtles with rifles or swim
under water and catch them with their
hands, tossing them ashore. A wooden
wedge is driven between the head and
shell to prevent it from getting away
before it reaches the cooking pot. To
save the turtle for a future meal, it is
tied near the water.
The forests furnish wild game which
provides the Chocoes protein food. Born
hunters, they use bows and arrows to
hunt the jungle animals. The tapir,
peccary, deer, armadillo, iKguiia. and
monkey are favorite jungle fare.
Jungle trees provide balsa for making
rafts and the bark of certain trees is used
to make remedies for snake bite, skin ail-
ments, malaria, etc. Other trees furnish
fruit and dyes for painting their bodies.
Palm fronds are used for the roofs over
their shelters and the juice of the
green coconuts provides "milk" for the
Chocoes cultivate mainly corn, rice,
yucca, potatoes, yams, beans, and otoe
and grow plantains, bananas, pineapples,
A Choco boy and his river.
Long, narrow dugout canoes
transport food on the waterway
which also provides drinking
water, fish, and laundry
and bathing facilities.
a.~ --. lt
'* 1 C
W.t. aw. f ..
,,l : .. .
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 51
papayas, guavas, .Iu. .it.s,. and other
fruits and nuts. Their diet is rich in
vitunins and high in roughage.
A favorite dish is Iguana Stew and for
this a gravid female is preferred and
prepared in this manner:
Skin the iguana, removing the insides
and saving the eggs, including the
fellow ones and the heart and liver. Dis-
member the iguana by cutting it down
the spine, dividing the halves into three
pieces and the legs in two. Place the
meat in a pot of heated coconut oil and
brown it lightly. Drop in hot pepper and
garlic to taste, and brown a little longer.
In another pot, boil the eggs in their
shells for half an hour with chili pepper.
(Iguana eggs, boiled for 10 minutes and
then sun dried have a cheese-like flavor
and are relished by all Darienites.) Drain
and add to the meat along with the diced
liver, heart, and yellow eggs. Cook until
the broth has all but disappeared. Serve
with rice and beans.
Turtle is an excellent food source of
the Chocoes and a typical meal may be
portions of turtle fried in its own grease.
However, a more savory dish is Turtle
Stew prepared like this:
Clean and cut up the neck and legs of
the turtle and steep in lemon juice,
garlic, onion, green pepper, salt, and
pepper for a few hours. Remove from
the marinade and fry lightly. Then add
the marinade and one cup coconut milk
and cook until the meat is tender.
Turtle Egg Omelet
Turtle eggs are considered a delicacy
in Panama and some say they are more
nutritious than hen's eggs. They are
eaten raw, cooked, mixed into pancakes
and made into a butter-like spread.
Turtle Egg Omelet is made much the
same as the common hen egg variety,
using oil for cooking.
The flesh of jungle animals and birds
such as tapir, monkey, ibis, peccary,
venison, and agouti are common fare in
the Darien. The flesh of these is often
smoked before cooking. Fresh meat,
however, can be boiled, roasted, or
barbecued. It also is salted and dried
in the sun for several days. Monkey
meat is usually smoked for 24 hours
before cooking, but a Darien housewife
in a hurry to feed her hungry family
may simply boil the meat in salted
water until it is tender.
Monkey Stew is made by frying salted,
smoked monkey lightly in hot oil, adding
diced onions, then water and achiote.
The stew is cooked until the meat is
tender and sauce has thickened.
These meat dishes are often served
with rice which has been cooked in coco-
nut juice with the addition of onion and
salt, or corn rolls (bollos) made by
grinding and boiling green corn which
is then formed into balls and wrapped in
corn husks and boiled.
Chocao de Guineo
A banana-coconut dessert may round
out the meal. Chocao de Guineo is made
by cubing six bananas and boiling them
in one cup of water, adding a piece of
fresh ginger root and gradually adding
one cup coconut milk and a little flour
for thickening. It is stirred constantly
until the desired thickness is achieved.
More coconut milk is added when
it is served. Plantains may be used
instead of bananas. (Coconut milk is
made by squeezing grated coconut to
which boiling water has been added.)
Most of these recipes were collected
by Panamanian anthropologist, Dra. Rei-
na Torres de Arauz, and are included in
the Darienita's Dietary compiled by
James A. Duke of the Battelle Memorial
W *" ..' %.I
Queen in her kitchen, this Choco lass stirs the contents in the cooking pot which
sits at the hub of three logs placed spoke-fashion at one corer of the dwelling.
Note how she has embellished her beauty by painting the lower part of her face.
Chocoes are fond of adornments. In addition to paint-
ing an elaborate design on his face, this youth wears
a chain around his neck and a fower in his hair.
At right: The collection of baskets was made by the boy's mother
who used strips of palm fronds which are light on one side and
darker on the other. By turning the strips as she weaves them
she achieves an attractive twill pattern. Below: A primitive drill
made by the Chocoes proves to be an int.re.-inir toy for
Patrick, left, and Richard, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Grimison
of La Boca. They are making holes in a calabash just as the
Chocoes do to make a colander.
At right: High off the ground, the Choco
shelter has a split cane floor, a thatched roof
and no walls. A notched tree trunk serves
as steps to the dwelling. At night the trunk
is turned to the underside to keep out
unwanted callers, dogs, cats, and
wild animals. Below: This chic Choco
belle enhances her beauty by painting
flowers on her cheeks, butterfly wings above
her lips and an intricate design on the
lower part of her face.
structure on the
right is the chicken
protein food is
mainly from the
jungle where they
use bows and
arrows to hunt
game. They also
'% V and pigs to
from the jungle
and the rivers.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 53
' A .
L / 1
Architectural drawing showing some of the 55 modem cabins to be constructed on the adj
cent island of El Morro as a part of the hotel complex that will include the Taboga Hote
LOSELY LINKED TO THE
colorful history of Panama, the
picturesque island of Taboga has known
the fury of marauding pirates, the intol-
erance of the Conquistadores, the bold-
ness of the Gold Rush adventurers, and
the glory of producing a saint. Through
it all the island has remained unsullied.
An idyllic hilly island in Panama Bay,
reminiscent of Capri, Taboga is only
about 12 nautical miles, or an hour by
launch, from Panama City. Its proximity
and its white sand beaches have made
it a prime candidate for further develop-
ment by the Republic of Panama Tourist
Plans are now afoot to build a hotel
complex which would include the pres-
ent Hotel Taboga and 55 modern cabins
to be constructed on El Morro, a small
adjacent island. It would be adminis-
tered by the Hyatt International Hotel
S Although Vasco Nnfiez de Balboa, the
first Spaniard to set foot on the small
dot of land, called it St. Peter's Island,
the Indian name of the ruling cacique
prevailed and nearly 450 years after its
founding, the island still maintains the
simplicity and flavor of bygone days.
Typical of the Spanish colonial set-
tlements in the New World, the little
a- town of Taboga sprang up around the
1. church. Its narrow streets, now paved,
r;;.;l i. '*L.*!
are barely wide enough for the passage
of the few vehicles on the island.
The absence of traffic noises and ex-
haust fumes to pollute the clean sea
breezes and the magnificent view of
velvet sea and ships from far-off lands
waiting to enter the Canal have made
Taboga a favorite weekend retreat for
Panama and Canal Zone residents and
a year-round tourist attraction.
Quiet rural lanes fully skirted by a
profusion of bougainvillea and hibiscus
blooms in red, white, and pink, accen-
tuated by the fragrance of roses and
sweet jasmine, give Taboga the atmos-
phere of an eternal garden and the name
"Island of Flowers."
During the Spanish conquest, Tabo-
ga's inhabitants were virtually elimi-
nated. When a decree by Charles V put
an end to slavery, only about 700 slaves
remained in Panama and its environs;
the majority of these had been brought
from Venezuela and Nicaragua. Among
them were a handful of native slaves
who became the settlers of Taboga.
A new village was founded in 1524
by Padre Hernando de Luque, dean of
the Panama cathedral. He built a com-
fortable house on the island and re-
mained there most of the time. It was
Padre Luque who provided funds and
blessed Francisco Pizarro and Diego de
No traffic noises disturb the
quiet of Panama's historic
"Island of Flowers"
El Morro played an important role in world shipping a little over 100 years ago when the
Pacific Steamship Navigation Co. established its Panama headquarters there. Many forty-
niners en route to California spent their "waiting" days in Taboga boarding houses.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
*^T "^- 7--
An ancient anchor frames a scene of narrow flower-bordered lanes curving past small white
houses and Taboga's historic church, where the little town sprang up during the Colonial era.
They remember, too, that Santa Rosa
de Lima, the first saint of this hemi-
sphere, was conceived in Taboga. Ac-
cording to Don Manuel Pefiuela, for
many years a municipal official in Ta-
boga, the parents of the young girl who
was later to be canonized, had lived in
a charming house on the beach, now
owned by Sefiora Abigail Pacheco de
Taboga's wholesome, healthy atmos-
phere has been recognized since colo-
nial days when Panama City residents
flocked to the island during epidemics
or for a respite from the city heat. On
several occasions, Taboga has been un-
officially the summer capital of Panama,
especially during the terms of President
The Panama Tourist Bureau operates
a modern hotel on the island, which is
the headquarters of numerous water
Taking advantage of
low tide, visitors walk
over to the
island of El Morro,
---. where the U.S. Navy
had a "mosquito boat"
training base during
World War II.
. -- ..
Almagro before they set off from Ta-
boga on their conquest of the flourishing
In addition to his church duties, he
raised fruits and vegetables on the fer-
tile soil of Taboga, devoting much of
his time to his pineapple plantations.
Padre Luque's pineapples could well be
the progenitors of the pineapple patches
that pepper the island today.
Taboganos still recall the venerable
priest by referring to a crystaline pool
in the folds of Picacho del Vigia, the
highest point on the island, as the
" Santa Rosa de Lima
sports activities held during the year.
Pleasure boats from Panama and yachts
from all parts of the world may be seen
anchored in front of the hotel throughout
Hotel Chu, a two-story wooden struc-
ture built on the beach after the turn of
the century, offers adequate but not lux-
urious comfort and spectacular vistas of
Facing Hotel Taboga and linked to
the island at low tide by a sandbar, is
El Morro, a small rocky islet, where
at the end of the 17th century the
Spaniards established a fort to defend
During the wars of Independence in
Latin America, it was the three cannons
on El Morro, manned by 10 Spanish
soldiers, that fought off the attacks of
John Illingworth, in 1819. During a
second attack, however, the invaders
took Taboga, the inhabitants fleeing to
the hills. Three of the invaders were
killed and buried by the villagers, who
marked their graves with wooden
crosses. With the passing of the years,
cast iron crosses embedded in a mortar
base, replaced the wooden markers. To
this day, Taboganos in the vicinity of
"Las Tres Cruces" never fail to light a
candle in memory of the three who
dared to disturb the peace of their little
A little over 100 years ago, El Morro
played an important role in world ship-
ping. The Pacific Steamship Navigation
Co., an English company with ships ply-
ing between England and the Pacific
ports of South America, extended its
route to include Panama. Aware of the
abundance of supplies and potable
water and general healthy conditions on
the islet, the company purchased El
Morro. They built workshops, a ship
repair facility, supply stores and a coal-
ing station and brought over hundreds
of Irishmen to work in the supply base.
It was at about this time, too, that the
49'ers discovered the healthy aspects of
Taboga, many of them spending their
"waiting" days in boarding houses there.
A trace of Anglo-Saxon names can still
be seen on sparkling white tombstones
in the cemetery.
The Golden Age
Taboga was the seat of government
for all the islands in the Gulf of Panama,
including the Perlas Islands. Islanders
prospered and it was the Golden Age of
Taboga. Prosperity continued until sev-
eral years later when the Pacific Steam
transferred its shops to Callao, Peru.
Taboga Island had an important role
in the construction of the Canal. In
1883, during the French effort to con-
struct a Panama Canal, they built a
25-bed sanatorium on Taboga for ailing
and convalescing employees of the com-
pany. A few years later, in the grim
battle with disease, the French built a
50-bed, $400,000 sanatorium on the
This building was taken over by the
United States in 1905 as a rest and
recuperation center for Canal construc-
tion workers. It served this purpose
until January 1915, when it became a
vacation resort for employees and
their families and was known as Hotel
The Aspinwall was converted into an
internment camp for German prisoners
during World War I. After the war it
was once again a hotel and recreation
center and was the hub of Taboga's
social life until 1945. The Aspinwall is
gone but many an Isthmian still recalls
this hotel on the beach at Taboga and
the part it played in social activities of
that bygone era.
During World War II, the U.S. Navy
had a "mosquito boat" training base on
El Morro. The heroic record of these
boats in the Pacific theater of war
proved the efficinc% of the officers and
sailors on El Morro.
Today, a modern aid to aerial naviga-
tion, at the top of Picacho del Vigia,
guides all aircraft to the Isthmus.
Numerous legends and romantic
myths have been woven into the tradi-
tions and folklore of the island. Among
these is the celebration of a water fes-
tival on July 16 in honor of the Virgin
of El Carmen, the patron saint of Tabo-
ga. A number of boats, usually led by
the most luxurious yacht of the Panama
Yacht and Fishing Club carrying a
statue of the Virgin, sail in a procession
around the island. The procession in-
cludes pleasure boats of all types and
sizes and pangas, the flat-bottom canoes
used by the fishermen, all beautifully
decorated for the occasion with the
occupants singing praises to their patron
According to Taboga lore, many
years ago, a pirate ship attempted to
attack the island and as the invaders
neared the beach, an enormous army
headed by a beautiful woman appeared,
ready to meet the onset. The pirates
were terrorized by the vision and fled
back to their boat. One who did make
it to the beach was even more mortified
when he learned that there was no such
army, much less a beautiful woman
leading it. To this day, Taboganos are
convinced that it was the Virgin of
El Carmen who saved them.
A popular swimming
hole is the "Bishop's
Pool," named for Father
Luque, the founder of
Taboganos often light
candles before the three
crosses which mark the
graves of invaders who
attacked the island in
the early 19th century.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
Ruins of several churches and public buildings destroyed by Henry
Morgan and his buccaneers in 1671 still stand in Old Panama.
A new city of Panama was built within massive walls 2 years after
the destruction of Old Panama. Portions of the old wall may still
be seen at Las Bovedas and along the shoreline of the city.
Rich in Historical Events Due To
Its Un ique Geographical Position
FROM THE MOMENT of its discovery, the unique
geographical position of Panama has given the Isthmus
a history of real romance and charm-richer in historical
events than most parts of the two continents it joins.
Since the days when Columbus was investigating every
nook and corner of the Caribbean coast of Panama, look-
ing for a way to India, the Isthmus has occupied the
center of world interest. Footsteps of many men from
many nations have trod its soil, always in search of
a road across this narrow neck of land.
One of those to continue the search was Vasco Nufiez
de Balboa, who forced his way in 1513 through the
jungles and mountains and reached a mountain top in
Darien from where he discovered the Pacific Ocean.
Three years later, Pedro Arias de Avila, who was the
Spanish governor of the colony already established on
the Caribbean side of the Isthmus, pushed his conquest
to a native fishing village on the Pacific and founded
the old city of Panama, where it remained for 154 years.
Today, its ruins stand just east of the city.
Soon after its discovery, this narrow neck of land
became the strategic point of the New World's commerce.
For three centuries Panama was the treasure chest of the
New World, the port of embarkation for the expeditions
in search of gold and silver, and the port of return to
Spain. It was here where the Spanish galleons arrived
with merchandise for distribution. Ships laden with
treasures for the King of Spain arrived from Peru, their
rich cargoes transferred to the backs of mules, carried
across the Isthmus, and loaded on ships bound for Spain.
Fourteen years after the founding of Panama City and
Nombre de Dios, Spaniards of the colony explored the
Chagres and the Rio Grande Rivers, studying the
possibility of using the two rivers to make a canal.
The city of Panama ceased to be a mud-hut village and
in a few years it became a colonial city with buildings,
churches, and a cathedral. At the height of its impor-
tance, Panama was known as the richest and most
luxurious city in the world. Prosperity continued until
the city was destroyed by the romantic English buccaneer
Sir Henry Morgan, in 1671.
In 1673, a new walled Panama was founded some
6 miles from the old site. For almost 200 years the old
forest stone-paved highway from the
capital to Portobelo, on the Caribbean
side, was the thoroughfare over which
much of Spain's commerce passed.
Portobelo was a busy commercial
city where traders came from Europe
to trade with merchants from Peru, Chi-
le, and Mexico. During the 40 days of
its fair, Portobelo vibrated with human-
ity-slaves unloaded cargoes from the
Spanish galleons in the port, while
hundreds of mules, laden with native
products and treasures collected during
the year to send to Spain, passed through
the narrow streets of the town. Gold
and silver bars were piled up like fire-
wood in the Royal Treasury Building
ready to be used as a means of exchange
between the trader from Spain and the
buyers from America. Portobelo was
the victim of buccaneers and English
aggression several times.
It was not until the 18th century that
the flood of Peruvian treasure began
gradually to subside and the importance
of Panama began to wane. Spain was
emerging from her "Golden Age." Other
countries were making forced efforts to
participate in the New World trade.
The assaults and cruelties of the
pirates and the threats of the British to
establish themselves in America's vital
points disrupted the Panama-Portobelo
route. Traffic stoppage brought poverty
to Portobelo. Commercial life in Panama
became nil, but they maintained the
churches, the convents and way of
life. Thus, the colonial era and Spanish
power in Panama came to an end.
Then came the revolutionary move-
ment bringing a reawakening in the
provinces that stirred up the struggle
for independence. Politically, commer-
cially, and geographically Panama oc-
cupied, at this time, an isolated po-
sition as a much-neglected part of the
Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada, com-
posed of the present countries of Co-
lombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Vene-
zuela. In 1821, the Panamanians de-
clared independence from Spain, and
united their lot with La Gran Colom-
bia. By terms of the incorporation Pan-
ama expressly reserved the right to
secede. And when Gran Colombia split
into three parts in 1830, a separatist
faction in Panama wanted independ-
ence, but after some hesitation Panama
attached itself to New Granada.
Simon Bolivar had predicted great-
ness for the Isthmus of Panama because
of its strategic position between two
oceans. In 1821, hoping to draw the
new republics closer together, he invit-
ed the provisional governments of Peru,
The Golden Altar of St. Joseph's Church was salvaged from the old city of Panama, which
was destroyed by Henry Morgan in 1671, and was moved to the new city, built 2 years
later. The altar, constructed of native mahogany and plated with gold, is an important
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
I-e S" ..ha For A Way Across
In sharp contrast to the ruins of Old Pan-
ama is bustling modern Panama City with
a skyline marked by many high rise apart-
Argentina, and Chile to an international
congress to be held in Panama. How-
ever, unsettled conditions prevented
the conference at that time. It wasn't
until 1826 that the congress convened
with representatives of Colombia, Pe-
ru, Central America, and Mexico and
drafted a treaty of perpetual union.
This first attempt to achieve unity
among the nations of the Western
Hemisphere is known as the Panama
Panama continued as a department
of the United States of Colombia for a
period of 82 years-from 1821 to No-
vember 1903. During these years many
projects for a Panama Canal were
placed before the Governments of La
Gran Colombia and later Nueva Grana-
da. The most interesting events in the
history of Panama since her separation
from Spain are those connected with
efforts to build a canal from the Carib-
bean to the Pacific. Bolivar approved
the idea in theory, as had others.
The search continued for a route
across the Isthmus. At various times,
England and France showed great in-
terest in this waterway route. The Gov-
ernment of the United States did not
begin to consider the matter until 1835.
At this time, President Jackson was
asked by the U.S. Senate to consider
negotiating with Nueva Granada and
the Central American Republics in
respect to such a canal.
Nothing came of this at the time.
It wasn't until the western frontier of
the United States became part of the
United States, a result of the Mexican
War, and the need for making the new
possessions more accessible from the
Eastern States, that the franchise to
construct a railroad was secured from
the Nueva Granada Government. A
year later, in 1849, the gold rush of
the "fortv-niners" to California gave
impetus to the land route and the
Panama Railroad was born.
In those days there were no railroads
uniting the east and west of the United
States. Because of the Indians inhabit-
ing the central part of the United
States, it was dangerous and almost
impossible to cross the country. The
safest way was via the Isthmus of Pan-
ama. The sailboats and steamers carry-
ing the adventurers to the Isthmian
ports brought riches to Panama again.
The Isthmian towns came alive again-
hotels and transportation facilities were
organized for the travelers. Life and
splendor came to the Isthmus once
Panama was experiencing years of
abundance similar to the happy times
of the Portobelo fairs. The construction
of the railroad brought development of
Manzanillo Island where Colon stands
today. Workers were brought in. First
came the Irish workmen who soon were
overcome by the climate. Malaria and
fellow fever also put an end to the
Chinese, who replaced the Irish. Ja-
maicans were brought in to complete
the work on the construction of the
railroad. The famous Panama Railroad
was opened to traffic in 1855.
In the United States the great water-
way project still hung fire. Between
1857 and 1863 an almost unbroken
series of factional disturbances agitated
New Granada. Several times the safety
of the Panama Railroad gave new
impetus to the plans for a canal.
In May, 1876, Colombia granted a
concession for the construction of a
canal bv way of Panama to Lt. Lucien
Napoleon Bonaparte Wvse, an officer
in the French Army. This concession
he sold to a group of French financiers,
who persuaded the builder of the Suez,
Count Ferdinand de Lesseps, to join
In 1881, the French organized La
Compagnie Universelle du Canal In-
teroceanique. Disease, mismanagement,
extravagance, corruption, and technical
incompetence have been ascribed as the
causes of the French company's failure,
and in 1889, after 8 years of work, the
company went bankrupt. A new com-
pany was formed in 1894 but did no
The U.S. Government then entered
into negotiations with Colombia to take
over the project; but the treaty between
the two governments, known as the
Herran-Hay Treaty, was rejected by the
For Colombia, the canal was im-
portant but not decisive. For Panama
it meant life or death. Colombia's re-
jection of the treaty meant the end of
Panama's only means of economic sal-
vation. Without a canal there would
surely be an economic crisis. There
were visions of the dark days of pov-
erty and misery that existed before the
construction of the Panama Railroad.
It was during these negotiations that
Panama decided her destiny, and on
the 3d of November, 1903, she declar-
ed her separation from Colombia and
became a republic. Panama had made
many attempts to free herself-53 up-
risings in 57 years. On the 18th of
November 1903, the Hay-Bunau Vari-
Ila Treaty was signed between Panama
and the United States.
Five years elapsed between the
French collapse and the beginning of
the U.S. effort to build the canal.
Am rican engineers found much of
the work done by the French usable,
especially in Culebra Cut. But thev
changed the plan for the canal from
sea-level to a lock-type canal.
Before starting the construction
work, the Americans considered of ut-
most importance the improvement of
sanitary conditions on the Isthmus. They
brought immediate changes: muddy
streets were paved and proper sew-
erage systems were installed. Within
2 ears they eradicated yellow fever
and reduced fatalities from other dis-
eases. Sanitary precautions were estab-
lished and enforced, making Panama
one of the healthiest countries in the
Ten vears later the Panama Canal
was built. The dream and prophecy of
many had been realized. Since then
Panama has prospered and taken her
place among the free nations of the
world. Her position between the two
mighty oceans shall always be the most
important factor toward an even more
60 SPECIAL EDITION
A spectacular display of color at the height of
the dry season brightens the Isthmian landscape
By Willie K. Friar
ID YOU know that water pis-
tols grow on trees? They do in
the tropics, and Canal Zone
children learn at an early age where to
get a supply. They are to be had, for
the plucking, from the nearest African
tulip tree, the unopened buds of which
squirt forth a stream of water when
squeezed or pierced.
Because of this peculiar character-
istic, the tree is called the fountain tree.
It is also known as the flame-of-the-
forest because of its fiery red blossoms.
The African tulip is just one of the many
unusual flowering trees growing on
Those who are acquainted with the
ways of trees find the tropical flowering
ones not only beautiful but their un-
usual characteristics and behavior fas-
cinating. Their habits and fruits seem
strangely different from those of trees
found in the temperate zone.
They exhibit little of the rigid be-
havior of the northern trees and often 4
bloom whenever they feel like it, with
little regard to the calendar.
Blossoms Change Color
Some change the color of their petals
between morning and evening while
others switch colors from day to day, or
the blossoms exhibit one color on the
tree but change color completely when
they fall to the ground. Some bloom all
over the branches or up and down the
trunks instead of among the leaves.
Some have blossoms that hang upside
down and others bloom only after dark.
Newcomers to the tropics often are
amazed to discover that a plant that
was a small shrub in their hometown
in the United States is a giant tree in
the tropics. Which brings up the ques- The blossom of the African tulip tree seems to cast a glow around the face of Miss Elaine
tion-where is the dividing line between Almstead, Canal Zone College student, as she admires its fiery beauty. This ever-blooming
a tree and a shrub? tree is often called flame-of-the-forest because of the profusion of brilliant red blossoms.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 61
Typical of trees introduced on the Isthmus
from the West Indies is the breadfruit tree,
outstanding for its warty, yellow-green
fruit. Captain Bligh carried breadfruit trees
from Tahiti to the West Indies in 1793
after an earlier effort failed due to the
mutiny on the H.M.S. "Bounty." A large
impressive specimen of the tree is lo-
cated on Gorgas Rd. near Gorgas Hospital.
Environment is usually the determin-
ing factor in whether a certain plant
will become tree-like or remain a shrub,
and residents of a certain area general-
ly call a plant a tree if it has that ap-
pearance when grown locally. In other
words, a plant might be a shrub in
Texas and a tree in Panama.
The early explorers of Panama were
so impressed by the strangely beautiful
trees they found on the Isthmus that
they went to great effort to collect spec-
imens to take back to Europe. This
was no easy task as the small trees had
to be protected from the salt spray at
sea and still be carried onto the deck
daily for exposure to the sun. Few sur-
vived the trip and the change of climate
but today there are tropical trees in
herbariums in some European countries
that were started in this way.
Most people know of Capt. Bligh's
experiences told in "Mutiny on the
Bounty" when he attempted to trans-
port breadfruit trees from the South
Pacific islands to the West Indies. The
mutiny caused the failure of his first
efforts but 6 years later he succeeded in
transporting not only the breadfruit
trees but other valuable trees aboard
the Providence and introducing them
in the West Indies where they are
In this way, as well as by other
means, many colorful trees seen on the
Isthmus have been introduced from
other countries. Some of the ornamental
trees seen around Gorgas Hospital were
brought here from the French West
Indies by the Sisters of St. Vincent de
Paul who were in charge of the hospital
.k /J I : :1 (PUMiBLaV
Enjoying the fragrance of the sweet smelling flowers of the cannonball tree is Miss Judy
Tompkins, Balboa High School student. The flowers, which grow right out of the bark, have
no connection with the foliage at the top of the tree. They are followed by the novel
cannonball-like fruit that dangles from the branches.
at the time of the French effort to dig
The sisters carefully tended their
plants and small trees and protected
them from the voracious leaf-cutting
ants by placing ceramic rings filled with
water around them. This saved the
plants but unknowingly the sisters pro-
vided an excellent breeding place for
the Aedes aegypti mosquito which
later research revealed was the carrier
of yellow fever.
There is, of course, no spring in the
tropics as it is known in the temperate
zone, only the change from the rainy
to the dry season. But the array of blos-
soms, which suddenly appear on many
trees, rivals the splendor of spring in
the temperate zone.
Rose van Hardevelt, author of "Make
the Dirt Fly," expressed the feelings of
many others when she wrote about the
first dry season she experienced after
coming to the Canal Zone with her hus-
band who was working on the construc-
tion of the Canal.
"Life, instead of being a succession
of hours of rain and moments of fran-
tically scraping off mold and trying to
dry out, became liveable again.
"On the hillsides eastward now ap-
peared here and there single, tall, beau-
tifully shaped trees that had not been
noticeable before in the mass of drip-
ping greenness that covered every inch
of space on the slopes. And then, so
suddenly that it was startling, these
trees burst into bright yellow blossoms.
Like huge, golden bouquets, they lifted
their beauty to the blue sky. Then an-
other color appeared among the blos-
soming trees, a deep purple, and then
a glowing crimson."
Transiting the Canal at this time of
the year is a memorable experience
with brilliant spots of color brightening
the jungle on both sides of the water-
way. Some trees begin to flower in the
middle of the dry season and some just
before the dry season ends, but almost
all the trees bloom for only a brief pe-
riod. There are actually some trees in
bloom in the Canal Zone throughout the
year but the spectacular exhibitions
come during the dry season.
Someone has said that Washington's
famed Japanese cherry trees would be
completely overshadowed if some of
the Isthmian flowering trees could be
concentrated along one avenue or road.
But the local trees are more or less
"loners" and don't often grow close
However, one beautiful vista during
the dry season is a long-range view
of a portion of Gatun Lake from the
Trans-Isthmian Highway about 15
miles from Cristobal. In this area, the
green of the jungle is studded with
bright yellow splashes of color pro-
duced by the blossoms of the tree
known locally as the guayacan; their
color visible from planes overhead as
well as from the road.
The tree, considered by many as the
most outstandingly beautiful tree in the
local forests, has large showy yellow
blossoms which are born in terminal
clusters when the tree is leafless. Unfor-
tunately the blossoms remain on the
trees only a few days before they shower
down like yellow snowflakes. Several
of these trees are located on Ancon Hill
and across from the Governor's house.
The wood of this beautiful tree is
much valued commercially. It is olive-
brown, very hard, takes a high polish
and is considered one of the best woods
of Panama. It makes beautiful salad or
nut bowls and is believed to be the
wood that was used by the English in
making their traditional Christmas Was-
sail bowls more than 4 centuries ago.
Some of the beams of the cathedral
of Old Panama are said to have been
made of this wood and have remained
sound although exposed to weather for
It also was once considered to have
curative powers but is now little used
as a medicine. Around 1700, it was
thought to be the penicillin of that day.
An Englishman in Jamaica at that time
wrote of how the medicine was con-
cocted and used. He said, "Take 12
ounces of shavings of wood and two of
bark and five quarts water-boiling
away one quarter part, strain." In some
circles this remedy was considered
dangerous unless taken 40 days in the
dark, and with an exact diet of raisins
and almonds with biscuits.
The roble (a form of oak), is a close
relative of the guayacan and is almost
as beautiful. Near the end of the dry
season, these trees are so densely cov-
ered with nearly white to rose-colored
flowers that they form giant bouquets.
In their shades of color they resemble
Japanese cherry trees. Several of these
trees grow in Anoon and there is a
large one in the Old Corral area there.
Other conspicuous flowering trees of
the dry season are two species of
'--- --rI .
Floating in a finger bowl is the flower of the ilang-ilang, one of the most fragrant of the
flowering tropical trees. Hostesses often place the flower in bowls and when a guest pinches
the bud it gives forth a lovely scent. The ilang-ilang is also used in the making of perfume.
jacaranda, the various species of cas- in showy clusters. A good specimen of
sias, royal poinciana, and the African jacaranda is growing in Balboa Heights
tulip tree. at the intersection of Prospect Street
The jacarandas are handsome trees and Heights Road.
with large blue, violet or purple flowers The flowers of all species resemble
k 2 - -IL 9 I
Staging an impromptu water battle using African tulip buds are Lyn Bouzard, left, Julie
Gallin, and James Bouzard. The buds, when pressed or pierced, spurt forth a stream of
water. When they open they form beautiful fiery red blossoms.
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW
little bluebells and look like a blue
plush carpet under the tree when they
fall to the ground. Curative powers
have been attributed to the jacaranda
and some of the Indians of Panama have
used the bark to treat skin diseases.
Both types of the jacaranda growing
in the Canal Zone have purple blos-
soms. One type with flowers along its
branches is usually found around local
towns and the other, which has large
terminal clusters of blossoms in a crown
around the upper part of the tree, is
found in the jungle. One of the former
is located opposite the Governor's house
at the corner of the road leading to
The royal poinciana or flame tree, a
native of Madagascar, is extensively
planted in the Canal Zone as an orna-
mental tree. It is large and spreading
and is not very attractive except when
it flowers; then it becomes a mass of
bright red blossoms. An exceptionally
outstanding poinciana grows near the
First Baptist Church in Balboa Heights.
African Tulip Tree
The African tulip tree, a native of
tropical Africa, is tall with a narrow
crown and has large dark-red flowers
which grow in clusters like the common
lilv-of-the-valley. It is seen all over the
Isthmus but some particularly good
specimens may be found along Barne-
bey Street in Balboa and near the
Cristobal Administration Building.
Ilang-ilang is a flowering tree that
disproves the often-heard statement
that "in the tropics the flowers have no
smell." Its fragrant perfume permeates
the surrounding area and is usually rec-
ognized before the tree is seen. Not a
conspicuous flowering tree, its droopy
yellow blossoms with strap-shaped pet-
als are strange in appearance. Isth-
mian hostesses sometimes place them in
finger bowls and when the guests pinch
the buds the fragrance fills the room.
In Malaysia they are used to make a
Another fragrant flowering tree seen
about the Isthmus is the frangipani.
Some say that only the bloom of the
jasmine, with which it is often con-
fused, can compete in sweetness of
scent. Yet perfume-makers have never
profitably extracted the frangipani scent
and the commercial frangipani perfume
is still made by mixing oils to imitate
Interestingly, it appears that the tree
was named for the perfume instead of
the other way around. Frangipani per-
fume was created by a man of that
name in Rome in the 12th century. It
was a favorite scent of Italian royalty
two centuries before the discovery of
the western hemisphere. That earlv
European explorers thought the smell
of the frangipani flowers resembled
that of the perfume is one explana-
tion of the origin of the name of the
tree. Another is that the word comes
from the French, "frangipanier," which
means coagulated milk. The tree has
a milky-latex-like sticky juice which
exudes from the bark when cut.
The large waxy flower of the frangi-
pani is composed of five overlapping
petals, which spread in star-fashion.
There are both white and red frangi-
pani in the Canal Zone which bloom the
year-round but bear the greatest num-
ber of flowers just before the rainy sea-
son. In Hawaii, these blossoms are
popular for making leis.
Toward the end of the dry season,
in April, the cordia, another fragrant
tree, which has white flowers, may be
seen almost everywhere in Panama. Un-
fortunately the flowers soon turn brown
and since they remain on the trees for
several weeks present a rather dirty
At least 25 species of cassias are
grown in the Canal Zone. Most have
large showy flowers, but the most con-
spicuous are the golden shower along El
Prado in Balboa; the pink and white
shower, which has masses of pink and
white blossoms along the branches; and
the bronze shower with pendulant
grape-like clusters of bronze flowers.
In addition to the red or flame poin-
ciana, there is the yellow poinciana tree.
It has a long flowering period which
usually begins in April. An especially
beautiful yellow poinciana grows near
the Civil Affairs Building on Gaillard
A good look at a variety of flowenng
and other interesting trees may be had
by taking a trip through the Balboa
area. One such trail starts at the Goe-
thals Memorial Monument at the
foot of the Administration Building hill,
passes the Balboa Railroad Station,
curves up the hill to the Administration
Building, continues along Heights Road
to the Governor's house and then con-
tinues left toward Gorgas Hospital to
the Tivoli Guest House.
Along this route may be seen the
following trees: cuipo, star apple, pink
and white shower, golden shower, yel-
low cassia, screw pine, Chinese banyan,
sausage tree, guayacan, pride of India,
African tulip tree, calabash, date palm,
ilang-ilang, bamboo palm, coconut
palm, Panama hat plant, breadfruit
tree, and royal poinciana. These trees
are all plainly marked so that the signs
may be read if one drives by slowly.
A great deal of the beauty of the
local scene, not only during the dry
season but the year around, is the re-
sult of plantings from Summit Gardens,
which was established to introduce
plants from different parts of the trop-
ical world and disseminate them in
this immediate area.
Plants have been received from such
faraway places as Madagascar, the Phil-
ippines, Australia and New Zealand,
Hawaii, China, and Burma, to name a
few countries. Every Canal Zone town-
site has been beautified by trees grown
in the gardens.
Walking tours of the gardens are
conducted during the dry season by
Roy Sharp, supervisor of grounds for
the Pacific area of the Canal Zone,
affording tourists as well as local res-
idents a good opportunity to see the
many flowering trees close-up in all
The sudden shower of blossoms from a
flowering tree provides "golden snowflakes"
for Jeanne, 3Yi-year-old daughter of Mr.
and Mrs. A. Dale Bishop, of Los Rios, who
finds them as much fun as the real thing.
There aie crllentiv an axeiage of 40
transits of the Panama Canal daily\ and
operations are on a 2-4-hour-a-day basis.
eserv da, of the year. A ship going
from Atlantic to Pacific starts its trip
at the Cristobal anchorage where the
pilot boards the ship The ship pro.
ceeds 4 miles south through a dredged
sea lesel channel to Catun Locks
.t C;atun the ship is raised 85 feet
in three steps to the le\el of Catun
Lake The locks are simple hsdrauhc-
elev.tors s ith numerous large alves to
control the ver, large and fast flow of
water b\ grasitv. No pumps are used
Fresh water floss from the lake to the
sea at the rate of .3 million gallons per
minute, in and out of the locks, through
concrete tunnels large enough to take a
freight train Ships art- assisted through
the locks bh large towrig loiomotues.
a unilue feature of the Panama Canal
From Catun Locks the ship travels
2-1 miles across Gatun Lake following
general the bed of the old Chagres
River. the same route over sLhich gold
and sil er flowed mans years a~g, Dur-
III the entire transit the pilit has con-
trril nf the min\ eiri-nts of the ship. rather
than heing merely an ad, iser to the
ship's master as he would be at Siez
and all other water\ ais This unique
feature of the Parianja Canal is dlue tor
the lifficiilties of rna ii atinig a ship
through the waterwa\. particularly iII
approaching the locks and ty]i' on Io,
At (..imlnin. thi shlip p.I,, t(ll1, lc -
trance if the C.l.ia rit.s lRi tr t, (..itlun
Lake .iIl it.its the irii ll thiliinh11
cail.l'rd Cut ind the ( iiiiiieiii.il Di-
At the end-if .th.. C(t tl lih p t P.I-
one 3().[i,, l stI,[p d,,".,, .,1 P, ,h,, \1i.,, I
l. ks-s ..l s n nt.. \s I 111r. h .S- 1 ..k1) ,l --
Iakr s ti ., Init. ii, ps ,. '. M ..t.tn
i li.nii ,I n t p t .IllIh .i lh.irlior -iiiul-
, ( t ,r in
T,,iai mr.imil'll tult -f r II, l i 'l.Ir shlip
from r t S hir i lrs ITtil Itue in Cii).l Z ,nt.
siters 01 llie .n rr.ice 'hip is abiiut
I > h. iiirs
Towing locomotives stand ready as the giant new container ship "ikosloon Bai." assisted by a rug, is inched into the lock chamber at
Pedro Miguel. With a beam of almost 106 feet and 950 feet in length, she is one of the largest ships to use the Panama Canal.
THE PANANt CNNAL REVIEW
Above: The giant container ship "Tokyo
Bay" moves through Gaillard Cut. At left:
The bridge that spans the Panama Canal
at Balboa in silhouette at sunset. Below
left: The Administration Building, built in
1914 at Balboa Heights, the headquarters
of the Panama Canal. Below right: Two
Italian cruise ships at anchor in Gatun
Lake, awaiting transit of the Canal. At
right: Miraflores Locks.
77 % .-4
61- i rd JV
66 SPECIAL EDITION
THE PANAMA CANAL REVIEW 67