naïve to cultured

with eyes open wide

Daily Life in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé

This article was first posted on Habla Ya Spanish School’s blog on April 22, 2013. 

Imagine life…

Before the internet and television.

Before GMOs and harmful chemicals.

Before fashion and design.

Before semi-orthopedic mattresses and cushioned chairs.

Before refrigerators.

Before laundry machines and dishwashers.

Before stoves and ovens.

Before Big Business and making money for the Man.

Before cars.

Before farm machinery.

Before cement and bricks and drywall.

Before indoor plumbing.

Washing clothes in the creek.

I’m not trying to take you back to the Stone Age, just to the present-day Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé!

Does this surprise you, frighten you, uplift you, to know that there are people in 2013 still living this way?

I think it’s AWESOME! I think life is more REAL when it is lived this way. In my opinion, we are on information overload to the extreme in this day and age. My advice is to come and see how simple living is still carrying on for some very simple folks here in Panama.

The Ngäbe-Buglé are the largest indigenous tribe in Panama. Though the government has paid them more attention in the past 16 years after giving them their own Comarca (territory), it has been very slow with giving the people the rights that they deserve to a good education, necessary infrastructure, reliable health system, and access to a job market. This has in many ways left them “behind” the rest of us in the 21st century.

Local health clinic in the Comarca. You wouldn’t believe what it looks like inside. Medicines… non existent most of the time.

Is this a blessing or a curse? Depends on who you ask. I come from a positive standpoint and count them lucky for escaping the rat race of our day. Their families are tighter-knit, they use the natural resources that are found all around us, and they use the strength of their bodies in daily chores. They keep up to date with politics and news (local and international) from the radio and converse with community members during daily visits about their lives, families, farming, the future. Isn’t this what we were meant for as human beings?

But the reality is that many of them will tell you that it’s close to impossible to live their life of poverty. They will tell you that they barely receive enough welfare money (funded by the World Bank, Panamanian government and Inter-American Development Bank) to buy necessities like laundry soap, rice, sugar, oil, which often is sold at a much higher price in the Comarca because of transportation costs, since the infrastructure in the Comarca is completely undeveloped. They do everything possible so that their children can get a good education and find jobs outside of the Comarca, since there are very very few jobs in the Comarca. What will happen to this unsustainable lifestyle if severe changes aren’t made soon?

Whichever side you are on, I thought it would be interesting to share some photos with you of how it is to live SIMPLY in 2013.

Grinding cacao for drinking and selling chocolate!

100% pure organic cacao (chocolate) balls. YES!

Playing soccer on the school’s field.

Natural materials are used to build houses, with the newer addition of zinc sheets for roofing and sometimes walls.

Semi-private bathroom…

Making coconut oil – a labor intensive but no-cost way to have cooking oil. They are cooking over a “fogón”, which is the traditional way to cook meals over a fire.

Finished coconut oil, YUM!

It is very common to have free-range animals for the family’s consumption.

View of some living/store spaces in Hato Chami. The zinc house is partially a small store.

No indoor plumbing means bucket bath! The stone tablets are for washing clothes.

After a long day on the farm, carrying back freshly picked vegetables, fruit, and/or firewood in the traditional bag – the chácara.

Harvesting plants used for medicine and to dye fibers for the natural twine used to make the chácaras.

Stripping a natural pita plant down to its fibers to be used for making the chácaras.

The finished fiber strands drying (pita plant).

Community pitches together to build a bridge over a stream in a busy section of the village. The men do the building…

…while the women prepare and serve food!


Making artisan jewelry out of coconut shells. Tiring but rewarding way to pass the day with all of your friends (and while catching a novela on the radio!).

School with 4 classrooms. At the far end is the cafeteria where mothers of the children take turns cooking (when the Ministry of Education sends food) sometimes 2 meals per day.

Sewing class funded by the government (including a donation of 8 sewing machines for the community) so that women could learn how to make their children’s school clothes and/or go into business for themselves as a tailor.

Clearing a foundation for a house using picks and shovels.

Community activity on Panama’s Independence Day (November 3). The goal is to make it to the top of a greased tree trunk.


One comment on “Daily Life in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé

  1. Pingback: 10 Cultural Differences of the Ngäbe-Buglé Indians in Panamá | naïve to cultured

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This entry was posted on July 28, 2013 by in Minority Race/Poor/Indigenous Rights and tagged , .
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