Bocas del Toro: Home of the Naso

  • February 22, 2019      Friendly Borders Staff

Panama City – Panama is home to various indigenous groups, including the Naso or Teribe people alongside the Bokata, Bri Bri, Emberá-Wounaan, Guna (Kuna), and Ngöbe-Buglé. These communities hold strongly onto their culture and language, and in spite of the growing modern changes in the country, the people have continued their practices, beliefs, and traditions.

One of Many: Naso Community

The Naso people may also be referred to as the Teribe or Tjër Di. The name is from the Naso’s principal god, Tjër, which means “Grandmother Water” that forms the root word Teribe (name of the river that runs through the region). As a small indigenous group, the Naso people continue living in the northeastern lands of Panama in the Bocas del Toro region. Within these lands, they have 11 communities known to have a traditional monarchy and considered to be one of the last indigenous groups in the Americas to have one.

In this type of government, the tribe is ruled by a king. Traditionally, the succession would follow the familial connection from the king to his brother, and then to the older son of the previous king. However, since the 1980s, this kind of practice had been replaced by a succession according to the majority vote of the adult population. Moreover, the community may be ruled by a king or queen. In line with this kind of government, when there is dissatisfaction with a current monarch, another member of the royal family may have to stand for a public vote to replace the current king/queen. However, the tribe’s state affairs has yet to be recognized by the Panamanian government.

Passing of Traditions and Culture

The tribes keep their traditions alive along the Rio Teribe and are passing on their knowledge to the new generations of Naso people. However, it is estimated that only a few thousands of their people are in Panama; others may have traveled to southern Costa Rica. Nevertheless, their community has been able to remain relatively autonomous as they are isolated from the general population.

Even with the Naso’s isolation, preserving their heritage is facing a great threat with the youth migration, tourism, and even missionary activities. Another factor that may affect the communities is the declining usage of their traditional language, Teribe. Nowadays, only an estimated 500 to 800 people use the language. This problem has worsened with the bilingual education program currently in place. However, hope is not lost as efforts to recover it has been supported by the Teribe of Panama, who are said to share its culture and history with the Teribe of Costa Rica. In additional efforts to preserve the language and continue passing it on to generations, a teacher was brought in to teach the Teribe language in the village communities. Moreover, Naso is already classified as part of the Chibchan language family of Central America. This knowledge makes it helpful for researchers to have its linguistic relative Bribri as a source for gaining a deeper understanding of the Teribe language.

Image from sensaos, https://www.flickr.com/photos/sensaos/