People, Ethnic Groups
Kuna people, Darien jungle, autonomous territory, mestizos, mulattoes
About 70 percent of Panamanians are mestizos, people of mixed European and Native American descent, or mulattoes, those of European and African heritage. Exact percentages are impossible to assign because of extensive racial mixing, but these groups form the majority in most rural regions and in cities. Blacks, mostly from the West Indies, make up about 14 percent of the population, whites are about 10 percent, and Native Americans about 6 percent.
Panama’s cities contain sizeable minorities of whites from Europe and North America, Asians, Jews, Caribbean blacks, and people of Middle Eastern descent. In Colon and along the northeast coast, Panamanians of African descent form the majority.
In some regions Native Americans predominate. The largest group, the Ngobe-Bugle, live in the mountains of the Bocas del Toro region, while the Choco people live in the Darien jungle on both sides of the Colombian border. The Kuna people live in the San Blas Archipelago and the coast east of Colon, in an autonomous territory known as the Comarca of San Blas.
Most of the indigenous peoples live apart from the majority of Panamanians, and relations between the two groups are often hostile. The Kuna have the most interaction but preserve their culture, even when living away from their ancestral region. The native peoples, especially the Ngobe-Bugle, tend to be taken advantage of by farmers and ranchers who encroach on their lands. Most indigenous groups farm, hunt, collect hardwood and other forest products, and sometimes produce crafts, such as the Kuna textiles known as molas. But they are generally very poor compared to the rest of Panama’s population.
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