A friend suggested to me that the term carries an unpleasant implication of prejudice against the Native people who live here, who once were the only human residents. But I think it’s an appropriate way to speak of this land.
The seacoast cities, and some of the more gringified inland communities, are certainly laden with all the unpleasant trappings of Western civilization. But even there you see Ngobe Bugle people dressed in their traditional raiment – about the only concession they make is to wear shoes in the cities, because of the invaders’ penchant for letting broken glass and dirty needles accumulate in the streets. These Ngobe Bugle pass through like the wind, like ghosts and spirits. They do not tap their feet to the loud Latin music blaring from loudspeakers on the public buses and in the shops.
They say not a word. Their faces, carved from the same stone that their ancestors immortalized, show no expression. The Panamanians and the gringos pay them absolutely no attention unless they stand directly in front of them and take some of the invaders’ money out of their pouches to buy something.
But I look at them; I am again and again struck by the similarity of what I am seeing to photographs of the American West in the 1880s or so. I see a proud people learning to turn invisible before they are made to disappear by the advancing flood of, ahem, civilization. I love especially to watch
the Ngobe Bugle women passing through the Panamanian world in their colorful dresses; they are eternally unhurried and unruffled, simply visitors from another world, not participating in this one; they are more like wild animals in their utter separateness. Sometimes I surprise them when I greet them in their language – their expressions do not change, but you can see in their eyes the thought, “What, you see me? You, a foreigner, can speak words in our language?”
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As they come to me to be written, new chapters will be added to this blog, so stay tuned! But the blogs up to a certain point are now chapters are now in a book.
So, to read more, you need the book A WRITER IN PANAMÁ.
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