Ngäbe and Buglé

Ngäbe (no´-bay) and Buglé (boo-glay’)

Located in the western provinces of Panama, these two separate ethno-linguistic groups have struggled for their survival since the Spanish arrival in the 1500s.  Just as Panama’s five other indigenous tribes in eastern Panama were forced from fertile lands, the Ngäbe and Buglé were forced to retreat, and for these two groups it was to the isolated central highlands. Once more numerous than the Ngäbe, the Buglé fought the Spaniards fiercely and the population was decimated. Now reduced to about 10,000, the Buglé eke out an existence in the most remote areas of Veraguas and are among the most impoverished of all Panama’s population. About 180,000 Ngäbe now make up Panama’s largest indigenous tribe, living in the western provinces of Chiriquí, Veraguas, and Bocas del Toro.

In March of 1997, following a 100 year struggle by the two groups to have the Panamanian government recognize their territory, the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé was established and a regional constitution granted.  With lands that have been abused by damaging agricultural practices for many years, along with harsh climate and soil conditions (especially in Veraguas), families rarely have a sustainable life style.  Many of the fine arts produced by previous generations in gold work and sophisticated ceramics have died out.  Those that remain are closely related to their daily life: knitted bags, chácaras, and hats made from native fibers, along with necklaces woven with seeds and natural threads.