Traditions and customs of Panama

What traditions and customs are there in Panama?

From the isthmus to the web, the customs and traditions of Panama are described here.


Food in daily life

Unlike other Spanish colonies, Panama’s subsistence agriculture never relied on corn. Game and fish have always been sources of protein, and maize is consumed mainly in the form of thick cakes called arepas and maize porridge.

The Kuna roast plantains and boil them in a soupy dish consisting of water squeezed through grated coconut meat, fish and poultry, or game meat. This dish is similar to the sancocho eaten by many non-indigenous Panamanians, a meat or poultry soup cooked with root vegetables and corn.

Every town and city has Chinese restaurants, a legacy from the Chinese who came to work on the railroad in the 1850s.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Upper-class families are likely to serve fresh seafood at weddings, baptisms, and other celebrations. His culinary style tends to be continental. Interiorans, on the other hand, value beef. Their traditional Sunday meal is beef jerky, smoked and cured meat with the flavor of ham.


Although Guaymí Indian leaders may have more than one wife, other Panamanians marry only one spouse at a time. Divorce is permitted under the liberal terms of the Civil Code.

Afro-descendant couples on the Atlantic coast tend to live together without marrying. These unions are frequently dissolved, as men and women can find new partners during the weekly pre-Carnival dances in the Congo.


Panamanians are formal in their relationships with strangers. There is a minimum of greeting behavior in public, and manners tend to be stiff and not polite. Once included in family and friendship groupings, a stranger can quickly be drawn into a network of partygoers. Dress tends to be formal despite the tropical climate.


Religious beliefs

Panama is 85 percent Roman Catholic. Traditional beliefs and practices have been maintained among Native American groups despite a history of missionization.

Rituals and sacred places

The most important ritual is Carnival. The capital closes five days before Ash Wednesday, and a young queen chosen by charities presides. In Las Tablas, inside, a “more authentic” competition is held. Coastal blacks celebrate the Congo, which begins in January and is also presided over by a queen in each community.

Its male and female dance groups perform every weekend. The colonial port city of Potrobelo, on the Atlantic coast, is the site of a shrine to an icon of the Black Christ, the object of great veneration and an annual pilgrimage that attracts large numbers of people during Holy Week.

Secular celebrations

Panama celebrates two days of independence, on November 3 from Colombia and on November 28 from Spain. However, the festivities tend to be low-key, although school children parade in most towns.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are occasions of great joy, with children burning effigies of Father Time at midnight in many areas. The larger towns in the central provinces have cowboy rodeos almost every Sunday.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

Bank financing has helped art galleries prosper, and local artists are in high demand. The National Institute of Culture (INAC) and the school system support education in graphic arts. Other than that, support comes mainly from the open market for native and local arts and crafts.

A private group, the National Concert Association, hires local and foreign artists to perform classical music concerts. The best museum is the Museum of the Panamanian Man in the old railway station.


Panama has a number of writers who produce short stories, novels and poetry. Rogelio Sinán is a successful poet and novelist who has acquired an international reputation, but most writers produce for the local market, where they are well received.

Graphic arts

The Kuna Indians are world famous for their molas, textile panels applied in geometric or representational designs. The Embera Indians produce very high quality basketry as well as wood carvings in tropical hardwoods.

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