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Indigenous Groups of Panama

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Embera dancers, indigenous people of Panama.

Indigenous groups make up between 5% and 8% of the total population of the Republic of Panama. There are about nine tribes in Panama that are classified as 7 cultures. They are

the Kuna, Ngobe, Buglé, Emberá, Wounaan, Talamanca, Bokata, Teribe and Cricamola.

Those tribes that do not already have their own territory, called a "Comarca", are working hard to get their ancestral lands dedicated as such. Those who do have a Comarca are struggling to protect it and along with it their unique, diverse cultures. 

Many of Panama's tribes are well known for their beautiful crafts work, from hand woven baskets colored with natural vegetable dyes, to amazing carvings in the hard coco-bolo wood that is found in three distinct colors, I never fail to be amazed at the depth of their skill and the breadth of their imagination. 

 Panama's indigenous peoples are wellsprings of information that can, has and will benefit all mankind. Their "Shamans" or medicine men have extensive in-depth knowledge of the jungle and the medicinal uses for many of the thousands of plant varieties found on the isthmus of Panama. These people can survive indefinitely in the jungle on the plant and animal life. Some time ago we went out exploring areas of the Chagres National Park to clear trails that have not been used in decades. After hiking for 6 hours, my two native friends informed me that we were "lost". What this really meant was, "we can't find the trail, but we know exactly where we are going". They wanted to see how the gringo would react. They were disappointed by my lack of panic. When asked why, I only had to explain that I was aware of where we were and more importantly that even if I hadn't, I figured that if they could survive and thrive in these jungles for thousands of years before supermarkets showed up, we could probably make due for another 10 to 20 hours. They laughed and we sat down to a meal of various plants that reminded me of a fine dining experience. After a quick nap, we were on our way, and after an hour of machete wielding trail blazing, we arrived at our destination.

At this point, Adventure Tours Panama is focused on working with the tribes of eastern Panama, specifically the Kuna, Embera, and Wounaan. Our goal is to create a true win-win situation by working with them in partnerships to create a sustainable, locally derived source of revenue - tourism - that will also provide the funds, the motivation,and the knowledge to control, and ultimately, to protect their land and traditional way of life.

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