The “Comarca” is an autonomous territory of the Ngöbe-Buglé Indigenous People.  It was founded on May 7, 1997 and is the home to about 115,000 inhabitants.  There are eight different groups of indigenous people in Panama who live in the Comarcas, all with different customs and languages.  Centuries ago, the Indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé People lived throughout most of western Panama, as far east as the Panama Canal. But as a consequence of different occupying forces, the indigenous people were forced to flee further and further into the remote mountains in order to be able to conserve their culture and customs.  Currently, the “Comarca” functions on the margins of the economy and society of Panama. The people called Ngöbe (Ngöbére is the name of their language) live around Soloy and throughout the area of the comarca on the Pacific slopes of the isthmus. They also occupy a large part of the comarca on the Caribbean side of the isthmus. The Ngöbe-Buglé comarca is divided into three large regions. Nö Kribo (land of much water) is the region
on the Caribbean side that was formerly a part of the province of Bocas del Toro. The region that was formerly a part of Chiriqui Province is called Nedri (land to the west). Kodri (land to the east) is the area that was formerly a part of the Pacific side of Veraguas province.

The Buglé people have customs similar to those of the Ngöbe, but they speak a different language. They occupy the eastern part of Nö Kribo in and around the Calovebora river valley. 

Economics, Customs and Culture of the Ngöbe-Buglé People

The economy of the Soloy regions consists of migratory farm labor, coffee bean production, sales of crafts to tourists, and working in the few small establishments of infrastructure within the community (stores, government offices, hospital, and schools).  The people live in very modest homes which consist of wood planks or large branches tied together, dirt floors, and either sheet metal or thatched roofs.  Oranges, mangos, platanos, bananas, rice, and beans are grown in the area. Coffee is grown in the mountains.  Most of the time, the people eat rice and beans and drink sweetened coffee.  The women wear very colorful, handmade, long dresses which take 2-4 weeks to sew depending on the intricacy of the patterns.  The men dress mostly in “Western” style.  Travel consists mostly of walking or horseback riding, while longer trips require a “Publico Bus or Taxi” and 3 hours over a very “rocky” and difficult road. Some families work in the fields, but it is very hard to cultivate the mountainous soil because they do not have any machines.  Everything is done by machete or by hand.  Many parents hope that by attending school their children will not have to work the fields in the future and will obtain better employment opportunities.

 special thanks to Phil Young for his expertise. for census information about Panamanian indigenous people, see his website:

Distribution of Indigenous Populations in Panama

for more information about Ngobe culture, history and art, see the Ngobe art and culture site.

 





 

The Comarca in Panama