In this week’s episode of 80 Days, we are talking about Panama, a central American nation most famous its canal that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Located strategically on the tiny isthmus between Central and South America, control of this valuable trade route has been competed for by multiple powers throughout its fascinating history. The country is dominated by a central spine of mountains and hills that forms the continental divide. Today, Panama is bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the east, the Caribbean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital, Panama City, is home to nearly half of the country’s 3.9 million people. If you’re unfamiliar with the geography, just imagine the two continents of Central and South America hanging onto one another by a thread – Panama is that thread.
Some things you might want to read/listen more about:
- Archaeological findings at various sites are described in the National Geographic article “‘Golden Chief’ Tomb Treasure Yields Clues to Unnamed Civilisation” by James Owen
- The following video on YouTube shows the Ngobe Balseria traditions, including the sport which involves men throwing sticks at the legs of other men, while dressed in women’s clothing:
- Some of the early colonists of significance: Rodrigo de Bastidas, who founded the first European settlement on the American mainland; Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who crossed the isthmus.
- “The Cimarrons of Sixteenth Century Panama“, an article by Ruth Pike (The Americas, 2007, vol. 64, no. 2, DOI: 10.1353/tam.2007.0161) gives a lot of detail on rebellions by African and African-descended escaped slaves in Panama, inlcuding “el rey negro” Bayano
- We mentioned piracy a few times, as in important aspect of trade in the area in the early colonial period. Some well-known pirates who had an impact on Panama were Sir Francis Drake who sacked Nomre de Dios on the Carribean coast of Panama (1572) and the Welsh privateer Captain Henry Morgan who marched across the isthmus and sacked Panama City in 1713. The ruins of the old city are still there and the world remembers Captian Morgan today mostly for the brand of rum named after him!
- BBC History has an article on “The Darien Venture” by Dr Mike Ibeji, describing the disasterous exploits of the Company of Scotland expedition, planned by William Paterson, bankrupting much of the country in the process
- Richard Halliburton holds the Guinness World Record (from 1928) for lowest toll paid to pass through the Canal due to his low tonnage
- The winding history of the Canal construction from the initial Frech attempt by Ferdinand de Lesseps to the intervention of US President Theodore Roosevelt (reknowned for his ‘robust masulinity’) is summarised here (PBS)
- This article from PBS’s American Experience website desribes the contributions of militarty doctor William Gorgas to fighting yellow fever and malaria in the Isthmus of Panama as part of the canal works (and essential to its completion)
- Notable political figures in Panama’s 20th century history: frequent president and fascist-sympathiser Arnulfo Arias, de facto leader and Maximim Leader of the Panamanian Revolution Brigadier General Omar Torrijos (if you get to make up your own title, make it a good one)
- The Stuff You Should Know Podcast has an episode on “How the Panama Canal Works“, which is worth a listen
- Trans-Americas Journey’s channel on YouTube has an accelerated video of the entire transit through the Canal, while this timelapse video shows a day of traffic through the Miraflores Locks – they are incredible and the only way to get a sense of the scale of the Canal
- Some of the traditional music used in the episode comes from here.
- The gruesome torture and murder of Manuel Noreiga’s opponent, nationalist Hugo Spadfora, is detailed in In The Time of Tyrants by R. M. Koster and other places – it is exemplary of the brutality of his regime
- The full playlist played to force dictator Manuel Noreiga out of the Papal Nunicature during Operation Just Cause is detailed in the post-operational report, archived in George Washington University’s National Security Archive; an account of the event on the blog No Fear of the Future
- Website Fun-With-Words has a history of Panama’s palindromes, in particular: “A Man, a Plan, a Canal – Panama“
- “Fiesta” by Alfredito Payne is a cool funky Panamanian song