Victoriano Lorenzo Ngawbé Indian Freedom Fighter

Victoriano Lorenzo, Ngobe Indian leader.

The tragedy of the unavoidable confrontation and resulting homicide weighed heavily on the mind of a now imprisoned community leader. Placed in chains, he was paraded through the town before his now saddened and suddenly abandoned Indian community.

They watched as their dismayed leader was marched through their midst, saddened over events that were inevitable in their lives. To them he was one of their shining lights, a bright star of intelligence, brilliance and bravery, a man-child destined for greater things than what was occurring to him then.

Lorenzo, the convict, was taken from the Province of Coclé, to travel more than three hundred miles into the interior of the country and imprisoned in the Province of Chiriqui. As a dangerous “criminal” he would live the next years of his life as the convict Lorenzo, who demonstrated his prowess as a literate person. So young was he, and inexperienced, that in the prison surroundings he was recognized as the “Cholo de La Negrita,” referring to the area from where he originated in Penonomé and made secretary to the guards. This unique prison life was in reality a dock warehouse from which the young prisoner would learn about warehousing techniques that would serve him in a significant way later in his life. So efficient was the young convict that he soon became a trustee of the guards, and remained so for most of this incarceration.

With the privileges granted a trustee prisoner Lorenzo immersed himself in reading and learned the trade of warehousing, tailoring and was able to practice his writing skills. From some of the other prisoners he later would be able to also practice barbering the guards, as well as other prisoners. Nine long years soon passed for the young Lorenzo who would be 32 years old upon release from prison.

However, the scars of such a long incarceration would burn in his memory, for though he was alive, he had been branded a criminal although his people had always judged his actions as an act of self defense. The circumstances his people were suffering under played heavily on his mind, and the injustice he had suffered was the price he had to pay, he thought, as he weighed the love he had for his much abused people, the Indian Cholo community of “La Negrita of Coclé,” who bade him return home.

His long return trip home to Coclé revealed a young man with many more life experiences who noticed that life around the country side, his countryside, seemed as if time had stood still. Absolutely nothing much had changed in those 9 long years of imprisonment. Still apprehensive at his reception, the young man entered the town of Penonomé seeking to make it home. The news of the return of Victoriano Lorenzo spread throughout the region faster than even modern telegraphy or the recently invented telephone.

Soon he was reunited with his young wife, his sweetheart from childhood, who had awaited his return faithfully. The local people who had seen him grow up into the defender of his people also started appearing at his door. Victoriano let them express their pent up emotions regarding the incident for which he was ultimately imprisoned. They kept coming to his humble chosa, a rustic mud daubed hut, bringing straw and lumber and clearing the land surrounding his home. Day and night they stayed as if standing guard. In the mornings they worked building additions and installing roofing for the added rooms on his old cabin. Soon they had built a comfortable cabin with much room for even an office and meeting room, all made of smoothed out mud daub and a straw roof.

Victoriano and his wife thanked the people for their support, but his wife seemed apprehensive and nervous all the time. Although she was happy to have her husband back home, her woman’s intuition was as the foresighted Zipora, Moses’ wife, who could see and hear the people’s adulation as they already were posting guards regularly around her home. She knew there was good reason for their alertness and their compulsion to protect their born leader and his family.

The days passed as Victoriano began to hold court and proceeded to write letters of complaint on behalf of the community to the central government in the capital city of Panamá. Though most of the letter were never attended to or answered, one of the letters directed to the vice presidents of the republic caught a positive response. The letter in question was written in the format of a Memorandum, of the type usually written by high ranking literate functionaries. The letter, in fact, complained vehemently over the fact that for more years than he could remember his people of the Ngawbé (often written Ngobe) community were under forced labor, doing hard labor without pay for officials of the central government and the Province of Coclé.

This story will continue.

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