How Numerous Are the Blacks of Panama?

Rio Abajo, one of the most populous districts of Panama City with a high concentration of Black residents, just celebrated their Black Ethnicity Day Celebration parade – Desfile de la Etnia Negra– with resounding success.

Many enjoyed the warm weather, the beautiful afro-centric outfits worn mostly by the women and children, the music and dance provided by groups eager to show off their talent, and the Afro-Antillean or Westindian cuisine offered by several good cooks who had the ingenuity and drive to set up their stands. Amidst such enjoyable surroundings and festivities, we cannot help but ask ourselves, exactly how numerous are the Etnia Negra of Panama?

This, after all, was the major thrust of the last census in 2010, to establish, among other important facts, who, where and how many people populate the different ethnic groups of Panama, especially the Black and Indigenous peoples, and exactly how numerous are the blacks of Panama.

We were here and were interviewed by one of the census takers and we were pretty disgusted with how the interview was carried out and how the information obtained could be easily corrupted to do precisely what the census set out to undo – the invisibilization of the people of African descent.  According to Carmen Antony, a notable Panamanian criminologist and specialist in Human Rights:

“Panama is a country with a significant Afro-descendant population. According to the last population census conducted by the Comptroller General of the Republic for the year 2010, the country had 3,405,813 inhabitants of whom 313,289 were allegedly people of African descent, i.e. approximately 9.2 per cent.  However, according to Tomás Arias, the percentage of Afro-descendant population is 33%,  Native American 38%and 31 % of white or Caucasian origin, making Panama different to the rest of Latin America.”

We can attest to the ease with which THE question, ¿En este hogar hay alguien que se considera negro o afro descendiente? could have been either totally bypassed, misconstrued, corrupted, or, as in my case, completely left out if I had not INSISTED that I be asked THE question.  Miss Antony continues:

“It is necessary to note that this census did not reflect the reality of the entire population, nor of the totality of afro descendants. The results of this census were immediately questioned due to its lack of methodological exactitude and not coincide with voter registration figures.  But, this was not all that happened.  This ‘question’ and the form in which it was formulated was not consulted with all civil society organizations that handle this subject, so they were not part of a realistic or effective process. Regarding the latter, out of each set of ten people counted, six would NOT be asked their racial identity.” ( Again, this leads to the same situation) Namely, that we do not know how many people of African descent we have; neither do we know for certain and in reliable statistics what our total population is.”

Among other things, the author called for the standardization of methodology by introducing the variables of ethnicity, race and disability to include afro-Panamanian men and women both in the national census and surveys of households, rural areas and other vital records.  Use this methodology to link it with the map of poverty to fill the gaps in the targeted database.  Unify the method of measuring poverty with the variables identified at the municipal level to detect pockets of ethnic poverty.  Formulate socio cultural diagnoses to discover factors that segregate afro- Panamanian women to promote their full social inclusion.

For the full article by Carmen Antony you may search “Multiculturalismo en Panamá El Caso de la Etnia Afrodescendiente.”

This story continues.

6 responses to “How Numerous Are the Blacks of Panama?

  1. My wife Maternal Great-Grandfather, Mr. Clarke, started what is today Via Espana. He began a bus service, the “Carry-All” to ferry people back and forth from Rio Abajo to Panama. Over the years the path the Carry-All took became the layout for what is now Via Espana. Just a bit of West Indian history that has been obliterated.

    • Nando,

      Thanks for this historical jewel. I’ve always said that not all the original drivers (and owners) of the Chivitas were Hindus but West Indian. I know because I was there. My Uncle Clifford (Pinky), in fact, was a Chiva driver for a long time. Thanks for the name “Carry-All” as I probably took it many times for the nickel ride into the center city.


  2. Pingback: Western Privilege and Anti-black Racism in Panama | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  3. ricardo cox

    the top of this page is titled “The Silver People Chronicle,” followed by ‘this is the story of the west indian people of Panama.’

    then, who in your assessment are the putative “gold people” of Panama? and what criteria were selected to arrive at your classification?

    thank you, licaldo

  4. Damaris Brown

    I believe the problem lies in asking if you see yourself as an Afro-Panamenian cause people have been condition to dispite been black as the lighter Panamenian labels darker people chombos in a derrogative fashion for this reason some Afro-Panamenian buries their ethnicity. Therefore will not be included in any census