Tag Archives: Jamaica

Self Esteem

Silky Strate" was one of many hair straighteners which promised to solve the kinky hair problem. It was sold in Novedades Yankee in Panama City and Botica Kipping in Colon.

The “Black and White” brand of cosmetics was
one of the first to offer their face powders, lipsticks,
and makeup in colors complimentary to darker
shades of skin.

The school year of 1951-52 would find me, a basically lonely adolescent boy, remembering to write down all the Westindian neighbors I had met upon arriving to live in Magnolia Building since 1943. That would be significant for me in more ways than one especially since I would suffer a dramatic change in the loss of my sister. She didn’t die but she might as well have since she ran away from our house where we lived with our paternal Aunts and my grandmother to go live with our mother in Colon. Continue reading

And During Christmas Time… Sorrel!

Sorrel in its resplendant beauty with the traditional piece of ginger to prepare the drink.


Raspadura, or unrefined sugar cakes with its
very own Panamanian flavor.

At last it is Christmas season and the thousands of sacks containing agricultural products in the farmer’s market (Abasto) have turned a seasonal red with the production of Sorrel or saril (pronounced sah-ríl), as it has come to be known amongst the Spanish speaking people here! It is the principal raw material for the preparation of our traditional Christmas fruit drink. Known in Puerto Rico, Mexico and other parts of Central America as Jamaica, this plant/flower is planted here in Panama on June 24, the day of the patron saint San Juan Bautista and harvested in early December just in time for Holiday festivities. Continue reading

The Pressure is On- West Indian Labor Recruitment

Images: Top: Boatload of Barbadian workers arriving in Cristobal (Colon side) 1909
Bottom: Digging scene in Gaillard “Cut” (Culebra “Cut) 1907


Once the isthmus of Panama ceased being a “white man’s graveyard” with the yellow fever epidemic brought under control and the vectors for malaria also effectively eliminated- although malaria, as stated previously, will always loom a threat should sanitary conditions be relaxed- the working environment became somewhat safer from contagion. The effort of the ICC was now refocused on the enormous construction task at hand. Continue reading

Panama Gold and the Promised Land


Our previous issues have been concerned with giving the reader a brief sketch of what it was like for my ancestors at the time in history to have arrived in the country of Panama. Those black men were all young, strong, healthy persons who showed great resistance to the adverse climate, and in large groups they came and kept coming way into the latter half of the twentieth century. These men did not only come from the island of Jamaica but from every island in the region of the West Indies to land in the mysterious Panama. Continue reading

Enter the Westindians

This post is intended to begin telling the story of Panamanian Westindians. For the Black Spanish speaking people of Panama of the era in which the first Westindians, as we know them here in Panama, appeared on the scene, they seemed to have emerged from depths of the Caribbean Sea overnight. To the Black natives with a history of serving pirates and buccaneers, those Westindian men seemed as foreign as the old buccaneers and the yellow men from Asiatic countries who, like them, had followed what was to become the first railroad project their eyes would ever witness. Continue reading