History in Their Own Words
Story, when repeated long enough, becomes history. History tells how a group of people become a culture. Without a history, culture loses its identity.
The history of the Ngäbe people has been passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. Over time many factors have played a role in the
loss of much of this history. The Spanish conquest of Ngäbe territory and subsequent "Christianization" by Catholic missionaries did a great deal of harm to the culture including giving the people a new name- Guaymi in place of Ngäbe. Poverty has also had a paralyzing effect on the passing on of history. Many people are so focused on survival that they take no interest in their history. Another significant threat to the culture is the encroachment of surrounding Panamanian and Costa Rican cultures. Many younger Ngäbe prefer these other cultures to their own and see little value in
their own histories.
On the following pages is a collection of stories representative of Ngäbe culture. These stories have been collected as part of a cultural preservation project on the Reserva Indigina Coto Brus. A common theme of
transformation or becoming flows through each story.
Please note that these histories are English translations of Spanish translations of oral stories shared in Ngäbere. Also, be aware that we have chosen to retain certain terms in Ngäbere out of respect to the culture. For example: Ngäbe instead of Guaymi. Sukia instead of witch doctor or shaman.
Special thanks to those who helped to prepare these histories to share:
Alexi Rodrigo Gallardo for his work creating the paintings.
Luciano Jimenez Caballero for describing the significance of each painting.