For Panama, November is the start of the holiday season. They don’t have Thanksgiving as we do in the States. But they spend pretty much the whole month celebrating Panama’s becoming a country.
Here’s a super brief, and hopefully accurate, history of the holidays. For the sake of flow, I’m listing the dates historically.
10 & 28 November: Back in the 1800s, most if not all of current day Central America belonged to Spain. Within Panama, there was much unrest and plans were in the works within governing groups in Panama City to declare independence from Spain. On 10 November there came the First Call for Independence from Spain from the province of Los Santos (they must have been tired of waiting for Panama City.) This prompted a speeding up of the whole process and on 28 November 1821, Independence from Spain was declared by the colony now known as Panama.
3 & 4 November: After Independence from Spain, Panama chose to join a southern alliance and so, along with Venezuela, Colombia & Ecuador, became known as Gran Colombia. It seems that though connected, Panama has always considered herself an independent country. So, with support from the US, on 3 November 1903, Panama declared itself separated from Colombia. On the next day the Panamanian flag was flown for the first time and has become known as Flag Day.
5 November: This day is celebrated as Colón Day memorializing the day that Panamanian officials apparently bribed Colombian forces based in Colón not to fight against the separation. I don’t know if this was the reason, but the whole process was a rather peaceful movement that resulted in the birth of the nation of Panama.
With so much to commemorate, there are parades and celebrations throughout the country. We’d heard about the schools and their drum corps that march in the parades. We’d also been hearing the bands practicing up above our apartment, sometimes till the wee hours of the morning. So on Monday, 4 November, we went into town around 10 a.m. to see what we could see. There were tons of people everywhere, mostly around the square in the middle of town. As it was sunny, we found a spot next to a tree with good viewing and shade. The parade didn’t begin until about 11 a.m. and went until about 2:30 p.m. The bands all played the same rhythms and the marching dance groups all did the same steps. But since we’d never seen any of it and there were lots of cute kids, it was fun. Even though it was sunny when we arrived, it ended up being overcast and drizzly most of the time.
The parade started with the VIPs, a Rotary Club group (I think) and the Fire Department.
Each of the schools had marching groups, the boys playing the drums and girls playing the xylophones. Each school had different uniforms, mostly in red, white and/or blue, Panama’s flag colors.
There were also baton groups made up of girls.
There were a few groups who performed. A couple groups did military style marching, while one group from a gymnastics school did stunts. There was one group that really didn’t perform, but they had Carnival-type outfits. By the time the various groups reached where we were standing, it was raining. But they continued even kneeling on the wet ground. They were obviously proud of their group and their hard work.
There were many examples of traditional dress. Traditional Panamanian outfits are quite beautiful with dresses with full skirts and colorful makeup and hair pieces.
At one point we thought that the parade was finished as one of the bands was being followed by a big truck. As it got close, we realized it was the one and only “float” in the parade. Not sure what was being depicted, but the kids were cute.
There were many different people in attendance at the parade. Panamanians, Ngöbe-Buglé Indians (Boquete is located near the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca, basically an administrative region for indigenous Indian groups) and gringoes.
The end of the parade was followed by all the cars parked further up the street heading out of Boquete.
After the parade was over, we decided to wait for the traffic to die down before grabbing a taxi home. So we walked to Mike’s Global Grill to grab lunch and wait out the crowds. By the time that we walked out to get our ride home, it was pouring. Such is the weather here in Boquete :).
All in all, a great day to watch as Panama celebrated its independence!