Culture

Mariam Amini
The Naso - discover Panama’s indigenous jungle tribe
The Naso - discover Panama’s indigenous jungle tribe
Mariam Amini

The white sands and turquoise sea beaches of Panama are uncontested. However, an agreeable climate and stunning scenery is not all this central American nation has to offer.

Home to seven distinct indigenous populations, the country is rich in culture and history. Among these groups are the Naso, an ancient jungle tribe of both Panama and Costa Rica.

Also known as Teribe, which translates to “river of the Grandmother”, their population resides in small villages in the mountainous jungle regions of the north-west.

A warrior people, the Naso have a deeply spiritual relationship with the land that dates back centuries. They are also one of few Native American indigenous groups that have kept their monarchy.

Eary Spanish colonisation alongside more recent deforestation has led to a huge loss of territory. However, a recent Supreme Court ruling has finally restored justice, allowing the tribe to regain access to 400,000 acres of pristine land.

The landmark victory has secured the rights of this humble community, and the Naso will hold management responsibilities over the forests in La Amistad National Park and Palo Seco Nature Reserve.

This recognition comes in the form of a ‘comarca’, a semi-autonomous tribal kingship in the two parks that allows the group to preserve both their connection to the land and general way of life.

Despite only numbering 3,500 natives, the tribe has managed to maintain much of its culture and traditions, as well as an extensive oral history that is sacredly protected for future generations.

“This is an act of justice that will restore tranquility to the Naso”, says King of the tribe, Reynaldo Santana.

“We will be able to continue what we know best and what our culture and way of life represents: taking care of our mother earth, conserving a majestic forest, and protecting the country and planet from the effects of climate change.”

La Amistad National Park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and is home to great biodiversity, five species of big cat and hundreds of birds.

The park is most accessible from the small town of Las Nubes, and houses a small ranger station at its entrance that leads onto several trails.

Guided nature hikes into this important biological corridor are also possible, where travellers can learn more about the habitat, observe tropical wildlife and even visit a Naso village.

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