1 September 2017

La Chica – Living a life of discovery in Panama – Is that Patois I hear?


The first time I travelled to Panama, I had little knowledge of it’s history, or it’s ethnic makeup.  Of course I imagined that it would be possible to encounter someone who perhaps learnt English at school.  Maybe an expat, or tourist but nothing more.

To my surprise, I met a number of people who could speak  English, but not with the accent I had imagined.  I felt sure that the accent that I would hear would have a spanish ring to it.  Instead what  I heard was what we would say in England sounded like a true Jamaican accent. This struck my curiosity. Why would these local people speak with a “Jamaican accent”?  Myself being of British origin, that was the first country to came to mind.

I asked one person directly, and it was then I got to know that many were descendants of Jamaicans and Bajans.  Jamaicans and Bajans have resided here in Panama for many, many years.  I decided to find out more information.

My research taught me that their history dated back to the days of the Panama Canal.  In 1891 thousands of Jamaicans were recruited to begin the work of building the canal by a French company.  The company went bankrupt 15 years later, and abandoned them there.

The second stage of the canal began with the United States in 1903.  They wanted to pick up from where the French left off.  They went to Jamaica to recruit workers and the governor of Jamaica refused to let them do it.  This was because of the experience Jamaica had gone through with the French.

So, the government of the United States went to Barbados, which was the next populated island in the Caribbean.  The Governor of Barbados was happy, because at that time, there was a depression going on in Barbados and a lot of young people were on the streets roaming with no jobs and nothing to do.  So when the Americans came and gave them the offer, the Barbados Government jumped at it.

Many from Barbados came over to work, but the working conditions were very hazardous and poor.  Sadly many also fell sick to malaria and yellow fever and often they died.

After the Canal was built  quite a number decided to stay and make Panama their home. Having met their companions, had children, and already built homes for their families there.

By staying these British West Indians influenced the Panamanian culture both in their food, culture and language. Evidence of these communities can be seen in  areas such as Bocas Del Toro. There you can hear ones speaking Panamanian Patois English…a dialect of Jamaican Patois. However it does not have the status of an official language.

There has been a documentary made to remember these ones who sacrificed their lives to help build the canal. Diggers. They have been recognized as forgotten men who worked hard on a project that had a major influence on trade and commerce the world over. Below is the link to this to an article where I received much of my information and also a YouTube link about the documentary.



Disclaimer: All information on this page is for entertainment purposes only.

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