Panama Ethnic Groups

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Ethnic Groups

Due to its unique geographical location, economic importance, and historical significance, Panama has become a blend of many cultures and ethnicities. The Panama Railroad and later the Panama Canal attracted workers from China, the West Indies, and Africa. Commercial opportunities attracted merchants from Europe, India, and the Middle East. The involvement of France and the United States in the building of the Panama Canal also influenced immigration from these countries. Panama is also home to a diverse group of indigineous people.

Indigenous Groups of Panama

Indigenous groups currently inhabit five "comarcas" in Panama; although, some groups like the Teribe and Bri Bri are so small that they do not have a comarca.

Group Location
Emberá  Areas of Darién, by the banks of rivers such as the Chucunaque, Tuira, Balsas, Chico, Jaqué, Sambú, Río Bagre
Wounaan By the banks of Río Chagres en Alto Chagres, Mocambo Abajo, San Antonio, Gamboa, and Emberá Gatún
Kunas Archipielago of Kuna Yala
Ngöbe - Buglé Provinces of Chiriquí, Bocas del Toro, and Veraguas
Teribe (Nazo) Western part of the province of Bocas del Toro,primarily along the banks of the Teribe river
Bokotá Small communities spread between the provinces of Bocas del Toro and Veraguas.
Bri Bri On the border with Costa Rica, near the Río Yorkín y Sixaola tributary in the province of Bocas del Toro

The Embera-Wounaan people are also known as Choco and the Ngobe-Bugle people are also known as Guaymi. The Teribe and Bri Bri populations are small and they do not live in a 'Comarca."

Extinct Indigenous Groups

Some indigenous groups are extinct, such as the Doraz or Dorasque people, who mainly inhabited the town of Dolega in the province of Chiriqui. The Dorasque eventually intermarried with the local population and ceased to exist as a distinct group. However, they left behind a written language. 


  • Research paper on current indigenous groups in Panama.

  • Description of indigenous groups in Panama.

  • Geographical location (comarcas) of indigenous groups in Panama.

  • Bibliography of indigenous groups in Panama.

Jewish People of Panama

Chinese People of Panama

The Chinese influence in Panama dates back to more than 150 years ago. On April 1, 1854, the first wave of over 700 Chinese laborers arrived in Panama aboard the Sea Witch to work in the construction of the Panama Railroad company. A handful of Chinese immigrants had made their way to the Panama shores earlier and had established businesses and bought farms in the interior of the country. Chinese laborers would later be imported to work in the construction of the Panama Canal.

Juan Tam wrote a book, "Chinese Footprints in Panama: 150 Years of Chinese Presence" that documents the history of Chinese migration to Panama and provides a large amount of genealogical information.

West Indian (Antillian) People of Panama


East Indian People of Panama


Arab People of Panama


French People of Panama


Italian People of Panama

The Italian immigration to Panama began during the construction of the Panama Canal and another influx of immigrants took place after the end of World War II.