Panama - Demographics


Panama had a population of 3,405,813 in May 2010. The CIA World Factbook gives the following statististics for the population: "mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 68%, Black (West Indian) 10%, white 15%, Asian 1%, Amerindian 6%". The Amerindian population includes seven indigenous peoples:

  1. the Emberá
  2. Wounaan
  3. Ngöbe Buglé people (formerly the Guaymí)
  4. Guna
  5. Naso
  6. Bribri

More than half the population lives in the Panama City–Colón metropolitan corridor. The 2010 census in Panama classified approximately 12.3% of the nation's population as indigenous. The Amerindian population figure stood at 417,500 individuals in 2010.

The culture, customs, and language of the Panamanians are predominantly Caribbean and Spanish. Spanish is the official and dominant language. About 93% of the population speak Spanish as their first language, though many citizens speak both English and Spanish or native languages, such as Ngäbere. Some new statistics show that as second language, English is spoken by 8%, French by 4% and Arabic by 1%. The private educational system offers German, Portuguese and Italian.

Panama, because of its historical reliance on commerce, is above all an ethnic salad bowl. This is shown, for instance, by its considerable population of Afro-Antillean and Chinese origin. The first Chinese immigrated to Panama from southern China to help build the Panama Railroad in the 19th century. There followed several waves of immigrants whose descendants number around 50,000. Starting in the 1970s, a further 80,000 have immigrated from other parts of China as well.

Afro-Panamanians played a significant role in the creation of the republic. Some historians have estimated that up to 50% of the population of Panama has some African ancestry. The descendants of the Africans who arrived during the colonial era are intermixed in the general population or live in small Afro-Panamanian communities along the Atlantic Coast and in villages within the Darién jungle. Most of the people in Darien are fishermen or small-scale farmers growing crops such as bananas, rice and coffee as well as raising livestock. Other Afro-Panamanians descend from later migrants from the Caribbean who came to work on railroad-construction projects, commercial agricultural enterprises, and (especially) the canal. Important Afro-Caribbean community areas include towns and cities such as Colón, Cristobal and Balboa, in the former Canal Zone, as well as the Río Abajo area of Panama City. Another region with a large Afro-Caribbean population is the province of Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast just south of Costa Rica.

Most of the Panamanian population of West Indian descent owe their presence in the country to the monumental efforts to build the Panama Canal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Three-quarters of the 50,000 workers who built the canal were Afro Caribbean migrants from the British West Indies. Thousands of Afro-Caribbean workers were recruited from Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad.

Panama is the smallest Spanish-speaking Latin American country in terms of population.

The most common religion in Panama is Roman Catholicism – various sources estimate that 75–85% of the population identifies itself as Roman Catholic and 15–25% as evangelical Christian. The Bahá'í Faith community of Panama is estimated at 2.00% of the national population, or about 60,000 and maintains one of the seven Baha'i Houses of Worship. Smaller religious groups include Jewish and Muslim communities with approximately 10,000 members each, and small groups of Hindus, Buddhists and Rastafarians. Indigenous religions include Ibeorgun (among Guna and Mama Tata (among Ngöbe Buglé).

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