Panama has over 3 million inhabitants and each one of them represents the diversity that makes this country unique. Almost 70% of the population is mixed or mestizo. This is the obvious result of 500 years of such rich cultural encounters and mixing of the races. Indigenous communities in Panama have been granted a special status inside their "comarcas" (protected territories) where they enjoy a large amount of autonomy. There are 3 comarcas that represent about 20% of Panamanian territory where the following indigenous groups live today: Nägbe-Buglé, Guna Yala and Emberá and Wounaan.
Gunas belong to an ancient race whose origin is the north of Colombia. They can be traced up to 6000 years. It is generally accepted that it was the Gunas who helped Balboa in his attempt to cross the isthmus in 1513. It is also their fearsome resistance to any non-Guna authority that forced the Panamanian government to create the first comarca in 1938, after a bloody Guna rebellion.
Although closely associated and collectively referred to as the Guaymí, the Ngäbe and Buglé are two separate groups of people with their own language and culture. Their comarca extends over the western highlands in the Provinces of Chiriqui, Veraguas and Bocas del Toro and with around 160, 000 people they are the most numerous ethnical group. Other minorities that also live in the comarca are the Naso or Teribe, the Bri-Bri and the Bokota.
The Embera and Wounaan belong to the Carib race that originated in the center of the Amazon. Even though the Emberas and the Wounaan share the same culture and live sometimes together within the same village, they have a completely different language. They migrated from the Choco region in Colombia (for this reason they are sometimes referred to as ''chocoes'' ) and settled in areas towards the East of Panama in the Province of Darien. A few Embera groups have settled in the 1960 in the Chagres mountain range, not far away from Panama City.
Another essential part of our culture is that of the descendants of African slaves and Panama Canal workers from the West Indies. Together they make up for 12-14% of the population. During the colonial times Africans were ''imported'' to Panama much against their will. All those that survived the harsh times of Spanish oppression, still celebrate their African heritage through dances and music known as The Congo. Much later, during the times of the canal construction a new mass immigration took place: the canal required workers so thousands of men started coming from islands like Jamaica, Guadalupe, Martinique to make Panama their new home. White people represent about 6 % of Panama's population. Some are the descendants of old colonial families and of Panama Canal's builders; others are immigrants from Europe, North and South America. This group has dominated the politics for generations and it's still considered a privileged class in Panama. The Chinese arrived during the construction of the railway from 1850 to 1855. 3 % of Panama is of Chinese origin. They are very active in Panama's economy and control a big part of the retail sale market nationwide.
Panama’s diverse Heritage translates in to customs, dances, and festivals that vary from region to region; from folkloric festivals to religious celebrations, where locals dress up with elegant gowns or in extravagant costumes and dance to the beat of traditional tunes. Music plays an important role during these festivities and most of the musical instruments are still handmade.
Panamanian cuisine is a unique mix of worldwide techniques and dishes that reflects its diverse background. Common ingredients are corn, rice, plantains, yuca (cassava), beans, sugar cane, beef, chicken, pork and seafood, together with tropical fruits such as mango, coconut, passion fruit, watermelon, cantaloupe melon and other less known exotic fruits.