As I take the time to read the history of my Panamanian roots, I realize how much I don’t know. But I do have threads to cling to, that I can grasp and pull greater truths closer. One of the words my mother told me of as a child as that of “The Guaymí.” I never understood what the word meant, only that it referred to the people that were a part of my Panamanian family, albeit those that looked less like Spaniards and more like the native population stamped out by the Spanish. Those were the broad strokes of history, no details more.

I often heard my mother share how proud she was of this university in the heart of Panama’s Veraguas region…

A picture of Urraca in Santiago de Veraguas, which I took in 2007 when I visited with my mother. She graduated from this school as a teacher at nineteen years of age.

That’s why when I read the following, I found myself thinking, “Ignorant of history and culture…”

The Ngobe traditionally referred to themselves as the Guaymí– a term that simply means “people” in the Ngäbe language. The term is infrequently used today. More often, the Ngobe are referred to as Ngöbe Buglé—this is a union of the Ngobe (Ngöbe) and the Bokota (Buglé) Peoples who live together in the Ngöbe–Buglé Comarca (an indigenous province that signifies a high degree of administrative autonomy).

Although both Indigenous Peoples are closely associated, the Ngäbe and Buglé are two separate linguistic/indigenous groups whose languages are mutually unintelligible. Collectively, these two groups make up the largest indigenous population in Panama.

In Santiago de Veraguas, where my mother grew up, the name of Urraca was mentioned often. In fact, when I visited in 2007, a year after my father died, my mother took me to the university where she had been certified as a teacher in Panama. In the middle of the square in front of the school stands a statue, homage to Urraca. The history…

Urracá or Ubarragá Maniá Tigrí (d. 1531) was an Ngäbe Amerindian chieftain or cacique in the region of present-day Panama who fought effectively against the Spanish conquistadors. Captured at one point, Urracá managed to escape a ship bound for Spain and rejoin his people.

He continued to lead the fight against the Spanish until he was killed in battle in 1531.[1] He is remembered as el caudillo amerindio de Veragua (the Amerind leader of Veragua) and adversary of the Spanish Empire), the great resistance leader of Panama. He has been honored by his image on the centesimo, the smallest-denomination coin of Panama.

What’s really interesting is…

El Quibían, or Quibían, was an indigenous king who ruled lands in the river basins of Quiebra and Yebra, now called Rio Belén, on the Caribbean coast of the present day Panamá, who was visited by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage, in early 1503. He is mentioned in documents of Columbus' voyage with the name “El Quibían” or Quibían.

As he is always identified with the prefix article, it is very possible that the word Quibían identifies a title, namely that of chief among the Ngöbe peoples. It is widely suggested by historians like Joaquin Gonzalez that this means el Quibían was, in fact, Urracá, a Ngöbe cacique who successfully united a number of tribes to defend his people in present-day Veraguas against the conquistadors, starting in 1519.

Gonzalez suggests it because of the similar descriptions of the two leaders, their ability to organize neighboring tribes, and their ability to defeat the Spanish. (source)

A great organizer and rebel against the conquistadors. As a child, I would boast. My boast of being descended from conquistadores and vikings (from my father) left out the heritage of Urracá. It makes you wonder why I didn’t learn more of my heritage as a youngster. Instead, I learned about United States history (false as some parts were, or incomplete at best). This was intentional.

No doubt, every boy who can claim grandparents, or parents, from Veraguas says, “I am descended from the great Urraca.” Why should I be any different? What’s important, the defiance in the face of injustice, tyranny, murder, rape.


I had never heard this history, this possible connection between Urraca and Columbus:

Quibían, who was suspicious of the Columbus brothers, told them not to go past a certain point in the river. When they did, he began secretly planning with several indigenous nations to destroy the settlement and expel the foreigners.

Aware of these plans [of rebellion], Bartholomew Columbus captured the king, his family and friends, who he led tied up to Santa María. El Quibían tricked them into throwing him from the boat, into the river, and the Spanish assumed that since he was tied up, he would drown. The Spanish ships left the river and anchored a short distance from the coast, but while Bartholomew was on board to receive instructions from Christopher Columbus, el Quibían, who had managed to escape and gather some of the neighboring nations, attacked Santa María.

There was a battle, in which Bartholomew Columbus was wounded, and el Quibían defeated the Spanish. Finally, the Spanish had to abandon their settlement and flee. On the ships, some of the relatives and friends of el Quibían tried to flee, but those who did not make it were hanged in the hold of the ship where they had been held. (source)

It’s incredible to read this and realize that your ancestors fought against Columbus. No doubt, there is some native blood that carried through to current generations. The unfortunate truth is, for my family, given the whiteness of the skin, the heritage is more Spanish than anything else. My mother was considered “trigueña,” that is, between two colors, “black” and white.

As I read Chapter 4 of Zaretta Hammond’s book, where she suggests growing one’s awareness…as I read more history, the more depressing to see the artifice and lies, the oppression and brutality.

Essentially, 20% of the world conquered the other 80%. Then, set up a system of oppression that endures to this day. Some might argue, that is humanity’s greatest achievement (or tragedy).

No matter what one’s heritage, it is reprehensible. I’ve read you shouldn’t judge the past by the present. But when systems of oppression endure into the present, then we must. Now you see how self-serving, “judge not lest ye be judged” is for the religion of the oppressors.

“How could this have happened and I didn’t know about it? How could that happen?" This is, as Clint Smith refers to it in his book, “discovered ignorance.”