Home Institution

Colorado State University

Publication Date

Spring 2012

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


Hydroelectric and mining projects driven by Panama’s prosperous growth, have come into collision with the country’s largest indigenous population, the Ngöbe. Recently, the Ngöbe took to the streets in a large-scale indigenous rights mobilization that brought their struggle the international scene. Threats to the Ngöbe land and livelihood are nothing new to this group, but the scale and nature of these projects are testing the Ngöbe in an unprecedented fashion. They have had to organize and mobilize to defend their self-determination, using methods well outside their traditional way of life. This article examines the impact of this type of cultural hybridization on the ability of the Ngöbe people to achieve self-determination and their long-term cultural survival. Using interview and participant observation data from both Ngöbe university students and Ngöbe community members, this article argues that cultural hybridization can be an effective tool to promote self-determination if used extremely cautiously. There are serious consequences of cultural hybridization on cultural survival that can undermine the increased capacity for invoking the interests and rights of the Ngöbe people. The contention of this article relates to a case study analysis of the Ngöbe people, yet is intended to apply to the larger discussion of indigenous struggles for self-determination across the globe.


Civic and Community Engagement | Family, Life Course, and Society | Sociology of Culture