The Ngäbe-Bugle people live in the mountainous comarca land of North-Western Panama. Most people work in agriculture, farming rice, beans, corn, and yucca in Alto Soloy; others travel to Boquete to harvest coffee. The Soloy River and Fonseca River are centric to everyday life. It’s here that everyone washes clothes, bathes, and cools down during hot afternoons.
The typical Ngäbe diet consists of rice, beans, corn, chicken, and fish. Breakfast usually consists of tortillas de maiz and hot, sugary coffee, while lunch and dinner include arroz con pollo.
The Ngäbe and Bugle peoples speak two different languages, and the more common is Ngäbere. Most children in Soloy speak Ngäbere at home and Spanish in school.
The Ngäbere alphabet consists of twenty-six letters: eight vowels and eighteen consonants.
- Vowels: a, e, i, o u, ä, ö, u, y
- Consonants: b, ch, d, g, gw, j, k, kw, l, ñ, n, ng, ngw, m, r, s, t, y
Ngäbe women make chakaras, messenger-style bags created with all-natural fibers. Leaves are dried in the sun and dyed with fruits and plants native to the Comarca region. The weaving is done by hand, without the use of tools. As Maria, one artisan, says, “If it’s not handmade, it’s not authentic.” An incredible amount of time goes into each one-of-a-kind design.
Artisans in Soloy have joined together to form Hermoso Arte Ngäbe, the first trade-marked artisan organization of native Ngäbe art. They also make intricate beaded jewelry and hats from plant fibers. Read more about their work here.
Men wear typical “western” clothes: T-shirts, collared shirts, and pants. Women wear loose, colorful dresses called nahua which they make at home, often with antique manual sewing machines. Women in the Comarca began wearing this dress only a generation ago, but it quickly became part of their culture. The intricicate design requires hours of work. A single dress can take multiple weeks to complete. Nearly everyone wears comfortable waterproof shoes like Crocs and rain boots.