THE NASO TERIBE
In the Bocas del Toro province exists a small group of Indians with the actual name of naso or teribes. Some anthropologists call them “tlorios”. In the past they were known as tojar, terbi, terraba, terebe and some other denominations. Some Naso say that “Teribe” is a mispronunciation of tjer di, which means “river of the Grandmother,” the ancestral guiding spirit of the people.
They live in the coastal zones of the Teribe, Changuinola, San San river, and they talk the naso language. Their community consists of 11 villages. The Naso are for the most part very poor subsistence farmers who supplement their earnings with the sale of the agricultural products (cocoa, oranges, plantains, etc.), animals (pigs, chickens, ducks, etc.), lumber (cordia alliodora, cedrela odorata, etc.) and some handicrafts which they transport to the relatively nearby city of Changuinola. Traditional Naso homes are built on stilts of one kind of palm (jira) and the roofs are thatched with another kind (palenquilla). Residents sleep on the soft bark of a rubber tree. Newer homes use wooden planks for walls and floor, and sometimes have corrugated zinc roofs.
The tribe is governed by a king. The succession, according to tradition, would follow from the king to his brother, to the older son of the previous king. Since the 1980s, succession is based on the vote of the adult population. Typically, when there is a sense within the community that there is dissatisfaction with the current king (or sometimes queen, for instance queen Rufina), another member of the royal family may choose to stand for a public vote to see if they can replace the current king. The current king is Tito Santana.
The Bribri inhabit the shores of the rivers Yorkin and Sixaola, in territories located to both sides of the rich Panama-Coast border, in the extreme northwest of the country. They live in family clans determined by matriarchal lineage, and feed themselves from fishing, hunting and farming activities. Their way of living and entourage has kept them isolated from civilization, therefore, they preserve intact their culture and vision of the cosmos. They speak their particular language as well as having their spiritual beliefs, based upon their god, Sibu. Cacao, as in most of the indigenous groups in southern Costa Rica and northern Panama, has a special significance in Bribri culture. For them the cacao tree used to be a woman and Sibu (God) turned into a tree. Cacao branches are never used as firewood and only women are allowed to prepare and serve the sacred drink. Cacao is used in special occasions, ceremonies and in certain rites of passage. Currently there exist several Bribri women’s associations that produce organic, hand made chocolate that helps them in their livelihoods.
The Naso/Bribri are the smallest indigenous group in the country. The population of both tribes, combined, amounts only to approximately 2% of the total population of natives in Panama.