Monday, August 15, 2011

Panama Viejo

Four-hundred and ninety-two years ago today, Panama was founded by Pedro Arias Dávila.  I know this well because I helped my second grader prepare a little speech on the subject last week.  He was known as Pedrarias the Cruel; he had Balboa charged with treason and executed.  It seems like he was a pretty ruthless and jealous guy responsible for all kinds of brutality and slavery, but he will be remembered forever for founding Panama City.

Of course in 1671 Henry Morgan sacked the city of Panama and after that the Spanish relocated it to what is now Casco Viejo.  The ruins of the old city are a tourist attraction.  No one can resist a good pirate story.  Pedro Arias founded it, but Henry Morgan is the name every tourist associates with the place.

I am fascinated by the history of this country.  I love that the stories of conquistadors and pirates are just a few blocks away.  I have been inspired into all kinds reading about the Spanish colonization of Latin America.  That is not to say I have romantic notions about the colonial period; the Spanish conquistadors were gold-crazy slavers who committed some  unbelievable atrocities in the name crown and church.  And I think it's important that we contemplate that, and that our kids contemplate that.  As much as I hated studying history as a kid, I encourage my kids to study and think about it.  It's an important part of understanding the world we live in; it's context.

So the kids are off school today in honour of the date.  We talked about Pedro Arias quite a bit this weekend. My children's favourite detail was Balboa's execution (or poor Vasco, as my daughter calls him)  and how Pedro Arias had Balboa's head displayed on a spike.  It is the kind of gruesome detail that kids love but it's also an important reminder of how brutal the colonial period was.

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