Bocas del Toro – what’s in a name?

Bocas del Toro – what’s in a name?

Bocas del Toro – what’s in a name?

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The history of a place has always fascinated me. The more you learn about a place’s history, the more you tend to understand traditions, behaviours and attitudes. You can begin to understand the people. How much about where you live or where you’re from do you know? Ariel is from Bocas del Toro, Panama, and knows it as the place where he grew up, the place that holds his childhood memories, and the place where his family still lives today. I know Bocas as a ‘newcomer’, in part through the eyes of Ariel – meeting his family and friends and experiencing local Bocas life – and in part as a tourist / traveller – seeing everything for the first time.

Our treehouse project has been and continues to be a fascinating journey for both me and Ariel, perhaps for different reasons. We are learning things about Bocas as well as ourselves! So, what’s the history of Bocas – and what’s in a name?

A brief history – Christopher Columbus

Bocas del Toro is a region of Panama, in the very north west of the country. For non-Spanish speakers, this name translates as ‘the Bull’s Mouth’, or ‘The Mouth of the Bull’. So, how did the province come by this name?

There doesn’t seem to be a definite answer but there are, rather, stories and speculation. Cristopher Columbus ‘discovered’ Bocas del Toro in 1502. I use quotation marks when I say ‘discovered’ as indigenous communities had been living in Bocas del Toro (as it is now known) for thousands of years before Columbus’s arrival. Columbus (re)named a number of the islands and the main bay: Bahía de Almirante (Admiral’s Bay), Isla Colón (Columbus Island), Isla Cristóbal (Christopher Island) and Isla Bastimentos (bastimentos meaning ‘supplies’ as Isla Bastimentos is where Columbus resupplied his ships). Read more about Bocas del Toro’s history on the Lonely Planet’s website.

Some say that Bocas del Toro was also named by Christopher Columbus. Some say the he named it after various waterfalls that had the shape of a bull’s mouth, some think he named it after a large rock formation on Bastimentos Island which has the form of a bull lying down, and others say it’s named after the sound of waves hitting the rock on Bastimentos Island – making a noise reminiscent of a raging bull!

However, others think the name comes from the Indian word ‘cacique’ which means Chief of the region – who was known as Boka Toro.

Indigenous community

There is little known – at least written or outside of the indigenous community of Bocas del Toro – about the original, indigenous names of the Bocas islands and other landmarks in the province. For any of you who follow us on Instagram, you will have recently seen that we posted about a gentleman called Mr Pineda. Mr Pineda is on a mission to shed light on the history of the indigenous community of Bocas del Toro, including the names of the islands and other sites in Bocas. If we get the opportunity, we would very much like to be a part of Mr Pineda’s journey to do this – and to learn more about Bocas del Toro before Columbus’s arrival!

Bocas del Toro visit

We’re heading to Bocas next week for our last recce ahead of the crowdfund for our project later this year. We will be posting live on Instagram and Twitter – and may be blogging daily!

Until then – can’t wait! Remember #liveslow. And – watch out for our next competition, starting next week, and see what you could win by just signing up to our mailing list this month!

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