How the Azuero Region was Established in Colonial Times

The story begins with the exploration of the Isthmus of Panama in 1501 by Rodrigo de Bastidas and then later Christopher Columbus, who completed his tour in 1502.  From then on it was known to the entire Central American region by the name of “mainland.”  This was divided into two parts, one comprising the portion that was bordered by the Atrato River, and the other covering the portion of Veraguas, known as “Castilla del Oro” by Diego de Nicueza.

In the pre-Columbian age, the Azuero region was populated by the Guaymíes, today known as the Ngäbe, who engaged in fishing, hunting and farming (mainly corn). These villages were almost eliminated through bloody battles during the era of the Spanish conquest. The Catholic Church, led by Fray Bartolomé De Las Casas, intervened on behalf of local peoples in some cases.

The Spanish invasion of the Azuero Region began in 1515 under the direction of the Spanish captain known as Gonzalo de Bajados and ordered by the then governor Castilla del Oro Pedro Arias de Ávila, who was the founder of Panama City. The main interest of Gonzalo’s expedition in 1515 was the indigenous population’s riches.  The Spanish found the natives lead by Chieftains like París, Parita, Natá, Pananomé, among others. The Chieftains did not strongly resist the warrior-like Spanish, but rather offered them gold tributes, and some fled to the mountains, including París. It is important to point out that the name París was later given to the region lead by this Chieftain, a land now the famous Herrera Province.

In spite of the defeat of the Chieftains, indigenous populations confronted the Spanish with all their might, forcing Captain Gonzalo to abandon the region after the death of 70 of his men and the loss of the riches obtained from his expedition. Five years later (1520), the Spanish traveled through the interior of the isthmus, in an expedition carried out by Gaspar de Espinosa, in order to reach Punta Burica. On the way back, the expedition passed through Veraguas Province and they took all the gold from the Chieftain París, so as to finish the task assigned to Gonzalo.

With the founding of the Natá de los Caballeros fortress in 1527, the repopulation of the Azuero Peninsula by the Spanish began. However, this invasion effort is marked by the strong defense of the indigenous warrior Urracá, who fought at all costs for the right to defend his lands.

The arrival of the Spanish surprised the inhabitants of the region that was located on the shore of the Cubitá River, today known as Rio La Villa, where they established diverse populations in the region, among them, Parita, the Cubitá river itself, Guararé, Mensabé, and other nearby populations. Ironically, the founding of the La Villa de Los Santos took the Spanish a decade because of the resistance of indigenous groups, and it was finally accomplished on November 1, 1569, the day known as All  Saints Day (Día de Todos Los Santos) which is also the name of the province (Los Santos).

During this time period, there were a series of confrontations between the disputed Natá authorities and the authorities of the new community “La Villa de Los Santos” where they accused the residents, the “santeños,” of being “usurpers of alien jurisdiction” for not undergoing the legal approval procedure for establishing their city. It wasn’t until 1579 that the residents gained the legal basis for establishing “La Villa de Los Santos.” From the founding of Los Santos, the migration began to places like Santa Fe in Veraguas and toward the south of the Azuero Peninsula.

 

Author: Irving Vergara