By María M.Mur
Far from the opulence of European monarchies and pre-Columbian empires, the people claiming to be the last indigenous kingdom of America resists in the mountains of Panama despite the loss of their traditions, land invasion and the advance of hydroelectric plants.
The small kingdom of the Naso, one of the seven indigenous peoples existing today in Panama, sits on the banks of the Teribe River, in a territory of 1,600 square kilometers west of Panama, still lacking electricity or drinking water including hospitals or telephone coverage.
Its 5,000 inhabitants live scattered in a score of semi-isolated villages in the exuberant jungle of Bocas de Toro, a province of the Panamanian Caribbean bordering Costa Rica. Access to them requires a trip through rural roads and through rivers, which can take almost 12 hours from the country’s capital.
Unlike the other ethnic groups, the Naso are organized since immemorial times in a kind of assembly monarchy, led by a king with a throne, palace, crown and scepter.
"I have no infinite powers, I cannot do anything without consulting my people and I lack the money that the King of Spain has," said King Reynaldo Alexis Santana during a visit from Efe to the village of Bonyic, the closest to civilization.
The Santana dynasty has reigned for at least two centuries. The throne used to be transferred from parents to children, but for a few years the own subjects are the ones who choose the monarch between the members of the royal family who decide to appear at the "elections" and those who also have the power to dismiss him.
The current king competed in 2011 against a cousin and an uncle.
"I am the youngest king who has agreed to the throne. I appeared by chance," the monarch said as he brushes the eagle feathers of his crown and prepares to pose for a photo.
The king leans to govern in an advisory council consisting of leaders of all communities, and in the traditional authorities of justice, that solves simple daily problems and that have been eliminating ancestral punishments like the stocks or the "bunker", a hole in the ground where they put the young women who disobey their mothers.
The Naso basically dedicate to subsistence agriculture and sell the little surplus they get from plantain, yucca and yam in Chanquinola, the city closest to the aboriginal kingdom.
As in the rest of the indigenous peoples of Panama, many young people have migrated to the cities fleeing extreme poverty, which has led to the disappearance of traditions. The advancement of evangelical churches is also changing ancestral beliefs.
"There are few young people who speak naso and almost none know that we were born of a grain of corn," said Rosibel Quintero, a woman with an easy smile who wears the typical costume and who wants to build a palm-tree chamizo to house the scarce and adventurous tourists who come to the kingdom.
The naso are topical these days because the Panamanian Parliament approved on 25 October a law that defines their territory, recognizes their government system and gives them autonomy to control their natural resources, but it has yet to be passed by the president to enter into force.
"We are not going to create a small republic; we are Panamanians and we recognize the Constitution, but we also have our own laws and we want to own our lands," said José Smith, a respected banana farmer from the San San Druy community.
The creation of this autonomous territory, if made official, would be the sixth indigenous region of Panama. It is a claim that comes from the time of King Lazarus, the most beloved sovereign and the one that has possibly marked the recent history of this people.
The other monarch who has left a mark in the kingdom, in this case for evil, is King Tito, banished for allowing the construction of a hydroelectric plant in the sacred waters of the Teribe river.
"No government has been interested in our welfare; the region is the mechanism that will allow us to create more opportunities for our people," said the king, convinced that the survival of what he calls the last indigenous kingdom of America depends on the passing of that desired law.