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Food History

March 8, 2006

The national anthem of Panama

It is a rare event when a 50 mile long canal gives birth to a 29,761 square mile nation, but it happened in 1903. The Republic of Panama was created when the United States and France sponsored a revolution which freed the narrow isthmus connecting North and South America.

Digging a canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was a centuries old dream. France tried for more than two decades, 1880-1902. They had permission from Columbia since Panama was a province of that country. They also had a famous engineer, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the man who had dug the Suez canal, to oversee the project.

The French concentrated on the engineering problems while the real enemy was endemic malaria and yellow fever. By l902 they were bankrupt and ready to give up. The United States agreed to purchase their completed work and charter for $40,000,000. However, the Republic of Columbia refused to accept this agreement. They did not want to give up sovereignty over a 10 by 50 mile canal zone we were demanding.

The Panamanians wanted the canal and the revenue it would generate. They rose in rebellion, proclaiming their independence on November 3, 1903. The United States quickly recognized the new nation and American warships prevented Colombian troops from landing to suppress the rebellion.

Many years later, when the United States Senate was debating a treaty to return the Canal Zone to Panama, Senator Sam Hayakawa of California summed it up this way: "Of course it is ours. We stole it fair and square."

Two Panamanians wrote a national anthem "Himno Istemno" (Hymn of the Isthmus) for the infant republic. Jeronimo de la Ossa wrote the words, Santos A. Jorge composed the music. Meanwhile, the United States and Panama signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty giving us a 10 by 50 mile Canal Zone across the country, connecting the two oceans.

The French has concentrated on construction. The Americans instituted a two pronged attack. Mosquitos spread malatia and yellow fever. We eradicated the mosquitos while working on the canal. It was completed in 1914. It is a credit to our nation that, after 93 years, we voluntarily returned the Canal Zine to Panamanian sovereignty on Dec. 31, 1999.

Their national anthem pinpoints the Panamanian obsession to have the canal dug across their homeland:

We finally attained victory,

In the happy field of union,

And with glowing splendor,

Our new nation is illumed,

(Chorus) On your flower covered soil,

Kissed by the warm breeze,

Warlike clamor has ended,

And only brotherly love reigns,

Ahead, with spade and hammer,

To work! Without more delay."

Panama also grows and exports bananas. You can use them for a perfect summer picnic dessert.


6 ripe but firm bananas

Lemon juice

Strawberry jam

Almonds or pecans, crushed


Peel bananas, sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent discoloration, then dip in jam. Roll in crushed nuts and wrap in wax paper. Chill. Just before serving, cut into bite sized rounds and skewer each piece with a toothpick.