Who are the “Silver People?”

The Silver People were the first immigrants from the West Indies who were originally hired to work on the Panama Railroad and later the Panama Canal in the Republic of Panama. The original group of “Silver Men,” as most of the workers who appeared on Panama’s shores from 1850 on were men, were from the island of Jamaica. Later, however, after the disastrous bankruptcy of the French Canal Company that initiated the construction of the Canal, the majority of the contracted workers would be from the island of Barbados and the surrounding “Small islands.”

The “Silver People,” or the Westindians of Panama, as they are known to the Spanish speaking people, have left an indelible mark on the history and culture as well as the economy of the modern nation of Panama. They also left a vital mark on the country- their blood- as at least 12,000 to 15,000 West Indian workers died in the frenetic years of construction either through disease (a multitude of tropical diseases such as malaria and yellow fever), by accident- crushed under the wheels of train cars- earth and mud slides- and accidental explosions that often ripped their bodies apart.

Through all their troubles and labors, however, they and the families they raised took time to create a culture and a society that was distinctive and vibrant- a new hybrid Westindian Panamanian culture which we, as a foundation, seek to preserve. Their music, language, religion, culinary skills, literature and history are still seen and felt even today on the streets, in the faces and in the language and character of Panama. Their legacy is threatened today, however, with extinction from the memory of both Panama and the world that has so greatly benefited from their labour and intellect.

We, of the Silver People Heritage Foundation, are working passionately to secure this cultural bequest left by these great, pioneering men and women who, as so very aptly put by Col. George W. Goethals, “Were it not for the West Indians, the building of the Canal would not have been possible.” We may extend that conclusion to say that were it not for the West Indians, the modern country of Panama and the global economy would not be what it is today.

For an in depth explanation of the Silver and Gold Roll system you’re invited to read our blog at The Silver People Chronicle.

38 responses to “Who are the “Silver People?”

  1. I’m not that muuch of a online reader to be honest but you
    sites really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead
    and bookmark your website to come back later on.


  2. Wonderful website you have here but I was curious if you knew of any
    user discussion forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article?
    I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get feedback from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Appreciate it!


  3. Simply a smiling visitor here to share the love (:) btw great pattern .


  4. Dear provider of such memorable history….
    I was on the tiopic of where I am from with my grands, and I kept telling them that I I am a Cambierdian born in “ONLY COCONUT” , and ended up smiling about it…These new brats are of the newer generation and have lost most of the legacy to speak some English, so I sarcastically translated Coco Solo for him to “ONLY COCONUT”….He is beginning to suspect that this area still stands with the name, but he is baffled about the town of Camp Bierd. In trying to find some pics that could make it more appealing to his curiosity I stumbled on your article and read it to them. We are so amazed and a special thrill fill my inner soul. How I would like to see some memory snaps of the Camp Bierd area…Blessing to you all and as I always say, Camp Bierd is forever….


    • Mr. Trottman,

      Your comment brings a big smile to our faces and it also underscores the urgency we feel in carrying out our mission. We are working harder than ever now in bringing out this history and culture for the new generations that have practically no link nor memory of the legacy left by their West Indian forefathers. This is so both here in Panama and in the States.

      Please follow our efforts in getting the Silver People Law passed in Panama’s National Assembly. You may read it here in English. Follow it and support our efforts as we are determined to restore and preserve the patrimony of our ancestors for the world to marvel. We need moral (most of all prayer), legal and financial support.

      Thank you for your comment and please stay with us.


  5. Dear all, I am very new to this site. It was only when I started researching my ancestry via ancestry.com that, in a round about way, I came upon your group of bloggers. I was able to retrieve some information about my grandparents who were part of the 1930 canal zone U.S census; I cried, but at the same time I thanked almighty GOD.

    My grandparents were from the island of Montserrat. My grandfather was a blacksmith, who came to work on the Canal. They lived in Camp Bierd. Three of their children were born on the Canal Zone, one was born in Montserrat. I was born in Colon and my parents had friends who lived in Rainbow city. Of course back then in 1960’s, I thought Rainbow City people were much more fortunate than the people who lived in Colon.

    My cousin was born and raised in Rainbow and although he did not speak as much Spanish as us, he was a sharp looking young man; he was regarded as a zone boy. He had a classic crew cut and a cleaner much more prosperous look.

    I give GOD thanks for my humble beginnings. It has made me more grateful and stronger. The things that might bother or freak people out, I am able to tolerate. We lived under substandard conditions by today’s standard, but the LORD brought us out, and though my beginnings be small yet my latter end will greatly increase; this is the word of GOD, and i believe it. HE has greatly improved my life since my childhood and still is.

    I greatly appreciate all of you and your experiences, so unique and though sometimes were difficult; it is what makes you unique. Thank GOD for our forefather’s who paved the way for us. We know the truth and so does GOD. I am so very grateful for all of you. GOD BLESS YOU Maria.


    • My Dearest Maria:

      Thank you from the bottom of our heart for recognizing us as we try to continue doing our duty which is our prescribed mission and gift to us and to all the descendants of our forefathers the Westindian Silver People of Panama. You and I have in common that my maternal grandfather also was a blacksmith whose last employment was with the Railroad as they lived in the City of Colon at 3rd St. and Melendez Avenue until he passed and was buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

      The late 50’s caught me back in the nest of my widowed maternal grandmother and attending the Abel Bravo Secondary School in Colon and that was until 1956 when I moved back to Panama City where I later left for New York to live for a short time with my father.
      Although Panama was always in my plan to come back home to, I felt virtually trapped in the U.S. and the return was not easy.

      We too give thanks to our God for bringing us together as a people as much as we can
      because we have understood how our entire race is really not responsible for the mental
      state with which they react because of the terrible dismantling of our Culture and History.
      That is why we feel that such things as being aware of our history and culture are so
      important. To know the great marvels wrought by our forefathers, and having done them under the adverse conditions that many of them found themselves, is motive enough for not only us but for the entire human community, to memorialize their deeds and honor them for having elevated the entire planet from social and economic disaster through their work and genius.

      Please make every effort to keep in touch by using our e-mail address. You can also register with Skype, a free telephone service, so that we may better communicate by telephone until God opens the way for us to meet some day.

      Again, thank you for your blessings and we, in turn, bless you as well.

      May GOD Richly BLESS YOU,

      C. Roberto A. Reid


  6. Renaldo Manuel Ricketts

    Garvey . This was before the creation of the FBI. When you read Garvey’s memoirs you realize the people he praised were the ones on the gov.payroll. I bet they have recording of Garvey and could supply invaluable information. How do we know if these swines conducted similar experiments in Panama as they did in Tusgekee, what is to have prevented them form doing medical experiments on Black people from the Islands. In 1949 they con ducted the same types of experiments on people in Guatemala,Obama has since apologized for this. I will like to see the records kept on Black people in Panama that have been hushed up, syphilis is a degenerative illness, that could linger for decades and passed on in the society. They should be ashamed of their monstrous act,but I doubt they are.


  7. Anita Cumberbatch

    Little Ana loved to tag along with us even though she was much younger. I don’t believe Ana was so much younger than my friends and I anyway, she was maybe just five years younger. My friends and I were about nine at the time. Sometimes it appears that small children notice the little age difference more than anyone else.

    In Rainbow City, because the population was small and seemingly permanent(nobody moved, unless the father retired or died), children of the same age often grew up together and felt a sort of kinship. This strong bond at times would exclude all those who were not in their age group.

    Ana was not part of our age group so we often tried to make her know that. A very talkative and bossy little girl, Ana was not easily intimidated by our indifference.She would show up with her jump rope, beg us , and sometimes even command us to play with her. She also knew all the little ditties we had made up that were part of our daily games.Actually most children in Rainbow City knew the same children songs. Some of our ditties were in Spanish, others were in English.

    One day while Maritza, Xiomara, Melba and myself(we were all born during the same year)stood around talking, up came little Ana singing: “Paseo, paseo, ping -ping paseo”, while jumping and walking at the same time towards us with her jump rope, leaving us with little chance to dash away from her.
    Ana was as bright as a morning star, she was not even in kindergarten and had already started counting, subtracting and multiplying. She was both fluent in Spanish and English, and she loved to talk .She also could converse like a big girl and was familiar with big words.
    Ana, immediately understood that we were trying to dodge her so she was not going to go for it like that. She rushed over to us quickly and told us that if we did not play with her,she was going to tell her father and that he would force us to play with her.
    We looked at each, blinked our eyes at the same time , and decided that we were not going to accept her baby game ;but as we turned around to leave, Ana started screaming.
    While standing in the open garage on the side of my house which was two houses away from Ana’s, we stopped in our tracks as her screaming became louder by the second.
    I do not know why we turned around and accepted being blackmailed by little Ana;but that evening we stayed put, and did not move from that spot.

    That evening, my friends and I jumped rope and sang :” Paseo, paseo, ping -ping paseo” with little Ana until she walked away tired and sleepy with her jump rope.


    • Anita
      Gracias por toda la informacion brindada, recordar es volver a vivir! I am the youngest of four children 2 boys and two girls. One of my brother is Enrique better know as “White-Gigant”. My family recided at 5427-A Trinidad part of the Camp Bierd neighborhood. Our next door neighbor were the Moodies who saw me born in CocoSolo. During the Semana santa Mrs. Moodie used to bake the best Bun in town, When I was a little girl I remember that she bake an special bun for me, it was small in size and had the letter “L” for Lilian on top. She is a very special person in my life and her family have a special place in my heart they are my family. We still in contact. Something that you do not mention in your blog is that part of the Sylver Roll were also included the people from Central America, who were also part of it, people who live and work for the Canal Zone during the Sylver Roll. I am proud to be “Zonian”, one of the few left. My parents were from Nicaragua other families were from Costa Rica and El Salvador. Some of the neighbor that I remember are Mrs. Aunti Bell who was a very nice Lady, like you said, she had a small tienda the verduras at her house, The Pinedos (Mrs Sabina) who taught me how to crocket, the Lunas, the Moreno and the McFarlen. I am also planning going back to reside in Panama. I will like to get in touch with you and with the rest of the old neighborhood. God bless Lilian


      • Lillian: I am so happy to hear from you. I am sorry I did not mention our brothers and sisters whose ancestors came from Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador. I had Costa Rican and Colombian friends who often visited in the summer(well school vacation, because sunny Panama is paradise ) their families living in Rainbow City .
        We used to play games and jump rope . It always appeared as if they had never left and were always there in the Canal Zone throughout the year because we would always pick up from where we left every new summer. And frankly it looked like we had never really parted at the end of each summer. We shared all the same songs and knew the same games and our friendships were so close despite the distance of most of the year. I remember the Morenos, Selmira and her sister whose name started with a C. She had two brothers, Mario and another one whose name I do not remember.
        I also remember the McFarlanes. I am trying to picture you and your family. I know Trinidad Street. We used to refer to it as the Main, or Rainbow proper, i do not know why.
        Raul Pinedo and I started kindergarten together and we were always in the same classroom up to the 9th grade when I left to attend the Republic’s schools. His mother was a very kind woman. Raul was a very jolly, intelligent kid with a big laugh.


      • Uruguayan author, Eduardo Galeano said that he is a writer obsessed with remembering.I agree with him so much. Sometimes remembering keeps us free. One of my most cherished moments is to delve into my memory and remember my childhood growing up in that magical place called the Canal Zone, and Panama of course.
        You did not mention your last name.I do not remember the Moodies living there when I was in my teens. I imagine your family had moved maybe to another area too. I will like to get in touch with you too.
        I will tell Roberto and Lydia to help us share e-mail addresses.

        I also plan to return home and reside in Panama for good. I hear my native country talking to me,calling my name , especially, whenever it rains.I miss so much the Panamanian rain, coming down with a force and beating down on the roofs. And the birds singing early in the morning waking everyone up. And the early morning freshness, letting us know, that yes, this is a new day.
        Sometimes I feel that I am already home. Really, Panama calls her children to come home back to her because she knows that we carry her inside of us, or maybe she knows that some of us cannot live without her.



      • Hi Anita thanks for reply to my note. I am so happy to heard from you, all those good day are gone now but permanently stay in our memory. Yes, the Moodies had two boys and a girl (Wayne, Chester and Syslin) we are family. My last name is Aburto maybe you remember my sister Haydee. Other names that I recall are the sisters Rossie and Lucy and their brother Diego they lived two houses before ours. I also remember Isabel she used to live in the house exactly behind ours, but can not remember her last name. Like the other kids, we llked to run behind the DDT truck dancing and making all kind of funny faces. I did not attended Rainbow City School but I went to San Vicente de Paul in Colon (Calle cinco y Central). My sister attended Rainbow City school for a year and later transfered to St.Joseph. Maybe this will bring you back memories.


      • Lilian: I remember I playing with a little girl by name of Haydee. This was early during my childhood days when I was about 5 up to maybe 10 years. I cannot place the exact age. Remember the swings in the middle of the 3 sections, Montego Street, Trinidad Street and Bimini Street where the Macfarlanes lived, in the back of all those houses was a huge piece of land where we used to play all kind of games. There used to be swings in the middle. I remember swinging with a little girl by the name of Haydee. I think your family did move maybe around that time because then we did not see any of you anymore.

        That was Zone life, at times, families would move, but they would remain in our memories, sometimes even very hidden, until someone starts talking and then we begin to remember a face and a name .LOL .Do you remember the Chevanes family?
        Well regarding the Watleys, if you go to Colon, you will see Lucy and Rosie. I think Diego is in Panama City. I am going to write you over the weekend.


  8. Anita,

    The scene you have just conjured up is what I have always believed Panama to be, a child’s Paradise. We enjoyed your reminiscence very much because these small things only accentuate the fact that we, as Westindians, have a deep cultural heritage in the Panama Canal Zone and in Panama as a country.

    Something you said one time about the conversation of the adults around you revolving around the knowledge that the Silver townships were “temporary” and that one day they would exist no longer once their usefulness had been reached. Well, we all understand now that there was nothing temporary about the cultural roots that have been embedded in us by our Silver People and that we continue to link back to them.

    The way you write is a vivid example of what we see as our Panamanian Westindian Literature., unique and beautiful to say the least.


  9. Anita Cumberbatch

    It was just like yesterday.I remember well when one of my classmates, Elvia , had asked me to spend the day with her and her family on one of our school holiday. I must have been around ten years old.
    To my surprise, my parents who did not like us being too far away from them,had given permission.
    I can recall vividly that early sunny morning, walking slowly away from Camp Bierd Section to visit my friend who lived in Camp Coiner.

    I first walked past the pool , and the Elementary school. I opted not to walk the long way along the shed over the creek stretching along the High School,Junior High and Elemetary School, on up to Mr. Broom’s barber shop, the clinic, theater and post office, right up to the clubhouse.

    I had decided to walk along the Heights. For no reason at all, I then stopped to look at our lovely Catholic Church (St. Vincent de Paul). My eyes roamed all over the outside of the recent built church.My church was beautiful I felt . That particular day the church was locked and no one was inside. I saw it standing there very silent and lonely in the middle of heavy shrubs.

    I walked away from my church and my eyes went over the bushes .I had goose bumps. The shrubs always gave me the creeps whenever I sat in church and looked oustside.
    As I walked away from the church,I knew I was going to approach Mount Hope Cemetery soon. I geared myself not to look into the direction of the cemetery. Not looking in the direction of the cemetery was not enough, so I decided to run fast until it was out of sight.
    Soon, I was at the entrance of Camp Coiner, my friend lived much further in an area called “the Circle”. As I reached the direction, I gently knocked at Elvia’s door, carefully not to do it too loud.
    Her sister opened the door and the family greeted me very warmly. I met all of Elvia’s parents and siblings. They were very happy to meet me.
    We conversed,played games and ate. The day went by very quickly. It was a very lovely day. I felt like a big girl. I believe Elvia too felt like a grown up.
    Later in the evening,I called my mom and told her I was about to leave.
    I then bid Elvia and her family goodby and told them that I had a nice time.
    I walked away from Camp Coiner merrily skipping feeling like a big girl and in the blink of an eye, the sky became darkened, the way only Panamanian skies can.
    I decided to walk quickly aware that I had to pass the cemetery.
    As rain began to come down slowly,I decided to accelerate my speed. As I ran quickly, the rain came down more. The Panamanian skies opened up and warm rain poured down. The tropical breeze and the heavy rain both made such a powerful sound that I disregarded what my mom always told me, to wait until the rain stopped and not to run through the rain.

    I looked back at Mt. Hope cemetery as I ran.I passed my church,the elemetary school, and the pool.I was drenched and soaked all over. Water ran down my head all over my face and I could hardly see. I ran fast, and I ran straight without stopping until I was right in front of my house at 5547-B, Montego street in Camp Bierd section.

    My mother opened the door and asked me “Anita, why didn’t you wait for the rain to stop?” I did not answer.
    Mother put a large towel over me and dried me tenderly.She told me she had called Elvia’s house when she saw the downpour but they told her that I had already left.

    As I cuddled under the large towel, I wanted to tell my mom how much I loved when it rained and that I enjoyed the sound of rain and the smell of the earth after it rains.

    I think my running through the rain would be one of many scary and horrible moments my mother would have to put up with during my childhood years growing up in Rainbow City Canal Zone.


  10. To Paula Pryce-Bremmer,

    We here at the Silver People Heritage site ate more than pleased to have serve the purpose we have set out to fulfil. Thank you for your comment which affirms all our years of research. We continue to insist that the Panama of the Canal construction and Canal Zone eras was the Ellis Island south of the border that has not received its due recognition.
    We are still working at making it easier for us the descendants of the “Silver People” of Panama to trace our ancestry. We are very proud of our Canal Zone cultural heritage and hope to see more comments like yours.

    Thank you again,

    Note* we’ve removed your e-mail address from public viewing to safeguard your privacy from spammers.

    C. Roberto Reid


  11. Paula Pryce-Bremmer

    I must say that I am completely overwhelmed with the information that has been provided here. Just to have a glimpse as to what life was like during this time period has given me such insight. I found my Grandmother, Edith Madden on the Ellis Island website. She came to the US from Colon in 1918. I visited the NYC Dept. of Vital Records in New York City just last week to get some information about her. She died when my father was very young (I found out that he was 2 at the time) so I did not have much information about her other than that she had come from the Canal Zone. I was amazed to find that on her marriage certificate and death certificate it says that she was born in the CZ. She came from Colon and it lists her address as 12 Hudson Lane which from calling and speaking to someone at the Panamanian Consulate, I discovered no longer exists. On the Ellis Island website she stated that her mother was a woman by the name of Helma Ferrin. However, on the marriage and death certificates, there is another name. In addition, it lists her birthplace as Port Antonio Jamaica. Confusing! I also discovered that since she is buried in a Catholic cemetery here in NY, she was catholic. Your blog about going to church made me smile.
    I have been trying to get a glimpse of what life must have been like for her and her family and while conducting my search this morning, I found this post. I am so thankful. If there is any additional information that you can provide, please contact me: e-mail address placed on mailing list.


  12. Thanks so much for the information on the immigrants from Barbados.
    Where do I get information on my great grandfather, whose name was James Henry Phillips?

    Thanks in advance for your co-operation.


  13. Anita,
    I always felt after my school days experiences in Colon, that in Panama the kids on the Black Canal Zone were more isolated to the Spanish Culture than the Westindian Zone people of the City of Colon. I remember now how easy it was for us of Colon City to just walk into the Zone and use whatever facilities on the Black Canal Zone.
    Even the play grounds of Silver City were a special attraction to us kids of the Colon Westindian community. We were very lucky to have the “Bush” of Paraiso as our summer camp. That was where we boys and girls could tell “duppy” stories on a moonlit night, fight each other then laugh our fool heads off and still remain “primos” and good freinds afterwards.

    I’m sure that many people will remember those good old days you describe in your recent entry.


  14. One holiday vacation, I returned home and while walking with my sister in the city of Colon, I was surpridsed to see that the little children there still play some of the games we used to play. I was taken back when I heard the loud shout-out of “everybody save” by some of the children.

    I immediately had flashbacks of when we were little children playing lata in Rainbow City. Lata is the Colon version of hide and seek.I don’t know when it became a bilingual game, but I guess it did because the people on the Atlantic coast were always fluent in both English and Spanish.

    This game is played with a small empty can(the Spanish definition is lata). The first person caught usually has to find everyone. I don’t remember how we used to pick the first person to start the game. But the child who sets out to find everyone carries the lata in his/her hand. And as soon as he/she finds each child, he/she had to find a cement ground and hit the pavement three times and say, “one, two, three”, then say the person’s name.

    If one of the children who was in hiding take away the can from the child who is searching for them, that child has to knock the pavement three times and then say”everybody save”. The game is then repeated and that child has to find everyone all over again.

    Whenever we played this fun game, things did not always run smoothly. Often we would have some serious mishaps. Sometimes we would have to stop playing entirely when we noticed that there is a big difference between hiding and missing. We would then all have to go off together and search for some of the boys, who would really go into hiding.

    Once Ernesto was found sleeping in a mango tree. My brother José decided once to hide in the gymnasium, then he stayed to watch the older boys played basketball. We once had to call the Canal Zone police to search for Ricardo because he never showed up and his parents were worried. He was found behind the back road sleeping. Ricardo claimed he got bored, didn’t want to play anymore, went fishing and then he fell asleep.

    After awhile, we (the little girls) were convinced that this was not a game for boys.

    I am glad to see that the little children of Colon still play some of the games we enjoyed.


  15. Thank you for that trip back to Rainbow City streets. I hardly know anything about Rainbow City, or Silver City as I used to know it, and you have become our tour guide.

    In regards to the DDT, whether the Zone authorities knew of its toxicity to humans or not, I guess their greater concern was for keeping the conditions for the propagation of diseases such as Malaria and Yellow Fever, once so mortal on the Isthmus, that they made fumigation a priority.

    C. Roberto A. Reid


  16. I don’t remember how often during the month the DDT truck drove though the streets of Rainbow City; but I can recall that many times around six p.m., like the Pied Piper, it had us little children running behind it.

    We would run right up to the spraying tube of the truck and receive a full dose of the smoke-like gas substance that came right out of it.

    Children often would call other kids to run along together, playing and getting lost in the heavy fumes from the truck. Rainbow children loved it so much that some of them ran with the DDT truck all through many of the streets.

    We lived on Montego Street, the next street on the main was Trinidad and then Barbuda, etc.. Most of the streets in Rainbow City were named after the islands in the Caribbean. There was even a street named Bimini.

    Mosquitos have always been a problem in Panama from the days of the construction of the canal. I imagine Zone authorities used DDT as a way of controlling the mosquitos.

    Little children running carelessly behind a truck carrying pesticide that was later proven controversial and possibly dangerous to the human population is something I still ponder about. Yes, one day, the DDT truck stopped coming into Rainbow City. I don’t remember when it stopped coming, if we even missed it.

    But I have a few question now:

    How long did Zone authorities know that DDT could be hazardous to humans? Did the DDT cause any damage to the many people who inhaled its fumes throughout the Canal Zone?

    Anita Cumberbatch


  17. I remember vividly the day when President John F. Kennedy died. I was in the first grade at Rainbow City Elementary School. Mrs. Webster was my first grade teacher. She was very soft, patient and gentle. A perfect first grade teacher, I don’t remember Mrs. Webster ever raising her voice at us.

    As my classmates and I sat quietly completing an assignment, Ms. Tate, the other first grade teacher whose classroom was right beside ours, stood at the entrance of the room trying to get Mrs. Webster’s attention. Because of the sad look on her face, what Ms. Tate did was get the entire classroom’s attention.We knew something dreadful had happened. I don’t think I will ever forget the look of despair on Ms. Tate’s face. I knew right away that something was wrong.

    As Mrs. Webster looked up and went over to the door where Ms. Tates was, they both began to converse. And Mrs. Webster’s face also changed to the same anguish look similar to Ms. Tate’s. Mrs. Webster never said a word to the class about what Ms. Tate had said to her.
    Shortly, the bell rang and the class was dismissed.

    Rainbow City Elementary was very close to the Jr. High and High Schools. In Rainbow City, a school day consisted of two sessions. We had a morning session, and students all went home for lunch, then we would return for the afternoon session.

    My family resided at at 5547 Apartment B on Montego Street. My siblings and I usually arrived home for lunch about the same time from school. It was a five minute walk from the school.

    As I got home, my parents were seated watching the tv., and they both had a similar expression on their faces as Ms. Tate and Mrs. Webster.Their faces confirmed that something dreadful had indeed taken place.

    I sat down with my parents to watch on tv the scene of President Kennedy’s assasination still not knowing what was taking place.
    I had many questions. I turned to my parents and asked what had happened. They told me that President Kennedy had been assasinated in Dallas Texas .
    I was in the first grade and I didn’t know who Kennedy was and I had never heard of Dallas before. But I would register Dallas in my head up to this day as a murderous and infamous place. President Kennedy died two days before my birthday and I found out after that both his two orphaned children’s birthdays were also in the month of November.
    As the days and time went by, I was able to comprehend a lot more. Especially, of the relations between Panama and the United States, and why President Kennedy’s death was felt profoundly by many in Panama and the Canal Zone.

    Anita Cumberbatch


  18. BANANAS!

    No, not the fruit, the VENDOR!!!!!!

    But first, please let me congratulate you on your first-class website! I spent quite some time pouring through it. I regret the ethos of the age that required separate payrolls and, indeed, lives.

    I was born in Gorgas Hospital in 1942. My first Canal Zone Residence was in Ancon in a front/back wooden duplex on Chagres Street. There was a dear rickety old man who came around about once a week with fresh fruit, calling out “Banana!” as he walked. We children all came to know him as “Banana,” and he was so sweet and kindly that he was virtually a pied piper as we all ran to meet him when we heard him calling, called our mothers to be ready to buy his offerings of the day, and followed him as far from home as we dared, calling to him well after he could hear us.

    I read somewhere that as long as a person is spoken of, he/she lives. Well, I’ve been talking about “Banana” wistfully for 65 years, remembering what a joy he was to my small life. Nobody seems to know what happened to him. My family moved to Ancon Boulevard, by the gas station. I fully expected “Banana”a to come by; I thought he went EVERYWHERE! But I never saw him again, although his lean frame, smiling face, dancing black eyes, and clear-toned voice calling “Banana” will be with me as long as I live.

    Do you know the gentleman I speak of? If so, could you please inform me of him? He was quite an institution for quite a while. I think he’d make a good story for your website. I’m so glad that you posted to Zonelink and that I didn’t miss that issue!

    Thank you!
    Aurora E. Hunter

    PS: I was Canal Zone Carnival Queen in l962, if that means anything to you.


  19. Anita,

    Your stories deserve to be captured in a book. You have a talent with words, and your memories bring back many fond recollections of my own.

    While I was part of the Gold community, I was an altar boy for the Catholic priests as they officiated at burials at Corozal Cemetery and I am trying to recall whether those burials were in a separate cemetery.

    I will be back here to read more of your memories and I hope you will keep them coming.


  20. Anita,

    Your stories should be published. The pictures you paint with your words are quite vivid. Although I only lived in the Canal Zone for 5 years, there will always be a special place in my memories; a unique opportunity to experience something that I cannot describe, but you surely can!

    Con mucho gusto!


  21. Anita,

    You’ve heard the term “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, in your case, I must say, your stories are worth a thousand pictures- they put me right there to see, feel, smell, cry and laugh as if I were a child again. Thank you for evoking those scenes for us.


    Cobert Roberto Reid


  22. Each year the Canal Zone Latin American Schools celebrated a festival honoring our ancestors ,traditions and history. I always sang with the Rainbow City Elementary School choir, and I was selected to travel to Paraiso for that year festival.

    One peculiarity about life on the Canal Zone and Panama was that folks living on the Atlantic coast referred to the Pacific coast as the other side, and vice versa. Whereas Rainbow City School was the only one on the Atlantic side for Panamanian Zonians who resided in Rainbow City, Camp Bierd, and Mindi, the Pacific coast had the communities of Paraiso, Gamboa-Santa Cruz and Pedro Miguel. And I believe they were more schools on the Pacific side. I was in the fifth grade and very excited to travel to Paraiso. We left on the 5 o’clock a.m Panama Canal Railroad, and my eldest sister Delia woke up early to comb my hair. She was the one who usually combed my hair whenever I participated in any school program. She parted my hair in two and made me two lovely plaits. I remembered her telling me over and over not to ruffle my hair. My mom packed me a small bag with something to eat on the train and I was off wearing a lovely brown dress with my beautiful white dress on a hanger in a plastic bag.

    We boarded a bus at the school and arrived on time to meet the train. The train ride was spectacular as usual. When we arrived at Gatun Locks, I looked for my father. I told him to stand at the the station to wave at me. When I saw him I waved and happily showed some of my friends my father. Little did I know that my father must have had walked off his post, or took a break from the Locks just to wave at me at Gatun station.

    We arrived at Pedro Miguel because Paraiso has no station if I am not mistaken. We had to take a school bus to get there. Our day was spent rehearsing and getting to know the other children from the Pacific side . Evening came quickly and we began to get dress for our festival. I remembered my sister advice and I brushed my hair, and with the help of a teacher, I put on my white dress.

    As we all were finally dressed and ready for the awaited occassion, I remembered feeling a strong sense of pride and dignity; and a magnifiscent scene would remain forever registered in my memory . Although I was just a little girl, the memory of that festival is still with me vividly and real up to this day. The students from Rainbow City, Paraiso, Pedro Miguel and Gamboa -Santa Cruz all dressed in white stood in formation and sang joyously as we marched right into the Paraiso stadium .

    As we all marched singing into the stadium, the freight train whisked by with that unique sound that only a Zonian can recall.

    Ms. Emily Butcher directed the joint choir and we sang proudly and beautiful. It was in moments like those, that I was able to feel and understand the magnitude of the the enormous job that our forefathers had done in building the Panama Canal. The yearly festivals were always held in their honor, and that night at Paraiso stadium, we sang in their name and expressed a deserving love and gratitude towards the men and women who gave so much towards the construction of the Panama Canal.



  23. “The Lady home?”, “The Lady Home?”, was the call we heard at our doors on Pan Canal pay days. Every so often, especially on paydays in Camp Bierd Section, an Indian man got off the Colon-Rainbow city bus with a large assortment of merchandise from an Indian store screaming, “The Lady Home?”.

    A small framed person, I always wondered how he managed carrying such a heavy load. The mothers in Rainbow City bought from him embroidered table cloths, doilies, beautiful bed linens- and sometimes even nice silk wares-beautiful Chinese blouses .

    As small children, we called him”The Lady Home”, because that was the first thing he said whenever he saw us. I would watch him unload his items in our house, and my mother like most of the women in Camp Bierd Section bought lovely things from him. He kept his customers’ names, addresseses, items bought, how much they paid and their balance in a small beat up notebook.

    All we knew about him was that he said he was from Bombay, and he sold on commission for an Indian store . “The Lady Home” was also a magician. He would whisp out handkerchiefs and things from nowhere. “The Lady Home” was also a master with the deck of cards. He brought beautiful items for our mothers to buy and he was very good at entertainig us small children.

    We the children of Camp Bierd Section were so fond of “The Lady Home”, that we followed him around offering him our assistance. At times we even had to help him with his load, because they were just too heavy for him to carry.

    I am sure “The Lady Home” violated major Canal Zone laws ;but Zone authorities never did find out about the small framed Indian man who sold beautiful merchandise in Rainbow City.



    • I remember this man also. We lived at 6578 in Camp Coiner near the circle. One day he knocked asking for my mom, but my mom did not have money to pay him. So my mom told my sister to tell him that she was not home. My sister went to him and told him that my mom said she is not home. It was so funny that we repeat this story every time we get together.

      I can’t stop reading all your stories about Rainbow City. I remember my school days from kindergarten to high school, playing after school and getting home late only to get a spanking, going from one from one sport to another, going to the pool, playing lata, playing in the rain, going to the cemetery to play where I broke my arm, picking mangoes, daring each other who is brave to enter the cemetery at nights, getting chased by the bush cops, going to the Chinese garden in Margarita through a trail in the circle and being chased by the blue face machi (kuna indian, I think.) Every day was fun. Until my dad decided to move to Mindi.

      I remember being teased when the bus would pass through Rainbow and everybody would say Moo like cows. It’s funny now but back then I did not think so. My brother Lucho and I always talk about those days. The good old days. Sorry you are not getting more stories from others. I think we all benefited as good people from living in the Canal Zone under strict parents and teachers. I always talk to my sons about how we lived compared to how they live here in the USA playing video games all day. Are you related to Leon because I went to school with him. I liked your story about Mrs Webster because she was my teacher also. I am now retired and planning to live in Panama soon.

      Thanks for the great memories of Rainbow City.


      • Mr. Gomez,

        Thank you so much for telling us part of your story. As you correctly noted in another comment, we do not receive as many stories from former residents of the “Black Canal Zone” as we would like. There may be several reasons for this but the main ones are that many of the people who became as literate as you often want to forget about their upbringing in Panama. The other, and most overriding reason, is that many of the former Silver People cannot write about their life and childhood in the Canal Zone and they are afraid of being ridiculed.

        Let me just say that we welcome any and all accounts from people. We have even had interviews sent to us by concerned descendants who spoke with people they admired greatly and were afraid that their stories would be lost to time forever. We accept these stories readily. We are here to help with spelling, grammar if they wish, anything, but we want people to know that we know how hard it is to overcome your fears. Your descendants for generations to come will greatly appreciate it for the legacy of culture and history you have left them.

        Again, Mario, thank you very much for your comment and please do continue to send us your memories.

        Lydia M. Reid- author/editor


      • Anita Cumberbatch

        Mario Gomez:
        I am glad that you still have Rainbow City and Mindi in your memory. There is no reason for any of us to forget about the place where we were born and grew up.

        With all of its controversies and problems, Panama and the former Panama Canal Zone is a very nice place to be part of.

        Truly, I find it surprising that some Zonians have forgotten or even have tried to erase the memory of the Canal Zone from their minds.

        I refuse to forget because that would be like erasing a big and important part of my history. As Ruben Blades would say: ” Prohibido olvidar.”

        Leon Cumberbatch is a Panama canal pilot. The Cumberbatchs from Panama all live like one big family. I visit with Leon’s family often whenever Iam in Panama.

        I too plan to relocate back to Panama because I believe there is no other place on earth where the sun rises with such splendor and later sets with such majesty and beauty; then just throw in the boisterous and fickle rainy seasons with the unique smell of the earth to remind us that God is still in control .

        There is only one Panama,a country blessed with mighty rivers and divinely situated between two awesome oceans.



  24. Dearest Anita,
    I couldn’t help but crack a smile a the the Mongol idea. We still insist that your “remembranzas” are valuable and most of us that are serious about developing Westindian literature appreciate them very much.
    Te apreciamos y te necesitamos, nuestros rezos son para nosotros aunque te mencionamos a menudo ante nuestro Dios.
    Que tengas mucha fuerza y felicidades.



  25. Roberto :
    For a small community, Rainbow City had many churches. I remember six of them. A Baptist , Methodist, Catholic,Pentecostal, Anglican and Four Square churches. The Catholic priests were never Panamanians, they were either Italian or Irish from the States.

    One thing though, whenever the U.S. goes into any country, they rarely interfere with the people’s religiosity. In that aspect, they are a bit like the Mongols. I even remember some of the priests making family visits.

    I wouldn’t say that our community was extra,extra religious because although few of the parents attended regular church services, we as young people went to church on our own. I do know there were many parents in Rainbow City who screamed at their children on Sunday mornings to wake up and go to church.

    Easter Sunday and Good Friday were celebrated with a passion. Preparation for these holidays were something else. Black Zonians used to criticize White Zonians for not keeping up with the traditions. We attended Good Friday service, came back home and had a nice Red salmon or Red snapper dinner with all the trimmngs. Also, who can forget the bun and cheese?

    We also attended the Good Friday procession in Colon.On Easter Sunday, I remember way back, the hats and gloves and the beautiful organza and taffeta dresses made of course by some of the finest seamtresses from the Atlantic coast.

    I was raised as a Catholic, but I have never felt any exclusivity towards that faith. Today,I don’t consider Catholicism to be my faith. I can easily attend any Christian church. My religiosity and spirituality is not confined to any church.

    Cordiales Saludos,
    Anita Cumberbatch.


  26. Saludos Anita,
    Thank you again for another very important glimpse into life on the Black Canal Zone. As I remembered my life in the barrio neighborhoods of Panama, my parents were not church goers and the only time in my household that we the kids got involved with religion was when a young neighbour girl by the of Maye died suddenly in child birthing.
    For days on end we the small children who knew her well romped and played around and under the casket as if she was alive with us there and just sleeping. However the night before the day she was to be taken away from us forever, a woman showed up that night to lead the group of mourners in the final rosary praying.
    To me this lady was a saint, and it was like she had authority n heaven. But she was just a neighborhood lady we really did not know. Any way when I began doing some research for the book I was writing about my Westindian experiences in Panama I ran into a story in the English page of the Panama American newspaper by an Elijah Hunter, which I am intending to post soon in the Silver People Chronicle. Like your stories the writer made me laugh also.

    Cobert Roberto


  27. Every Sunday morning throughout the Black Canal Zone, many of the young children attended church services. In the Canal Zone, we were Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists and Pentecostals. There was even a Four Square church that did not have many members. Sometimes the minister would preach to an empty church.

    My family attended St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church, which was located in the Heights and very close to Mount Hope.The church was located in the middle of shrubs and there was usually a sense of spookiness , especially whenever services were held in the late evenings.

    I will be honest, I used to sit in the middle of the church and far away from the statues of Saints, which stood on each side of the pews because they were imposing and intimidating.

    Each Sunday we went to church on an empty stomach, so we could take communion.When I was a child, women covered their heads with a veil.Sometimes in church, our veils or hankerchiefs would fall off our heads and some of the older women would hiss and give us a look of admonishment.

    One of my childhood friend Maritza was also Catholic. It always seemed that her grandmother who never attended church knew every Catholic holiday. She would tell us that it was the holiday of some Catholic saint and therefore, we were supposed to attend service.

    I remembered when they relaxed the rule regarding the veil. After, it was difficult for me to stand in front of the altar without a veil.

    I am the youngest of five children-three girls and two brothers. My youngest brother José and I attended First Communion classes together in the evenings. My brother was always running , he would go off and play at the gym and then run from there straight into the church.His sneakers would make a loud sound while he made a dash into his seat.At that time of course, all of the young students would be already studying their blue catechism book.

    Armando Smith, who was in his teens was our First Communion teacher and he would rolled his eyes at my brother who was always late. The day the priest quizzed us for our First Communion ceremony, my brother did not show up on time. The priest, Father Mckeon, a white American priest was so upset, he began to mumble something. I felt it was my duty to intervene, so I asked to call home. I went into a small room and called, but my brother was not at home. I asked the priest to please wait for my brother because I knew he would show up. I think the priest was upset, but he told me he would wait. Armando Smith dismissed the class and as I walked away from the church, I looked back and the priest had come outside pacing towards his car. But then, right ahead of me I saw my brother José running towards the church.

    He ran by very fast, and as I looked behind, the priest seeing him, went back into the church. Before I reached home, José ran passed me. I managed to ask him”Did you pass?” And he replied, “yes” .

    That Sunday at St.Vincent de Paul church, my brother and I made our First Communion.

    I have noticed today,that many of the Black Zonians who were Catholics, Anglicans , Methodists ,etc have changed to other christian denominations. Catholics have become Baptists and Methodists are now Congregationals, etc.

    Anita Cumberbatch


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