Corn in Panama: 500 Years and More

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Corn in Panama:
500 Years and More

August 16, 2019

Albrook Mall

In commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of Panama City, a STRI exhibition celebrates the close relationship between Panamanians and corn, from its use by the first settlers of the isthmus to the present

Who doesn't love a glass of chicheme, a corn bollo or a torreja? Corn is closely tied to Panamanian diet and culture, from pre-Columbian times to the present. To celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Panama City, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in alliance with the Commission of the 500th Anniversary of the founding of Panama City explores our millennial relationship with this food plant.

Through an informative, visual journey, the exhibition, “Corn in Panama: 500 Years and More” invites the viewer to travel back in time to learn about STRI’s archeobotanical research revealing the early presence of this plant on the isthmus, and to discover the important moments in the history of corn during the colonial and republican periods, and its current role in the City.

This plant, present in Panama for almost 8 thousand years, transformed Panama’s pre-Columbian landscapes and became one of the most dominant foods in the diet of the Isthmus’ ancient inhabitants.

After the Conquest, Spanish chroniclers and other sources uncover the ways in which corn was consumed during Panama’s colonial and republican periods, including information that ties this food to specific historic events. For example, they document corn shortages following the 1644 fire and the Seven Year War (1756-1763), as well as price increases due to the large number of corn-fed mules brought to the isthmus during the Gold Rush.

The exhibition also highlights contemporary uses of corn in the City, including ways in which young chefs develop innovative uses for this staple. A video loop shows how traditional corn-based dishes are prepared. Finally, visitors are invited to interact with the installation via a survey of the ways they use corn.

Drawing upon information about this food crop that is deeply rooted in Panama’s traditions and history, STRI celebrates the 500th anniversary of Panama City. If you missed “Corn in Panama: 500 Years and More” at Albrook Mall during August, you may be able to catch it in the next few months at different points around the city, such as the Biomuseo, the Panama Canal Museum, or Panama Viejo.

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