The significance of Panama, the Panama Canal and ???Panama Money??? were today shared with Barbadian students at the secondary and tertiary level, when they attended the Edu-Nation discussion at the Queen???s Park Steel Shed, hosted by the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation.
The event, planned to mark Education Month, was held under the theme: Locks and Links: Barbados-Panama Connections.
Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry, Senator Harry Husbands, in outlining the history of Barbadian emigration to Panama in the early 1900s, told students that people in the then British West Indies were actively recruited for this immense undertaking and Barbadians were no exception.
???They came from every parish and every village – from St. Lucy in the north to Christ Church in the south. Between 1904 and the opening of the Canal on August 15, 1914, approximately 60,000 Barbadians had migrated to Panama on a trek that promised economic advancement.
???These Barbadians took their authentic Barbadian way of life with them as they made a home in a strange land, with a foreign language (Spanish). Life for these immigrants was rough. Besides the displacement, there was disease and death. Many died due to the illnesses present at that time ??? particularly malaria and yellow fever he said.
Senator Husbands also told students that this mass migration, despite the negative impact on households, with parents, brothers, sisters and relatives, leaving to go to the Isthmus, also had a positive effect. He said: ???At home, during a tough time in Barbados??? development, ???Panama money??? assisted many families and played its part in the emergence of a middle class society.???
This was reinforced by panellists Historian and Professor Emeritus, Sir Woodville Marshall and Professor Velma Newton, author of The Silver Men, who also explained why the Panama Canal was built; its importance to world trade and travel; the contribution of Barbadians who were brave enough to undertake this task; and the significance of ???Panama money??? to the social and economic development of Barbados.
Sir Woodville, who acknowledged his ties to Panama, noted that those, like his grandparents, who emigrated and managed to survive, saved some money.
He revealed: ???On their return, they used their savings to buy a piece of land in Kirton???s in St. Philip. A man named Sam Browne was then cutting up a plantation he had called Kirton???s and selling it off. In fact, he was really selling it off so he could make the money off these Panama migrants. So they bought a piece of that land.
???My father by some means eventually got hold of that land, and that is where I grew up. So that I am tied to Panama in that way, not so much through my grandfather in a direct way, but through the money he earned and the land that they bought.???
Professor Newton, in addition to noting the remittances sent back by men that assisted families here, said there were contributions made when women migrated with their men/husbands.
She said: ???While there, most of them were able to find jobs as washer women, working in the homes of Whites as domestics, and selling as hucksters, hawkers and growing ground provisions around their homes and working in areas in Panama??? and lots of West Indians who couldn???t work on the Canal drifted into cities to see what they could find.???