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ETHNONYMS: Bogotá, Bokotá, Buglere, Bukueta, GuaymíSabanero, Muri, Murire, Sabanero


Identification. The Bugle (pronounced "boo-glay") are a small, little-known Native American group who live in the interior of northwestern Panama. The meaning of the term "Bugle" is not known. Better known in the literature as "Bokotá" or "Bogotá" and often considered a subcultural group of the Ngawbe (Guaymí), the "Bugle," as they prefer to call themselves, insist on their cultural distinctiveness from the Ngawbe. It is important to note that the Ngawbe also consider the Bugle to be a culturally distinct (but politically affiliated) group. Their views on their cultural distinctiveness reflect the contemporary political importance of ethnic-identity issues for the indigenous populations in Panama.

Location. The Bugle proper occupy a small area in the easternmost portion of Bocas del Toro Province and the westernmost portion of northern Veraguas Province, between the drainages of the Río Chucará to the west and the Río Calovébora to the east, and between the Caribbean coastal plain to the north and the continental divide to the south. Most of them live within the corregimiento (municipality) of Santa Catalina, district of Bastimento, province of Bocas del Toro.

Demography. There are an estimated 7,000 speakers of Buglere and Murire (Guaymí-Sabanero); however, many fewerperhaps only 1,200 to 1,500claim Bugle as their ethnic identity.


Linguistic Affiliation. Buglere is a dialect of Murire (Guaymí-Sabanero), a language of the Chibchan Family and one of several Chibchan languages that are spoken in Panama and elsewhere in Central America.

History and Cultural Relations

The closest cultural affiliations of the Bugle are with the Muri (Sabanero) branch of the Ngawbe (Guaymí). Their precise historical relationships are uncertain. Numerous cultural similarities to the Ngawbe, especially to the eastern Murire speakers, suggest ancient historical connections, although some specific practices are explicitly considered by the Bugle to be recent borrowings from the Ngawbe. The Bugle themselves locate their ancestors to the south, on the Pacific slopes of the central cordillera, an area that is still occupied by the remaining Muri. According to legend, the Bugle once had wings like birds and could fly anywhere they liked. One day they crossed the cordillera and arrived at their present location. Soon they engaged in improper behavior, and the consequence was that they lost their ability to fly, so they remained where they are. The area occupied by the Bugle is part of a more extensive area in the provinces of Chiriquí, Bocas del Toro, and Veraguas, one that the Ngawbe have for several years been attemptingwithout successto persuade the government of Panama to declare an official reserve for the Ngawbe-Bugle.


The Bugle, much like the Ngawbe, live in a highly dispersed pattern, in individual houses and in small hamlets (called caseríos ) consisting of two or three houses occupied by consanguineously and affinally related individuals. Bugle dwellings are located mostly along or near rivers and streams. Traditional houses were round, with conical roofs of straw or palm leaves, low walls of sticks or cane, earthen floors raised a few centimeters above the surrounding ground, and, generally, with two entrances but with no particular orientation. This house type was widespread among the indigenous peoples of western Panama and eastern Costa Rica (which are sometimes known as "Talamancan" cultures). The traditional houses measured up to 10 meters in diameter and 7 or 8 meters from the floor to the apex of the roof. This type of dwelling was noted as being the most common during the visit of Erland Nordenskiöld in 1927. By 1964, however, rectangular houses made of the same materialssome with earthen floors and others raised above the ground on postswere more common, apparently as a result of influence from the nonindigenous coastal cultures. The change is attributed by the Bugle to greater ease of construction. The traditional circular houses never contained interior partitions; the rectangular houses sometimes do. Each type of house has an interior platform under the roof, accessed by a notched-log ladder, that serves as a storage area for agricultural products and personal belongings. The cooking fire is usually located in the center of the flooron a prepared clay base, in the case of houses elevated on posts.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Bugle practice swidden-based subsistence agriculture as the main source of their livelihood. Their most important crops for daily consumption are maize, rice, and bananas, the latter harvested green and then boiled. Other crops include plantains; beans; root crops such as otoe (taro/Xanthosoma spp.), ñampi (yams/Dioscorea spp.), and sweet manioc; peach palms (Guilielma gasipaes ); cacao (Theobroma cacao); avocados; mangoes; chayotes (Scisyos edulis ); sugarcane; pineapples; calabashes; and chili peppers. Almost all of these crops are grown for household use, but rice is regularly produced in surplus and taken to the coast to be sold. Chickens, ducks, and pigs are raised for home consumption, but they are also sold to obtain the cash needed to purchase the manufactured items to which the Bugle have become accustomed. Cattle are raised on a very limited basis and are usually sold. The Bugle told Herrera and González in 1964 that they used to raise more cattle, but that the numbers had been greatly reduced owing to a plague that had also affected other domestic animals and children (71). The hunting of deer, wild pigs, and other small animals with bows and arrows, traps, and rifles (which are not common now and were not available in Nordenskiöld's time) supplements agriculture and animal husbandry, as does fishing with hook and line, harpoons, nets, and at least three types of plant poisons. Some wild plants are gathered as food and others as medicine.

Industrial Arts. The manufacture of sturdy baskets of various sizeswell made but not aesthetic in qualityis traditional. Fashioning net bags out of plant fibers is also a traditional handicraft of the Bugle. Various sizes of bags are made, using a technique of knotless netting. Some of these net bags are crude and strictly utilitarian, but others are of fine artistic quality. Although most are made for home use, many are sold. According to tradition, the Bugle manufactured ceramic vessels in the past, but they have now lost the knowledge of this craft. Nordenskiöld collected a single pottery vessel in 1927. Pottery is now nonexistent except for ocarinas and small whistles, usually zoomorphic in form. The Bugle also make flutes of bamboo and bone. Woven hats, representing a craft of recent introduction (some time prior to the 1950s), are of very fine quality and are offered for sale as well as being used at home. There is a ready market for these hats in the towns of Veraguas Province. Beaded collars, introduced in the twentieth century through contact with the Ngawbe, are made by and for men and are supposedly broader than the typical Ngawbe collar. Clothing was traditionally made of bark cloth. Its use for clothing is now rare, but it is still made and has other uses, such as sacks and blankets. The Bugle are the only indigenous group in Panama that still makes and uses at least some bark cloth for clothing. Strings of beads, now of commercial glass but formerly of vegetable substances, are used as necklaces by women and children.

Trade. Trade occurs with nonindigenous communities on the Caribbean coast, with people in southern Veraguas, and with itinerant merchants who travel through the Bugle area. Rice, sometimes maize and domestic animals, and the two principal handicrafts, straw hats and net bags, are exchanged for Western manufactured goods such as metal cooking pots, cloth, and machetes.

Division of Labor. According to Nordenskiöld, men cleared the land, and women cultivated it. Today, although men still clear the land, men, women, and sometimes children perform other tasks in the agricultural cycleplanting, weeding, and harvesting. Women do most of the food preparation and assume most of the child care in the household. Men hunt and fish, and women do most of the gathering. Men make the fine woven hats for which the Bugle are noted, and women make the net bags.

Land Tenure. Land is owned by kin groups rather than by individuals. Individuals, both women and men, inherit use rights to the lands owned by their kin groups. Fallow land remains the property of the kin group whose members originally cleared it. Disputes may occur when others appropriate and use such fallow land, but such disputes are reported to be unusual and infrequent.


Descent is presumably cognatic, as among the Ngawbe. No clans, lineages, or other unilineal descent groups are reported for the Bugle. The universal unit of production and consumption is the nuclear family. There are some laterally and lineally extended family households, as well as polygynous households. Larger groups cooperate in various agricultural tasks and house building through the mechanism of the cooperative labor party, or junta. Such labor groups consist of kin and nearby neighbors (who are usually kin as well). Juntas operate on the principle of balanced reciprocity: the host owes equivalent labor to each of those who has helped him.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Monogamy is the most common form of marriage, although polygyny is permitted and does sometimes occur. The low incidence of polygyny was attributed by the Bugle to a shortage of women. Intermarriage has occurred with the Ngawbe, usually between Ngawbe women and Bugle menagain, supposedly because of a shortage of Bugle women. In remote areas it is reported that there are many families of Bugle with no history of intermarriage with other groups. There is no formal marriage ceremony, and none was remembered by the elderly people who were interviewed by Herrera and González in 1964. Women often marry at the age of 12 or 13, whereas young men often must remain unmarried for several additional years. Marriage is by common agreement between a man and a woman. Women may accept or refuse offers of marriage. The custom of parents giving a prepubescent girl to her future husband to be raised by his family was said by the Bugle in 1964 to be no longer practiced, although Herrera and González documented two cases in their brief ethnographic survey (75). Herrera and González also report several instances of cousin marriage, but they note that their Bugle guide and chief informant considered such marriages to be immoral (76). Residence after marriage may be neolocal or patrilocali the choice seems to depend on whether the young couple is prepared to be economically independent of the man's family.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the most common unit of production and consumption, but extended-family households occur and may have been more common in the past. Fathers have traditionally exercised authority over their married sons, especially under conditions of patrilocal residence.

Inheritance. Some personal items are buried with their owner. A house in which a person dies is abandoned. Nordenskiöld reported that all of the personal belongings that are not buried with the deceased are abandoned, along with the house. Use rights to land are inherited by both men and women.

Socialization. Young children are allowed to run freely through the house and are treated with considerable tolerance. Their play mimics adult activities of the appropriate sex. Children of both sexes begin to learn early by observation and by assisting their parents in the tasks for which they will be responsible as adults. A puberty ceremony for a girl at her first menses signals her transition to adulthood and her eligibility for marriage. No puberty ceremony is reported for males. It is reported that school attendance is enthusiastic wherever schools have been established and that formal education has become highly valued among the Bugle.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Little is known about the relative status of women and men among the Bugle. Men meet outside their own homes for social purposes, whereas it is reported that women as a group do not do so. Men are dominant in the public arena, but evidence suggests that in the domestic arena men and women are equal partners in household decisions and that women (as well as men) own and control their own personal property, including crops and domestic animals. Social stratification does not exist, but some individuals (usually elder males) are more highly respected than others for their wisdom and decision-making abilities or for their control of special bodies of knowledge, such as traditional medicine.

Political Organization. Nothing is known about traditional forms of political organization among the Bugle. Political authority was probably kin-group based, as among the Ngawbe. During the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, it is reported that the Bugle accepted the authority of the Ngawbe governors, but it should be noted that the system of governors was originally a system imposed upon the Ngawbe by outside authorities. Since about the early 1970s, the Bugle have allied themselves with the Ngawbe chief of Veraguas Province, particularly with reference to relations with the national government. Local civil authorities called corregidores, who are appointed by the national government, are responsible for keeping order and settling local disputes. Corregidores frequently appoint subalterns, called comisarios, whose responsibilities are to keep order in their own hamlets.

Social Control. Adultery and robbery are punishable offenses among the Bugle. Until about the middle of the twentieth century, wooden stocks (presumably of colonial origin) were used as the common form of punishment. In disputes between individuals or kin groups, the protagonists meet, along with other members of the community, and attempt to settle the quarrel, with the local comisario serving as arbitrator. If a satisfactory resolution is not achieved, a similar meeting will be held with the corregidor serving as arbitrator. Individual skills and accumulated respect are better determiners of success in disputes that are arbitrated by corregidores and comisarios than is the force of authority that is attached to these positions.

Conflict. At the national level, there has been a long-standing and continuing conflict between the national government and the Bugle and Ngawbe regarding legal recognition of their lands as a reserve. Disputes between kin groups may also occur over land. Conflicts between individuals arise for a variety of reasons, and others become involved, in alignment with their kin (see "Social Control").

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Today the Bugle accept aspects of Christianity, but the few details of myths and ceremonies that are available hint at a still-existing set of non-Christian beliefs. The Bugle accept the existence of a high god, whom they refer to as Shubé or Chubé in their language, as well as an opposing evil force referred to by the Spanish term for devil, diablo. The ceremony that is held to protect a new house attests to a belief in a deity of lightning. According to one myth, the maize goddess initially brought the Bugle many varieties of the grain, but when the iguana and the river bird angered her one day as she was making chicha (a beer prepared from maize), she returned to the sky, taking with her the large-grained maize and leaving only the small-grained maize for the Bugle. From the sky, she continues to call to the maize, which accounts for why there are sometimes ears with no grains and ears with bare tips.

Religious Practitioners. The traditional religious practitioner among the Bugle until shortly before the 1960s was the sukia (shaman). Sukias apparently effected cures through communication with the spirit world. A child who was predestined to become a sukia, it was believed, refused to accept breast milk and was therefore fed chocolate water made from the first harvest of cacao or from wild cacao. Such a child was isolated and placed in the care of old women. Sukias could use their powers for both good and evil. The literature does not specify whether sukias could be women as well as men.

Ceremonies. A ceremony to insure a bountiful harvest is conducted, generally four days before planting, at which time large quantities of chocolate drink (made of hot water and unsweetened cocoa beans from the first harvest, ground into a paste) are drunk. Chicherías, ceremonies at which chicha and food are consumed in large quantities, are commonly held on a variety of occasions. They are generally interpreted as social gatherings, but they probably have some deeper social and religious significance, as they do among the Ngawbe. One type of chichería traditionally takes place eight days after the birth of a child. Singing, dancing, and the playing of traditional musical instruments occur during chicherías and also during the female puberty ceremonies. Some form of funeral ceremony occurs, but no details are available. The balsería, or stick game, is played among the Bugle, but there is some disagreement as to whether it is a traditional ceremony or a result of recent Ngawbe influence. After the construction of a new house, a ceremony is held to propitiate the god of lightning, in order to protect the house from lightning bolts. During the ceremony, a designated person perforates the ear lobes of the participants with a stingray spine and collects the blood as an offering. Women are not permitted in the house during this ceremony, but they do attend the chichería that immediately follows, at which there is much eating, drinking, and dancing.

Arts. Traditionally, face painting by both men and women was common, but it is now reported to be infrequent except among young men. Simple horizontal lines across the cheeks were the most common forms of decoration, with red and black the preferred colors. Straw hats and net bags are decorated with geometric designs. Some of the designs on the net bags are said to represent birds and animals.

Medicine. Curanderos, traditional specialists who cure with the use of plant medicines (but never through interaction with the spirit world), are still common among the Bugle. Numerous plant substances are used in curing. The curandero shows the family of a sick person how to process and administer the specific plants that are needed for a particular cure. Some plant medicines are taken internally; others are boiled in water and used to bathe the patient. Natural waters, sometimes from thermal springs, are also prescribed.

Death and Afterlife. Details of any belief in an afterlife other than the Christian heaven are unknown. The fact that individuals are buried with some of their personal belongings may be indicative of a belief that utilitarian items will be needed in an afterworld.

See alsoNgawbe


Herrera, Francisco A., and Raúl Gonzalez (1964). "Informe sobre una investigación etnográfica entre los indios bogotá de Bocas del Toro." Hombre y Cultura 1(3): 56-81.

Torres de Araúz, Reina (1980). "Bokotas (Buglere)." In Panamá indígena, 295-311. Panama City: Instituto Nacional de Cultura, Patrimonio Histórico.

Wassén, S. Henry (1952). "Some Remarks on the Divisions of the Guaymí Indians." In Indian Tribes of Aboriginal America: Selected Papers of the Twenty-Ninth International Congress of Americanists, edited by Sol Tax, 271280. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wassén, S. Henry (1966). "Notas sobre la colección etnográfica de los indios bogotá (bukueta) de Panamá, existente en le Museo Etnográfico de Gotemburgo, Suecia." Hombre y Cultura 1(5): 3-26.

Young, Philip D. (1965). "Nota sobre afinidades lingüísticas entre bogotá y guaymí sabanero. Hombre y Cultura 1(4): 20-25.



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bu·gle1 / ˈbyoōgəl/ • n. a brass instrument like a small trumpet, typically without valves or keys and used for military signals. ∎  a loud sound resembling that of a bugle, as the mating call of a bull elk.• v. [intr.] sound a bugle. ∎  [tr.] sound (a note or call) on a bugle: he bugled a warning. ∎  issue a loud sound resembling that of a bugle, particularly the mating call of a bull elk.DERIVATIVES: bu·gler / ˈbyoōg(ə)lər/ n.bu·gle2 (also bugleweed) • n. a creeping plant (esp. Ajuga reptans) of the mint family, with blue flowers held on upright stems.bu·gle3 • n. (also bugle bead) an ornamental tube-shaped glass or plastic bead sewn on to clothing.


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bugle Brass wind instrument resembling a small trumpet without valves, capable of playing notes of only one harmonic series. Because its penetrating tones carry great distances, it was often used for military signalling.


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bugle1 †buffalo, bull; kind of horn (short for bugle horn horn of a wild ox used as a drinking vessel and as a musical instrument). XIV. — OF. bugle :- L. būculus, dim. of bōs ox (see COW1).


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bugle. Valveless brass or copper instr. of treble pitch, with wide tube of conical bore, moderate-sized bell, and cup-shaped mouthpiece. Notes are merely a few of those of the harmonic series, normally in B♭, and it is mainly a means of military signalling or (in bugle bands) simple acc. of marching.


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bugle2 plant of the genus Ajuga. XIII. — late L. bugula.


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bugle3 tubular glass bead. XVI. of unkn. orig.