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Emergent Identities in the African Diaspora: The Bocas Way


This dissertation is an example of community-engaged scholarship. Working with descendant communities in Bocas del Toro, I have conducted ethnographic and oral historical accounts, archival research, and archaeological excavations. My work combines these sources to trace how identities are created, maintained, and change over time. I argue for the importance of social context in identity formation and explore how identity in Bocas del Toro is often expressed through foodways.

Today Bocas del Toro, Panama is a diverse racial and ethnic gumbo that has produced a unique Afro-creole culture. The culture area primarily consists of self-identified Afro-Antilleans, but with important contributions from Latino, Chinese, indigenous Panamanians and wealthy White European and American retirees and adventurers. Within the written history of this fascinating culture there are many silences and unanswered questions regarding the early Afro-Antillean inhabitants. My research offers insight into the chronology and components of the present-day culture and explains current demographic trends as well as the local culture history. My research further offers insight into the interactions and trade spheres that developed and supported the early post contact inhabitants during a time when neither the Spanish nor the English had firm control over the region.

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