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Heritage Sikh History In Panama

Discussion in 'History of Sikhism' started by Aman Singh, May 11, 2009.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    by Rattan Singh, Esq.
    Attorney at Law, Rep. of Panama

    Sikh immigration to Panama dates back to before the independence of Panama and its status as a Nation. Panama separated from Spain on November 28, 1821 and joined Colombia until November 3, 1903.

    The Isthmus of Panama was widely know as a transit center since the time Panama was a Spanish Colony, the crossroad of the riches that came from Peru, and famous for its merchant fairs. In 1849 the California Gold Rush started the migration of adventurers who wanted to find new and faster routes to head west, making Panama the shortest route, reason which initiated the conception of railways and canals for the passage of merchandise and passengers. In the Paredes-Stephens treaty Colombia negotiate with the Unites States the construction of a railway through Panamanian territory.

    The construction of the Panama Rail Road that linked the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans began in 1850. With the boom of labor opportunities large number of immigrants saw Panama as a place to find fortune, initiating the first recorded movement of Sikh immigrants to the Isthmus. We do not deny the fact that other Sikh immigrants might have reached Panama before this period, but it was the boom of this period that historically marks the large number of labor migration into the territory.

    The inter-oceanic railroad or transcontinental railroad, which was later of vital importance for the construction of the Panama Canal, initiated operations on January 28, 1855. In this route a passengers or merchandise would travel by ferry from New Orleans or other eastern ports to Panama, where they crossed the Isthmus by rail, and then a ferry to California. Although some of the Sikh immigrants left the Isthmus after the completion of the railway, many stayed behind to try their fortune now that services where needed for all the passengers and merchandise that crossed the Isthmus.

    In the 1880’s the French initiate the first attempt in construction a Canal that would unite the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. This first attempt by the French failed, but successful under the leadership of the United Sates, marked the second wave of mass immigration to the Isthmus and of course of many Sikhs who worked in the construction of the Panama Canal until its opening in 1914.

    During this period, specifically on November 3, 1903, Panama declared its independence from Colombia. After the completion of the Panama Canal many of the Sikh immigrants returned home with the wealth they had accumulated, some died due to Yellow Fever and Malaria, but others who felt comfortable and who had established roots in Panama stayed in the Isthmus.

    After the construction of the canal managed by the Panama Canal Commission and United States Military bases having a permanent presence in the Isthmus, immigrants became aware of the employment opportunities. Some imigrants established stores, restaurants, and some joined civil services with the US government. In this third wave of immigrants who where seeking fortune we see that the Indian and Sikh community start forming and establishing themselves as permanent citizens of Panama. It is in this third wave of immigrant that we see a different pattern of migration because in this third wave we see complete family migration. Among the third wave of Sikh immigrants we find Gursan Singh Gill 1924, Chain Singh in the 1930’s, Amar Singh Mann and Rattan Singh Dhaliwal who arrived in Panama in the late 1930’s, also the founding father of the Gurdwara Guru Nanak.

    In 1947 the Indian Community constituted mainly by Punjabi’s, Gujarati’s and Sindhi’s established the Indian Society of Panama receiving vast contributions from the Sikh community. It was in these times that the Indian customs and culture start integrating with the Panamanian community and social and religious establishments initiated. In this time the Sikh community maintained their cultural and religious belief through the Sath Sangat Path on Sundays that where constituted in different houses of the community members. From these congregations of the Sangat the idea of establishing a Gurdwara initiated. With the cooperation of the Punjabi and Sindhi community the Gurdwara Guru Nanak was founded under the non profit organization Sociedad Guru Nanak which opened its doors on Guru Nanaks birthday 1986 and continues to serve as a place of worship for the Sikh Community in Panama. The growth of the Indian community has flourished with the constructions of the Gurdwara, Mandir, Mosques and the Bahai Temple.


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  3. dalsingh

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    Jun 13, 2006
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    Very interesting Aman ji.
  4. rattans

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    Jun 1, 2011
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    Article should state the author
    Article was written by Rattan Singh, Esq.
    Attorney at Law, Rep. of Panama
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  5. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    1947-2014 (Archived)
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    Jun 17, 2004
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    I will add the correction. Thank you for pointing this out.
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