Who knows that one of the most beautiful stories of the Spanish Conquest belongs to Panama? The story in question is related with Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475-1519), who was a Spanish explorer, governor, and conquistador. He was the first European to see and stand in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, on September 1513. He accomplished this feat after an arduous trek through the jungles of what is now Panama. He claimed the Pacific Ocean and all its shores for Spain, which opened the way for Spanish exploration and conquest along the western coast of South America. But it was the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand de Magalhães (not Balboa), who, because its waters seemed so calm, gave this ocean the name Pacific (meaning peaceful).
The Isthmus of Panama was firstly visited by Spanish conquerors during the expedition of Rodrigo de Bastidas in 1501. On October 1502, on his fourth voyage, Christopher Columbus arrived on the Atlantic coast of the Isthmus, in Bocas del Toro and Veraguas Provinces. On November, he reached a beautiful bay in Colon Province, which baptized with the name of Portobelo. The word Panama is of indigenous origin, existing multiple meanings and references assigned to the name, however, is commonly accepted meaning "abundance of fish and butterflies'. The natives saying " Bannabá " (not Panamá) did not refer to the butterflies themselves, but the flight that led to the height, because "Bannabá" in Indian language means distant or far away.
On the other hand, Balboa traveled to the New World in 1500 and, after some exploration, settled on the island of Hispaniola. Thereafter, he founded the settlement of Santa María la Antigua del Darién in present-day Panama in 1510, which was the first permanent European settlement on the mainland of the Americas. In 1513, Balboa set out to conquer the territories of the indian chiefs Ponca and Comagre, where first heard of the existence of another sea by Panquiaco, eldest son of Comagre, which told about of a kingdom rich southern population using gold tableware and utensils for eating and drinking. But, the legend says that the secret of the existence of another sea was unveiled to Balboa by the indian princess Anayansi, who was daughter of Careta indian chief and who fell in love with Balboa. On September 1513, from the top of a hill near the Gulf of San Miguel, the “conquered” conqueror discovered the mysterious South Sea, when the expedition reached the beaches Balboa raised his hands, a sword and was in the other a banner of the Virgin Mary, entered the water to the level of the knees and took possession of the South Sea on behalf of the sovereigns of Castilla. Then, the story of an entire continent began and Panama became the strategic centre of this continent.
The founding of Panama City was later on August 1519 by Pedro Arias Dávila, the first Spanish city on the shores of the South Sea or Pacific Ocean and the mainland's oldest existing city today. Its foundation replaced the former cities of Santa Maria la Antigua del Darién and Acla, becoming the capital of Castilla del Oro region. Certainly, the relationship between Anayansi and Balboa was what led, in addition to the power struggle, that the father in law of Balboa, Pedro Arias Dávila, governor of Tierra Firme, ordered his beheading.
But the name Anayansi seems to be distributed throughout the Americas, not just confined to Panama, having several meanings according to native language of each region. For example:
• Inca (Peru): “key to happiness” or “flower of life”.
• Olmeca (Mexico): “drops of holy water”.
• Maya (Mexico): princess name, meaning “gift from the gods”.
• Azteca (Mexico): “goddess of wisdom”.
• Kuna (Panama): princess name, meaning “Friend here I am”.
I have a daughter called Anayansi, but I confess that I never thought to call a daughter by this name, because it is very common in my country Panama. Her name came because my wife Rosângela had a known Panamanian with this exact name in his hometown city Curitiba (Brazil). Today there is a famous theater and a square in Panama City called Anayansi, and, in the internet search, you can find people with that name, without specifying the nationality. Fortunately, in my house I have an Anayansi, who is Panamanian and Brazilian, beautiful, honest, educated and dedicated. I do not desire the fame of the original Anayansi, but a peaceful and happy life.