Marianne Quijano

Ph.D. Student, Department of History, University of Florida

2022 to 2023
Research Fellow

A Primordial Whiteness: Science, Religion, and Race in Twentieth-Century Panama

This study explores the history of science and Christianity in the formation of Panama’s racial, nationalist mythologies in the twentieth century. Panamanian elites, Christian missionaries, and foreigner ethnographers visiting Panama after its 1903 independence published research and instituted development programs after learning of Panama’s Kuna Indians’ white skin and fair hair. Panamanians attempted to genealogically trace whiteness in the Kunas’ bodies, characterizing the Kuna as having an advanced civilizational modernity and racial biology. Using U.S. and Panamanian scientific research publications, Kuna oral traditions, and other sources, I argue that Panamanians from the 1900s to the 1970s re-produced a nationalist myth rooted in religious and scientific discourse of evolutionary biology that traced Panama’s primordial roots as a modern nation to a mythic indigenous whiteness unique to the isthmus. This study contributes to a larger understanding of the shared modern discursive roles of religion and evolutionary science in Latin American nation-state formations.