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The country is a natural land bridge connecting the South American continent with Central America.The isthmus runs east-west in the form of an inverted "S." Low mountains run through most of the country, leaving a gap in the center that is nearly at sea level.
There are four officially recognized Indian ethnic groups (the Kuna, Guaymi or Ngawbe, Embera, and Waunan), which number fewer than 200,000.
People of African descent account for 15 percent of the population.
These "Afro-colonials" descend from slaves who were imported in colonial times. The "Afro-Antillean" group descends from Caribbean residents who came to work on the construction of the Panama canal.
They speak English, French, or an English patois at home and are mostly Protestant. The official language is Spanish, but English is used widely in business, especially banking and tourism, and by some people of African descent. Some coins bear the image of Urraca, an Indian chief who resisted the Spanish conquests, but most coins depict Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, the discoverer of the Pacific Ocean. Panama became an autonomous nation because of its function as the custodian of the transisthmus shipping route—the "path between the seas." It gained independence in 1903 as part of an American-sponsored revolt against Colombia that led to the signing of a treaty granting the United States the right to build the Panama Canal.
The Spanish discovered and conquered Panama between 15.
At that time, it was referred to as the Castilla de Oro, a source of gold and potential converts.