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CHAPTER VI ·
THE CHURCHES OF PANAMA 1
AMONG the population of the Republic of Panama there is a sprinkling of well-bred families descended from Spaniards, French, and Italians. Numerically they are insignificant, but in every other respect they are the most important element in the community. They absolutely control things political, the masses being quite willing to blindly follow the lead of one or another prominent partisan. Most of the business and property is in their hands. The members of these "illustrious families," as they are termed in SpanishAmerican countries, are generally well educated, it having been long the custom to send them to Spain or France for their schooling. The tendency now is to have the youths of this class taught in the United States.
1 Portions of this chapter have been printed in articles contributed by the author to Travel Magazine.
Peculiar marital connections are common among the better class. As a rule, the offspring of irregular relations are well treated. Not infrequently they are legitimatized and taken into the family presided over by the legal wife. In 1888, the Colombian Legislature enacted a law of which the following is an extract:
“ Art. 34. El matrimonio contraido conforme a los ritos de la Religion Católica anula ipso jure el matrimonio puramente civil, celebrado antes por los contrayentes con otra persona.
“ Art. 35. Para los efectos meramente civiles, la Ley reconoce la legitimidad de los hijos concebidos antes de que se anule un matrimonio civil a virtud de lo dispuesto en el articulo anterior,
“ Art. 36. El hombre que habiendose casado civilmente, se case luego con otra mujer con arreglo a los ritos de la Religion Católica es obligado a suministrar alimentos congruos a la primera mujer y a los hijos habidos en ella, mientras esta no case catolicamente." 1
1 Art. 34. Marriage contracted according to the rites of the Catholic Religion of itself annuls (ipso facto) a purely civil marriage previously celebrated by the contractants with other persons.
Art. 35. For the purely civil effects of the Law, it acknowledges Civil marriages came into vogue following the dispossession of the Church and the eviction of the priests from their holdings. With its return, to some extent, to the former influence that it enjoyed, the Church has sought to nullify all marriages that have been contracted without its sanction and many men have eagerly seized the excuse for breaking bonds which have become irksome.
Aside from fiestas, which are numerous, but not so much so as they used to be, Sunday is the chief holiday. After morning services, the day is devoted to amusement and a wide choice of diversions is offered to the people. The cocking main will draw as many as the enclosure will hold. The seats rise all round the pit in tiers. Money is bet freely on the birds, and men, whose demeanor is usually dignified and self-possessed, abandon themselves to wild excitement. The choicest seats are occupied by persons prominent in the community. I have seen the Chief of Police holding a watch the legitimary of children conceived prior to the annulment of a civil marriage by virtue of the provision of the preceding article.
Art. 36. The man who having married civilly marries subsequently with another woman, according to the rites of the Catholic Religion, is obliged to provide maintenance for the first wife and for the children had by her, so long as she does not marry according to the Catholic Religion.
on the game cocks and a Legislator acting as referee.
Women are not permitted to attend the cockfights, but the bull ring is open to them and they are to be seen there in large numbers on Sunday afternoon. The animal advertised as
arrogant bull” is a phlegmatic creature that enters the enclosure with an air of being sadly bored. His “ arrogance " is hidden beneath a benevolent expression and an evident disinclination to cause annoyance or harm to anyone. In fact, so meek and placid is he, that it requires a vast amount of pricking and goading to arouse his resentment in the slightest degree. The performance cannot fairly be called a bull-fight. It is bull baiting, pure and simple. Frequently the spectators become impatient of the animal's persistent nonchalance, and crowd into the ring and lend their efforts toward animating him with sticks and stones. I could not learn of anyone ever having been hurt in a Panaman bull-fight, but there is a fairly well authenticated tradition of the toro having once ripped up the breeches of a picador, who incautiously turned his back upon the beast and stooped over to pick up a cigarette. If the story is true, I hardly think that it can be said to reflect great discredit upon the bull, for the best behaved animal might be expected to yield to such a temptation.
In recent years, a baseball game between teams of Canal employes has become a regular feature of the Sunday program. Some excellent players have been developed in the Zone, and the keenest rivalry exists between the several nines. The Panamans have not yet taken to the game actively, but as spectators they appear to enjoy it immensely.
The Jamaican negroes have imported the British national pastime to the Isthmus and a Sunday match between colored elevens usually takes place at the Colon end of the line.
In the evening the municipal band plays in the Cathedral Plaza and the people sit out on the overlooking balconies or promenade about the square. The Plaza is the heart of the city, topographically, socially and commercially. Around its sides are ranged, the Cathedral, the principal hotel, the leading bank, the Bishop's Palace, and some of the best stores.
Sunday is the day for the weekly drawing of the Panama Lottery, an institution dear to the people. Its offices are on the ground floor of the Bishop's Palace, not such an incongru