Tabogas 500 year history

Vasco Nunez de Balboa

The famous 16th century Spanish leader credited with first citing the Pacific Ocean and the first Spaniard to set foot on the small dot of land he named the Island of San Pedro.  The name Taboga was later adopted from the Indian term aboga, meaning "many fish.  

Excellent history link

The Iglacia in the center of village.

Typical of the Spanish colonial settlements in the New World, San Pedro village expanded around the church of the same name.  Iglesia San Pedro is claimed to be the second oldest church in the hemisphere.  The early settlers of Isla Taboga were from Venezuela and Nicaragua.  They were enslaved indigenous Indians who had been brought to the island to serve the needs of the Spanish Conquistadors.

The village of San Pedro was founded in 1524 

by Padre Hernando de Luque, dean of the Panama cathedral.  He built a comfortable house on the island and remained there most of the time.  It was Padre Luque who provided funds and blessed Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro before they set off from Taboga on their conquest of the flourishing Inca Empire. Isla Taboga still has ruins from these by-gone days of conquistadors and the first settlements of explorers of the New World.

Pineapples flourish on Isla Taboga.  

In addition to his church duties, Padre Luque raised fruits and vegetables on his plantation. The Padre's pineapples could well be the progenitors of the hillside pineapple patches that pepper the island today, and some say the Hawaiian pineapple was developed through cross pollination with the Taboga pineapple.  Taboganos still recall the venerable priest by referring to a crystalline pool in the folds of Picacho del Vigia, the highest point on the island, as the "Bishop's Pool."

Santa Rosa de Lima was conceived on Isla Taboga.  

The first saint of this hemisphere, was born on Isla Taboga.  According to Taboga historians, the parents of the young girl who was later to be canonized lived in a charming house on the beach near Playa Hondo on the northern side of the island. The house still exists today, although somewhat modernized.  Later, the family moved to Peru where Peruvians refer to the saint as Santa Rosa de Lima de Taboga. She was known best for her humility and kindness to those in need. Her caring nature spread quickly, and the sick, the lame, and the suffering came to her for comfort and guidance for their salvation. She is also known in many other parts of South America and in Mexico and also in the Philippines.

Welsh Buccaneer Henry Morgan plundered Isla Taboga.  

Beginning in the latter part of the 16th century, many came to the shores of Isla Taboga in a search of gold, pearls, and other riches of the seas.  Pirates were among them.  In 1671, Morgan, after sacking Panama City, sent his pirates to the island with instructions to burn everything to the ground and bring back all the gold, silver, and merchandise worth its salt.  Hawkins is said to have turned the island into a trading center for his plundered goods.  More pirates came to Isla Taboga, and logic says buried treasure must abound.  In 1998, that logic panned out when workers preparing to set the foundation for the island's new Health Clinic unearthed 1000 pieces of silver dating back to the 17th century.

The Virgin del Carmen battles pirates.

According to Taboga lore, a pirate ship attempted an attack on the island.  When the pirates reached the shores of Isla Taboga, they met an enormous army face to face that was headed by a beautiful woman.  The pirates were terrorized by the vision and fled back to their boat.  To this day, Taboganos are convinced that it was the Virgin del Carmen who saved them, and each year on July 16th the patron saint blesses the fleet in Taboga Bay.

El Morro, the little island you can walk to.  

Linked to the island at low tide by a sandbar, is El Morro, a small rocky islet, where at the end of the 17th century the Spaniards established a fort to defend Taboga.  During the wars of Independence in Latin America, it was the three cannons on El Morro, manned by 10 Spanish soldiers, that fought off the attacks of Englishman John Illingworth, the Chilean warship Rosa de los Andes, and the Peruvian Frigate Pichincha.  A monument and an old English cemetery  with Anglo-Saxon names can still be seen on sparkling white tombstones in the island's cemetery.

The Pacific Steamship Navigation Co.  

Around 150 years ago, Taboga became the port of choice for Panama City and the mainland because the island's northern shore has waters deep enough to accommodate larger ships.  Thus, Taboga came to play an important role in shipping.  The Pacific Steamship Navigation Co. built workshops, a ship repair facility, supply stores and a coaling station, and brought over hundreds of Irishmen to work in the supply base.  It was at about this time, too, that the gold seeking 49'ers discovered Isla Taboga, and many stayed on the island enroute to California.

The Three Crosses. 

In a later attack by John Illingworth, the invaders took Taboga, the inhabitants fleeing to the hills.  Three of the invaders were killed and buried by the villagers, who marked the graves with wooden crosses.  With the passing of the years, cast iron crosses embedded in a mortar base replaced the wooden markers.  To this day, Taboganos in the vicinity of "Las Tres Cruces" never fail to light a candle in memory of the three who dared to disturb the peace of their little island.

Post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin.  

In 1887, after working a short stint for the French effort to build a canal, the French Post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin came to Isla Taboga looking for a place to paint. Some say he tried to buy a house on the island using his Peruvian grandmother's money.  Perhaps we can say the island life wetted his appetite for the simpler things in life, as reflected in his use of bright colors and flat perspective.  From Isla Taboga, Gauguin went to French Martinique before moving on to Tahiti where the subjects for his paintings later brought him fame and glory.  His colorful paintings that were later to reflect his eye for beauty most certainly were first conceived on Isla Taboga, the Island of Flowers.

Isla Taboga and the Panama Canal. 

The island also played an important role in the construction of the Panama Canal.  In the 1880s, the French constructed a 50 bed, $400,000 retreat for their canal workers attempting to build a canal.  This same building was taken over by the United States in 1905 and used as a rest and recuperation center for Panama Canal construction workers.  It served this purpose until January 1915, when it became a vacation resort for employees and their families and was known as Hotel Aspinwall.  During World War I, Aspinwall became an internment camp for German prisoners.  After the war it was once again the hub of Taboga's social life until 1945.  Aspinwall is gone but many still recall this hotel and the part it played in social activities of that by-gone era.

PT Boats in World War II.  

During World War II, the U.S. Navy had a "mosquito boat" training base on the tiny island of El Morro just off Isla Taboga's northern shore.  The heroic record of these boats in the Pacific Theater of War proved the efficiency of the officers and sailors on El Morro.  Isla Taboga was also the site of attempted Japanese espionage when spy Yoshitaro Amana, head of a Japanese spy ring, tried to set up a commercial business on Isla Taboga so that the Japanese could ascertain what ships were transiting the Panama Canal.  He was discovered in a sting operation and deported back to Japan.  As well, gun emplacements at strategic points on Isla Taboga and lookout points atop El Morro made it possible to increase the security of the Panama Canal.

The US presence on Isla Taboga 

in recent Panamanian history is a treasured past for the island and for Taboganos.  Military and Civilian personnel integrated themselves with island life and performed many services for Isla Taboga which included improving its infrastructures and providing medical assistance.

© 2011  Agua Sol Villa