The circular projection aims to clearly represent territory to community-members, from their own lived perspective.

This 3-D map is an experiment in form, serving as a counter-view of all other maps which looks inwards to objectify and instrumentalize their territory as a space of resources.

Centering on stories of Ngäbé and Buglé resistance, this map helps community members situate themselves within their storied landscapes.

Team members: Noris Flores, Pedro Nola Flores, Celestino Mariano Gallardo, Molly Roy, Florence Tan, Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert

Project description

The general aim of this project is to develop a map that situates episodes of historical resistance within the territories of the Ngäbé and Buglé peoples of central and western Panama. These confrontations were primarily fueled by colonial and post-colonial extractive projects (mining, turtles and other animals, rubber, timber, and hydroelectricity) that were for the most part fended off, thus allowing the Ngäbé and Buglé to maintain the greater part of their territorial autonomy to the present day.

The map is important for two reasons. The first is that extractivist incursions into their territory is on the upswing, focused principally on hydroelectric development and the exploitation of the world’s last mega copper deposit at Cerro Colorado. The second is that with recent shifts in education and culture, the transmission of the Ngäbé and Buglé past is less assured within communities. The Congreso Ngäbé y Buglé thus sees in the map a tool of community education and discussion that links past acts of resistance to present-day challenges of extractivism.

The map is also an experiment in form. Instead of the traditional two-dimensional sheet viewed “from above” by the reader, it is arranged as a circle with the map printed on its “in”-side: with its pivot pegged to the highest point of the Ngäbé and Buglé territory, this map produces a centered and outward looking view. For team member Pedro Nola Flores, this is the counter-view of all other maps which looks inwards to objectify and instrumentalize their territory as a space of resources. A very rough prototype of this map was produced during the MappingBack workshop. Since then cartographers Molly Roy and Florence Tan have been producing a finished draft of the map.

The next step of this project will involve a series of community meetings in which the draft version of map will be displayed and discussed. In its February meeting, the Congreso Ngäbé y Buglé nominated a coordinating team. Their responsibility is to organize a day-long meeting in each of the three major regions of the Comarca Ngäbé Buglé during the month of May. The meetings will convoke local community leaders, organizers and educators. Their agenda will be to:

[a] evaluate the visual form and codes of the maps: will the circular projection clearly represent territory to community-members? will they be able to situate themselves within displayed landscape, situate story icons? Are icons, colour schemes, and legends effective? symbolically appropriate?;

[b] verify content: are the locations accurate? Is the listing complete?;

[c] provide feedback on use of map: how will community educators present and work with the map? how will stories be read and discussed? What further material might be needed?

The Congreso’s coordinating team will be responsible to noting down feedback, comments and suggestions. These will be relayed back in writing and in conversation to the cartographers for modifications.

Expected Outcomes

The proposed work on the centered story map will contribute to two of the key parts of the Atlas’ agenda. First it enables, and then draws from, the engagement of community-level organizers and educators with the map. It will allow us to evaluate and refine the map as a tool of community learning and empowerment within the specific Buglé and Ngäbé contexts. Documenting these exchanges and seeing how they feed into the evolution of the map design will illustrate the processual dimensions mapping for the Atlas’ wider viewership. Secondly, an experiment in cartographic projection, the map opens discussion around the relationships between, on the one hand, “standard” top-down projections and colonialist visions of the territory and, on the other hand, centered, horizontal, outward-looking projections and an autochthonous and de-colonizing view of the territory.