The Ngöbe Baháís of Panama



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Texas Tech University


The original goal of this thesis research was a simple one: to determine why the Ngobe became Baha'i. At that time, however, I did not know the complexity of the question I was asking. Having read and discussed a variety of hypotheses concerning religious conversion. I rejected "macrolevel" concepts such as economic and political forces which compel people to seek "facilitators," such as newly imported religious organizations, for guidance in restructuring life patterns. This mode of analysis assumes that social change is desired by adherents primarily as a response to these powerful pressures, but often sidesteps the point of view of the individual actor, the Ngobe, as well as the spiritual factor. I posited that anyone choosing to take up the banner of a particular religious order would have a spiritual explanation for doing so.

The hypothesis assumed that the Ngobe did have spiritual reasons for becoming Baha'is, but current theories were inadequate for this type of discussion. The theoretical framework focused on motivational analysis. Thus the thesis question became what motivated the Ngobe to become Baha'i, assuming that they had a preexisting desire for social change. The thesis question sought to determine what motivated such a large number of Ngobe to join a new religious movement (Taylor 1976; Zygmunt 1972; Leatham 1993).



Bahai Faith, Indians of Central America, Guaymi Indians -- Religion, Bahais -- Panama