The reverse of this photograph reads “Panama” and its records title it “Chiva, ca 1939”. Please help us learn more about this interesting image.
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When I was young in the 40’s I remember seeing these Chiva’s in Colon always crowded with people. When I was four my maid took me on a Chiva from Margarita to Colon to see her apartment. A very interesting ride being on a Chiva.
When I was five years old I went on a trip with my parents and their friends to El Valle for the weekend. Coming home I saw my first accident where two Chiva’s ran into eachother. It was a very bad accident, and will never forget it. I had my teddy bear with me which helped to keep me brave while my father and his friends went to help the injured people in the bus accident. I heard the alduts say it happened because they were racing!!!!!!!!!!!
“Chiva” Spanish for ‘goat” was an appropriate nick-name for this was a bumpy ride, and most common form of public transportation on the Isthmus, Caribbean islands, Latin America, and the South Pacific islands. They can still be seen in pictures of India, where I believe they originated, and are being replaced by more modern air-conditioned buses in rapidly developing areas of the world. Chivas were a very basic utilitarian wooden structure mounted on a pickup truck chassis with double-hung windows, and an interior as brightly painted as the outside, except the interior was what is now called ‘shabby-chic’ and busy with all sorts of dangling pom-poms, fabric fringe, lucky charms on the rear-view mirror, and religious icons and die made of velour fabric dangling on a string. Passengers often shared the interior space with produce and small livestock, whereas livestock crates with chicken or piglets and bags of produce were strapped to the roof as high and wide as possible. When it rained it was difficult for passengers to stay dry, and there was much conversation as to if or when to close the windows and how much, as when closed, the Chiva’s interior sweltered with high humidity and suffocating odors. During the day, the music was loud enough to announce the arrival of the Chiva, and some had an ah-ooh-gah horn or one that played a trumpet, that a driver might to like as to show off, and break up the monotony of their day, but discouraged by police. The driver knew most of the regular daily passengers, with whom they chatted briefly about lottery tickets, political news or gossip as passengers got on or off the bus, but even the passenger who got the seat behind the driver, and monologue most of the way, never slowed the bus from its forward motion. There were some regular bus stops, though drivers knew where regular passengers wanted to disembark, and seemingly just pull over, though along a main thoroughfare like Galliard, Pan-American or Trans-Isthmian highways, until the addition of a string that when pulled rang a bell near the driver, a passenger would shout ‘parada,’ for ‘stop’ in Spanish, whereupon the driver would swing to the curb as soon as feasible. It was an education and adventure riding to and from Panama City or the Interior of Panama on a Chiva, especially at night, when one had to step over an inebriated body, sprawled out blocking the aisle. I am aware of a repertoire of Chiva pranks I’ve heard from mischievous adolescent Zonian boys, but that is for them to tell.
Pranks? OK, here’s one for you, Janice. Some guy (once it was me) would flag the chiva, and ask the driver some inane question like “Va para Bella Vista?”. While he was saying “no”, it would give another guy time to stuff a banana up the exhaust pipe. Then we’d scatter, and wait for the chiva to go a bit down the highway, before the muffler blew. (This sort of stuff was considered an innocent pastime in Pedro Miguel, circa 1950.)
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