Tales of the Azuero: Why Tete Changed Its Name


Cerro de Tete

Cerro de Tete

Once upon a very long time ago, on a Central American peninsula called the Azuero, volcanic action shaped the land.  Most of this activity happened in places where the earth’s crust simply cracked and let the magma flow.  As, for instance, at Playa Uverito where lava flow undulates across the sand and far out into the ocean.  Sometimes the cracks didn’t go all the way to the surface and the land heaved into folds.  As, for instance, on the way to Playa Venao where the hills sometimes look pleated.  And once in a while pressure would apply in a single spot and push up one of those pointy little hills that turn into a full-blown volcano.

Or not.

Not too far from what is now the town of Las Tablas, Panamà, Mother Nature created such a hill.  It pushed up into a cone, but never blew its top.  Because of the cone-shaped resemblance to a woman’s breast, the little hill became known as Cerro de Tete, or, loosely,  ‘Boob Hill.’

A small community formed nearby.   Such pueblos usually take their names from local phenomena, so the pueblo also became known as Tete.

This suited everyone fine for quite a while.  It was, undeniably, warm and fuzzy to live at ‘The Breast.’  Then life began to change.  The Azuero began to be a more important part of Panamá.  Panamá began to interact more with the rest of the world. The children of Tete began to find jobs in Las Tablas and Chitré and even in the City of Panamá.  Job interviewers, government officials, even traffic policemen asked them, “Where are you from?”  And perforce, they had to reply, “Soy de Tete.”  ‘I am from the breast.’

This provided some difficulty, as you might imagine.  The “ji-ji-ji” factor (that would be “hee-hee-hee”) was most tempting.  Potential employers feared embarrassment before their clientele, very serious government officials felt they were not being taken seriously and, most especially, traffic cops were not amused.  The Teteños were suspected of unnecessary flippancy, of lack of proper respect for authority, of inappropriate levity.  Of all manner of minor sins.  And this perception did not help their case.

So they changed the name of the town.  What once was the sweet Tete is now the very respectable Santo Domingo.

But Santo Domingo is still next to the Cerro de Tete.   Because there are some names you just should not change.