Even the word has multiple meanings. It is a weapon or a fish or a boat which is typically powered by an outboard motor. A panga is easily distinguishable from a "skiff" which is a flat bottomed boat that often has a center console, neither of which a panga has.
From what I read, the panga (regardless of its origin) was developed as a small fishing boat. In my experience, a lot of pangas on Nicaragua's Caribbean side are used as taxis...thus a lot of pangas are neither small nor used for fishing. This is a poor photo of a panga taxi in Bluefields Bay, probably prepped for a ride to Kukra or Pearl Lagoon.
A bit of history:
There is some confusion about the history of where the panga came from although the date of development is pretty much the same regardless of the claim...something that may contribute to the confusion.
Two California teachers ended up in La Paz, Mexico and in a circuitous way ended up building pangas starting in the late 1960s. This from the interesting link below:
"The new creation was a molded, modified-vee hull boat, with large, graceful spray rails and small strakes, eliminating the boxy appearance of its plywood predecessors. The new, sleeker Esquibot panga was considered Mexico’s biggest innovation in boat building at the time!"
During pretty much the same time frame, Yamaha was developing a similar boat in Japan: https://www.pangasports.com/post/the-history-of-the-panga-boat
Thus lasting confusion.
Regardless of who did what and where, the panga is very adaptable for heavy seas - which the Caribbean often is; it handles really well in most seas, heavy or otherwise; it pulls up on the beach; and it is easily reparable.
Somehow the panga made its way from the west to the east, from the Pacific - via Japan or the west side of Mexico - to the Atlantic. Big or small it is hugely popular along the eastern coast of Central America where it is said by many to sustain the tourism industry. And over the years the panga has become increasingly popular in the United States.