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Kuna Indians and their Community

Playon Chico Community- near Yandup Island

In the afternoon, we were allowed to take a boat excursion to the nearby Community.  They were in the middle of a week long celebration.  We were warned that at some point we would be arrested and be prepared to pay $1 per person to get ourselves out of jail.

You see, in the Community, they still celebrate with a re-enactment of the one day of Independence that happened in 1925.  They do this by the police capturing Kunas and beating them and throwing them in jail.  They run up and down the street reenacting these events.  It went on for a week that the Kunas began to stand up and kill the Panamanian police for these practices.  The events occurred during the week of the festivals that Panama celebrated as this left the police thin and unprepared.  When they arrived at the community they were ambushed and killed and for one day on Feb. 23rd the Kunas were their own nation…Not Panama and not Columbia.  They always remember this event with this celebration.

We were arrested and put in jail as part of the reenactment.  They brought us to the hut that was jail…the leader spoke to us and shared the story of what they were doing.  The queen of the festival told us that we would have to pay a minimum of $1 to get ourselves out of jail…so you see it’s really a fund raiser for the island.  In the actual events, those arrested were not able to negotiate their way out of jail.  All of our tourist party paid for our way out – happily I might add – as it was quite a privilege to be included in their community celebration. 

All of the people were celebrating, and all of the women were selling their molds and arts on the street.  There were so many to choose from and so many people who appreciated the support, it was difficult to decide on just one mola to buy.  The craftsmanship was amazing.  I particularly enjoyed seeing them in the traditional clothes of the people.  We did not take pictures out of respect for the culture so unfortunately I have none to share of this special event.  The Kunas generally do not want to be photographed or you must pay to photograph them.  There were many guests of the families who live on the islands and many of the children were running around with cell phones taking pictures of the craziness.  There were many children there – 60 percent of the community is children.  They Indians have a very high percentage of Albinos as well.  They looked like they struggled there as many were younger children.  

The history of the Kunas dates back for a long time.  While they are part of Panama, they are allowed to run their own communities.  Each community has three leaders and they are all very steeped in history, tradition and culture.  They are trying to hold onto their heritage and keep it alive while still moving slightly ahead with the times. There are many satellite dishes and cell phones everywhere on the island.  I’m uncertain as to whether these were the guests or the residents.  The Panamanians all seemed to own a dish and a cell phone – no matter where we were.  

The San Blas Islands and the Kuna Indians are an amazing culture to know and understand.  They are friendly people who welcomed us with open hands.  They enjoyed showing us their wares.  Their children would say “Hola” to us and some would come up and walk with us as we explored their island culture.  The Resort community where we stayed are much involved in improving their lives with running water and sewer systems, as well as teaching them other languages and keeping them in school.  Many of the Indians do move into Panama City at least for a time.  Some of them return to help their people.  It is a fascinating world in which we live and it takes many peoples to make life on this planet what it is.  I look forward to a return trip and supporting this community in more ways in the future.

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