Journeys in Kuna Yala: Part One

The morning had begun bright and early, with me stepping out of my ocean side hut and leaving the quiet Isla Azuelo to go and hang out on Carti Sugdup. The Kuna community comes alive by 6:45 am, and it being Satrurday all the kids were outside playing volleyball, soccer, running around. I heard some music and peered through a line of huts and saw the whoosh and whirl of big skirts. As I peeped in, there was a group of about 20 kids practicing the "tipico" dance of the Los Santos region in the Azuero Peninsula. Not a community related to the Kunas, but the children were practicing the dances for a school celebration of Panamanian cultures. The boys and girls would pair up, dancing in circles, weaving in and out, with the boys whooping the characteristic "aaaauuuuwwee!" of the Azuero. Almost serving as a reminder that our world is constantly sharing tradition and culture, despite being on a remote tropical island. With the smiles on the kids' faces, I can't help but believe that sharing the culture of others is just as important as remembering your own.  

I love walking around Carti, seeing what people are doing. Sitting in hammocks sewing molas, listening to the Kuna radio news, cooking over big open fires, just living a life set by their place in the world and their tradition.

Last time I was in Kuna Yala I got the traditional beads wrapped around my wrists, which are called "Wini" in Kuna and "Chakiras" in Spanish. The kuna women have the Winni wrapped around about 6 inches from wrist near elbow on both arms, then from ankle to calf on both legs. I have always, always loved the look of this ever since I first saw a picture of a Kuna women in traditional dress six years ago. So this trip I got another inch added to my beads, sewn on by a very old Kuna woman who spoke no Spanish.
It's the rainy season in Panama currently, so about mid day I made my way back to Isla Azuelo. There, my 11 year old, adorable, Kuna friend Alan proceeded to take me on a kayaking adventure. As we paddled around the island, we picked up the few pieces of floating trash, and discussed the importance of coral reefs. I don't think he was aware that coral is alive, and that it's integral to the health of the ocean. So every time our kayak would brush up on some coral I would shudder and remind Alan of the importance coral reefs, so I hope he now might take extra care as to where his ore goes.  But he was very eager to help pick up trash!
On the islands, I'm in a constant state of awe. I almost want to say that my heart aches when I see what's around me.  The sheer beauty, looking across the water and seeing the sky and the ocean reflecting off each other, the hundreds of shades of blue, and the colors are always changing. Some times the light looks almost light purple, other times a deep blue. I could be there for a thousand days and never get tired of taking in the beauty.

My hosts, brothers Eulogio, Germain, and Joaquin, and their sisters and nephews, are such a joy to be around. They've all come in contact with travelers from all over the world, and they can remember details of each one of them, knowing they have friends all over the world. It's great for the kids too, because they become very open and cultured, counting off countries where they have friends on their fingers. The kids love to practice their English with me.  This family has elements of the modern life of Panama City and beyond, but are always true to their roots and their hammocks.

As I sat at the family table that night in Carti after a dinner of fresh caught red snapper and patacones, I could hear the shaman singing and chanting a few homes down. It was eerie and so beautiful to experience this unique culture in such an intimate way. A surreal ending to such a precious day. 


I look forward to introducing you both to MY corner of Guna Yala: Ustupu!

Michael February 14, 2013

Hi I also went to panama like you however I was not able to get a wini like you. I think they are truly beautiful and I wanted to buy some since the first time of seeing them but I didn’t know where to look and we were on a tight schedule. I’m terribly curious, how much did you pay for yours?

Amber September 29, 2012

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