Kuna Yala

March 14, 2009

Colon, Panama

March 14, 2009

I’ve been elected to write the blog this time around because the captain’s creative thoughts are dampened by worldly worries.  It’s true that his writing abilities are more developed than mine but I’ll try my best to make this blog entry somewhat intelligible and entertaining.  However, I must point out that he can’t even draw a stick figure.  Oh well, you can’t have everything ….and I’m better looking too!
We left Cartegena, Columbia on New Years Eve and sailed on a down wind trip, port hopping through the San Blas Islands of Panama.  The San Blas Islands are located on Panama’s Caribbean coast. They are considered to be one of the most perfect cruising grounds in the world and are unique because they are home to the indigenous Kuna Indians.  The islands and their associated mainland territories are called Kuna Yala by the Kuna Indians.  Kuna Yala does not welcome industrial development and the rain forest land looks much like it did when Spainish first arrived hundreds of years ago.  An exception to the lack of industry is the introduction of high tech telephone buildings that are present on the most populated islands.
The Kunas are physically small but are well proportioned and appear to be very healthy.  They are for the most part, a very peaceful population.  The married women wear the traditional dress of colorful molas, glass beads around their arms and legs, tattooed face paint, gold nose rings, earrings and necklaces.  The men and unmarried children wear western attire; tee shirts, shorts and flipflops.  My experience was that they loved to be photographed and sometimes insisted that we photograph everyone in the family including the dog.  Since 1925 no Kuna is allowed to intermarry.  Violation of this rule results in expulsion from the tribe. Kuna Yala is a matriarchal society, the woman controls the money and the husband pays to marry her and then moves into her family compound. Family values appear to be quite traditional but there is a tolerance for gay and in particular, transvestite life styles.
Kuna villages are composed of huts that are made from cane and the roof is constructed from palm leaf found in the jungle.  Every village has two oversized huts, the “congreso” and the “chicha”.  The “congresso” is the townhall where the villagers congregate.  The “Sailas” is the chief who  provides wisdom for the Kunas and sings sacred songs.  The “chicha” hut is basically the local brewery.  “Chicha” is a distilled drink made from sugar cane that is used for spiritual events.  During these events most of the villagers, including the children become intoxicated.
Each island is a cooperative society. The day starts out early for the Kunas .  Many get into their “ulus” at sunrise and paddle to the mainland where they harvest fruit, firewood, sugar cane and coconuts.  Others fish for the village.  The women create and sell “molas”.  These are beautiful appliquéd textiles made by sewing and cutting different layers of cloth.  The designs range from geometric designs to abstract images of birds, fish, animals and depictions of Kuna life.  During our visit I developed a case of “E- Mola Virus” (a deadly buying disease coined by a fellow cruiser).
The water surrounding the islands that were close to the mainland were murky and sometimes inhabited by salt water crocodiles (yikes!).  We didn’t do much swimming in those waters.  The islands that were further west and away from the mainland had crystal clear water with beautiful reefs.  We spent many days snorkeling and visiting the reefs with the use of our “snuba” ( a  floating gas powered compressor equipped with two regulators that hang off its sides).  Jeff and fellow cruiser Stu from “Heartsong”  spent many hours hunting for lobsters to no avail.  We ended up buying them from visiting Kunas that paddle up to our boats to peddle them along with fish, octopus, vegetables, fruit and, of course, molas.  They also want you to charge their cell phones because they have no electricity on their islands.  It’s a very strange sight to see a traditionally dressed Kuna with a cell phone in their hand.
We left those islands in February, parked the boat in a slip at Shelter Island Marina at the entrance to the Panama Canal and flew home for a short visit with friends and family,  skied for a few days in Tahoe and bought stuff for the boat in Fort Lauderdale.  It was great to see everyone and I decided that once a year was not enough time for a visit home.  So, we will return to the states again in August.  The plan is to sail to Guatemala via the Colombian islands of Providencia and San Andres, with stops in the Bay Islands along the coast of Honduras.
At present we are dealing with boat issues such as a leaking hot water heater with a short and an up coming haul out date to get the boat’s bottom painted.

Typical Kuna village

Typical Kuna village

Ulus and laundry in Kuna village

Ulus and laundry in Kuna village

Kuna fisherman on a jungle river

Kuna fisherman on a jungle river

Kuna family visits Antares

Kuna family visits Antares

Traditional dress

Traditional dress

Village woman in her house

Village woman in her house

Mola maker with her child

Mola maker with her child

Selling molas

Selling molas

A visit with a Kuna family on one of the Chichime Cays

A visit with a Kuna family on one of the Chichime Cays

Playing with a Kuna family

Playing with a Kuna family

Antares at anchor

Antares at anchor

Antares interior

Antares interior

Antares main salon

Antares main salon

With Stu and Sandy on a Chichime cay

With Stu and Sandy from "Heartsong" on a Chichime cay

"Mola Maker"

"Mola Maker"

"Tree Blossums"

"Tree Blossums"

"Peruvian Flute Player"

"Peruvian Flute Player"

Advertisements