Guna Yala, the Land of the Guna. A land full of mysticism, magic, and legend from both nature and people. It was the perfect backdrop to meet those who are often known as “the people who would not kneel,” the Gunas. Considered one of the three largest indigenous groups in Panama, the Gunas can be found on a narrow strip of land in an archipelago of over 365 islands located on the east coast of Caribbean Panama. Known as a proud and resilient group, they claim to own an island for every single day of the year.
For our morning expedition, we visited a small section of the untouched and holy mainland by navigating via Zodiac on one of the river systems, Rio Canita. Here, locals explained the importance of medicinal plants to their culture and how they preserve the forest of their land, thereby preserving this culture for all the Gunas to come. The connection people have with the land connects them to their future and to their past. In a very intimate visit to one of their burial sites at the end of the river, we learned about the strong bonds people maintain with lost loved ones by giving them to the land, together with personal belongings that help prepare the loved ones for their journey to an afterlife.
Later, we had an opportunity to visit one of the largest communities on one of the most inhabited islands nearby. We learned about the people’s education, their lifestyle, and one of the most striking features of their culture, the Molas. A reverse applique technique that has been carried on by generations of women, traditional stories of men and nature are layered in different fabrics, cut away, and stitched to reveal intricate designs of color and pattern.
Finally, in the afternoon, we were delighted with a visit to Anmardub. This island is packed with coconut trees, white sand beaches, and crystal-clear waters surrounded by coral reefs and seagrass. We enjoyed snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking. We drank coconut milk straight from the drupe and enjoyed a dance and music show put on by some of the locals. It was truly a spectacular visit to a very unique place on the Caribbean Coast of Panama. Next up…Colombia.