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a kuna yala introduction

Posted by on April 8, 2013

January 30 – February 1, 2013

The smell of wood smoke filled the air. Several small huts were almost camouflage amongst the palm trees. A dugout canoe moved through the water with two Kuna Indians in search of fish. We had arrived in a whole new world. The world of the Kuna Indians in the San Blas Islands.

We would have plenty of time to explore the ways of life of the Kuna Indians. However, first we needed to haul up anchor and sail the 4 miles over to El Porvenir for clearance into Panama and the Kuna Yala nation.

Kuna huts & ulu in the Chichime Cays

Moments after putting our anchor down in El Porvenir, a couple of Kuna women with their children paddled over in a dugout ulu (canoe) to show us their handmade molas, bowls, and beaded bracelets that they had for sale. We had heard so much about the beautiful molas of the Kuna, so we were excited to purchase our first one.

Clearance into Panama and the Kuna Yala nation was simple and quick. After visiting the offices for port captain, immigration, and the Kuna Congreso (all in one building located right next to the main dock), we moved over behind Sail Rock, where we could be near to s/v Saliander for our escape hatch repairs.

Kuna Indians selling molas near Porvenir

During our stay near El Porvenir, we completed our temporary hatch repairs, did several bucket loads of laundry, and toured the village on Wichuhuala where we were able to find some basic food provisions.

the village of Wichuhuala

A walk along the raked paths of the village gave us our first peek into the lives of the Kuna Indians. Their open-air huts were made of palm thatched roofs and bamboo walls. The dirt floors were slightly elevated with compact sand that was kept neatly brushed. Each “backyard”, surrounded by bamboo fencing, contained a small garden and maybe a dog or some chickens. Kuna kids were running and playing along the path, and many Kuna women had their molas displayed outside their homes.

In this matrilineal society, most Kuna women were traditionally dressed in brightly colored blouses and skirts with beaded leg bracelets worn from the knees to the ankles. Surprisingly, the men were dressed in “regular” pants and t-shirts. Kuna men were working various jobs throughout the village. I had to do a double-take when a Kuna man passed by in regular clothes, wearing a ball cap, and walking a small poodle-type dog on a leash. His image just didn’t fit the rest of the picture!

Once we achieved all of our chores, we were ready to move to our next group of islands in the San Blas. The islands of Miriadup, Tiadup, and Nugaruachirdup of the western Lemmon Cays would be our next stop.

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