"Kuna Yala and the San Blas Islands" Comarca de San Blas by Waxbag
Comarca de San Blas Travel Guide: 31 reviews and 157 photos
The San Blas Archipelago consists of approximately 350 coral islands spread along a 226 km strip of coast in the south west Caribbean. The islands are mostly uninhabited slices of paradise consisting of a narrow strip of white sand shaded by rows of towering coconut palm trees surrounded by immense barrier reefs that keep the waters serene and outrageously turquoise. Don’t take any coconuts though! These islands are well taken care by the Kuna Indians, the best preserved culture in all of the Americas, and their land is called Kuna Yala. These small dark skinned people (second smallest to the Pigmies in Africa) live on densely populated islands dotted throughout the Archipelago. This semi-autonomous nation lives peacefully under the guise of the Republic of Panama. There are 55,000 Kunas (this is 10% of their pre-Colombian numbers, surprise surprise) who live under a highly organized social system. The Kuna economy is dependent upon exports of coconuts, lobster, king crab, octopus and molas (colorful traditional textiles produced by women and the occasional transvestite). The men have completely given up their traditional dress for jeans, tee-shirts, and New York Yankee baseball caps. The women, however, are among the most colorfully dressed in Latin America. The women control the money but the men get to do all the talking. Each village, of up to 1000 people, has three Sahilas (chiefs) and three Caciques (high chiefs). One male is elected to be Supreme Leader of the entire Kuna Nation (I wonder if he has an Ulu Force One). Town meetings are held in the ‘Congreso’, a big hut, where the Sahilas get drunk on brewed sugarcane, called chicha, while swinging in hammocks. Rants are common and yelling is used to keep people suffering from boredom and chicha-induced slumbers awake. These leaders have been successful in maintaining the traditions and cultures of their villages from the onslaught of the Western world. Outsiders cannot own land, settle, or intermarry. In some places the Kuna police patrol their village removing any ‘illegal’ items such as boom boxes. Generally being a peaceful people, the Kunas nearly had a disastrous confrontation when Panama succeeded from Colombia after coming under tremendous pressure and assistance from the United States (who didn’t want to build the Canal on Colombian soil). The Kunas failed to recognize the newly established Republic of Panama in 1903 staying loyal to Colombia. Subsequently, the Panamanian police were sent to the islands to maintain order. On February 21, 1925 the police and Kunas of mixed heritage were slaughtered by the Kuna warriors in what is known as the “Holocausto de las Razas” (Holocaust of the Races). The Supreme Leader proclaimed independence on the 25th. The Panamanian military campaign set in motion to retaliate against the Kunas was only prevented when the USS Cleveland of the United States Navy intervened and stopped what would surely have been a massacre. These days the only assault you may encounter with a Kuna is from a dug out canoe, called an ulu, by an arsenal of king crab, red snapper, octopus, and colorful molas.
- Pros:The best of the Caribbean
- Cons:Very difficult to see without taking a charter sailboat
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