The Kuna (Guna)
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The Kuna (Guna)

Colorful Farmers and Fishermen

Colorful Farmers and Fishermen

The Kuna people, also Cuna and Guna, refer to themselves as Dule or Tule, meaning "People "in Kuna language.

The Gunas live mostly in the San Blas Islands, in north-east Panama, where they own three politically autonomous comarcas, sort of reservations, the Guna Yala , Madugandí and Wargandí. Some migrated to the country's main cities and others live in Colombia. In total, there are around 60.000 Gunas in the world.
Snapshot

Snapshot

  • Region is South America

  • Climate here is Tropical

  • The challenge here is Medium

  • This trip has been rated 5 by other travelers

Life

Life

The Guna base their economy on agriculture, fishing and weaving traditional clothes which are exported internationally. They export lobsters and other fish, but they also consume imported foods and domestic animals. Coconut, plantains and cocoa are also exported, but tourism remains the primary income for the community on Guana Yala island.
Home

Home

The typical housing structures are big and large thatched huts. These cans accommodate an entire family, including several generations. Solid tree trunks used as main pillars, bamboo poles for support, dry leaves for the roof and walls made out of bamboo or cane.

Culture

Social Structure

Guna families follow matrilineal kinship, and after the marriage between a man and a woman, the groom takes the bride's last name. In Guna Yala, the "Saila" is the leader of each community political organization, with political and religious powers. He also keeps traditions alive by singing ancient songs to the community. Congress House, or Casa de Congreso, is a structure where decisions are made and where the community usually meet.

There are 49 communities in Guna Yala, and the region is governed by the Cuna General Congress led by three Great Sailas.

Religion

The Guna have a creation myth with Pab Dummat, the Big Father, and Nan Dummat, the Big Mother. The religion named the "Father's Way". They often participate religious singing gatherings where the myth is narrated. Many Guna today attend Catholic and Protestant churches.

Traditions

Guna verbal traditions include three different types of chants: the "pab ikar", historical, religious and political material sung by Sailas; the chants sung by kantules (ritualists) during female puberty rites; and finally, songs sung during healing ceremonies.

Guna dance groups are becoming popular among the youth, which often uses rattles and pan flutes during the celebrations.

Language

The Guna language, called Dulegaya, is an aboriginal language part of the Chibchan family and considered endangered. Spanish is also widely used.

Art

The Guna are famous internationally for the traditional "molas", often used to make the blouses of the traditional dress, still used today by Guna women. These are colourful fabrics made with the techniques of appliqué and reverse appliqué.

Celebrations

Main life changes, birth, becoming an adult, and death, are marked by special chanting. There are two essential ceremonies both dedicated to the girls. The first one, the "inna tunsikkalet", take place when the girl has her first menstruation, followed by a period of confinement. During this time the mother and other women from the village will bath her with seawater. The girl is entirely painted with jagua juice for protection against evil spirits, and her hair is cut slightly shorter. The second puberty ceremony is "the inna-suit", in which the community celebrates the girl's transition into womanhood. These rituals usually followed by days and nights of chanting, dancing, feasting and drinking, that take place from one to several nights.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

The most common way to get around in the San Blas archipelago is by sailing from island to island. Flights can be booked from Panama City to the airports located on El Porvenir, Playon Chico, Achutupu, Ogobsucum or Corazon de Jesus in San Blas.

Garbage is often thrown into the sea. Please be conscious of the amount of waste you are producing since it could contribute to the local marine and land plastic pollution! Bring back all the rubbish you are building to dispose of it properly inland.

Please, always ask permission to the members of the tribe before snapping a picture!





San Blas archipelago
iStock.com/Simon Dannhauer

Colorful Kuna Artist
iStock.com/GeorgePeters

Colorful Kuna Artist
iStock.com/GeorgePeters

Traditional Kuna indian tribal
iStock.com/FrankvandenBergh

Kuna Yala village
iStock.com/DavorLovincic

Daily life in Kuna Yala village
iStock.com/helovi