This is a remastered photo from a film photo scan.
When I met my first Guna while kayaking among the San Blas Islands of Panama, they were called the Kuna. After an orthographic reform in 2010, they changed their name to Guna. They are indigenous people of Panama and Colombia. They live as they've lived for hundreds of years, as you see this Kuna Grandma living. They primarily live among the 365+ San Blas Islands off the Atlantic coast of Panama. They are autonomous, governing themselves. Crime is rare among the Guna. It just isn't allowed. Period. In Guna Yala, each community has its own political organization, led by a saila. The saila is traditionally both the political and spiritual leader of the community; he memorizes songs which relate the sacred history of the people, and in turn transmits them to the people. We had the privilege of sitting in on one of the congresses as the elders told stories and recited laws through song. Often the group of elders in congress would be lying in hammocks for the services.
The economy of Kuna Yala is based on agriculture, fishing and the manufacture of clothing with a long tradition of international trade. Plantains, coconuts, and fish form the core of the Guna diet, supplemented with imported foods, a few domestic animals, and wild game. Coconuts and lobsters are the most important export products. Migrant labor and the sale of molas provide other sources of income.
I was a member of a crew kayaking among the 365+ San Blas Islands, camping on a different island each night. Because the islands belong to the Guna, we had to have the chief's permission to camp on the non-populated islands. Often the unpopulated islands are farmed for the coconuts so we had to be careful where we pitched our tents. A coconut falling on your head as you lounge outside your tent could ruin your day. We had gotten permission to visit on a couple of the islands where we could buy a cold beer. That was heaven since we never had anything cold camping.... we also bought fresh vegetables for the camp. And see that wrapping on the lady's legs? Yep, a couple of us girls just had to have them put on us. Cool. We were also invited to take a wild trip on one of their homemade sailboats. Each person had to relatively constantly dip water out of the hull with a scoop made from a plastic jug. This wasn't just for us for fun. It was necessary to keep the boat from sinking from the steady water that leaked in. I told you it was homemade, didn't I?
And, get this y'all ladies, traditionally, Guna families are matrilinear, with the groom moving to become part of the bride's family. The groom takes the last name of the bride as well.
Dulegaya is the primary language of daily life. I could speak my Spanglish and get by on the Panama mainland. It was useless with the Guna who often didn't speak Spanish.
I took several pictures of the people, including this one, after permission and the promise to send them the photos. I did that by courier..our guide on the trip. This beautiful lady got a framed 8x10. It was a privilege to meet these people They lead a very simple and primitive life and work hard but they seem happy and content with their life. They depend on the elders to lead them and keep them safe. It works.
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