Posted by: gardner310 | March 1, 2009

The Land Before Time




Welcoming Committee

Welcoming Committee

The Embera Indians were in Panama before Columbus “found” them and began the down fall of their culture.  I went on the shore excursion today to Pararu Puru, the village that is the furthest down river.  It is about a 2 hour bus ride over potholes with a little road in between.  The dugout canoes were waiting for us and 4 coach loads of guests piled in with our Indian drivers.   The canoes are motorized and can really get up some speed.  The local musicians were there to greet us and send us off.  Nothing like waving good -bye to a group of half naked men in loin cloths-a great start to the day!


The day was bright and the river calm as we made our way past a couple of villages to our destination.  We passed children playing in the river, families fishing for dinner and several other boats heading out to get provisions.

The Embera used to be a self-sufficient nation who hunted and raised their own food.  Then the government in its infinite wisdom made a national park of their lands.  Suddenly they were not permitted to hunt or grow crops.  So in 1998 the Embera opened up their villages to tourists and continue to host them to lunch and offer their crafts for sale.  The chief decides which village is visited on any given day and it must be done in cooperation with the chief.  No drop ins allowed.  The chief does not permit any handouts to the children because he wants them to learn that hospitality is a way of life for the tribes, not something they rely on for freebies.

This is like visiting the pages of a National Geographic magazine.  The men dress in beautiful beaded skirts, very short skirts, or simply a loin cloth.  The women wear short colorful skirts and nothing but jewelry around their neck.   The little ones are simply naked.

Sticker Boy

Sticker Boy

Each family offers their crafts in a market setup.  The men carve and the women weave baskets and do bead work.  The baskets they make are stunning and so tightly woven by hand that they will last to be passed down with your estate.  Depending on the size and design the baskets/plates/bowls can take months to finish.  Of course I contributed to the local economy and purchased a bowl for my cabin to liven things up and have a place to toss our keys and badges.  I also purchased some beaded earrings (no surprise to those who know me) and necklace for all of $8.  Even Michael was impressed.  That may be THE Christmas present for 2009.


Me and the Gang

Me and the Gang



I will plan to revisit the Embera before I leave the Canal route, hoping to see a second village and contribute yet again to their economy.



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