History of San Blas
Guna yala also known as San-Blas islands is an autonomous province of Panama which includes approximately 400 islands and only 60 of them are populated. The Kunas are one of the last indigenous tribes of amerindians chibcha people. In the Kuna language, they call themselves Dule or Tule, which mean literally “person.”
They were living first on the Darien province of Panama which is now considered as the jungle border between Colombia and Panama. They were living in approximately 60 independent tribes sharing the same language and culture. All this tribes were not trading with one another, some were even fighting, additionally the Europeans conquerors came in purpose to finding gold, it push kunas to move for a safer place.
They choose to settle down around 1600 in the Atlantic cost of Panama, first in mainland then they moved to the San-Blas islands. The soil wasn’t really fertile so, no other tribes tried to settle down there. Also the Spaniards was busy looking for gold and fighting with tribes.
So, the kunas could establish their roots in their new environment and start to make San-Blas a better place to live by growing fruits and veggies, they maintain their way of life by trading seafood, yuccas, and other ailments with pirates who also establish themself in the hidden shallow water of San-Blas.
Kunas are one of the only tribes to preserve their traditions over centuries, until now.
Women are center of kuna culture, so, they take decisions, and rules the life. Kuna women also realise the beautiful art of molas. This fine art is made from their old clothes and realise hand made with skills. It is an unic art, it need patience and experience. If you want an idea of the technique they use to make molas, you can click here.
During you boat trip you will visit some kuna villages, it will be the occasion to discover the independent San Blas and bring back home some authentic, unic souvenirs and original gifts.
How do the kunas manage to defend their culture and religion
They had to fight for their culture from the beginning until now. But luckily they have strong believes. It started with religion, cause Guna Yala people have their own religion. And before the European invader they were use to paint their body, during the Spanish colonization some of them have to converted to Catholicism but Kunas are really resistant and even under the pression of Europeans most of them still believe in their own religion.
GunaYala people also had a really specific and high rate of albinos who are considered as sacred (albinism is congenital distortion which affect the melanin production of the skin, and give them a white color and blond hairs) For understand why albinos people are sacred for the kuna religion we have to speak a bit about mythology.
Venus was one member of the first family and she was raped every nights by an unknown, and finally become pregnant of sipus kids (albinos). She asked “pachamama” the mother of nature for help to find out who was the rapper. Pachamama tell her to put ink on the bed to be able to recognize the man when the sun will rise When she find out than it was her own brother, this one decide to hide in the highest mountain of Guna Yala where he turned into the moon.
Their albinos kids grows and protect the moon from dragons who are suppose to eat the sattelite during the lunar eclipse. it’s why albinos are considered the children of the moon and are sacred for Kuna people. Still today, when come an eclipse, the albinos kids go out at night and pull some arrows into the sky to protect the moon from dragons.
Traditional Kuna singing
Chirldrens of the Moon : San Blas the highest rate of albinism in the world
Before the arrival of the Spanish inviders it was approximately 1 albinos born for every 150 Kunas (the global average is around 1 for 20,000 births in the rest of the world)
Albinism is an hereditary condition that is results from the combination of two parents carrying the gene. In most of the country around the world, it considered as a bad luck. In some countries, albinos are even harassed or murdered or eaten for obtain more power. Which explain why there is a lot less in the rest of the world.
The Guna Yala people, treat their albinos children with a special respect cause they are considered as a blessing of Gods.
If it s hereditary, why there is less Albinos now?
The interesting part is why so few albinos Kunas in the early 20th century?
When the European inviders came they bring with them their culture, religions and faith. They teach to the people of San-Blas than albinos was bad, a sign of bad luck or even sorcery, it s sadely how the infanticides against albinos babys started…
Luckily since the end of the 20th century, the rate of albinos is rising, thanks to the science which explain by genetic why albinos is just a normal genetic modification present for humans, animals and even veggies, which stopped the infanticide and come back to ancestral tradition of sacred and even a blessing for the family.
The Guna Yala Revolution
After fighting for keep their religion and their faith, they had to fight for their culture and their independence.
At the beginning of the 20th century the Panamanian authorities, tryed to force the San-Blas people to adopt the Hispanic culture by violent military actions.
They for example tried to change their matriarchal community for a patriarchal one, and try to change their colorful clothes for classical ones, and take off the gold ring of the women nose, which is give to women during a really important ceremony for people of San-Blas. Panamanian government used violent military forces to change them and it was the start of riots, which became in few years with the permanent police abuse a real Revolution with an apogee in February 1925.
A policeman was killed and his dead body was tight to a stick on the sand during days to serve as example and offer a strong answer about the fact than San-Blas people will not erase their culture. It resulted a big gap between Panamanians and Guna Yala people, but a mediation made by the United States, re-united Kuna Yala with Panama.
The Kunas, with the support of the Panamanian government, created an independent province called Guna Yala district where they are able to rule themselves.
Which future for San Blas
Kuna people always had to fight to preserve their way of life, and if today they have a bit of peace, with the help of tourists who buy them fish, coconuts and art, exactly like did the pirate there is 400 years ago, a new big problem is coming, and a new fight will be necessary.
Their new fighting will be ecological, the San-Blas islands are really shallow, and they will disappear under water, with the global warming and the water coming up, the scientists said than in 20 or 30 years ago most of this beautiful islands will be under water. The Kuna people live from selling their fishing and art, and it will be really difficult for them to live on mainland.
So, if they want to stay, they will have to find some new options like in some place in Indonesia where they build flotting village and even floting islands.
For now people of San Blas don’t think about that, and just enjoy their traditional and sustainable way of life with the help of tourists. But tomorrow will come soon and this little paradise, will as the Atlantide be submerged by waters and keep the secret of is beauty for books and scientists.
Visit GunaYala and meet Kuna people, we propose private catamaran charter to the amazing San Blas islands. They fish respectfully so, the wildlife is untouched and you can appreciate some nice snorkeling spots. Discover the independent San Blas and admire this extraordinary wildlife, you will discover here almost all kind of existing turtles. Learn more about wildlife clicking on the link below:
We spent 5 days on Onatigle with our 4 kids. We had a great experience. It’s not our first cruise, but, this time was amazing… professional crew, islands all around and really good snorkeling spots (don’t take less 3 days) we don’t want to come back home ?
Thanks to the crew for been so kind, and let our kids on their supervision touch the wheel. They now want to be sailors?…
Our parents offer this honeymoon, it was amazing, we feel like prince and princesse, the food was delicious, San Blas are so beautiful! Priceless memories…
8 girls, 3 days of party! Every year we take 3 days without kids and husbands, just friends. San Blas was one of our best travel.❤