Panama and the Cuna tribe – by Lara

schueler.lara.docxVisiting the Cuna Tribe. This was the first time in my life I had contact to the Native Americans. Never before have I had the chance to get a firsthand insight into an indigenious culture. And I can say that this experience was not just fascinating but also awkward. Actually we had some problems to communicate, because neither the Cunas nor we could speak Spanish really well. That’s why we spent most of the time with the little children who were jumping around us trying to hop on our back. Some girls were also sitting around us braiding our hair or at least they tried to, but especially untangling my curls turned out to be much more complicated than expected. But let’s start with the beginning.
On Tuesday 29th we finally arrived in El Porvenir after a voyage of seven days. Everybody was excited and couldn’t wait to explore the foreign islands around the ship, better known as the St. Blas Islands. Especially when the Cunas started to surround us in their small boats knowing that every year when the Thor arrives they will get the chance to sell their “molas“ and bracelets on board, both groups – the pupils and the indios – weren’t able to hide their curiosity. But of course the sails had to be packed at first. That’s why everybody was relieved when the Cunas entered the ship. After a few minutes the main deck was turned into an explosion of colours and amazed voices. But since I helped with the clearance and went to the airport, I wasn’t able to join the bazaar. All I can tell you about this event is that the bracelets Karla bought for me are absolutely adorable. Actually I’m happy that I left the ship instead of participating in the action on board, because that way I had the chance to meet Faustino, who is the owner of the Cultural Museum of Cuna Yala. Unfortunately, the roof of the building was destroyed by a huge storm in September so we weren’t able to visit it. Still wanting to learn as much as possible about the foreign culture of the natives, we invited Faustino for dinner so that he could tell us about their history, traditions and art.
In the afternoon we spent our time in one of the Cuna villages. There they offered us to sail in one of their typical boats made out of only one branch of a tree. This was a pretty different kind of sailing and in case of an accidental jibe it would have turned into a pretty wet experience. Anyway we had a lot of fun on board and even more fun with the green parrot in the ‚harbour‘ who loved our new bracelets a little bit too much. Actually he tried to eat them.
As time was passing by we spread out to explore the little island on our own. While some searched for the cheapest hammoks or tried the cakes, which were sold in a little bakery, some boys played volleyball against the Cunas. Actually ‚played‘ wasn’t the correct term. ‚Tried‘ would be a better word, because the young Cunas seemed to be unbeatable. Everybody in the crowd had a lot of fun watching this sort of interesting game. At the end of the match the boys still hadn’t enough so they started a basketball match. What do you think? How did the game end? Yes, the Cunas scored so many baskets that we stopped counting them. At that point of time we – the girls – met our new friends. Although the Spanisch of the little children was even worse than ours, we had a lot of fun. It seems that imitating horseback riding is en vogue all over the world. And for that moment everything was perfect. But unfortunately all good things have to come to an end (as Nelly Furtado would say), and we had to leave way too early, because at half past six Faustino would arrive. Now the situation became complicated. The children just did not stop jumping around us and furthermore started to hug our legs in order to prevent us from leaving. Of course this didn’t make things easier, but somehow we managed to escape from the island.
Back on board everything was ready for the visit of Faustino. As a special meal the galley prepared ‚Kartoffelpuffer‘ hoping that our guest would like them as much as we do. (Unfortunately he did not, but he was too polite to tell us.) When Faustino and his little family entered the ship, Sophie and I had the honor to show them our home, which was already difficult in English and nearly impossible in Spanish. Somehow we survived the embarassing tour and furthermore our guests liked it.
Afterwards everybody gathered at the main deck hanging on every single word Faustino said. He told us about the relationship between the Cunas and mother nature and the problems caused by plastic waste and tourism. On top of that we all were fascinated by the strength of this small tribe throughout history. It was also pretty interesting that in their culture the girls have a central role in society in contrast to the boys. That’s why the traditional feasts are celebrated in honor of the girls. In the end it wasn’t just an enchanting experience but also inspiring even though it was just a short visit. It really made me think about our lifestyle and our values in society and the way the Cunas treat nature really impressed me. By letting us sleep on their island without asking for money, they showed us that there are things which are more important than money. In return we collected some waste from the island. And the night we spent on the Cays Holandés, after having left El Porvenir was one of the best moments of this voyage, which finally made us feel like one big group. Thank you to the tribe of Cuna Yala!