Panama’s Embera People

We sail through the Gulf of San Miguel, east of the Pearl Islands. Into the heart of Darien. It’s 2010 and we’re about five hours out of Houston.

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      The Zodiak careens through the surf and lurches toward the black sand beach. We exit from the stern, our shoes and cameras held high. And from the jungle’s edge, the Embera emerge to greet us. Their skin shines with fresh applications of dark pigments and beautiful new tattoos decorate their bodies. Today is a special day. It’s the end of the dry season and the last visit of the Pacific Explorer for eight months.
      They lead us to the village plaza where all has been spruced up with fresh palm mats and flowers. The flutes and drums play for us. And they dance for us and they dance with us. A candied mango delicacy is passed among us. I offer a cup of cold water to a little one. She sips and smiles broadly, dashing off to share with her friends. What a joyous visit with these gentle and happy people.
      The government of Panama is committed to protect the Embera and Woumaan peoples, allowing them to lead the life they choose. Contact with the outside world is controlled by the natives themselves, according to their own needs and desires. Their basket and beadwork is without parallel. These they barter at the few small towns along the coast and inland for any special goods they might desire. However, they are quite self-sufficient with small farms, fishing, foraging and hunting.
      A four-man military garrison is stationed at each end of each village in Darien. Not to police but soley to protect them from the guerrillas who would come out from Columbia and pillage for food and such.
      When it came time to leave, we were told that we would have to climb a steep ridge to the next cove. A storm on the horizon had increased the surf and the next beach offered some lee water. The villagers turned out to help some of the older folks. I gasped up unaided until the last fifty feet, whereupon I tuned around and found the extended hand of a fair young maiden. I should have tired earlier.
      Thank you Embera for having us. We’ll never forget you.
Photos by Dixie.

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