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The History of the Kuna Indians

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Written by Editor   
Wednesday, 25 October 2006 10:00
Out of the seven recognized indigenous tribes of Panama, the Kuna are the most organized and independent. They are also the most recognizable. There is no mistaking a Kuna woman. They wear beautiful and brightly colored tapestries called molas around their waists and wrap colorful beads around their wrists and calves. The beads are called winnis and are supposed to protect them from malicious spirits. Bright red scarves adorn their heads and they usually have a black line running vertically down the length of their nose with a gold ring placed through the septum. As we shall see, the Kuna have a very interesting and colorful history. The Kunas are believed to be the only tribe who are direct descendents of the Caribs, a group of Indians who lived in parts of the Caribbean and earned the unfortunate distinction of being the first Indians to meet Christopher Columbus. The Kuna live mostly in northeastern Panama under their own constitution and have a total population of 70,000. About half live in a semi-autonomous region called the Comarca de Kuna Yala or district of the Kuna, which is governed by a general congress. This region is on the Caribbean side of Panama and is nestled between the provinces of Colon and Darien. Most of the Kuna who live in the Comarca reside on 48 densely populated islands that make up the of the San Blas archipelago.

The origins of the Kuna are unclear and are heavily debated by ethnographers. Since their language shares similarities to tribes living near Costa Rica, some scholars believe they immigrated a few hundred miles from the west. This theory goes against their oral history, which explains that they moved to Panama in the 1600s after a series of devastating and fierce wars with Indian tribes in the jungles of Colombia. There is ample evidence that the Kuna were well established in Panama when the Spanish arrived. Conquistadors recorded that the people they encountered used the Kuna word ‘ulu' for canoe and ‘oba' for corn. In addition, nearly all of the rivers in the Darien have Kuna names.

What is known for sure is the Kuna have only been living on the islands for a very short period of time- only about one hundred and fifty years. Up until the early 1800s the islands were completely free of people with the exception of pirates who used the islands as a hideout.

The Kuna were Supportive of Colombia when the movement towards independence gained popularity. When Panama broke away from Colombia the Kuna resisted. In 1915, President Belisario Porras tried to quell the insurgency by establishing a governor in El Povenir and placing police officers from Colon in many of their communities. In 1925, after many indignities by the police, the Kuna staged a revolt which was led by Nene Kantule. Armed with arrows and machetes the Kuna proclaimed themselves independent and killed 22 police officers and 20 Kuna who befriended them. The Republic of Tule was declared which later turned into the Comarca de Kuna Yala. Finally in 1952, after many years of negotiations, Panama ceded the land around the San Blas to the Kuna.

The Kunas still have a relationship with the Colombians. Every year, rickety wooden schooners from Colombia laden with cocoa, soup, soap, and trinkets come to San Blas to trade with the Kuna for Coconuts. The Kuna probably sell the most coconuts out of anybody in the world. Infact, up until the late 1990s, the coconut was used as currency.

The traditional belief in Nana Dummad or mother earth is still strong, despite lots of churches sending missions to San Blas with the purpose of converting them. The Kuna are engaged in a battle to preserve their culture as they straddle the modern and traditional worlds. But lots of Kuna seem to be winning because they take the best of both worlds. Many Kuna go to Panama City for University.

You can experience Kuna culture first hand by traveling to San Blas. There are daily flights from Panama City and the islands are gorgeous. You have to pay a small entry fee or tax then you can roam around as you like. But don't think about buying one of the 360 islands, only the Kuna are allowed to own land here.

Panama History

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Mrs.
written by Christina Curry , September 29, 2007
I was facinated leaning about the Kuna Indians. Is it true that they believe they came to this planet from outer space by UFO's? I cannot find anything about that in their history, but I saw something about them on television that said that and I am curious to know if that is true. Please let me know what you can tell me about that.
Thank you very much, Christina Curry

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Greetings!
written by Gilberto Alemancia , October 08, 2007
Hello!
It's an interesting information about Kuna cultures. About Christina questiob, yep! We have an interesting history about the UFO info and our cultures(Kunas). Ok! Take Care and have a nice day.

Best Regards!
Gilberto!
http://www.pilotguides.com/community/travel_writers/panama_photos.php
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Kuna is awesome!!!11!!
written by Little Jimmy Blankenshaft , May 16, 2008
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wowzers, kuna shur sownds amazeing.
i lieked the part with the boes and arros
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Hi
written by David Hazuga , March 06, 2009
i am making a coment on this website
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Last Updated on Monday, 01 September 2008 09:29
 
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