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Catalyst Log, March 10, 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

The pictures and story you will hear happened on Feb. 25th so you can see I am still playing catch up.  We returned to Gerti and I have taught for 4 days.  I will do two days tomorrow and the next but then we will be gone for 2 weeks as my niece Terri and her husband Jon will join us on Wednesday morning.  Unfortunately, we may be getting some bad weather but we will enjoy their company non the less and with two weeks, we are bound to have some sun and fun in the water!

We will return to this island of Gerti to hang out and teach during most of April before we head home.  I will write more about teaching in April when I have been at it longer.  But even with only a couple of classes under my belt, the kids are repeating – “hello, What is your name?  My name is ….  Nice to meet you.  I am so proud!

Rob has been helping to set up the wiring and trouble shooting problems associated with the electrical systems run by the solar panels.  He is in the village now.  We will write more about that work as well.  All in all though, I work now for a few hours during 4 days a week.  I find I am happy tired and for the first time in 13 years, I look forward the the weekend!  When you are retired, you don’t get the chance to have the weekends off!  It sounds like I don’t like the teaching, I do!  Yet somehow, it is nice to have that weekend break.

Now to the title of my log this time, THE REVOLUTION!

Much as we celebrate the 4th of July when we declared independence from Great Britain for excessive taxation and punitive laws that stifled our way of life, the Kuna went through the same thing with the government of Panama in the 1920’s.  The Panamanian government sent in police administrators to the islands.  The Kuna had to ask permission just to go get water from the mainland river to wash clothes.  If they also came back with some bananas or yucca or some other food item, they could be beaten and arrested because they had not asked permission for this and all was property of the government.  The woman were told not to wear traditional mola blouses and not to use the beads on their arms and legs.  Even their traditional dances were forbidden and instead they were to dance as the Spanish style Panamanians danced, with men as a partner.  Men were pulled out of their homes and beaten and put in jail.  If there was no money to buy him out of prison, he would become a slave.  Often the women were used by the oppressors.  The normally peaceful Kuna could take it no longer.  The U.S. Had been involved with Panama in talks with the Kuna which had been going on for 2 years.   11 islands sent a message to the Ambassador of the U.S. asking for help.  When the Kuna revolted, it happened one island and then the next.  Communications and transportation at the time didn’t allow time for the police to send for help.  In fact the U.S. sent a war ship to the area to be sure that the Kuna were not slaughtered.  There had already been such an incident earlier and the Kuna population is still down from that time in history.

The Kuna used some sort of drug (not sure what) but it gave them bravery and took away their reservations about killing so that they could fight.  The Panamanian police were defeated and mostly killed.  Even the half breeds that resulted from the occupation were killed.  It was not a good situation on either side.  Over the years, the Kuna have won different degrees of autonomy.  They are similar to our American Indians in that the government doesn’t interfere in their culture or land autonomy.  The Kuna are very protective of their culture and traditions but what the government could not do at first, time and decreased isolation is starting to do.   I will comment along that line at a later date.

Now that you know the history, let me tell you about the way it was depicted.

There were a lot of boaters there for the event.  About 40 or so cruisers came ashore to experience the one day celebration.  The street was decorated with red flags.  Red is the color of the revolution.  Locals were dressed in traditional clothes.  We don’t usually see the young children in traditional clothes but we saw even the little boys in shirts that I am seeing more and more.  P1080192

The women and even the younger girls were wearing molas.  In this picture, note the little girl in traditional adult dress.


Many people put chairs outside of their houses to watch what was happening.  The spectators  in this picture could be a couple of old farmers in my home town, watching the parade that we do in August back in Nebraska.

P1080207The older women were busy getting molas out to sell.  P1080201Though we each paid $5 for the event and could take all the pictures we wanted to, the one woman is waving us away.  Older women don’t generally like having their picture taken as it was a belief that when your picture was taken, part of your spirit was captured and taken from you.  Today, people have cell phones with cameras and at this event, there were as many Kuna taking pictures as there were cruisers.  In fact, we frequently were the subject of their photography!

In the morning, there was a parade around the village and the cruisers were folded in at one point to be part of the parade.


We also saw some of the traditional dancing in the street.


You can see how wide the separation is between the buildings on the “Main street” of the village.  This island of Tigre had a lot more room and bigger houses and more open space than other villages we have visited.

After lunch, we came back to see little spaces set up to represent individual houses.  In each one would be a “Kuna family.”  The roles were played by the young adults and children in the village.  At each space, you could see traditional Kuna life depicted.  In this one you see, as in many others, the woman making the mola and her husband weaving to make a fan for cooking or some other task.

P1080231In the next are two guys, getting the wheat ready to grind.  P1080232Again, the mola making and fish net weaving are depicted.  P1080233

In this picture


you have a family enjoying a traditional Kuna meal.  Something that you see a lot of in life today is


someone sitting in a hammock, which is generally their only furniture, and someone mashing herbs.


The place where they were showing the drying of the corn showed corn like what we call “Indian” corn in the U.S.  They had used this corn that morning, boiling it and sweetening it to make a breakfast drink.  I don’t see them eating corn in tortillas or things like we saw in Mexico and Guatemala.


This family showed the weaving, mola making and child care.


Has the woman fanning the flames to cook the green bananas.

This last picture shows the building where the police were staying.  They are the bad guys in this enactment.


This is an interesting picture to note a few things.  The man with the green shirt has Pelican bones around his neck.  They are very light weight and used for ceremony although his was the only one I saw.  In the picture, note the young man putting on his shirt.  He is an albino and very active in the event and seems to be a leader among his peers.  You will also notice that the men and women in many of these pictures have their faces covered in the red substance that they put on my face for the Chicha ceremony.  I will have to ask more about it’s significance and what it is made from.

There was a place of honor for the leaders of the village and probably a few important visitors.


One of the main leaders of this village is an albino and you can see him on the far left in the front row.

The cruisers found benches around the side or stood.  Here, Rob has found a place to sit.


The day started cloudy but the afternoon got very sunny and shade was sought after.

Here is a picture of the “Bad Guys” walking around menacing the population.


They would go to each of the “Houses” where people were just being traditional Kuna, and drag the man out on to the street beating him viciously with clubs.  In this case they were made from foam but certainly sounded brutal.  The man stumbles and grimaces with pain.

P1080261 P1080272Often the women would follow, pushing at the police and crying and begging for the beating to stop.  It took a long time for all those families to be arrested and beaten.  We had warned that this part would go on for awhile.  Each person really put their heart into the acting job and if “THE ACADEMY” was there, I think we would have seen some awards!  In fact, it seemed so real that a lot of the children watching started crying.  Of course, what made it seem less real was all the Kuna and Cruisers with cameras getting in close to film the action.  Some young boys got in the act, picking up sand and throwing it in to the faces of the police actors.

The final act was a trick to lure the police with a special dance.  They even got some of the cruisers in to the scene dancing  more western style with Kuna men and women as their partners.  They were quite startled as suddenly the police were violently attacked and in this case killed.  Only two were depicted as being killed in this scene.


There was a woman in white shorts crying over the police.  I doubt very much they had white shorts in the 1920’s but she was obviously not depicted as a Kuna woman but one of the Panamanian women.  Note the young Kuna boy in the red shirt taking a picture of the killing.

Then it was all over and there was more dancing.  Two older men wore very old ceremonial hats and played instruments as the dance troop danced around them.


We had seen Kuna dancing on a couple of other occasions but in this case we saw some that we had not seen before.  We have some on video with the sound so when you see us, we can share that with you.

What was very nice was that there were a few older Kuna who spoke some English and would explain a lot of things to us.  We were made to feel welcome and efforts were made to enhance the experience for us.

When it was all over, many of the boaters went to the one restaurant/bar on the island.


I did a baking class the day before the reenactment since so many of the boaters who wanted a class were there in the anchorage.  It was fun but more on that later.  I actually did another class a few days later at another island.  Unfortunately, since the revolution reenactment, we have had little sunshine and many days of very strong winds.   As I said, forecast is for more of that to come.  It is unusual for this month which is supposed to be the driest.

Hoped you liked the pictures and the story.  I don’t know when I will write next as we will likely be on the go a lot with our company.   Know that you are always in our hearts and on our minds.  I love sharing all we do with you and wish you could each experience this unique part of the world in person with us.  Hopefully this will give you a taste at least.

Fair Winds,
Sue and Rob
Aboard Catalyst
Kuna Yalla, Panama

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