KUNA YALA(PEOPLE) HISTORY
(SAN BLAS ISLAND)
 
 
GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION: In order to understand the present circumstances of the Kuna people, take a brief look at the past. The Kuna indigenous people are a group of American Indians who inhabit the Guna Yala (San Blas) on the Caribbean Sea. The Guna Comarca is adjacent to the Panama mainland.  The Kuna people inhabit approximately 49 islands of the three hundred sixty five islands which form 170 mile chain lying about 12 miles off the Caribbean Coast of Panama from Kuna Yala point to the Gulf of Uraba. And they are divided in three "corregimientos". The first corregimiento is composed of the following islands: Nargana, Carti, Ukupseni and others; the second "corregimiento" islands are: Ailigandi, Achutupu, Usdup, etc., and the third corregimiento islands are: Mulatupu, Tubuala, Careto and many others. "They are more numerous than the days of the year", is a local saying. The statement is correct, for there are about four hundred islands. The Kuna Yala Islands are tiny creations of sand and palm raising barely enough from the blue-green Caribbean to escape complete inundation by the breakers of rough weather.
Scattered over a total distance of nearly 100 miles, the Kuna Yala islands stretch from a point beginning some 75 miles Colon to the borders of Colombia, many of these small coral reef islands are only about half a mile from the mainland of the Isthmus of Panama. These islands are well protected by reefs that larger vessels cannot approach.
 
The people who inhabit the Kuna Yala islands are the Kuna, also known as San Blas indigenous people. The Kuna people have lived on the mainland since the 1850's when they left the mainland.
 
THE KUNA POLITICAL ORGANIZATION :
It is based on the gathering house (local meeting house). Men gather nightly in the gathering house to discuss local events and problems, to make decisions on pressing matters as well as to listen to the advice of the sahila (Chief). Each island has at least three chiefs, interpreters (Arkarmar), and order keepers (suar-ibetmar). The chief's authority is officially recognized by the government of Panama as the local political authority.  Each year there are two general assemblies for the representatives from all the islands to discuss matters affecting the Kuna as a group.  The gathering house has played and continues to play a major role in the social and political integrating of the island.
 
The residence among the Kuna is matrilocal. Today, this pattern is beginning to break down in some of the more acculturated islands where it is yielding to neolocality. Under this traditional system, when a man marries, he moves into the household of his wife's parents and comes under the control of his father-in-law.  An older man with several daughters will, thus, segure the susbsistence needs of the household. About thirty years ago in Kuna Yala, household formed in this way, often holding from 7 to 12, tended to be large compared to those found today.  At the present time, there are some household in Kuna Yala with more than 6 members, and many have as few as five.
 
KUNA APPEARANCE ON THE COASTAL LINE
Only recently have the Kuna made their homes on the islands and open coast line having moved from the protective cover of the jungle, village by village, during the course of 150 years ago. When the Spaniards made their appearance on the Caribbean Coast, it was, no doubt, spurred, in great part, by the trade goods offered by numerous pirates and traders operating in the region during the 17th and 18th centuries who found the small coral and mangrove estuaries ideal for their activities. Eventually, when the day of piracy had passed by the end of the 18th century, the Kuna people cautiously emerged on the coast. By the middle of the 19th century, the Kuna people started transferring their villages to the islands, which even today still roam in regions through the mainland jungle of Kuna Yala.
 
Perhaps the most striking features of Kuna society is simply that it has managed to survive.  After centuries of contact with Europeans, the character of which was frecuently violent, the Kuna emerged in the 20th century with their cultural and political autonomy largely intact, a fact which singles them out as member of a small minority among the Latin American Indigenous groups.
 
SCANNING OVER THE KUNA CULTURE
 
RELIGION: The kuna religion consists of a complex system of chants and other gestures of appeasement used by the medicine man and by a group of people to control evil spirits. The evils are thought to reside in storms, rocks, and animals. People possessed by these spirits must be overcome by magic chants from the medicine man. There is also much reliance on inumerable small wooden dolls which are carved in human form and animal form, of different sizes, specialized in treating disease. Althought their use antedates the introduction of Christian concepts among Kuna Indians, such concepts have, to some extent, influenced their desigh. The symbol of the cross, however, appears to have been original in Kuna culture and the cross refers to the four cardinal point has served to strengthen their culture cohesion and has given them stability in a day when neighboring peoples have lost their traditions without development a new cultural identity.
 
In the gathering house ( ONMAKET NEGA ) or Kuna Congress House the chief instructs his people about the creation of the world in the sence that all parts of the world as well as the whole actively belong to Paba (God), and that his actions guide it.  In Kuna daily lives, "Pab nug ki anmar di mala" (We go around in the name of God alone). While shamans may look into the future a little, and laymen see things in dreams, read sighs, or make minor divinations, ultimately "only God Knows" (Pab Tummat bi wisi) what will happen, and everything that does happen was preordained by him. Concerning individuals, the doctrine states that the great grandmothers (Mu Tummagan) put a spiritual "hat" (kurguin), headdress on each person at birth that predetermines all the events and actions of his or her life. More generally, for every future circumstance, from the strenght of alcoholic beverage in the ritual ceremonies to the ultimate end of Kuna Yala, the Kuna take pains to stress that they follow God's will, which men cannot know until after the fact.
 
Orator in the gathering house preach that one's daily support and all good things come from Paba Tummat (God) and his spouse (Nan Tummat). "All of us today, as we began the day, drank the breast milk of the Great Mother. When we drank our coffee, we were drinking Great Mother's milk. Great Mother left a fine river for us, and as the sun began to rise, that was what we drank."
 
         The Kuna people praise the bounty of Pab Tummat and Nan Tummat and they deny that either of them has ever been selfish to their human children. According to the doctrine, the world is a working place(arpaet nega). "Truly God said, son, you will go around for a while (i.e. live your life) to work hard for me". Nan Tummat likewise gives women their task in life. In working for Pana Tummat and Nan Tummat, people go with the rest of creation, even being and objects in the natural world, such as rocks, rivers, and wind. Part of the job proper to many parts of the world is to provide sustenance and support for the Kuna people, and conversely, "Truly the Great Father brought us here to care for the Earth". Just how the Kuna "care for", "look for" or "maintain" all the part of the world that singers list, such as rivers, mountains, sea, and wind, never became clear, neither in the arkar's (interpreter) interpretation or in the one brief discussion I had with an informant on the subject.
 
A favorite theme of the chant is the briefness of life and the inevitability of sickness, and death. God sends people to earth for only a short stay, and there we live amidst a sickness (ponigan), in order that we should die and go to heaven. "Truly later on I will give you plenty of sickness", God said. "When you come to me, there you will find rest and joy".
 
LULLABIES:   Kuna culture is based on a matriarcal society. This can partly explain the unique individualis attributed to each singer while using conventional structures and styles.  Lullaby singing in Kuna culture is influenced by women's sphere or life. Lullabies are sung only by women, from infancy to adult life, and it is sung only during the day. Lullabies are sung to make children sleep; a rattle (naa-sis) is used in accompaniment. She swings in a hammock and shakes the rattle to establish a tempo and a beat. During her performance, she is constanly informing her child of the distinction between the work for men and that for women. From infancy up to age four, lullubies are sung. Children are advised about common sharing and to behave accordinly. If a child is a boy, he is told to be a good hunter, a good fisherman, and, above all, to be a good citizen. If the child is a girl, she is advised to keep the house clean every morning, to be a good host, and, above all, to be the best cook. All of the advice is giving through the songs of lullabies. All those constant messages are reflected in their daily lives.
 
As proof, we see that the Kuna have managed to live independently for centuries, and they are still struggling for survival. Children are told that they are guardians of the culture and that the future of the Kuna society rests in their hands. No one outside of the Kuna should live among God chosen people. The Kuna have tried to preserve the purity of their race, but time has overcome their challenge.
 
Lullabies also played an important role in the Kuna Revolution of 1925 because during that period of the time the children were brainwashed to defend their identity as a golden people (Olo-tule). They were told that no other ethnic group was better than they, and that the extinction of the Kuna indigenous people would mean doomsday. "People" fellow citizens, golden people, Paba Tummat (Kuna God) has selected the Kuna people to guard the paradise (earth) and has giving us this piece of land as a dwelling place, no foreigner will command here, said Iguaibilinguiña.
 
As a result of the teaching of lullabies, Kuna men expelled Panamanian guardmen who dared to impose their rules on the society in 1925. Unfortunately, the cultural cornerstones are fading away rapidly because of the curse of time.
 "Western influences most likely will not change Kuna traditions or the style of lullaby singing to any great extent for some time to come". Yet, there is always the danger that Western industrialism will in time destroy a tradition by enforcing incongruous contexts and functions on its society. It is hoped that a deeper understanding and a new-found respect for cultures and traditions such as experiences with the Kuna will prevent misguided "progress" from fatally harming that which it tries to help.
 
THE MOLA:
Despite centuries of struggle with larger cultures, the Kuna have retained much of their tradition. The Kuna were able to accept and adapt what fitted into their culture and rejected much of what was alien. Now there is a feeling of pride expressed in the woman's dress know as Mola. "Mola making is considered by the Kuna to be an integral part of their culture and important to their identity". Kuna women are proud to be the only people in the world who make mola.
 
Mola work originated from the transfer of desighs used for body painting to the cloth. Body painting desighs were first painted into the underskirt (picha), and later sewn into the borders of the blouse. Lionel Wafer, a 17th century buccaneer doctor who lived with native people in Darien, gave a vivid account of body painting:
 
They make figures of birds, beasts, men, trees, or the like, up and down in every part of the body, more especially the face, but the figures are not extraordinary like what they represent, and are of differing dimensions, as their fancies lead them. The women ar the painters, and take a great delight in it. The colour they like and use most are red, end blue, very bright and lovely..
 
Today, as before, women make molas using birds, beasts, men and other figures as desighs. Women prefer the same basic color combination: red, yellow or orange, and dark blue or black. There are similarities between body painting desigh, especially two-color geometric and figurative molas.
 
The importance which is attached to the mola can be seen in the fight to retain it when its existence was threatened. Panama tried several times to modernize and integrate the Kuna people by prohibiting the wearing of traditional dress; every time the mola was reintroduced as sigh of independence. When Panama took over the administration of the schools and introduced school uniforms, some of the girls kept the mola but made it in plain color for school; this practice by Kuna students shows the deeprooted customs of the Kuna people.
 
Mola refers to women's waist lenght blouses which consist of two rectangular appliqued panels, one in front and one in back, with a combining yoke and short sleeves. The Kuna classify molas primarily on the basis of differences in the technical process.
         The basic categories are:
 
ABINIGUAT : One-color; this term actually connotes one layer because the bottom layers is considered the base and not a color.
 
OBAGALET: Two colors; one layers sewn onto a base layer to form the desigh, with an extra layer (color) sewn onto the exposed base between the desigh element.
 
MOR-MARALET : Few colors; usually two overall layers above the base     layer.
 
MORGONIKAT : Many color; two or more overall layers with many filller  color, embroidery, and possibly applique.
 
Further distinctions are made on the basic of thinness of line, the complexity of desigh, and the subject matter.
 
HISTORICAL KUNA DRESS : There is not to say about it, since the Kuna do not have a written language, just the oral language that carried from generation to generation. It is said that women wore knee-lenght skirts and men had their bodies tattooed or painted from head to feet in gaudy colors by their women.
The molas or that time were 100%, curiously embroidered. No garments survived to show what techniques were used. The distinctive long garment and the gold, silver and feather ornaments denoted certain ranks, whereas body painting seemed to be more decorations.
 
The Kuna people traded extensively in the late seventeenth end early eighteenth centuries with buccaneers, pirateers, and companies that brought presents of scissors, knives, glass beads, and cloth. Those types of contacts also influenced the mola since on the molas there were buccaneer desighs, priests, and many others.
 
RITES OF PASSAGE WITHIN THE KUNA SOCIETY
 
BIRTH
When a Kuna women realices that she is pregnant (Kurguin nikka), she goes with her mother to one of the medicine men who has specialized in what relates to childbirth, for among the Kuna the profession or medicine men is highly specialized.  All medicine men have to go through an apprenticeship, and there are many different branches.
 
The medicine man gives the pregnant woman a little cup of medicine, and from then on, she must go for the prescribed medicine every morning.  The herbs of which it is made have to be fresh, and the medicine man takes daily walks to gather them.  The drink itself is usually prepared by his wife, while the patient waits.
 
The pregnant woman is also instructed about what to eat and what not to eat, and there are many things she must beware of looking at or touching. During this period, the husband may not handle tar or other sticky substances, and when fishing, he must avoid contact with sea-urching or fish with long spines, for all that may impede the birth.  If a birth goes wrong, often the husband gets the blame because he has been careless in some way.
 
When the time for the great event approaches, the pregnent woman is completely isolated and has to lie alone in a little hut used only for birth. This hut may be at some distance from the other houses in the village, but its most usual situation is on the mainland.
 
The husband is not allowed to be present when the child is being born.  Even the medicine man has to be content with sitting outside the meternity ward and getting reports from a midwife, to whom he talk and gives instruction through the bamboo walls.  If there are complications, the medicine man sings the "MU-IGALA" song and invokes the spirits who preside over creation and the beginning of life.
 
The Kuna take every possible measure to prevent children from getting any light on the mysteries of propagation and birth.  When the woman comes back home with her new baby, brothers and sisters hear a story which resembles the fables of the stork, expect that among the     Kuna it is a dolphin (uagui) that bring the ordered baby.  The children are told that the father asked a dolphin to bring a child, and that the dolphin complied and provided a sister or a brother.
 
The practice of concealing from children matters is so thorough-going that even pigs and other domestic animals are carefully isolated when giving birth. The children must not have a change to see what ought not to be seen, thus drawing their own conclusion.  Only during the puberty rites does a young girl hear sothing from older women about the facts of pregnancy.
 
This attitude of the Kuna indigenous people is most uncommon in a primitive people and among indians, especially, since most indian tribes are very liberal in their sexual out-look.
 
ICO INNA :
The life of a Kuna girl is marked by a series of events. The first social event is called ICO INNA (needle festival).  It consists of piercing a hole in the nose of an infant girl (2-4 month old), the hole is for the gold nose ring which a female child wears for the rest of her life.  Gold is very coveted in Kuna society, where the female is considered a treasure, resembling gold.
 
The ICO INNA is a day festival.  During "needle inna", there is a ritual and ceremonial drinking, but kantule does not perform and there are no games or dances.
 
PUBERTY
Puberty within the Kuna society is one of  the most sacred observances.  The ceremony which is called the "FLOWERING", is held at the onset of menstruation (menaychy) and involves four days of almost continous cold water showers.
 
Despide their usual modesty in matters of female, as soon as a girl has reached puberty, her father and mother make it known to the entire village.  This is necessary for many villagers because people will participate in the ensuing ritual.  A group of men gather palm leaves for an enclosure (surba) about ten feet wide, erected in the girl`s house.  Inside in a little wigwan barely large enough to accommodate her, the girl secludes herself during the incessant shower-bath.  A large hole has to be dug under the floor and connected by a trench built to the sea to keep the house from being flooded during the baths.
As many as eight shifts cooperate in puring water over the girl during the day, and four in the afternoon.  By nightfall of the first day, the girl, wearing only a loin cloth, is shivering uncontrollably.  Her only break comes after dark,  when she is allowed to add some clothing to the loin cloth.
 
Another ritual at this time seeks to forestell the girl`s future by mean of a male and female crab found on the mainland.  Two men go off search of crabs, and the depth at which they find the creatures is assumed to indicate the difficuly the girl will have in childbirth.  The personalities of the two crabs are taken as representative of the girl and her future husband; if the crabs fight each other, it is supposed to mean that the two will not get along together.  The order in which they die presumbly indicates which of the human pair will go first.  This part of the episode in no longer practiced.
 
The most sacred part of the puberty ceremony involves painting the girl black from head to feet to protect her from evil spirits which may be attracted by her beauty, and subject her to a fatal disease.  This painting occurs on the fourth day.  Two men go to the mainland to look for the jagua fruit, they dance ceremoniously and place the basket under the jagua tree, and the man who clims the tree circles its trunk as he goes up.  It symbolizes that the girl is protected from illness.  During the picking of fruits, there is much chanting to the jagua tree and its mate.  On their return to the island with the jagua fruits, the two men announce their coming by gunfire, and when two men get out of the canoe, they go straight to the girl`s house, playing flutes on the way home.  No one must lay eyes on the two men with flutes because it causes birthmarks on the girl`s future children.  "The jagua fruit was then used to make an inky black stain, which was painted on the girl as a mark of her flowering".  The painting sysbolizes the girl`s attainment of young womanhood and gives her status comparable to the one we accord a young girl when we begin to address her as "miss".  After four days of confinement, she is permitted to pull down the enclosure (shelter) in which she has been confined and to mingle with her friends. There is feasting, chants, and songs interspersed with ceremonial tobbaco smoking, falsetto singing, and music provided by panpipes.  Finally, the girl painted black rejoins her people.
 
INNA MUD-DIGUIT
The third kind of celebration is called INNA MUD-DIGUIT .  It is a one-day festivity, which starts early in the morning and ends around one o`clock in the afternoon.  It is not an obligatory celebration.  It is usually held once or twice a year after four months of communal or individual work such as slash-burning and, after he harvest, to thank Paba Tummat (Kuna God) for the newly harvested crops.  One to four girls are involved in this festivity, but all of them must have gone through the puberty rite.  In this kind of  festivity, the girls symbolize fertility and an abundant life of joy.  Inna mud-diguid is a very simple festivity.  The ritual events include smoking locally made cigar and blowing the cigar smoke on the ritual games or dances.  Unofficially the activities are held, like the play of panpipes, the performances of  healing and magical igargana (ways).  Play igargana and long intimate conversations in Kuna and other language that seem to light up during the drunkenness are evident.  When the last earthen jar of chicha is finished, a day of festivity comes to an end.
 
INNA SUID:
In the Inna Suid celebration people often affirm the joyous outpouring of their spirit and the creative play of their imagination in a variety of the performing and decorative arts.  The term celebration means, "the performance of a public religious ceremony or a sacred rite".
Inna Suit is the most important ceremony of the girl`s life cycle, even though the Flowering (puberty) is also an important event eclipsed only in social and economic significance by inna suid, also known as the "coming out" of a girl. The long chicha is an important event because it is a communal affair for the entire adult population of the island, and it is a highly organized event which takes more than six months to celebrate.  Each specialist (kantur, kansuet, ied, dised, metegaed, and many others) prepares for that main event, and every male adult must participate in one or another since it is an essential part or the traditional culture.
 
The Inna Suid is held when the girl is young (4-8 years old) but it may be delayed until she is fourteen.  Since the family must provide food for the entire village during the 4 days of festival, the inna suid is scheduled when a father can afford the feast.  Frecuently families combine resources and jointly sponsor the celebration in order ti share the financial burden.  If the girl`s father or family cannot afford a four-days festival, there are shorter forms of inna, one day celebration.
 
When the father inform the villages chief that the family is willing to celebrate inna suid, the chief makes the announcement during the nightly gathering, and a general planning committee is put in charge of coordinating the preparation.  This committee is guided by the inna sahila.  Banana, sugar cane, logs, and other needed items are collected.
 
Chica Brava is prepared under the direction of the INNA SOBED , a man who has had many years of experience in making chicha and who the people consider an expert.  The sugar cane is extracted very early in the moring (4:00am) and it is strained into the large containers; then, it is boiled, and returned to the canoe for cooling effect. Finally the cool liquid is poured into the large earthenware jars, covered with soft bijao leaves and stored along one side of the chicha house.  It takes twelve to fourteen days to be fermented; the jars are arranged according to their degree of fermentation. Nuchus (wooden dolls) are placed among the jars so that their spirits will protect and aid the fermentation; incense of cacao beans is burned daily as a nutrient for the nuchus. The Inna Suid celebration begins when the inna sobed announces to the villagers that the chicha will be ready within four days.  Then, the people go out for food and store ot before the chicha is held.
 
During the course of the festivity, the indians consume the fermented juice with the intention of becoming intoxicated.  Drunkennes is etnically correct and a religious necessity for the Kuna during the times of fiesta.  Drinking large amounts of chicha while participating in the festivity is essential to attaining glory after death, "storing money is heaven" or "obtaining salvation".  A kuna proverb counsels that if one does not become completely intoxicated with chicha, he will not enter the house of God.
 
While the festival is in progress, four distinct house are used: INNA SOGAG (Kitchen) where boiled plaintain, unfermented corn drink, and assortedmeats, and fish are prepared.  The "INNA NEGA" is the main house where the celebration takes place.  The "UAR UED NEGA" is a private house used by the festival committee during the first day of celebration, and the SURBA NEGA is a temporary hut where the hair of the little girl is cut on the morning of the last day of the festivity.
 
The Inna Suid formally begins around eight o`clock in the evening when the Kantur or Kantule orders chicha to be served.  Throughout the festival, comsumption of the chicha is a happy event which follow a well-defined procedure.  Who is to drink, the shape of the cup and the number of cups consumed are determined by tradition.  In the opening ceremony, chicha is served first to the Kantur and his assistants.  The men who distribute the drink (not daqued mar), stand in line and carefullly cradle calabash cups in their hands while two men dip the dark liquid from the large jars. With loud shout the men rush toward the kandur and his assistants who remain seated against the opposite wall.  Chicha is served to the Kandur four times in the way it is served to the other committee members.  Meanwhile the women part of the committee follow the same procedures as the men.  And finally chicha is opened and served to the entire village.
 
Around ten o`clock at night the KASBAG-NONOSOBED and their assistants prepare ropes to suspend the ceremonial hammock in the center of the chicha house.  While the kasbag-nonosobet lace ropes through the terminal loops of the hammock, other men twist long strips or bark, previously looped over the crossbean, into suspension ropes.  This work progresses alowly and methodically with frecuent pauses for the consumption of large bowls of chicha.
 
At midnight the Kandur and assistants prepare to make flutes that they will play during the festival. Two flutes and two maracas are required for each Inna Suid.  The KANSUED-MAR will have collected the materials for these musical instruments before the festival.
 
Before the Kandur cuts the bamboo stock, he consumes four cups of chicha (two male cups and two female cups) served to him by the kansuet.  The Kantur also eats small pieces of smoked meat and spits a portion into the ground to provide food for the spirit of the flutes believed to be present. The Kandur then cuts the longer bamboo (male flute) by trimming the bamboo to the correct length and puncturing two holes near the lower end.  The Kantur`s assistant follows the same ritual before proceeding to cut the smaller bamboo (the female flute).  When all the flutes are made, a group of Kansued-mar dance toward the kantur and his assistants with red hot augers in their hands to open the holes by burning.  If there is a slight mistake made by the kantur, he is punished with the biggest calabash bowl of the festival that he must consume; then, the ceremony continues.
 
By three o'clock in the morning, the flutes should be completed to continue with the next step.  Flutes and maracas are washed in buckets of water placed at the base of the four posts which support the house roof.  They also sprinkle some water over themselves for good luck.  After bathing the flutes and the maracas, the instrument are taken to the surpa, where there is another ceremony performed by washing the instruments in colored water with achiote.  It is almost daybreak when the rite ends, and the kansued and assistants dance rythmically forward and backward to hand in the flutes and maracas to the kantur and his assistants.
 
From then on, the kantur is the main attraction. He directs the chicha with traditional chants that describe in minutes the different aspects of the festivity.  He chants about the chicha house, how firewood is gathered for this main event, how chicha is made, how the girl was conceived, how she was born, and how the midwife wrapped her in bijao leaves is scented water. The kantur chants about the trees, the animals, the hills, and the valleys; how the sun rises and sets.  The chants are monotonous and repetitive.  The kandur sing one phrase while marking time with a maracas, his assistant repeats the same phrase with the same intonation.  Each phrase ends on a descending note and is sustained for a short time after the next chanter begins.  When the kandur becomes very drunk, his asssitant takes the position.
 
On the second day of the festivity, the hammock is lowered from the calling, and the kantur and his assistant sing while lying crossway in the hammock.  When the kantur chants about the origin of winds and breezes, the kansued swing the hammock in simulation.  Everyone in the chicha house remain quiet because it is considered bed luck if the kantur should fall.
 
On the morning of the third day, the kandur indicated when the girl`s hair should be cut.  The IED, a woman especially trained for this ceremony, leads the committee of women to the small surba where the little girl is waiting.  If the girl has not reached the menarche, she is considered innocent and does not enter the surba until just before her hair is cut.  If it is a postpubertal girl, she is confined to the surba throughout the entire celebration.  Before entering the surba, the girl's body is painted Jagua juice (genipa americana) to protect her from illness.
 
The girl sits in a pit facing the east, with her legs stretched forward and her head and shoulders above the ground.  Scarves completely cover her head and face.  The mother sits on the ground beside her daughter and holds a lattern powered by keresone; the ied sits behind the girl.  The hair cutting ceremony proceeds in stages.  Before this episode the ied and and her assistant must drink a certain amount of fermented chicha; sigui (the smallest cup) is the for the ied.
 
When everything is ready, the ied removes the scarf (musue or dunued) covering the girl`s head, combs the hair and removes four hair from the crown; immediately the ied divides the hair in four sections and starts cutting the hair as close to the scalp as possible.  The ied cuts slowly and deliberately, following the chant of the kantur in the chicha house, carefully saving the several strants in a scarf spread across her lap.  Through each successive stage, more hair is cut until only a narrow strip bordering the forehead remains.
 
The cutting ceremony now stops for long break, while groups of women crowd into the surba (small enclosure) to consume the content of two large vessels of chicha.  The kansuet and his assistants join the women in the surba to participate in this part of the ritual.  They share in drinking, play their pelican bone flutes and dance on boards placed across the pit to cover the young girl`s legs.  When the vessels are enptied, the group of men leave the surba, and  the ied proceeds with the last step which is to remove the remaining hair from the girl`s head.  Finally, the ied leads the committee back to the chicha house to inform the kandur that the hair cutting ceremony has been completed.  For the first time in more than four hours the girl leaves the pit.  She is bathed, clothed and taken to the kitchen where the newly made hammock is hanged, and she falls exhausted into it.
 
The festival does not end with the hair cutting ceremony.  It continues through the day and gains momentum towards night fall.  The enthusiasm of the committee is remarkable considering that they have remained in the chicha house for three consecutive days.  By midnight, the ceremonial hammock is lifted to the ceiling and the kantur and his assistants continue chanting while standing in the middle of the chicha house (Inna Nega).  The group of people begin the dance; they hold hands or grasp one another across the shoulders, form a large open circle, and dance around the kandur with simple runs, jumps, and the imitation of different kinds of animals and birds.  Suddenly the kantur and his assistants stop chanting and hang the instruments on the crossbeam of the roof.  The chicha house becomes strangely quiet as the participants collect their belongings and leave. The INNA SUID is over.
 
 
MARRIAGE:
When Kuna parents face the real business of securing a husband for their daughter, they go straight to the point.  Their negotiation may be most effective if they act when someone else`s daughter is going through the "coming out ceremony", for then they can take advantage of the general inebriation and confusion.  The daughter will not be told of their intentions.
 
They go to the parents of a likely young man and after a little polite conservation, speak of their daughter's eligibility.  There may be some show or resistence and a good deal of salesmanship may be required, but after a while the young man, who may be strolling about the village quite possibly unaware of the negotiation or event opposed to getting married, will be taken into custody and rudely hustled off.  During the day of the ceremony, the young man is sought, captured and brought into the girl`s house by four or more elders chosen by the future father-in-law. The young man is placed in a hammock, while the bride is seated under the middle post of the house with the veil covering her face which symbolizes virginity.  She is put in the hammock on top of the groom.  Four burning logs are placed under the hammock and they rock the hammock back and forth; burning logs symbolize that the newlywed couple is melted to become one unit. After the ceremony, both go to take a bath meaning that in the near future they will not be lazy.
 
The married couple must sleep there side by side which is a rather awkward feat. The girl's mother, moreover, chaperones them carefully all night.  After four days of sleeping side by side, the young man accompanies the father-in.law into the forest to cut down four long logs for the kitchen.  When he returns to his wife`s home, he is offered a large cup of corn beverage, and he is expected to drink it all.  If he does not, it may be assumed that he is not satisfied with his chosen wife.  After this period, the commuters can only look forward to another marriage.
 
DEATH:
When a Kuna man dies, the body is laid in a hammock in an underground burial chamber; afterwards, this is closed, and a shed is build over the grave.  Under the hammock a number of personal belongings of the deceased are placed and, sometimes, small objects are put into the grave for the dead people. One of the villagers may want to give something to a dead relation or a departed friend, and he or she takes the opportunity to send it by way of the most recently departed.  This is still practiced today.
 
The funeral ceremonies of the Kuna people include a chant by a special chanter to ensure a safe journey to heaven (paba nega).  The special chanter is known as MASAR TULE, who conducts the ceremony with the help of assistants.  They paint their faces red for the occasion, and adorn themselves in various ways. As soon as the body has been placed in the hammock, masar tule strikes up a very ancient song describing the sould`s passage through the realm of death.  This is extremely detailed, and it takes nearly twenty four hours to sing all the verses.  When the masar tule begins to tire, one of his pupile or assistants takes over so that there shall be no break.
 
 The death song is founded on ancient indian ideas common to many tribes of both North and South America.  When a man dies, his soul sets out on a long journey.  The basic theme is a description of all the difficulties it encountersand must over come in its gradual progress towards the deity.  The version found among the Kuna is distinguished by an inexhaustibly prolific fancy.  The dead man has a troop of guardian spirits to escort him during his long journey; these are appealed to in the song, and are instructed about what to do in order to help him out of all the danger and impediments.
 
The song is interesting also for the picture it gives of the Kuna's strict moral code of morality.  The motif or retribution appears time and again in the different sections.  One has to render an account for everythings he has done in life.  If one has told lies, one will be punished, and the punishment is described in detail.  If one has stolen anything, it must be paid for in the next life.  Even if it was only a banana from neighborn`s farm, the act has left a trace which cannot be wiped out till it is atoned for in the world of death.
 
The punishment that are described, however, seem mild and unsadistic in comparison to the European ideas of hell.  In one place, for example, certain soulds are punished by being made to walk a long time through violent storms.  In another place, the sould has to pass through a narrow gateway which is swarming with ants: here the women who have been remiss in sweeping the floor or their houses are punished.  Elsewhere, the punishment is that the guilty person has to swim a lake of tar.  The sould comes, on its journey, to a river full or blood..  For those whose consciences are clear the guardian spirits build a bridge.  But women who have beaten their children, and men who have beaten their wives or sisters, are punished by being made to swim.  There is also punishment for those who have mistreated animals.  All of this indicates a very high moral level, which makes it wrong to beat women and children, as well as to torment animals.
 
The Kuna indians have no regulations or commandments governing human intercourse with the divine.  The god does not demand sacrifice or ritual, nor that one shall believe. He is too far way for there to be any change of getting dispensation from his laws through prayer.  The sould has various adventures before reaching its destination and being reunited with its relatives.
 
BASIC CONCEPTS OF THE KUNA PEOPLE
 
CONCEPT OF GOD (Paba Tummat)
Kuna people conceive of God as the highest unity from which all the other things (man, animals, things, and nature) are derived, emanated.
 
In the gathering house, the chief (sahila) of the island acknowledges that Paba Tummat (Kuna God) created the world; that all part of it as well as the whole continue actively to belong to him, and that God keeps watch over our daily actions.  " We go around in the name of God alone" (Pab nugqui an mar gudii).  While shamans may look into the future a little and laymen see things in dreams, read sighs, or make minor divinations, ultimately "only God knows" (Pab Tummat bi wisi) what will happen, and everything that does happen was preordained by him.  Concerning individuals, the doctrine states that God`s spirit is with us at every moment; the Great Grandmother" put a spirit kurguin "hat" headress (es) on each person at birth that predetermines all the events and actions of his or life.
 
More generally, for every future circumstance, from the strength of alcoholic chicha in the ceremonies to the ultimate and of Kuna Yala, the Kuna take pains to stress that it follows God's will, which men cannot know until after the fact.
 
The chief in the gathering house preach that one's daily support and all good things come from God and his spouse.
 
"All of us today, as we began the day, drank the breast milk of Great Mother. When we drank our coffee, we are drinking Great Mother's milk. Great Mother left fine river for us, and as the sun began to rise, that was what we drank"
 
The Kuna people praise the bounty of Pab Tummat (God) and Nan Tummat (Great Mother) and deny that they have ever been selfish to their human children. According to the doctrine, the world is a work place. "Truly" God said, "son, you will go around for a while (i.e. live your life) toiling for me".  Nan Tummat (God's spouse), likewise, gives the women their task in life. In working for Pab and Nan Tummat, people join with all the rest of creation, even being and objects in the natural world, such as rocks and rivers.  Part of the job proper to many parts of the world is to provide sustenence and support for the Kuna, and conversely, "truly the Great Father brought us here to care for the mother land", said the chief Horacio.
 
CONCEPT OF NATURE
Nature has never more praised than in the Kuna oral literature.  The Kuna ancestors were more identified with nature than today`s Kuna.  They left the music of the winds, the murmur of rivers, the laugh of the Ocean waves.
 
"When I descended to this mother-land, brother river bathe me, brother wind dry me up, brother sun showed me immensity of the sky full of cloud dancing with the sound of music, and told me that Pana Tummat (Kuna God) made this earth for his golden people"
 
The Kuna people tried to seize this melody and inner rhythm and outpoured this in their mythical chants, curings, and counseling..
 
Nature for the Kuna People means happiness and daily lesson,
 
"Sonny, there is rainy season, dry season, sunrise and sunset; is happiness and sadness; there is light and darkness, triumph and failure.  See, my son, our life is programmed like nature.  God made this way, nature is our moral guide.  Our purpose on this coveted land is to take care of God-made things.  Therefore, they are your brothers.  Take care of them and you will be rewarded in the eight layer"
 
To Kuna people man and nature are considered parts of a whole. The Kuna ancestors identified themselves with nature.  They saw in nature a guide for ruling their lives, and they loved nature more than society, because they said that God, happiness, and wisdow were in nature.
 
The Kuna people admired nature with supreme delight.  In the presence of nature, they claim that a wild delight runs through man, in spite of great sorrows; not only do they admire the beauty of the landscape, but also the inward and outward senses because they are truly adjusted to each other.  The Kuna people love nature with a consuming passion, a love that they show in their majestic oral poetry.  Even death is a return to nature for the Kuna people, a return to the "divine entity". Indeed, nature is expressed, exalted and praised in every chief`s chants.
 
CONCEPT OF KUNA COSMOLOGY
Kuna cosmological thought draws together medicine, religion and government.  This logical integration is achieved by means of a doctrine or origins, which may be summarized as follows: Knowing the origin of a thing allows the knower to manipulate the power of that things.  Mr. Julio López and Mr. Eulalio López, religious specialists, identified two layers in the Kuna cosmological traditions.  They stated that the Earth-Mother features of the system (expressed most clearly in the female rites of passage, in childbirth medicine, and in the old death rited) "came before" the religious practices which are associated with the sun.  However, in any particular ritual or legend the two are usually interwined.
 
What Kuna religious specialists see as a historical sequennce in their tradition is associated with two culture heroes.  Both of them have sun atributes, but there is considerable difference in emphasis in the legenday materials associated with each.  The first of these culture heroes was IBELER also know as Olowaipipile.  Most of the detailed legends having to do with the earth mother are associated with Ibeler.
The second culture hero was IBEORKUN, who descended to earth on a sundisk.  With him are associated most of the moral and ethical teachings of the Kuna people, including repetitions of the teachings about the female cycle ceremonies.  All Kuna religious specialists agree that Ibeorgun it was who taught the Kuna people how to have chiefs and that before Ibeorgun the leadership was in the hands of Neles (shamans) not chiefs.  The gathering house is also known as the house of Ibeorgun.
 
A layering of influences in the Kuna cosmological tradition is also evident with regard to their myths of origin.  Every Kuna legend or myth has a literal or surface meaning.  These esoteric meaning taken together present a sexual interpretation of the cosmos which is the basis of the doctrine of origins.  The meaning of the legends has been disguised by symbols, but the process of symbolic translation has remaired conscious and is carried in the esoteric lore of religious specialists. These symbolic transformations include the identification of the sea with the amniotic fluid of mother Earth; of the tree of life creation symbol with fetal membrane turning into the water of  life. (amniotic fluid), and of the corn and sugar cane juices used in the chicha making with semen and vaginal secreations.
 
Related to the individual symbols covering the true meaning of the traditional cosmology is the language style used by the chief in their chanting.  The chants preserve archaic and esoteric vocabulary; in addition, the thematic material of the chants makes regular use of metaphor. The Kuna term for metaphoric speech is purba sunnmaquet(e.g., Adan and Eve ate apple; that represents the first time they had intercourse).  That is a purba sunnmaquet(soul talk).  Words and the abilitymto speak well are highly valued by the Kuna and are attributes of leadership. Metaphor is a major component of formal speaking style. Beside to the conventionalized metephor used by the chief in his chanting of the legends, individual speakers in the gathering house (orgun nega) make use of purba sunnmaquet as a stylist device.
 
Some Kuna words:
INNA: Is the Kuna word for the fermented liquor, called in Spanish.The consumption of inna is the central rite around which the festivals are organized.
 
INNDA SUID: Is the largest and the most complicated of the chicha celebrations. It s held when the girl is very young and her official name is giving in this festival.
 
INNA ICO:    Mean chicha of the needle, it is celebrated to open the nasal septum of an infant girl.
 
INNA MUTIGUIT: Mean night chicha, but it is held during the day, and it is one day celebration.
 
INNA SAHILA: (Chief of the Chica) he is in charge of collecting items that are going to be needed for the chicha, and he also takes the records when the families make their contributions. Repeated failure to fulfill a quote means the community will deny help to the family when they need assistance. In some communities the inna sahila fines the family who fails to contribute.
 
INNA SOBED: (Chica maker) he is an expert with long years of experience in making chicha.
 
INNA NEGA:           (Chica house) represents the male. It is twice bigger than sogag (kitchen), and it is where the communal festival takes place.
 
INNA SOGAG: (Kitchen) represents the female. It is where everything dealing with cooking is held.
 
KANDUR:   A man who is a specialist in the chicha festival.  He directs the secuence of the INNA SUID through chants which he sing with his assistant, and main character of the festival.
 
KANSUED:              Is in charge of preparing the musical instruments. He prepares materials for the flutes, then carefully measures and teards the bijao leaves, place them both under and over the following items: two bamboo stocks, two knives for cuttings ends of the flutes, two knives for opening the holes of the flutes, four turkey feathers and two thin sticks for cleaning inside the flutes, strings, resin, and two maracas.
 
KASBAG NON-SOBED:   Two men are in charge of preparing ropes for the ceremonial hammock.
 
KURGIN IGAR: In colloquial Kuna, kurgin means "hat ". In the world of spirits, it may refer to a spiritual 'hat', but its most important meaning is the intellectual or creative capacity, personality, aptitude, or even bent of mind of a person. Everyone has a kurgin and those with prominent skills are said to have multiple kurgin.
 
MASAR:    Are spirit guides made of the stems of the hemp plant; these sticks are painted with dye from the seeds of (bixa orellana) yellow feathers are fixed to the  top of the dead person can be completed successfully.
 
MUU-IGAR:   In colloquial kuna, muu means 'grandmother' or 'mid-wife'. In the world of spirit, muu is the spirit responsible for the birth of all land, animals and humans beings. The spirit of all fetuses are kept in her house on the fourt level of the cosmos during the gestation, and when MUU-IGAR is used to rescue the spirits of fetuses that have been detained in muu's house.
 
NUCHU:    Are carved wooden figures which are usually made in the image of human beings. Every kuna household has a small box of Nuchu mar of a variety of woods, as their spirits stand vigil and protect the kuna againt evil spirits. The Nuchu mar must be !fet! with the smoke of cacao seeds, bathed is sweet basil and other sweet smelling plants, and painted with achiote paste at regular intervals if this is not done, they will become angry and leave, refuse to stand vigil, or in extreme cases, attack the family that owns them.
 
PAD TUMMAT: The "Great Father" who is the consort of the Great Mother. Diolele is called in the language of the spirit world. The Great Father and the Great Mother, created everything on the Earth from a mixture of her menstrual blood (red purpa) and his semen (white purpa). He resides in the domain of the Father (Pab Nega) on the eight level of the cosmos, and receives the purpagana of all good people when they die.
 
SURBA:     It is a small enclosure which symbolize the mother's womb. It is a temporary hut where the hair is cut the morning of the last day of the festival.
 
UAR-UED NEGA: Represents the neighboring houses. During the chicha of festival a near private house is used by the festival committee for the first day only.
 
For further information contact to:
Gilberto Alemancia
 
gilbert04@yahoo.com
galemancia@hotmail.com
galemancia@ipat.gob.pa
(507) 6-6912506