The Kuna Indians are a strongly-knit tribal society living on
a chain of islands called San Blas Archipelago, on the Atlantic
side of the Republic of Panama. Believed to be descendants of the
Caribs, the Kuna Indians still live in much the same manner as their
ancestors. The San Blas people have cleverly managed to retain their
tribal identity and contentedly lead a moral balanced life, free
from the complexities of modern, highly-organized societies.
The Kuna have a matriarchal society in which the line of inheritance
passes through the women. A young man, after marriage, must live
in his mother-in-law's house and work for several years under apprenticeship
to his father-in-law. Divorce is uncommon, although it requires
no more than the husband to gather his clothes and move out of the
house. The daughters of the Kuna people are prized because they
will eventually bring additional manpower into the family.
For some unknown reason, there is a high rate of albinism in the
Kuna men. Because of the intensity of the sun in Central America,
the albino men are not able to do the work expected of a Kuna man.
In order to contribute to their community, they assume duties traditionally
assigned to the women, including Mola-making. Although encouraged
not to marry, the albino men are accepted in the community and their
work is respected by their peers.
There is a traditional division of labor within the families. The
husband gathers coconuts, cultivates the food, provides firewood,
repairs the house, makes his and his son's clothes, weaves baskets
and carves wooden utensils. The wife prepares the food, collects
fresh water from the Mainland Rivers, unloads the boats, sews female
garments, washes the clothes and cleans the house.
The Kuna have a custom for every event and happening in their life
and these customs are passed on to their children through dances
and chants. These events are also documented in their Molas.
The Kuna language (until recently, unwritten) is spoken throughout
the community, however, Spanish is fast becoming the second language.
Due to the United States influence since the building of the Panama
Canal and with the influx of tourists frequenting the San Blas Archipelago,
English is being spoken more and more by the Indians.
The traditional dress of the women in the San Blas is spectacular.
The gold nose rings, beaded
arm and leg bands, head
scarves, blue sarongs and the colorful "Mola"
blouses worn in combination are a work of art in itself. The
Kuna men have adopted a clothing style more traditional to the men
of the western world and appear drab beside the Kuna women.