Guna – A colourful tribe

Colourful long skirts, artistic birds or other animals and entangled patterns in hundreds of layers of different material and colour on their blouses. That’s how the Guna women came towards our ship: in their traditional costume. Some also had red bandanas on their heads, which show that they are already married. As soon as we had arrived at our anker spot, boats made out of just one tree trunk started to cross the water and we could watch the Guna women paddle towards us to sell us their self-made goods. That was our first impression of the Guna tribe.

We are now at the San Blas isles, which are part of Guna land and located right along Panama’s coast. The Guna live on 50 isles, and we are now staying near one of them. It is called Nalunega and it is covered with houses so much that it isn’t possible to see the isle itself. It reminds me of a rock with oysters living on it. The houses itself are made of bamboo canes and covered by a roof out of banana leaves. There are many footbridges leading into the water with a small bamboo cabin at the end. These are the toilets of the Guna.

But back to the women at our ship. They opened a small market and filled our main deck with a huge variety of handmade goods. Long bands with beads on them were wrapped as long bracelets around the Guna women’s arms and legs because their culture states that the more skin you reveal the more you can get attacked by bad spirits. So, it’s kind of a protection for them. Still, they sold us the bracelets just as jewellery. All of us also bought the for the Gunas typical “molas”. These are a special kind of patchwork, which you can find on their clothes. It’s usually a square fabric embroiled with other kinds of fabrics. You can see animals like lobsters, fish, parrots, other birds and turtles or patterns or both on the molas. The molas take a lot of effort to make, but it is worth it because they are really beautiful. Originally, they come from the Gunas’ traditional body paintings.

In the afternoon we ourselves got to visit the island. We watched basketball matches of the Guna kids, and it looked like a lot of fun. The basketball court is in the centre of the isle and kind of the place where many of the Gunas gather. Right next to it there is a square where they danced traditional dances for us. We even got to dance with them! From the square you can go into the “congreso” and explore it. You could say it’s the house for their parliament, just that everyone is invited, so everyone can come to the meetings. Apparently, there is even a person who goes around and rings a bell for signalising that there is a meeting on the same day. From the outside the congreso looks like an ordinary house, but when you go inside you see benches arranged just like in church and in the middle, there are some hammocks. These are the seats for the chiefs who sing in the meetings. The spiritual singing then is translated into kind of speeches and predictions.

After we visited the congreso we went sailing. Maybe not unusual for us, but this time in the carved boats of the Gunas and that was a special experience. Even though we sail all the time it felt like another world. You had the wind blowing in your face, water splashing on your arms and the boat rocking. It was really fast, and everyone enjoyed the ride. I was also very impressed by how the Guna had made the whole construction by themselves.

The day was packed with so many impressions that I could not believe that everything happened in just one day. At the end I was very happy, and I think that I have seen so many new things which brought me further as a person that I kind of grew in just one day.