The Kuna of Panama

For the next week I will be in Panama collecting content for an interactive multimedia project with Bendaked Fundacion.  My group will be working with local indigenous people of Panama that have various disabilities.  When looking at all the tribal groups of this country, 50% of these indigenous people have physical disabilities and little government support.

Bendaked Fundacion is a non-profit group that provides aid for those in tribal groups that need assistance.  While the organization started only one year ago, the agency is taking small steps and currently focusing their efforts toward the Kuna.  There are seven main indigenous groups in Panama and Bendaked Fundacion plans to provide aid to all in the future as their agency grows.

In the the native language of the Kuna, the tribal name is Dule or Tule, meaning “people,” and the name of the language in Kuna is Dulegaya, meaning “Kuna language” (literally translated as “people-mouth”).  The Kuna of Panama are famous for their brightly colored textile art called molas. Mola panels are used to make the blouses of the Kuna women’s national dress that is worn daily by many Kuna women.  Mola means “clothing” in the Kuna language.  The Kuna word for a mola blouse is Tulemola, (or “dulemola”) “Kuna people’s clothing.”  Selected people from Kuna villages are chosen to sell the crafts at markets in the city.  Market days are usually the only contact the Kuna have with the modern world.

The Kuna have a very high incidence rate of albinism.  Interestingly, in Kuna mythology, Albinos are given extra recognition.  Albinos in Kuna culture are considered a special race of people, and have the specific duty of defending the Moon against a “dragon” which tries to eat it on occasion during an eclipse.  Only they are allowed outside on the night of an eclipse and use specially made bows and arrows to shoot down the dragon.  The molas textile art displayed in this blog post depicts this legend.


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