People of the San Blas Islands

A little background info on the islands we sailed through and more to come soon about the actual sailing trip!

San Blas Beauty

The Kuna Yala Comarca is a section of land on the Caribbean side of Panama 232 miles (373 km) long and includes 389 islands known as the San Blas Archipelago.  Totally autonomous from the Panamanian government, the Kuna people are led by a Sahila, a person who is both the political and spiritual leader of each community. Up until recently, coconuts were the currency used by the Kuna and to this day coconuts remain one of their most important exports. (They are the best coconuts I have ever tasted!)

Lady in charge

Perhaps one of the only tribal matriarchal societies in the modern world, the inheritance passes through the Kuna women (a pretty rare occurrence). A Kuna groom is expected to live in his mother-in-law’s home and work under his father-in-law for many years. The women sell their handicrafts to tourists and bring home the big coconuts making them the primary breadwinners for the their families (molas can range from $20 USD and up). The division of work is more traditional with women taking care of the cooking, sewing, water collection and cleaning while the men take care of gathering coconuts, home repairs, sewing clothing for the males in the family, weaving baskets and carving utensils.

Kuna lady and Tom

Tom buying molas for us

Protectors of the Kuna culture, the women continue to wear traditional dress while the men have adopted western clothing.  The womens’ stunning apparel consists of sarongs, beautiful molas (reverse-applique fabrics attached to a blouse), gold nose rings and my personal favourite beaded arm and legs bands in distinct patterns. (Even better, to an admitted jewellery addict, the beading is sewn on – worn until it falls off…really cool!)

Traditional Kuna Dress

Beaded legs

Quite small in stature the Kuna are the second smallest people in the world next to the African pygmies. And, for some unexplained reason, the rate of albinism is extremely high in the Kuna people.  Albinos are referred to as “Moon Children” and are believed to possess high intelligence as well as special powers. Albinism appears more often in men and, since they cannot work in the hot sun, they are expected to contribute to society by assisting with the work of the women.  On a similar note, Tom and I happened across a Kuna women who was actually a man however she was busy at work creating molas and offering to sell them to us.  I asked our captain about this and he confirmed that the Kuna are very accepting of all people and transgenderists are not unusual within their communities.

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  1. Josh’s avatar

    Hey guys, when and where do you land? We emailed each other a while ago (I think), and it would be cool to meet up! We’re in Colombia right now heading towards a port and hoping to find a boat, so let us know! (no, we never update our blog… yours is the best!)

  2. Samantha’s avatar

    Wow…so interesting. Where did you leave the car though? :)

  3. kels’s avatar

    Josh – sounds like we will see you soon…we cannot wait to hear all the tips you guys have.

    Samantha – It’s kind of complicated but the car sat in the Colon port and was shipped after we arrived in Cartagena…I would go into details but it would be much too boring ;)