We are picked up early and transported to the edge of the Chagres River, about a one hours drive from Panama City. We get into a longboat carved from a single tree , and motor upstream for another hour until the river begins to narrow. The ride takes us deep into the jungles of Panama. Our destination to spend a day with the Embera peoples.
THE LONGBOAT- OUR WELCOME
The Embera are an indigenous tribe that originally migrated north from Columbia after having been defeated in battle by the Spanish. They still live in custom in small villages in south eastern Panama. As we approach the village they stand on the river bank and welcome us with their flutes. The men wear a simple loincloth and the woman are topless with a scolourful skirt. We are welcomed and led to the ceremonial house and seated, where their leader explains to us the customs of the village. They are a community of 129 living on about 5 acres of land surrounded by a national park. They live off the land, fishing in the river for tilapia, growing food, and hunting with spears and darts. They live a simple life in thatch huts, but now have a school on site and all the kids go to school. It is an hour plus boat ride down river to get any supplies - mainly oil used for cooking.
THE VILLAGE -THE CHIEF- THE SCHOOL TEACHER - THE MEDICINE MAN
We ask all kinds of questions which are translated by Harry our guide, an interesting Panamanian descended from Caribbean slave ancestry. The Embera live in a traditional family relationship with the men having one wife. Each family has about 6 kids. When a kid is ready to marry, they can decide whether to marry someone within the village or someone outside the village. If they marry outside the village they are welcome to come and visit and stay for short periods as often as they want, but must live permanently outside the village so as not to dilute village customs.
While we talk, a couple of the women are making us a delicious feast of tilapia and patacones along with an array of cut fruit. After lunch, the village medicine man takes us on a tour of the woods, pointing out various medicinal and utilitarian plants and herbs. We return to the ceremonial house and the men play music while the woman and children entertain us with dance and song.
LUNCH -SCAVENGING CURASSOWk - A NEW DUGOUT CANOE
EMBERA MUSIC AND DANCE
They Embera are richly tattooed and invite us to get tattooed. Here is my new tattoo. I hope Mani likes it. We spend some free time exploring the village, going for a swim in the beautiful river water, and watching the men build two new dugout canoes. It is a fascinating day away from the city. Reluctantly we get back in the canoe and retrace our path back to the big city. A day well spent.
MY NEW TATTOO