Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Visit to the Embera Indians

Arriving at the river to board the dugouts
The World Cruising Club does a nice job of arranging activities in our various landings. Once again they made it possible for us to spend a day with the Embera Indians near Panama City. Tours are available through many sources, but the WARC makes it easier by making all of the arrangements. As a result, we have a carefree day of enjoying another culture.

He stood in the bow of the canoe for
the whole trip up the river.
After a 45 minute bus trip to the edge of the river, we were greeted by the men of the tribe. Our guide suggested we use the facilities there before boarding the canoes. One enterprising woman (gotta love those women business owners!) had a "pay toilet" on her property near the bus parking area. She charged $0.25 per person to use it. We Americans understood the program and offered our coins. Some of the Europeans just went right in and out without paying. It was interesting to watch her reaction and lack of gumption to go after them.
Here we go 

The Chief shared information about their culture.
 As we approached the river, we saw the men in their native attire - which was minimal - offering us life jackets and directing us toward the dugout canoes. Once we were all tucked in several canoes we looked like those old fashion orange marshmallow peanut candies that my grandmother always had available! The canoes were somewhat comfortable as we sat two on a seat. We quickly learned it is better to be in the back if you want to stay dry.

Masks made with basketry techniques.
Wooden carvings from a single piece of wood
One of the older men ran the outboard motor while a younger one stood in the bow holding a long stick. He used it to push off and for balance. At times it seemed like he was giving directions to the driver by tilting the stick one way or the other. We were in the canoes for another 30 minutes or so as we followed a path through the water plants up the river to their village. The passage was very peaceful with many birds and interesting vegetation to enjoy. I can't imagine making this journey without an outboard motor as it would take days to paddle. There were no roads along the river to this wilderness village as it is very isolated.

Once we arrived at the village, we were greeted by children on the beach and musicians playing part way up the stairs. This is a community where dress is skimpy, but not in a sexy way. The women only cover up with skirts from the waist down and the men were something like a diaper. They use a plant material to paint or stain their skin creating interesting designs as you will see in the photos. At first it was a bit awkward looking at their dress (or rather the lack of), but after a while you don't even notice the bareness. In fact, they looked really comfortable and cool in the warm sun! There have been many days when I have envied the crew who go bare chested!
Some of their jewelry designs.

The Chief explained about their culture, arts, dance and food. Our guide David translated it for us. We were encouraged to buy their handmade items as this is their source of income. Each family retains the money from their sales while the village as a whole benefits from the tour income. They make baskets, masks, carved wooden objects and jewelry. They also created designs for their skirt fabrics that are then printed in mass in the city. It is a long piece of fabric that you wrap around your waist and tuck in. Hopefully it stays up!

All of the women join in the singing and dancing
while the men watch. Then they drew in the guests.
The women create the music with handmade instruments and sing and play while doing the traditional dance. They line up by age with the eldest leading and circle around and around. The little ones were so cute! Some of them already have the moves going! Then the children came to the visitors and asked them to join in the dance so we did. How could you say "no" to those darling faces!

The last little girl really had all of the dance moves down!
Following the program, they served us a meal of fresh tilapia cooked over the open fire in a vat of oil, fried plantain patties and fruit. The food was served in a banana leaf bowl. I wish I could have saved mine. We were able to see the "kitchen" which was a raised thatched hut where the plantains were being fried and the fruit prepared. The fish was being prepared below on the ground. The kitchen is the community kitchen for events. Each home has its own kitchen. The preparation of the food was hard work and very hot as well.

Fresh tilapia with fried plantain cakes.
 After lunch we were free to roam around their village, but not to enter their homes. The houses are thatched huts up on stilts to protect them from the jungle animals and the water during rainy seasons. We noted the "stairs" to the hut were made out of logs with steps notched into them. To keep people out (like closing the door) - or keeping children in - they turned the log around so the steps were not accessible! Very clever!

Serving a large crowd on disposable plates!
 We were allowed to visit their herbal or healing garden where they grow the plants used for medications. Even the dye that is used on their bodies has the effect of our bug repellent. Many of the plants have multiple uses depending on whether you are using the stem, leave, root or flower or make it into something, like a tea.

Some 50 years ago, the government had displaced these people from the land they had occupied for generations. They created 5-7 communities throughout the jungle south of the Panama Canal for them to create new communities. There were around 140 people in this one.

Frying the tilapia in oil over an wood fire was hot work.

The raised community kitchen

Preparing the fruit trays
Cooking the fried plantains

Piles of plantain cakes or patties.
 We learned that they usually have 5-6 days a month when the tours are welcome in the village. Again this is a major source of income for them. There tour season is from December through April and then the water in the river becomes so low the canoes with motors cannot travel the paths. This is when they plant rice and corn along the river bed. They were very happy the week we were there because they were having 7 days of tourists.
Children at play

The stairs to their homes are logs.

A "street" in the neighborhood

Someone gave her a Snickers bar. She shared it, but
was not happy when he took most of it! Some things
are the same no matter where you are!

The children captured our hearts.

Once again we donned our orange vests and boarded the canoes. On the way back to the buses, they took us to a fresh waterfall and pool on the river. It was an interesting climb through the rocks along the river to reach the waterfall. I gave up and waited on the rocks while Dennis, Vicky and Peter continued on. They came back refreshed and wet!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you're having a great time! We love keeping track of you via the blog -- which is wonderful! Bill and Deborah


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