A day in the Emberá Pura village in Panama.


by Lene Neverdal

A few hours from the concrete jungle Panama City lies another world. People live in huts made of bamboo, and eat what they can find in nature. They dress up in clothes suitable for the jungle, and paint their bodies with henna-tattoos. I got to take part in this world for one day.

There are seven different groups of indigenous people in Panama, Emberá Pura is one of them, and some of them live in an area close to the Panama Canal. After a one hour drive followed by a one hour riverboat trip from Panama City, we arrive in the little village. A welcoming band wearing almost nothing at all meets us as we arrive. The women and children greet us with big welcoming smiles. They have flowers in their hair and their bare bodies are decorated with geometrical patterns. I’m feeling a bit insecure about where I should lay my eyes, and hide behind my camera.

The center of the village is a football field. The children play football bare feet, with a only small cloth around their waste. The football is a tennis ball and it gives the goalie a challenge. The adults are socializing in a market place next to the football field, where they sell their handy craft and are chatting and laughing. We get to spend time with the children and the adults. Few of them speak Spanish or English, but we communicated other through body language.

Around the football field lies the small bamboo huts, where the families live. Around 15 families live in the village, and they get everything they need from the nature around them. Food, bamboo to build houses, materials for their handy craft and medicine.

There is a school in the village. The children wear school uniforms and, the teacher is wearing a dress. “Can you imagine wearing that in the jungle,” the guide says. We are welcome to visit the school, where the children give us a greeting in English. At school they get to learn some Spanish, and a few words in English. If they want more education after fifth grade they need to go to Panama City, and adjust to a life with streets and clothes.

The day ends with dancing and singing. Half naked women and children are dancing and jumping around me, and it is starting to feel normal. It is weird how soon you get used to nudity. I envy their freedom, and their simple way of life. We go back to the traffic in Panama City, and the Emberá people continue living their peaceful life close to nature.

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