Archipelago de San Blas – Panama

A Glimpse of Living History

Living a timeless existence on a scattering of small, idyllic tropical islands along the Caribbean coast of Panama, the Cuna Indians are a self-governing island community that Panama has encouraged to live according to their ancient ways. They are colorful and proud people, and their autonomous and matriarchal province is a throwback to the Caribbean before the onset of mass tourism.

The Cuna jealously guard their traditional economic and governance systems, music, dance, and dress. The men’s attire is more Western than that of the women, who wear vividly colored skirts and gold necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and often nose rings and a black line tattooed down the length of their nose. They are known for elaborate hand-stitched molas, cloths made from many layers of colorful fabrics – the most popular of Panamanian handicrafts. The San Blas Archipelago comprises 365 islands, although the Cuna say there are many more than that – some are nothing more than a palm tree on an uninhabited spit of white sand.

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