Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | January 9, 2013

An Introduction to Kuna Life

N 9 26.5 W 78 35.1
Nargana, Kuna Yala.

After a week with no access slow texting is the best we can do here. The next chapter of Mar Azul in Kuna Land follows.

12/20/12 – Anachucuna

In our short time in the San Blas we see a common thread yet each Kuna village has a unique identity. Populated by 400 people, an annex to Anachucuna was started 3 years ago to accommodate overflow. The residents are proud of their community and orderly city planning. We didn’t appreciate it at the time, but several Kuna village tours later we had to agree that Anachucuna was nicely organized and more aesthetically pleasing than the other villages.

Most of the structures were huts. We saw a small store with items like school glue and notebooks, sugar and rice, a riverside laundry and a large hut used as a meeting place with rows of benches inside. We were surprised to see chain saws, a 15 hp Yamaha outboard motor, radios broadcasting AM stations and one satellite dish. There was a generator that kept the DVD players charged. There was no internet or cellular service but Bernardo said a cell tower was coming in the next year. At night the village was totally dark, other than an occasional moving lantern to navigate the path between the two sections. Every night the residents gathered from 6 to 10 pm for the traditional “congreso” meetings to discuss village issues and the plan of work for the next day.

We were greeted with “hola, hola” and children shyly came out of the huts to check out the visitors. One brave little boy shook Bob’s hand then fled, giggling. One woman asked if I had a Spanish dictionary for her children and another offered me a mola that was for sale. Requests were made for books and magazines in any language.

We peeked into the school – a concrete building with adjacent basketball court – and saw several classrooms with chairs with attached desks and chalkboards. There are two Kuna teachers and three Panamanian teachers for 100 children. Subjects included Spanish, English, Religion, Math, Science, Art, History, Geography, Physical Education & Civics. The school year runs from March to July, then September to November with time off during the drier winter months when more outdoor activities can be accomplished.

In the mornings the men fished and gathered coconuts and plants to eat. Late afternoon soccer games were popular. The women cared for the children and households and stitched molas – intricate fabric designs they sew into blouses and also sell as artwork. I got my first mola here – an entire blouse with a crocodile design front and back. It must have taken many weeks for the young woman to make such a complicated piece with perfect tiny stitches.

Bernardo invited us to his home one afternoon. It was about 500 square feet with wood and bamboo walls and a high thatched roof, and accommodated Bernardo, his wife, two sons and infant daughter. The floor consisted of firmly packed dirt. There was one large room with a hammock and a kitchen area with an indoor campfire for a stove. We asked about ventilation for the smoke but apparently it is not a problem. A partition created separate private quarters. Outside was a partition and a water spigot where showers were taken by filling a bucket and tossing it over one’s head, a practice we saw done in the daytime, fully clothed, to cool off. The shaded porch had two plastic chairs and a table. Bernardo said his home was dry in the frequent rains and would last 10 years before being rebuilt. We forgot to ask where the bathrooms were, but during our time in town we never smelled any unpleasant orders nor saw any human or animal waste. Other than a couple of stray plastic bottles and cans the village was very tidy.

Bernardo gave us a yucca and we hoped we were not taking food from the family table. He was grateful for the childrens books, crayons, DVDs and magazines we brought . It was an honor to accept his gift. Yucca is a root vegetable with a thick bark and looks more like a small branch than something to eat. Bernardo made a cut so it was easy to peel and once cored and cooked the fleshy white interior tasted like a hearty potato. Delicious.


photo update 3/6/13:


Anachucuna’s new annex to the main village. Both areas were orderly and dwellings were spaced farther apart than in many Kuna villages.


The path between the two residential areas in Anachucuna


Laundry station at the river. We weren’t sure how that all worked out with the muddy river water.


A basketball court at the school. Basketball and soccer were popular Kuna sports.


The primary school covered many subjects. Secondary schools were available in a few Kuna villages. Students wishing to continue their studies had to spend the school semesters away from their home villages.


A typical classroom. School buildings were constructed similarly in all the Kuna villages.


Wide streets and flowering landscape plants in the main village


We could tell there were few outside visitors here based on the curiosity and shy reactions of the children. Our presence drew little surprise in the more tourist-frequented western villages.


The largest hut and meeting place


A very basic store sold goods like sugar, rice, salt, pasta & sardines


Construction projects in Anachucuna seemed well planned


We stopped to chat with this friendly family after noticing the Santa decoration on their door at Christmastime. They said they would eat turkey (from the hills) and celebrate with family.


This mainland village had room for a soccer field – a popular afternoon activity – and they cleared away jungle for a second field while we were there.


Working donkeys were found here, but not in the island-based villages


A Kuna kitchen


Bob was probably the first gringo this little girl met


Our host Bernardo, his wife and two of their three children. They loved having their family photo taken and we printed a copy for them.


There was no dock for trading vessels at Anachucuna. Several villagers would paddle out to meet the boats and bring the parcels ashore.




  1. What an awesome adventure! Thank you for sharing your experiences! We’re headed back down to St. Maarten in a few weeks, in case you want to make a detour! ENJOY your time in this very unique part of the world!

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