Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | February 28, 2013

Viva the Guna Spirit!

N 9° 35.95′   W 79° 26.29′

Turtle Cay Marina, Panama.


One of several different versions of the Guna flag

We said goodbye to Kuna Yala, also known as Gunayala, yesterday.  (The previously oral language has a newly developed orthography and uses “g” instead of “k”. So “Kuna” is now being spelled “Guna”, although we see the other spelling used locally too.)  It was a somewhat somber departure realizing that we will probably never cruise in our own boat in this unique place again. It was also felt satisfying that we had managed just fine for 2 ½ months away from a more familiar civilization and would encounter larger towns and supermarkets and restaurants and speedier internet and a marina soon!

We have to admire the Gunas and many aspects of their lifestyle. In general, we observed that the traditional village-based Gunas have shelter, food, clothing, supportive families and a great sense of community. They seem happy and while they don’t have much money they are rich in many aspects of life.  They live in a culture where violent crime is rare. Their life seems much superior to the masses of lower class Colombians who live in abominable conditions in a country plagued with crime and violence. Perhaps the Gunas are better off in some regards than the rest of us.

It appears that life here is changing rapidly, and as in our country, there are differing opinions among the people regarding the correct path for the future. The improvement of the dirt road from Carti to Panama City has opened up more opportunities for tourism and commerce. We anchored off the Carti islands last Sunday afternoon and saw hundreds of small passenger ferries zooming people to and from the mainland, where dozens of vehicles were parked. A hospital is being built along the Carti road and the Gunas tell us their young people, having seen it all on television, are less afraid and more accepting of mainstream medical care than their elders. Television and cell phones are becoming widespread and adoption of internet technology in the villages is probably not far behind. Given their focus on preserving traditions it seemed a paradox to discover that the Guna government has an official website AND a Facebook page!

We visited Carti Sugdup on February 25th, the 88th anniversary of the Kuna Revolution. We were thrilled to witness a reenactment of the normally peaceful Gunas overcoming the Panamanian Police in an effort to assert their independence and protect their freedom to speak their language and follow their traditions. After the theatrics, where the Gunas soundly defeated the Panamanians, they held a victory parade that included musicians and the woody hollow tones of the bamboo Guna flutes. The participants included men and women in traditional formal attire.  They hopped on one foot three times, paused, then hopped on the other foot three times, paused, then repeated in sync with the music as they wound through the dirt streets. The actors followed at the end of the procession.  It was touching, colorful, melodic, festive, and captured only in our memories per the recommendation of our Guna host.

The Guna government’s Communicado of the day summed up the spirit of the people and the struggles they face:






 Guna ancestors defended their autonomy against the government and police harassment of that time, not taking pleasure in unfurling the flags of liberation, but so it was the cry of an entire people demanding justice and defending Mother Earth and the familiar traditions that were in danger of disappearing due to the imposition of a culture alien to ours.

At this 88th anniversary of this Revolution our people are still on alert and standing up to the abuses that do not cease against indigenous dignity, in that case the Guna people, we promise not to give our land for those who want to militarize our land as in the case of the forces of the National Border Service (SENAFRONT), or the imminent interference of current national government in the internal affairs of indigenous peoples, especially by grabbing our territories to offer to the multinationals or companies who want to build hydroelectric plants or mines to the detriment of our natural resources, land and habitat in general. Moreover the Revolution of 1925, being one of the first indigenous rebellions in the American continent in the early twentieth century, on this anniversary we also closely follow the struggle of our indigenous brothers across the continent, we join in solidarity with all those fighting against the establishment that is trying to deprive us of our land and sacred places.

Following in the footsteps of our heroes and grandparents, with the blessing of the Father and Mother of the universe, we will make this 21st century the century of indigenous claims.

Gunayala, February 22, 2013.



*a very rough translation from Spanish, assisted by Google Translate & the Guna Dictionary



The Guna nation has a big task ahead as they try to preserve their culture, control and manage growth and tourism and keep their natural resources pristine. We wish them the greatest success.


The dug-out canoe & primary form of Guna transportation, particularly in the traditional villages


Fishing provides food for the islanders and for export, particularly lobster


One large crab – similar to our Florida Stone Crabs – makes a delicious meal


Lobsters are plentiful and exported by the Gunas


Trading boats from Colon and Colombia bring in basic supplies to the villages and export goods such as coconuts


Small cruise ships visit the San Blas on occasion, looking somewhat out-of-place as they are larger than most of the tiny islands


Rising sea levels are another challenge the Gunas face in the coming years, as well has how to provide enough housing in their growing but jam-packed island villages


Launches transport tourists between mainland Panama and quaint island village resorts


A dinghy trip up the Rio Nicuesa was an adventure into the jungle and more untouched Guna country

All were spellbound listening to the sounds of the wildlife that for the most part we did not see


One of the tiny uninhabited islands in the Coco Banderos – a fabulously beautiful place


TV antennae and motorized launches were found on Isla Elsie and many of the traditional villages. Bathrooms here, as on most Kuna islands, consist of outhouse huts built over the water. You have to be very careful where you tie up your dinghy when going ashore . . .


Sails provide an upgrade to the ulu and some villages are working actively to obtain more sails for their people


The dry season weather, while cooler and breezier, often brings a hazy sky. This was one of the prettier sunsets in the Holandes Cays. We will miss many aspects of this fascinating and beautiful part of the world.



  1. Thanks for the great pics and very interesting update! I wish I could’ve joined you guys in the San Blas, and met some of your Guna friends. Where will you be in March and April?

    • Doug, if you ever get the chance to get down here it is a fascinating place. The hotels and little resorts are very basic, so that part would be more like a camping experience. It’s a shame they don’t charter boats, but I don’t see that in the near future. For March and April a lot depends on when we find good weather to continue our travels north. We have a couple of big passages ahead and weather will dictate much of our schedule until we make it to Honduras. The sooner we can accomplish that, the more relaxed our pace will be as we travel between Honduras and Florida. Bob will update you on the specifics and maybe we can identify a couple of potential places to catch up with you – Elaine

  2. Ah, you’ve completed your trip where I so wished we’d been able to go. I love living vicariously through your blog and photos!

    • Sharon, it was fabulous, but I recommend the best way to do this trip is to fly in to Nargana or Porvenir via Panama City and rendezvous with some cruiser friends on THEIR boat. Or meet them in Carti with a load of provisions from Panama City . . . They will be thrilled to see you and you will be spared some of the not-so-nice sea passages. I think that’s the only way I’ll ever get back here again . . . Elaine

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