The dugout canoes sat along the shore of the mostly-dried Chagres River awaiting their cargo of tourists eager for a glimpse of Panama’s past right here in Panama’s present. The young men who would guide these canoes stood with their poles, ready to maneuver their crafts through the shallow river at the height of the dry season, ready to jump out and physically pull the canoes over the rocky areas with their passengers staying dry in the canoe. At first glimpse, they seemed to be wearing dark blue tshirts and shorts, but on closer examination, we could see that, aside from brightly colored loincloths, these young men wore nothing: the blue is a kind of dye from a native fruit, a popular skin decoration among the Embera tribe.
Our excursion along the river lasted more than an hour, due to the many rocky areas that required our navigators’ direct assistance to traverse. At last, to the sound of drums and flutes, we arrived at the Embera Drua Village, greeted by the beautiful, smiling Embera people. It was as if we were transported into the distant past: no sound of motor traffic; no radios or tvs; no young people walking around glued to their smartphones; nobody talking on a phone; no electricity; no running water aside from the river which runs alongside the village. This village is clean and tranquil, the people serene and seemingly content to ply their trade of tourism and creation of beautiful artifacts which include wood carvings done by the men and lovely colorful hand-made baskets created by women.
While a group of people were on the river, catching fish for lunch, the Leader of the Village (the chief) with his assistants is leading the group of visitors up the hill to the community building. While most of the buildings in the village are built on stilts (protection against floods, wild animals and other intruders), the Community Building is one large building on one floor at ground level which is an open rectangle. Visitors get to sit on benches to enjoy a very nice welcome ceremony.
As you can see from this photo, the chief is accompanied by 2 tour guides as he welcomes the visitors. Today, the visitors are German, English and Spanish speakers. The tour guides act as translators.
I was very impressed with the friendliness and openness shown by all the members of this tribe! There is an economic purpose behind this meeting with this tribe: they are offering some of their beautiful crafts for sale to the visitors. At this point of our visit, everyone has been urged to purchase something. The women craft beautiful baskets of natural and colored straw, woven very tightly together, as well as making various types of jewelry. The men carve amazing replicas of lizards, birds and various animals from cocobolo wood.
The atmosphere is very friendly and we are encouraged to ask questions about the tribe and their lifestyle, their dress codes, beliefs, jobs, health care and, of course, the school system.
It turns out that, once you get over the dress code, life is pretty much the same for us who love an uncomplicated life.
And the food! We were served fish that had just been caught from the river. It was roasted in a fireplace that I made a visit to, in order to get a second helping of the delicious lunch. The grilled fish was nestled into a beautiful bowl fashioned from a banana leaf and accompanied by Patacones. For those of you who don’t know about this very popular Panamanian side dish, Patacones are sections of green Plaintains which have been fried, then squashed, then fried again. Very delicious!
After the meal, a large group of women, men and children danced to flute and drum music. Guests were invited to join in, but I held myself back! When the dancing concluded, we were invited to explore the village. A couple of men acted as tour guides through the small village. This was my chance to ask questions about their life and families.
The walking tour through town, guided by two very knowledgeable men, was not just about the structures of the village. They also instructed us on the usage of many different plants, leaves and fruits as part of their diet and for medicinal purposes. They don’t preach organic food: they just practice it! Their life definitely concentrates on life among people with a healthy outlook on tomorrow…not driven by political positioning to finance Obamacare or any other cares!
The photo of the schoolhouse shows a neat little structure that differs from the ordinary buildings in the village.
There are 2 schoolrooms here. The children have to follow a strict dress code: rather than the easy minimal dress or everyday life here, the students must wear a school uniform of the same type you see all over Panama. The good thing is that these kids don’t have to take a bus or taxi to get home & changes back into their much more comfortable attire.
If the children desire to attend school beyond the basic years, it will be necessary for them to travel on the river and go to a neighboring town. There is no provision for higher education in this village.
Probably the most unusual offers I received was the opportunity to be tattooed! Tattoos are done with body paint made from the Jagua fruit. The tattoos are temporary, just in case you wondered. They last for about 14 days and are a part of the dress code among the Embera. In the photo of the guide & shaman, you can see tattoos on their upper body. I figured there would be a big run on the tattoo parlor, but actually only a few of the palefaces went for them.
After our tour, we had a little bit of time to revisit the gallery of handcrafts in the community building.
Getting back to the river for our return ride, I discovered this little Beagle–no, we didn’t take Duke with us–who had cleverly found the shade of one of the boats. I’m sure he didn’t appreciate our commandeering the boat and taking away his shade! I am also sure that the folks of the Embera village were not sad to say good-bye to the more than 40 tourists who visited that day. Their evening was almost certainly quiet and uneventful!
Our own excellent travel guide, Bev, arranged this tour to the Embera village, which she has already visited several times. She has the secret of contacting the chief for a tour and we are indebted to her for sharing this with us and the other folks on our tour. If you are planning a visit to Panama, this is a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience. Let us know and we will have Bev arrange a visit for you and your party!
We very much appreciate the people from Embera Drua and send them a very special “Thank You” for giving us a wonderful life lesson!
The Embera History
The official name of the tribe we visited are the Embera-Wounaan, who came from South America at about the same time as the Spanish conquistadors arrived. The translation of Embera is “the People,” similar to other native peoples around the world (such as the Pueblo tribes in the United States). Their native language is Embera, which is a part of the Choco language family, but most of them also speak Spanish. Although the village we visited is on the shores of the Chagres river, a more populous settlement of the Embera is in the Darien area of Panama. This particular tribe has been in their current area for about 50 years.
Indigenous Peoples in Panama
Despite the water shortage while we were there and the exposure of erosion in the rain forest, it was very interesting that within a few hours, it is possible to be in the middle of a peaceful world which looks to be very far away from what we call “culture.” This made me curious to find out how many people in Panama have the privilege to live their daily life iwthout having to be politically correct.
I found 5 major Indian tribes in the entire country of Panama: Bokota Tribe in the Bocas del Toro area; Embera and Embera Wounaan in the southeastern part and Darien; Kuna in the Darien Province and Carribean; and finally, the Ngoebe and Ngoebe-Bugle Tribe in the Chiriqui Province. These indigenous groups have had a solid presence in Panama and total more than 285,000 people!
Changing Gears – The Sweetest Investment
We are back in the rain forest of Bocas del Toro again. Here is the home of the Ngoebe and Ngoebe-Bugle tribes. They are a very important part of the success of the Sweetest Investment.” We are talking, of course, about Cocoa!
We don’t mean your garden-variety chocolate bar: we are talking about the best cocoa money can buy.
The big difference is that, in this project, you don’t have to buy the best: you will be growing the best. Our managers have the knowledge and the tribe members have the skill. The driving force is not “let’s squeeze a couple more dollars out per hectare,” but rather, “let’s rebuild the rain forest.” One of the rewards of rebuilding the rain forest is the production of the best cocoas in the world. We call it “Fine Cocoa” and it is available only in very limited quantities.
The ideal area for growing cocoa is the tropical rainforest. The trees need sun exposure, shade and very high temperatures, along with lots of rain.
When the cocoa beans are harvested, they are fermented and dried in a facility right at the farm and afterwards shipped all
over the world. The finest cocoa is shipped only to qualified chocolate producers in South Africa, Belgium, Germand and, of course, some of it stays right here in Panama to be used in the production of the excellent Oro Moreno chocolates.
INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY IN PANAMA
From seedling to finished chocolate bar or filled chocolate, this is the best “Impact Investment” project I have seen over the past 25 years. Here you have the chance to be a part not only of a money-making business, which of course this is, but to enrich the land and the country where this wonderful cocoa is produced, improving land and living conditions for future generations.
The Europe-based manager of this project is the best qualified company you will find in the world and they have been working in Panama for over 20 years to re-establish rainforests and revitalize the growth of native woods. Their passion for quality is your guarantee of a quality investment project.
To receive more details, contact us at fpb@AnAmericanInPanama.org. We offer a range of investment prices.
Better still: Come for a visit and we will take you to the plantation so that you can see and experience first-hand!