Saturday, December 20, 2008
The Emberas...A Life Impacting Experience
Today was one of the highlights of the year for me, perhaps one of the top 5 of my lifetime. A group of us ventured to the nearest indigenous Indian village of the "Embera" tribe...a race of people going back hundreds of years in this region of Colombia and Panama. It was so impacting, I could not go to sleep tonight without posting this blog and posting up a photo tour of our day...before I forget some of the details. The overall experience I will NEVER forget and you can share some of the imagery at http://picasaweb.google.com/panamaconnections/Emberatour#
I won’t have time or energy in this one sitting to cover all the aspects and thoughts that ran through my mind today. I may have to add on to this blog over time these next weeks. For sure I will be back to visit these people who I gained quick admiration and respect for. I also come away wanting to help them...but at the same time...I am concerned about their being too affected and indoctrinated with our "first world" ways. Here's why...
The people I observed today were friendly and open, attractive inside and out, and showed hospitality and openness that I personally believe was extended by Indians initially all over the Americas...North, Central and South. Yet, invariably these Indian cultures have been devastated by white civilization, white religion, racism and violence. Where these people live there is no police, no federal governments to pay taxes to, no locks on their doors and windows, no razor wire around their community centers. They hunt, fish and live off the land for the most part. They trade and make a living by the works of their hands guided by their imaginations and traditions. I don't know if I want them learning "my" way of life. I think they would be much less happy than the eyes and smiles I observed today.
Sure, these people are living a little better now since tourism has started knocking on their door. They now have 15-25 horsepower boat motors pushing their tree trunk hardwood longboats instead of paddles. I observed a number of "weed whacker" machines and gasoline cans within their village. There are soft drinks available and a community phone booth in the center of their community which ties into a satellite on a tower at the high hill overlooking their village. They have "friends" from all over the world now...and Doctors who come there for cures and new information on herbal treatments by the Shaman.
When they have visitors, these people put on their best festive outfits, and "cover up" more than when strangers are not around. I sense their natures as being shy and peaceful, yet they are not totally immune to the human desire to learn new ways and understand other cultures as well.
Our new Peace Corp friend Amy who is spending two years helping them tells us that they are eager to learn and many of the young people are striving to continue their educations in the big city. They think they want access to computers though I hope they don’t end up spending as much time and energy on one as I do. I think it would somehow take away a part of their soul and culture if they try and imitate what my culture has become.
They have many babies and small children, but I never heard one cry the whole day we were there. The little ones quickly run to all corners of their little community without the whining and insecurity you see in first world and "city kids". The kids are not afraid of adults, but rather seem to WANT to be around them. It was just a day of "other worldliness" that is hard to describe or carry on in the modern world we operate in.
I think there is a lot of meaning in today's experiences which I will be examining in my head for many weeks and months to come. No, I will probably not move to such a village or trade in my wardrobe for a loin cloth even though I think it would be freeing...in many ways...to do so. But I think I will try and maintain some perspective between the ways of life I observed and experienced today...and the hustle bustle, consumer driven life we seem to have been dropped into from the beginning.
THe big question for today as it unfolded was...who was happier today...the lady honking from behind me in her brand new Mercedes, frustrated at the huge line of trucks and obstructing traffic keeping her from her next appointment...OR the loin clothed Embera helmsman who steered us to his villages waterfall and people? I think I know the answer.