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

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 many 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.


Anonymous said...
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Hank Robinson said...

Ed thanks for taking the time to post to Picasa with your narrations.

I wonder if these are the same people you see selling their stuff on the streets of Panama City.

Your post does bring up good questions that are hard to answer. At least people of our generation were not raised in the Internet Generation. I like the Internet but also am glad I ran around a lot as a kid. In this way we can still appreciate this way of being more than people may in the future.

I really wonder about the role of Amy. Did they ask for her? Is she teaching them or they maybe teaching her?

There are no straight forward answers here. I think it would be nice for these people to have the opportunity to choose themselves if they want to remain in a traditional life. Keeping this place a safe haven and sanctuary from modern technology.

Have a great Holiday!

edward said... guys are just bringing more questions to my questions...which you are welcome to do.

Jeffery- maybe there is more of the obvious to learn about life here on our own planet, versus looking for it in space or elsewhere. As we observed the beauty and magic of nature here on earth yesterday, it would make me wonder why we give a damn about going to the moon or other lifeless and perilous places. Especially with all the money that takes in light of human needs on planet earth like poverty and devastating events. I also think we learn more about human origins getting to know people like the Emberas than we do digging holes in the deserts or looking in space.

Hank- The Emberas dont take their wares to the streets here in Panama. That is primarily the Kuna Indians that you see selling on the streets. They are a similar but also different culture than the Embera. An interesting observation between the two groups is that the Kuna have been more aggressive about marketing their culture and wares outside of their living areas while limiting travel and visitors to their own homes...while the Embera seem to welcome foreigners to their own villages in order to trade with them but dont go out much from their own villages. I will want to dealve more into those differences between cultures.

As for Amy's role, I'm sure two way education is going on. At the same time, she was ASSIGNED that location versus choosing it by the Peace Corp. She got to choose some general preferences based on her background and Spanish language skills, but she didn't interview with these specific people to my knowledge. It was quite obvious the people wanted her they are curious to expand their horizons and life experiences. At the same time, MY concern for them is that they don't lose themselves and their culture for the sake of modernization or becoming too consumer oriented. It is amazing for me to see the booming modernization going on in Panama City while an hour away a culture like the Emberas seems to continue thriving and living the same way they have for hundreds of years. While they look at all white people as being rich and sophisticated, I'm not so sure they aren't "richer" than we are in culture and happiness. It's a strange paradox. I want to help educate and ease their lifestyle, but I wouldnt change anything about how they dress or interact with each other and us "guests". How does one protect them in that way?

Anonymous said...

I see your point....of course. Right now I'm inclined to push the envelop and advance humanity in terms of space exploration, digital technology, and sciences.

Bibiana said...

Hola Ed, totalmente de acuerdo con todo tu blog.
Pero quiero adicionar que igual como a ti fue la 5 experiencia mas linda, para mi no fue la 5 mejor experiencia en mi vida. Fue la 2 mejor experiencia en mi vida.
Compartir ese dia con la comunidad Embera Drua, ha sido una de las mas hermosas experiencias entoda mi vida. Muy dificil para describir en mi corto espanol, todos los increibles momentos que pase con ellos en su comunidad.
Esta comunidad una de 4 ubicadas en las orillas del rio Chagres, que por cierto es de una belleza abrumadora, sus aguas tan claras de transparentes tonos de verde, su majestuosa hermosura es absolutamente increible. Yo nunca pense que un lugar asi de precioso existiera todavia en el mundo. Solo estando ahi, se puede conocer y sentir, en palabras es muy poco lo que se puede describir.
La Comunidad Embera Drua esta formada por unos seres para mi tan extraordinarios, llenos de paz y amor, llenos de sabiduria, cortesia, generosidad, honestidad, para mi son unos hombres, mujeres y ninos de una raza superior a la nuestra, conviven en paz entre ellos mismo,conviven en paz con la madre naturaleza .
Yo tuve el inmenso honor de ser una de sus invitadas, y me senti como en mi casa, y ellos como mi familia, yo, personalmente, quiero volver alla, quiero volver a sentirlos cerca de mi, quiero volver a llenarme de su inmensa enerigia positiva, quiero volver a llenarme de su amor, quiero aprender mas de ellos, son naturales, son humanos como nosotros, son puros, son buenos, son generosos, honestos, limpios de corazon, transparentes, son increiblemente hermosos, hombres, mujeres y ninos, son una belleza indescriptible, su belleza sale desde lo mas profundo de su corazon, cuando comparti ese dia con ellos, me senti cerca de Dios y del cielo, estar con ellos es sentirte un nino, con ganas de aprender, con ganas de ser como ellos
Gracias Embera Drua gracias, Mateo, Julio, Raquel, Shama, y otros bellos y bellas mujeres que mi corta memoria olvido sus nombres, pero tengo sus hermosisimos rostros grabados en mi mente y en mi corazon, gracias por regalarme esta experiencia maravillosa.
Espero tener el honor de volver a ser su invitada, y que me regalen de su tiempo, su amor y su generosidad. Mis palabras quedan cortas para describir todo lo que sintio y siente mi corazon, cuando comparti con todos ustedes.
Quede absolutamente fascinada con ustedes.
Gracias Ed, por haberme invitado y llevado a tener esta maravillosa experiencia en mi vida.

skalliwag37 said...

Dear Ed,

I wish I could have that trip with you. Thank you for posting your insights.

Scott Pender