Kuna (people)

Kuna (people)

Overview
Kuna or Cuna is the name of an indigenous people of Panama
Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

 and Colombia
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

. The spelling Kuna is currently preferred. In the Kuna language
Kuna language
The Guna language, spoken by the Kuna people of Panama and Colombia, belongs to the Chibchan language family.-Vowels:Vowels may be short or long.-Consonants:...

, the name is Dule or Tule, meaning "people," and the name of the language in Kuna is Dulegaya, meaning "Kuna language" (literally "people-mouth.")

The Kuna live in three politically autonomous comarca
Comarca
A comarca is a traditional region or local administrative division found in parts of Spain, Portugal, Panama, Nicaragua, and Brazil. The term is derived from the term marca, meaning a "march, mark", plus the prefix co- meaning "together, jointly".The comarca is known in Aragonese as redolada and...

s
or reservations in Panama
Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

, and in a few small village
Village
A village is a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet with the population ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand , Though often located in rural areas, the term urban village is also applied to certain urban neighbourhoods, such as the West Village in Manhattan, New...

s in Colombia
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

.
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Encyclopedia
Kuna or Cuna is the name of an indigenous people of Panama
Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

 and Colombia
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

. The spelling Kuna is currently preferred. In the Kuna language
Kuna language
The Guna language, spoken by the Kuna people of Panama and Colombia, belongs to the Chibchan language family.-Vowels:Vowels may be short or long.-Consonants:...

, the name is Dule or Tule, meaning "people," and the name of the language in Kuna is Dulegaya, meaning "Kuna language" (literally "people-mouth.")

Location


The Kuna live in three politically autonomous comarca
Comarca
A comarca is a traditional region or local administrative division found in parts of Spain, Portugal, Panama, Nicaragua, and Brazil. The term is derived from the term marca, meaning a "march, mark", plus the prefix co- meaning "together, jointly".The comarca is known in Aragonese as redolada and...

s
or reservations in Panama
Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

, and in a few small village
Village
A village is a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet with the population ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand , Though often located in rural areas, the term urban village is also applied to certain urban neighbourhoods, such as the West Village in Manhattan, New...

s in Colombia
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

. There are also communities of Kuna people in Panama City
Panama City
Panama is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Panama. It has a population of 880,691, with a total metro population of 1,272,672, and it is located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, in the province of the same name. The city is the political and administrative center of the...

, Colón
Colón, Panama
Colón is a sea port on the Caribbean Sea coast of Panama. The city lies near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. It is capital of Panama's Colón Province and has traditionally been known as Panama's second city....

, and other cities. The greatest number of Kuna people live on small islands in the comarca of Kuna Yala
Kuna Yala
Guna Yala is an autonomous territory or comarca in Panama, inhabited by the Kuna indigenous people.The name means "Guna-land" or "Guna mountain" in the Kuna language...

 or on the island off the coast of Panama, known as the San Blas Islands. The other two Kuna comarcas in Panama are Kuna de Madugandí
Kuna de Madugandí
Kuna de Madugandi is a comarca in Panamá. It was created in 1996 from the east part of the province of Panamá, in the district of Chepo. The primary ethnicity is Kuna.The comarca is not divided into districts. Its capital is Akua Yala....

 and Kuna de Wargandí
Kuna de Wargandí
Kuna de Wargandí is a comarca indígena in Panamá. It was created in 2000 from the province of Darién, from the district of Pinogana. It has an area of 299 square miles . It is inhabited by the Kuna people....

.

Political and social organization


In Kuna Yala, each community has its own political organization, led by a Saila . The Saila is traditionally both the political and spiritual leader of the community; he memorizes songs which relate the sacred history of the people, and in turn transmits them to the people. Decisions are made in meetings held in the Onmaked Nega, or Ibeorgun Nega (Congress House or Casa de Congreso), a structure which likewise serves both political and spiritual purposes. It is in the Onmaked Nega that the Saila sings the history, legends and laws of the Kuna, as well as administering the day-to-day political and social affairs. The Saila is usually accompanied by one or more voceros who function as interpreters and counselors for the Saila. Because the songs and oral history of the Kuna are in a higher linguistic register with specialized vocabulary, the Saila's recitation will frequently be followed by an explanation and interpretation from one of the voceros in everyday Kuna language.

Traditionally, Kuna families are matrilinear, with the bridegroom moving to become part of the bride's family. The groom takes the last name of the bride as well.

Today there are 49 communities in Kuna Yala
Kuna Yala
Guna Yala is an autonomous territory or comarca in Panama, inhabited by the Kuna indigenous people.The name means "Guna-land" or "Guna mountain" in the Kuna language...

. The region as a whole is governed by the Kuna General Congress, which is led by three Saila Dummagan ("Great Sailas").

Economy


The economy of Kuna Yala
Kuna Yala
Guna Yala is an autonomous territory or comarca in Panama, inhabited by the Kuna indigenous people.The name means "Guna-land" or "Guna mountain" in the Kuna language...

 is based on agriculture and fishing, with a long tradition of international trade. Plantains, coconuts, and fish form the core of the Kuna diet, supplemented with imported foods, a few domestic animals, and wild game. Coconut
Coconut
The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is a member of the family Arecaceae . It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not a botanical nut. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word...

s, called ogob in the Kuna language, and lobsters are the most important export products, and migrant labor and the sale of molas
Mola (art form)
The mola forms part of the traditional costume of a Kuna woman, two mola panels being incorporated as front and back panels in a blouse. The full costume traditionally includes a patterned wrapped skirt , a red and yellow headscarf , arm and leg beads , a gold nose ring and earrings in addition...

provide other sources of income. Most imported goods originate from Colombian
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

 ships and are sold in retail stores owned by Kuna people. Tourism is an important part of the economy in the Carti region, and abandoned goods from the drug trade
Drug trade
Drug trade may refer to:* Illegal drug trade, the manufacture and sale of illicit psychoactive substances* Pharmaceutical industry, the manufacture and sale of medical treatment chemicals...

 provide occasional windfalls.

Culture



The Kuna are famous for their bright molas, a colorful textile art form made with the techniques of applique
Applique
In its broadest sense, an appliqué is a smaller ornament or device applied to another surface. In the context of ceramics, for example, an appliqué is a separate piece of clay added to the primary work, generally for the purpose of decoration...

 and reverse appliqué. Mola panels are used to make the blouses of the Kuna women's national dress, which is worn daily by many Kuna women. Mola means "clothing" in the Kuna language. The Kuna word for a mola blouse is Tulemola, (or "dulemola") "Kuna people's clothing."

History


The Kunas were living in what is now Colombia at the time of the Spanish invasion, and only later began to move westward towards what is now Kuna Yala. Centuries before the conquest, the Kunas arrived in South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

 as part of a Chibchan migration moving east from Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

. At the time of the Spanish invasion, they were living in the region of Uraba and near the borders of what are now Antioquia and Caldas. Alonso de Ojeda
Alonso de Ojeda
Alonso de Ojeda was a Spanish navigator, governor and conquistador. His name is sometimes spelled Alonzo and Oxeda.-Early life:...

 and Vasco Nunez de Balboa
Vasco Núñez de Balboa
Vasco Núñez de Balboa was a Spanish explorer, governor, and conquistador. He is best known for having crossed the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean in 1513, becoming the first European to lead an expedition to have seen or reached the Pacific from the New World.He traveled to the New World in...

 explored the coast of Colombia in 1500 and 1501. They spent the most time in the Gulf of Uraba
Gulf of Urabá
The Gulf of Urabá is a gulf on the northern coast of South America. It is part of the Caribbean Sea. It is a long narrow inlet in the coast of Colombia, close to the connection of the continent to the Isthmus of Panama. The town of Turbo lies at the southern end of the Gulf...

, where they made contact with the Kunas.

In far Eastern Kuna Yala, the community of New Caledonia is near the site where Scottish
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 explorers tried, unsuccessfully, to establish a colony in the "New World"
Darién scheme
The Darién scheme was an unsuccessful attempt by the Kingdom of Scotland to become a world trading nation by establishing a colony called "New Caledonia" on the Isthmus of Panama in the late 1690s...

. The bankruptcy of the expedition has been cited as one of the motivations of the 1707 Acts of Union
Acts of Union 1707
The Acts of Union were two Parliamentary Acts - the Union with Scotland Act passed in 1706 by the Parliament of England, and the Union with England Act passed in 1707 by the Parliament of Scotland - which put into effect the terms of the Treaty of Union that had been agreed on 22 July 1706,...

.

There is a wide consensus regarding the migrations of Kunas from Colombia and the Darien towards what is now Kuna Yala. These migrations were caused partly by wars with the Catio people, but some sources contend that they were mostly due by bad treatment by the Spanish invaders. The Kuna themselves attribute their migration to Kuna Yala to conflicts with the native peoples, and their migration to the islands to the excessive mosquito populations on the mainland.

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Panamanian government attempted to suppress many of the traditional customs. This was bitterly resisted, culminating in a short-lived yet successful revolt in 1925 known as the Tule Revolution, led by Iguaibilikinya Nele Kantule of Ustupu and supported by American adventurer and part-time diplomat Richard Marsh - and a treaty in which the Panamanians agreed to give the Kuna some degree of cultural autonomy.

Language


The Kuna language
Kuna language
The Guna language, spoken by the Kuna people of Panama and Colombia, belongs to the Chibchan language family.-Vowels:Vowels may be short or long.-Consonants:...

 is a Native American
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 language of the Chibchan family spoken by 50,000 to 70,000 people. Dulegaya is the primary language of daily life in the comarcas, and the majority of Kuna children speak the language. Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 is also widely used, especially in education and written documents. Although it is relatively viable, Kuna is considered an endangered language.

Albinism


The Kuna have a very high incidence rate of albinism
Albinism
Albinism is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to absence or defect of an enzyme involved in the production of melanin...

. In Kuna mythology, albinos (or sipus) were given a special place.
Albinos in Kuna culture are considered a special race of people, and have the specific duty of defending the Moon against a "dragon" which tries to eat it on occasion during an eclipse. Only they are allowed outside on the night of an eclipse and used specially made bows and arrows to shoot down the dragon.

Further reading

  • Alí, Maurizio. 2010: “En estado de sitio: los kuna en Urabá. Vida cotidiana de una comunidad indígena en una zona de conflicto”. Universidad de Los Andes, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Departamento de Antropología. Bogotá: Uniandes. ISBN 978-958-695-531-7.
  • James Howe. A people who would not kneel: Panama, the United States, and the San Blas Kuna. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998. ISBN 978-1-56098-890-8.
  • James Howe. The Kuna Gathering: Contemporary Village Politics in Panama. Wheatmark (2002). ISBN 978-1-58736-111-1.
  • Keeler, Clyde E. Secrets of the Cuna earthmother: a comparative study of ancient religions. Exposition Press, 1960.
  • Erland Nordenskiöld et al. An Historical and Ethnological Survey of the Cuna Indians. AMS Press (1979). ISBN 978-0-404-15150-8.
  • Mari L. Salvador et al. The Art of Being Kuna: Layers of Meaning Among the Kuna of Panama. University of Washington Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-930741-60-0.
  • Joel Sherzer. Kuna Ways of Speaking: An Ethnographic Perspective. Wheatmark, 2001. ISBN 978-1-58736-030-5.
  • Joel Sherzer. Verbal Art in San Blas: Kuna Culture Through Its Discourses. University of New Mexico Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-8263-1882-4.
  • Joel Sherzer et al. Stories, Myths, Chants, and Songs of the Kuna Indians. University of Texas Press (2003). ISBN 978-0-292-70237-0.
  • Karin Elaine Tice. Kuna Crafts, Gender, and the Global Economy. University of Texas Press (1995). ISBN 978-0-292-78137-5.
  • Jorge Ventocilla et al. Plants and Animals in the Life of the Kuna. University of Texas Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-292-78726-1.