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I leave tomorrow morning at 4:30 (yes, in the morning) to go back to Guna Yala! Join me (if not physically, then vicariously by reading this) to celebrate the 93rd anniversary of the greatest event of 20th-century Guna history. ¡Viva La Revolución Dule! Long Live the Guna Revolution! By the way, the Guna are an indigenous group who inhabit the beautiful tropical islands of the Comarca Guna Yala, their semi-autonomous territory in the Caribbean of Panama. There are about 365 islands to explore in the Comarca. This area was formerly known as the San Blas Islands. The Guna are the wonderful people who I guide sea kayaking trips with in the winter months. Check out those trips here.
I have spent considerable time in many different Guna communities and my favorite one is a community called Digir, or Isla Tigre. It is one of the more traditional and “tranquilo” communities that I have encountered. I work closely with the people from Digir and have developed strong friendships with many community members. They have enthusiastically taught me an incredible amount about their fascinating culture. I am constantly learning new things from them.
THE GUNA REVOLUTION (IN A NUTSHELL. . . LET’S SAY, A COCONUT SHELL:)
Ninety three years ago on February 25th, 1925 (during Carnival, when the police would be drunk) the Guna launched a rebellion against the Panamanian police, who had taken up residence in their communities. For over a decade, the police had been suppressing many customs they considered uncivilized, including the traditional practice of bathing outdoors, curing rituals, puberty ceremonies, meeting at the gathering house, traditional dance, and women’s dress. By the mid-1920s, police and bureaucrats had pacified about half the islands on the coast. The police had also quashed Guna resistance through jail and guns. Enough was enough for the Guna! They fought. . . and they won! They continue to celebrate this significant victory.
Fast-forward to the present; Many Guna have maintained much of their traditional way of life. Of course, they are also an adaptable people and certain aspects of their culture have changed, enabling them to be active citizens in the modern world. They believe (and I believe too) that a culture can succeed only if it can adapt to a changing world. A culture that tries to stay the same as it was a century ago will struggle to survive.
Each year the entire month of February is celebrated, especially on the islands that threw off police rule, such as Digir (Isla Tigre). The Revolution is commemorated with speeches, parades, traditional dances, Revolutionary banners and flags, and dramatizations recreating the events of 1925. Actors portray the abuses of the police, the traditional practices they suppressed, and finally the revolt itself. Through these dramas, the Guna address the continuing threats to their autonomy, as well as the value of traditional ways, currently threatened less by government policy than by changes they themselves are making.
Below is an awesome video of the Guna dancing in revolutionary celebration on Isla Tigre. If you watch closely you will see a flag that resembles a swastika. If you have been to Guna Yala you will have noticed many of these flags. (This is often one of the first things that people notice.) This is NOT a German Nazi symbol! I’m Jewish, so trust me, I wouldn’t be associating with that ideology. This symbol has a completely different meaning to the Guna. The Guna adopted this “well-being” symbol in the early 1900s. This symbol has been used by many different cultures and religions of the world to signify well-being, good luck and good fortune.
And now, because I am a tour guide at heart and extremely passionate about sharing what I have been blessed with, in this case the opportunity to be immersed in Guna culture, I must say that it is well worth it to experience the Guna Revolution in Guna Yala, especially on Isla Tigre! It’s exciting. . . entertaining. . . fun. . . fascinating. . . and like nothing else you will experience in your life. So mark your calendars for February 25th, 2019! Don’t miss it. Contact me for more information, and to come paddle with me in Guna Yala.
While I was doing a bit of research for this blog I came across this YouTube video by Guna musicians. In this video, which features traditional pan flutes and beautiful scenes from Guna Yala, they sing, “For you I’ll fight and die. It’s all that I have. My land is wounded. For you, I’ll give my life,” referring to their islands, their land, their culture.
I leave you with ¡Viva La Revolución Dule! Long Live the Guna Revolution! Stay tuned for future blog posts, including one that I will write about my experience over the next 4 days participating in the Guna Revolution. I’m charging my camera, so there should be some great video footage. I’m looking forward to watching the little kids’ version of the Revolution dramatization, which I’ve not seen before.
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