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PANAMA (POEMS, PHOTOS AND VIDEO)

June 12, 2012

PANAMA

Panama, this small country famous for its canal connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans has much more to offer: the rainforests, the long beaches of the Pacific and the tranquil reefs and coves of the Caribbean.

What does Panama mean?

Panama means “the place of abundant fish,” but people like to say that everything is found in abundance here. You’ll find an abundance of wildlife in Panama’s many national parks, an abundance of white sand beaches, hundreds of islands, more banks and shops than you would have dreamed possible, the Panama Canal and, of course, a fantastic quantity of fresh seafood, including fish.

The Panama Canal

Panama - The Panama Canal

The history of the construction of the Panama Canal is the saga of human ingenuity and courage: years of sacrifice, crushing defeat, and final victory. More than 22.000 people gave their life in the effort.

The construction started in 1880 with the French construction period and was completed by the United States of America in the year 1914.

The Panama Canal is approximately 80 kilometres long between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Canal uses a system of locks.

Recognized as the Eighth Wonder of the world, the Panama Canal is much more than an unprecedented engineering feat: you can do superb hiking and bird watching tours,  only minutes from downtown Panama City or visit the world’s most researched rainforest: the Smithsonian Institution’s natural laboratory of Barro Colorado Island in Lake Gatun.

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POEMS

“When I Think Of Panama                                                                                                                                                                             Mike Laurenzi

When I think of Panama, this is what I see
Blue skies, ocean, river and streams
The dark green jungle, fields, and plants
The heavy rains and dry season breeze
And big fluffy clouds
and the ships that would slowly glide by

When I think of Panama, this is what I see

Gatun Dam and 12 gates open The rush of the water, the waves,
and the wind from the currents
The whirl pools that would form, crest, and then recede
Watching the white caps and the fast moving current

When I think of Panama, this is what I see

Playing with my friends (from all over the world)
In the fields and jungles
All the adventures and things we found
Today I still look back and ponder

When I think of Panama, this is what I see

Soft singing birds would wake me in the morning
The insects and creatures of the night,
would sing there song of lullaby at night

When I think of Panama, this is what I see

Listening to the approaching rain
and listen to low roaring thunder
The flashes of light and the sheets of rain,
as the danced across the roof
The smell of salt in the breeze
The curtain of rain that would fast approach

When I think of Panama, this is what I see

Watching the ships go threw the locks
The humming of the lights,
as we watch the ship go from chamber to chamber
Not a lot of sound, as I watch in wonder

When I think of Panama, this is what I see

People driving by, honking, and waving
Me waving back, smiling, and felling great
Always feeling safe
And a since of a friendly small town

When I think of Panama, this is what I see

Walking down the hallway at CHS
The rooms, teachers, and classes
The blue lockers that were in the hall
And the open walkways
The large lunch room
The third floor with a slight slope

When I think of Panama, this is what I see

Fancy art of cloth
Food from the sea
Insects, birds, trees, and animals

These are just some of my memories….
and now you know what I see

—————-

James Stanley Gilbert
The Poet of Panama
From the book, “Locks, Crocs & Skeeters” some background about him:

“James Stanley Gilbert was one of the few people to write about life in tropical Panama. He was born in Middletown, Connecticut, and educated at the Skinner School in Chicago. After graduation he worked as a cashier and bookkeeper. In 1886 he went to Panama and worked for several years in the commissary department of the Panama Railroad Company at Cristobal. He later became a partner in a steamship agency representing, among others, the United Fruit Company. Gilbert was described by a British diplomat friend as a ‘man who lived lustily as men did in those times when life in the tropics meant death hovering around the corner.’

‘Gilbert had begun to write poetry about Panama while employed as shipping agent, and he continued to so so for the rest of his life. From “Away down south in the Torrid Zone,’ the first line of his first poem, readers were captivated by Gilbert’s vision of the tropical pre-canal Panama. His poems in Panama Patchwork, the book in which “Beyond the Chagres” appeared, were called ‘documents of life on the Isthmus’ by a New York Times reviewer in 1906. His fans called him the ‘poet laureate of the Isthmus of Panama’ and compared him to Rudyard Kipling. But the double life of businessman-poet did not please his critics, who thought he should spend more time improving his poems.

Gilbert never lived to see the Panamanian jungle tamed and its diseases conquered, or the opening of the Panama Canal. He died on August 15, 1906, in Colon hospital, a victim of ‘yellow eyes’, his nickname for the deadly malaria. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, the old ‘Monkey Hill,’ just outside the city of Colon, Isthmus of Panama.”

PANAMA PATCHWORK

THE LAND OF THE COCOANUT-TREE
Away down south in the Torrid Zone,
North latitude nearly nine,
Where the eight months pour once past and over,
The sun four months doth shine;
Where it is eighty-six the year around,
And people rarely agree;
Where the plantain gorws and the hot wind blows,
Lies the Land of the Cocoanut-Tree.

Tis the land where all insects breed
That live by bite and sting;
Where the birds are quite winged rainbows bright,
Tho seldom one doth sing!
Here radiant flowers and orchids thrive
And bloom perennially –
All beauteous, yes – but ordorless!
In the Land of the Cocoanut-Tree.

Tis a land profusely rich, tis said,
In mines of yellow gold,
That, of claims bereft, the Spaniards left
In the cruel days of old!
And many a man hath lost his life
That treasure-trove to see.
Or doth agonize with streaming eyes
In the Land of the Cocoanut-Tree!

Tis a land that still with potent charm
And wondrous, lasting spell
With mighty thrall enchaineth all
Who long within it dwell;
Tis a land where the Pale Destroyer waits
And watches eagerly;
Tis, in truth but a breath from life to death,
In the Land of the Cocoanut-Tree.

Then, go away if you have to go,
Then, go away if you will!
To again return you will always yearn
While the lamp is burning still!
You have drank the Chagres water,
And the mango eaten free,
And, strange tho it seems,it will haunt your dreams –
This Land of the Cocoanut-Tree!

SUNSET
I sit on my lofty piazza,
Overlooking the restless sea;
(A spider glides over my forehead,
A cockroach runs over my knee!)

The god of the day is preparing
His bed for another night;
(A swarm of pestiferous sand-flies
Is obscuring the glorious sight!)

He is piling his cloud-blankets round him,
Of crimson embroidered with gold;
(That ant crawling under my collar,
Down my spine sends a shiver of cold!)

Heis nodding – but with eyes still half open
Tips a distant sail with his fire;
(Dios mio! another mosquito
Is twanging his dissonant lyre!)

He is sleeping – the night-lamps are twinkling
All around his limitless bed;
(A bat, darting hither and thither,
Has just missed hitting my head!)

Farewell till to-morrow, old fellow!
Thou warmest, most tropical friend!
(A centipede’s slowly approaching –
Tis time for my reverie to end!)

BEYOND THE CHAGRES
Beyond the Chagres River
Are paths that lead to death –
To the fever is deadly breezes,
To malaria is poisonous breath!
Beyond the tropic foliage,
Where the alligator waits,
Are the mansions of the Devil –
His original estates!

Beyond the Chagres River
Are paths forever unknown,
With a spiderbeneath each pebble,
A scorpion beneath each stone.
Tis here the boa-constrictor
His fatal banquet holds,
And to his slimy bosom
His hapless guest enfolds!

Beyond the Chagres River
Lurks the cougar in his lair,
And ten hundred thousand dangers
Hide in the noxious air.
Behind the trembling leaflets,
Beneath the fallen reeds,
Are ever-present perils
Of a million different breeds!

Beyond the Chagres River
Tis said – the story is old –
Are paths that lead to mountains
Of purest virgin gold;
But tis my firm conviction,
Whatever tales they tell,
That beyond the Chagres River
All paths lead straight to hell!

————————–

Panama Description

Like all of Central America, the native Indian population of Panama was all but destroyed by the disease and powerful weapons inflicted on them by the  Spanish  during their aggressive colonization.

Native peoples

As the   Spanish  regional power increased, Panama became the launching point for invasions into South America. Most of the treasure mined (stolen) by the conquistadors in Bolivia and Peru was sent back to Panama for transport to Spain.

Treasures shipped across the Caribbean became a strong magnet (an easy mark) for pirates (and over time) to reduce their increasing losses, the Spanish Crown decided to transport the gold and silver south, around the southern tip of Souh America, on a long (but safe) journey back to Spain.

With little strategic value remaining for Spain, Panama was ignored. When neighboring Colombia gained its independence from Spain in 1821, Panama became a province of that new country.

With U.S. backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903, and promptly signed a treaty with the U.S. allowing for the construction of a canal and U.S. sovereignty over a strip of land on either side, to be called the Panama Canal Zone.

Ignoring the tragic attempt by the French to build the canal in the late 19th century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers successfully constructed it between 1904 and 1914, a feat that revolutionized ocean-going shipping, even to the present day.

Canal construction

Understandable unhappiness by Panama on its major asset being controlled by a foreign land, an agreement was signed in 1977, calling for the complete transfer of the Canal from the U.S. to Panama by the end of 1999.

In the mid-1980s General Manuel Noriega took control of Panama, and during his messy 5-year dictatorship, democracy disappeared, the economy was severely damaged, drug trafficking from South America increased, and the population lived in fear of further repression.

With U.S. help, Noriega was deposed in 1989. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining U.S. military bases were turned over to Panama on December 31, 1999.

Undoubtedly the most cosmopolitan capital in  Panama City is both a gateway to the country’s natural riches and a vibrant destination in its own right. As a thriving center for international banking and trade, Panama City sports a sultry skyline of shimmering glass and steel towers that is reminiscent of Miami. Not surprisingly, the city residents often joke that Panama City is the ‘Miami of the south,’ except that more English is spoken.

THE PANAMA CANAL LOCKS

The Panama Canal is a ship canal that extends across the Isthmus of Panama, joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  It runs generally southeastward from what was known as Cristobal on the Caribbean Sea (an arm of the Atlantic) to Balboa on the Pacific Ocean.  The canal cuts across the lowest point in the continental divide and through one of the narrowest points between the two oceans.An impressive engineering feat, it was built 1904 – 1914 at an initial cost of $366,650,000.  Although it is only half the length of the Suez Canal, it took the same amount of time and more than three times the cost to build.  Unlike the Suez, which is at sea level for its entire length, the Panama Canal has locks to raise and lower ships.  Dams hold back two artificial lakes, Gatun and Madden, that supply water for the locks.The canal was built by the Isthmian Canal Company, after attempts by the French failed, under the provisions of the Spooner Act and was opened in 1914.  It is 50 miles long from deep water in the Caribbean to deep water in the Pacific.  Although there are 12 sets of locks total, there are only six massive pairs of locks that ships use for transit, each 1,000 feet long and 110 feet wide.  Each may be filled or emptied in less than 10 minutes, and each pair of lock gates takes two minutes to open.  A 30,000-pound  fender chain at the end of each lock prevents ships from ramming the gates before they open.  Water is not pumped into and out of the locks, but flows from the artificial lakes through culverts 18 feet in diameter.  Electric towing locomotives, called “mules”, pull ships by cable through the locks.  Most ships require six of these mules, three on each sides.  (New Standard Encyclopedia, 1976)The Panama Canal locks are a system that lifts a ship up 25.9 m (85 ft) to the main elevation of the   Panama Canal and down again. It has a total of six steps (three up, three down for a ship’s passage). The total length of the lock structures, including the approach walls, is over 3 kilometres (nearly two miles). They are one of the greatest   engineering  works ever to be undertaken at the time, when they opened in 1914. No other concrete construction of comparable size was undertaken until the   Hoover  Dam  in the 1930s.There are two independent lanes of transition (each lock is built double, so there is a two-lane traffic system). The locks physically limit the maximum size of ships which can transit the canal; this size became known as  Panamax.

ENTRANCE TO THE PUBLIC VIEWING AREA AT THE MIRAFLORES GATES (PACIFIC SIDE)

MIRAFLORES GATE LOOKING TOWARD THE PACIFIC SIDE

A SMALL SHIP ENTERING THE MIRAFLORES GATES FROM THE PACIFIC SIDE

THE SHIP IS WAITING FOR THE WATER ON EACH SIDE TO EVEN OUT BEFORE IT CAN PASS THROUGHT THE GATE.

THE SHIP HAS NOW PASSED THROUGH THE GATES AND IS NOW ON IT’S WAY TOWARD THE CARIBBEAN SIDE

GATUN LOCKS ARE AT THE CARIBBEAN SIDE.

A CONTAINER SHIP HAS JUST ENTERED THE LOCKS FROM THE CARIBBEAN SIDE

THE SHIP IS ABOUT TO PASS THROUGH THE LOCKS

THE LOCKS HAVE JUST OPENED AND THE SHIP WILL NOW PASS THROUGH

THE SHIP IS NOW PROCEEDING INTO GATUN LAKE

THIS IS A SMALL CONTAINER SHIP WITH ABOUT 4,000 CONTAINERS ON BOARD

THE SHIP HAS JUST PAST THE VIEWING STAND AT THE GATUN LOCKS

EVENTUALLY WHEN THE NEW CANAL IS COMPLETED BY 2014 THEY WILL BE ABLE TO HANDLE SHIPS UP TO 14,000 CONTAINERS

LOCOMOTIVES CALLED MULES PULL THE SHIPS THROUGH THE LOCKS

THIS SHIP IS NOW ENTERING LAKE GATUN ON IT’S WAY TO THE MIRAFLORES GATES ON THE PACIFIC SIDE

VIEWING STAND AT THE GATUN LOCKS

BOAT USED IN A PANAMA CANAL DAY CRUISE

WE ARE BOARDING THIS BOAT TO GET A FIRST HAND LOOK TO SEE WHAT IT IS LIKE GOING THROUGH THE PANAMA CANAL AND THE LOCKS

AS WE APPROACH THE LOCKS WE PASS A TUGBOAT ON LAKE GATUN

WE HAVE ARRIVED AT THE FIRST GATE WITH ANOTHER SMALL SHIP AND ARE WAITING FOR THE LOCK TO OPEN

THE MIRAFLORES LOCKS ARE ABOUT TO OPEN AND WE CAN PROCEED TO THE PACIFIC SIDE OF THE  PANAMA CANAL

SUPPOSEDLY, IF TOUCH THE PANAMA CANAL WALL YOU WILL HAVE A LONG AND HAPPY MARRIAGE

HOPEFULLY A LONG AND HAPPY MARRIAGE

THE LOCK HAS OPENED AND WE ARE ABOUT TO PASS INTO THE PACIFIC OCEAN

A SMALL BOAT GOES THROUGH FIRST

BOATS ON THE OTHER SIDE ARE WAITING TO GO IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION TOWARD THE ATLANTIC SIDE

DREDGING BOATS ARE BEING USED TO CONSTRUCT A NEW LANE THAT WILL GO INTO OPERATION IN 2014

CONTAINERS HAVE BEEN LOADED ON THE SHIP FOR PASSAGE THROUGH THE PANAMA CANAL

THE CENTENNIAL BRIDGE THAT CROSSES OVER THE PANAMA CANAL

SMALL BOATS ARE WAITING TO THROUGH THE CANAL IN A GROUP

THE FRANK GEHRY BIODIVERSITY MUSEUM SEEN FROM THE PANAMA CANAL CAUSEWAY

CASCO VIEJO  (COLONIAL PANAMA)

PRESIDENTIAL HOUSE IN CASCO VIEJO

Also known as Colonial Panama, Casco Viejo is the historic center of today’s capital. It is a quiet, charming district of narrow streets overlooked by the flower bedecked balconies of two and three-story houses. At its tip lies French Park, a monument to the French builders who began the Panama Canal, and the lovely French Embassy. On the walkway around the monument. visitors have a fine view of the Amador Causeway and Bridge of the Americas, and of Panama City’s skyscraper skyline to the east. A plaque on the walkway commemorates the firing of canon shots to drive away a Colombian warship and consolidate Panama’s independence from Colombia in 1903. To one side of the monument is an old Spanish structure called Las Bovedas now used as an art gallery and French restaurant.

Some excellent museums are found in the Casco Viejo, including the Canal Museum, which traces Panama’s history as the route connecting Atlantic and Pacific from pre-Hispanic to modern times. Next door is the Museum of National History and the old cathedral, with gleaming spires inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Nearby is a small museum dedicated to religious art, found in the old Santo Domingo monastery, where visitors will also see the famous Flat Arch, which reportedly helped convince engineers that Panama was earth-quake-proof.

At the San Jose Cathedral a few blocks away is the beautiful Gold Altar, intricately carved of wood and gilded with gold. Another beautiful building in the Casco Viejo is the Presidential House, which can be toured on Sundays.

HOUSES IN THE CASCO VIEJO AREA

STREET IN THE CASCO VIEJO DISTRICT

SAN JOSE CATHEDRAL – Initially constructed between 1671 and 1677, was remodeled in the 19th Centrury, is custodian of the Golden Altar, built in the 18th Century

GOLDEN ALTAR SAN JOSE CATHEDRAL – One of the things you might want to see when you visit Panama is the famous golden altar of the Church of San Jose in Casco Viejo. The Inglesia de San Jose (the Church of San Jose) is a small almost nondescript building on a narrow street in the San Felipe district of Panama City. Inside is the famous Golden Altar, which is made of carved wood and is covered in gold flake. Commonly known in Spanish as the “Altar de Oro” (Golden Altar), it was originally in a church in “Old Panama.” When English pirate Henry Morgan attacked the city the jesuits painted the altar black to hide the gold. The pirates left it alone, thinking it was worthless. After Morgan sacked and burned “Old Panama” the Jesuit monks of the Order of St. Agustine moved the altar to the new church and its present location.

The Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus – The ruins of the Convent and Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, is one of the most striking once in Casco Viejo. Back in 1667 it was the home of the Royal Pontifical University of San Javier. In 1781 the church was destroyed by a fire and further damaged by an earthquake in 1882. Panama’s government restored the ruins of the convent in 1983 but it is again undergoing reconstruction.

PLAZA DE SANTA ANA – Plaza de Santa Ana
In the mid-nineteenth century this plaza was used as a market. At the end of the century it was a symbol of economic boom and the cosmopolitan character of the city: there were elegant hotels, bazaars offering fine imported goods, and two of the first theaters in Panama located. During the twentieth century it was the scene of major protests and nationalist. Today it is the steet of the pedestrian mall of Avenida Central.

TODAY THERE IS A STREET FAIR IN THE PLAZA DE SANTA ANA, WITH A NUMBER OF VENDORS – PANAMA HATS ARE BEING SOLD BY THIS VENDOR

PLAZA DE SANTA ANA – VARIOUS VENDORS

PLAZA DE SANTA ANA – STALL SELLING PANAMANIAN MOLAS –
Panamanian Molas
The most distinctive Panamanian handicrafts are molas, the colorful cloth panels made by the women of the Kuna indigenous people, who live along the Caribbean littoral or on the San Blas Islands. (In the Kuna language, the word mola means the “plumage” of a bird.) The most complex combine up to seven layers of fabric, which are cut out with scissors to create a design, a process known as reverse appliqué. These are then augmented by intricate embroidery. Molas adorn Kuna blouses and tunics, but when the clothing wears out, the women detach the panels for sale. Traditional designs are geometric, while more contemporary ones often depict animals and plants. Several stands selling molas can be found on the eastern edge of the Casco Viejo section of Panama City.

OLD PANAMA

About two miles from the center of Panama City are found the ruins of the first capital, known as Old Panama or Panama La Vieja, founded in 1519. Fragments of walls and arches stand in an open park, recalling the splendor of the Spaniard’s first settlement on the Pacific Ocean. From here, expeditions were mounted to conquer the Inca Empire of South America. All of the wealth from Peru, Chile and California flowed to Spain through Old Panama Not surprisingly, the enormous quantities of gold attracted pirates like sharks to Panama’s waters. When Henry Morgan looted the city in 1671, Panama’s governor ordered the powder magazine burned and the whole city went up in flames. The capital was moved two miles to the west, and present-day Panama City was founded in 1673. The most impressive structures remaining are the cathedral, with a massive bell-tower, and the Bishop’s House. In front of the ruins, alongside the ocean, is an artisan’s market, full of native crafts, and a small restaurant with a fine view out to a bay where Spanish galleons and pirate ships once lifted sail.

RUINS OF THE BELL TOWER OF THE ORIGINAL CATHEDRAL

PANAMA VIEJO –   was the first European city on the Pacific Coast of both Americas. It was founded in 1519 by Pedro Arias de Ávila and inhabited until 1671 when the English buccaneer Henry Morgan attacked and destroyed the city. In 1671, twelve hundred men led by the English pirate Henry Morgan ransacked and subsequently destroyed the city.
The devastation of Panama Viejo in 1671 was overseen by the Right Honourable Lord Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, a Welshman named Henry Morgan. A lot of the damage to the old buildings at Panama Viejo was done after Morgan’s attack, by people scavenging the ruins to get building materials.

SCATTERED RUINS OF THE PANAMA VIEJO CATHEDRAL

PANAMA CITY SKYLINE

AFTER HAVING TRAVELED THROUGH MEXICO, COSTA RICA AND GUATEMALA, AND THEIR COLONIAL CITIES. IT WAS QUITE A SHOCK TO SEE THE PANAMA CITY SKYSCRAPER SKYLINE.

THE MORE MODERN AREAS OF THE CITY HAVE MANY HIGH RISE BUILDINGS. THERE ARE CURRENTLY MORE THAN 110 HIGH RISE PROJECTS BEING CONSTRUCTED WITH 127 HIGH-RISE BUILDINGS ALREADY BUILT. THE CITY HOLDS THE 40TH PLACE IN THE WORLD BY HIGHRISE BUILDING COUNT.

PANAMA CITY SKYLINE SEEN FROM THE CATHEDRAL IN OLD PANAMA

PANAMA CITY OFFICE BUILDINGS AND RESIDENTIAL TOWERS

AS YOU TRAVEL INTO PANAMA CITY YOU WILL SEE THESE LARGE CONDOMINIUMS

PANAMA SKYLINE SEEN FROM THE COURTYARD BY MARRIOTT HOTEL

TORRE DE LAS AMERICAS

F & F TOWER – F & F Tower, an office building named after the real estate developer, F & F Properties. It previously was known as Revolution Tower, but the name has since been changed. The architect is Pinzon Lozano. It has 45 floors beneath the spire containing office suites of varying square footage. Apparently the base of the tower is a regular-looking building not so much to the liking of many Panamanians.

EMBERA INDIGINOUS PEOPLE

We went on a short visit to an Embera village on the Chagres river.

Some facts:

The Embera and Wounaan are two distinct indigenous groups that inhabit eastern Panama and northwestern Colombia.

The two different groups were formerly and widely known by the name “Chocos”, “Chocoe” or “Choco-Indians” because of their autochthonous origins in the Pacific coastal Province of Choco in northwestern Colombia.

They live in small isolated native villages mostly in the Darién Province of Panama along the Pacific coast opposite the Pearl Islands, and along the many tributary watercourses of numerous rivers, including the Chucunaque, Sambu, Tuira, Jaque, Balsas, and Sabana Rivers; and along the tributaries of the San Juan River in Colombia.

Panamanian census counts estimate that there may be around 9,000 Wounaan and 22,000 Embera in that country. Population numbers in Colombia reportedly may exceed those numbers for both groups.

Note: Waounan and Embera people have long shared the same territory and their recent history and present culture is similar, so this general information shall serve for both groups. This is not to downplay the distinctions of the two, for they speak separate languages, their traditional roles –Waounan were artists, and Embera warriors–set them apart and they are organized politically as separate groups.

They are short. Women wear colorful cloths from the waist down with flowers on their heads and necklaces and men wear loincloths. Loincloth (Guayuco in Waounan, Taparabo in Spanish) and bead necklaces.

For trekking in the jungle, many indigenous men around the world choose to wear a loincloth which only covers the genitals. It’s simplicity has long been likened to primitivism by missionaries and westerners when in fact it is a very practical piece of clothing for tropical jungle environments. Pants and long shirts soaked with mud and water are heavy and burdensome and they facilitate skin problems such as rashes and infections. The loincloth or taparabo as it is known in Panama, is still worn regularly by a few elders and on special occasions by most male villagers. The Waounan people call them guayuco and Embera call it anelia. Due to influence from the church and modern Latino society, most villagers have traded their loincloths for pants or shorts.

Many people still walk barefoot in the bush but some prefer to wear sandals. Shoes or sandals are a must when leaving the village to visit neighbors or to go to the Capital. In some villages, old people still wear their loincloths, and more recently villages with a desire to revive their cultures and attract tourism have restarted to wear a loincloths made of colorful cotton. Some men enjoy wearing on their bare chests bandoliers of plastic beads, but the real trademark of both Wounan and Embera culture is ebony body painting done with the juice of the jagua fruit.

Women are usually bare-chested, wearing only a skirt they call paloma (Uhua in Embera). Originally their skirt was made with palm fibers, today dyed cotton fabrics are purchased in Panama were they are usually imported from South-East Asia. Women, like men, used to cover their bodies regularly with the black dyes of jagua, a practice still used for ceremonies. They cover their chests with intricate plastic bead necklaces and ornamental collars made with dozens of coins. Women also like to add a bit of red color on their faces with the natural dye of achiote. Recently lipstick and rouge have replaced achiote.

jagua body painting

Jagua is an important fruit in the life of Embera and Waounan people. It is used as a black dye to paint people’s skins. The pigment remains embedded in the skin until the external layer is naturally exfoliated, generally lasting between 10 to 12 days. It is indelible dark blue or black, like a two-week tattoo. The jagua body painting is still in use for all celebrations and is one of the most enduring and important customs for both Waounan and Embera people.


Both men and women practice body painting with the jagua fruit. Some people cover nearly their full body. Even the lower half of the face covered from a line extending back from the corners of the mouth. Some designs are solid blocks of painting with small patches of skin left open to show contrast. Others are elaborate patterns drawn with delicate lines by artists with the thin tip of a bamboo stick. Each design has its own meaning and each age group and gender are assigned specific ones.


Waounan and Embera people make wide use of silver or gold jewelry. Most common are wide bracelets and arm and ankle bands. For special celebrations and dances women will wear heavy necklaces made from coins hung from and woven into a lattice of string. For regular use, both men and women will wear more simple necklaces crafted of metal from melted coins

Originally semi-nomadic forest dweller the Embera and Waounan were known as hunter-gatherers. They hunted with blowpipes and poisonous darts–a technique still in practice in Colombia–bows and arrows and long spears. In addition to hunting, people also set traps for rodents and birds. The most common targets for hunters were deer, wild boar, coati-mundi, gneke, etc.


A significant part of the diet came from the collection of jungle plants, fruits, heart of palm, roots and tubers.

Houses were traditionally built very high on stilts, up to ten feet. At those heights the house was protected from wild animals such as the feared jaguar called locally tigre (tiger), wild boar, rodents etc. It also offered protection from flooding and even from other people. Houses today are still built on stilts but not as high (the threat of invaders and jaguars is less of a concern), just a few feet of the ground to avoid the flooding of the rainy season and to prohibit the invasion of the insects that nest and congregate in the grasses. People climb into their house using a log in which they carve small steps.

Traditional houses are composed of a single room with the fire pit at one end and living space at the other. One or two sides are closed with walls of bamboo or other wood. Walls offer some privacy but by leaving half of the house open, breezes serve to cool the house and keep insects from congregating. The roofs are made of thatch. Schools in most villages have been built by the government and their concrete structures are a striking contrast to the thatched-roofed organic feel of the houses of the village. Each village has its casa communal used for official meetings, to receive guests, or for ceremonies. Traditionally communal houses were crowned with large round, sloping roofs and are by far the largest structure in the village.


Their government is political and administrative, with General Chiefs as maximum authority and sahilas for each village.


Waounan people are famous crafters. It is believed that they were the original basket weavers and wood carvers of the region. Today most indigenous groups produce versions of their canastas and cocobolo carvings. The Embera people have adopted the techniques and have expert artists of their own.

Text from Wikipedia

EMBERA SHOWS OFF HIS HANDICRAFTS

EMBERA WOVEN BASKET

EMBERA WOVEN MASK

EMBERA VILLAGE ELDER

EMBERA WOMAN

EMBERA WOMAN WEARING TRADITIONAL CLOTHES

EMBERA MAN WEARING TRADITIONAL CLOTHING

EMBERA SELLING HANDICRAFTS

COMMUNAL HOUSE TO RECEIVE GUESTS

EMBERA VILLAGE MUSICIANS

VIDEOS:

Embera Indian Village  (2008)

brings you a short look at an Embera Indian village in Panama, Central America

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The American Experience: The Panama Canal

On August 15th, 1914, the Panama Canal opened, connecting the world’s two largest oceans and signaling America’s emergence as a global superpower. American ingenuity and innovation had succeeded where, just a few years earlier, the French had failed disastrously. But the U.S. paid a price for victory.

http://youtu.be/lufdPIRgxtY

 

 

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PHOTOS BY:

LEONARD EPSTEIN

JANELLE BURGESS

 

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