32.84 N, 78Degrees, 58.04 W-Anchored off Mamitupu, San Blas Islands,
Coming of Age Festival in Mamitupu
By Lois Joy
Scores of Kuna children were crowding around me, and the grandmothers
and great-grandmothers were in my face. I had asked Antonio, the
Kuna Indian from whom we had purchased our fish for dinner, to bring
me to the houses of grandmothers. I had purchased paper tablets,
colored pencils and crayons in Cartagena and thought the best way to
assure an even distribution to the children was to give them to the
elders of the village, and since the Kuna Indian society is matriarchal—to
the grandmothers. Wrong. Their society appears not to be
all that democratic. These women, shorter than me, less than five
feet tall, are extremely aggressive!
Lois with the Kuna Indian grandmothers
I didn’t know whether the supplies would be distributed at all, so
I handed one set to Antonio for his family. He breathed a sigh
of relief and jammed the gifts into the pockets of his trousers. I
had saved out one package of crayons and gave one crayon each to the
children individually as I took their photos. Not that they needed
coaxing! They crowded around me begging to be photographed.
When some of the teen-age boys noticed that they could see the photo
being taken in the viewfinder of the Nikon digital, the word spread,
and soon I was the pied piper traipsing through the small island village
with a following of eager, smiling children.
Kuna Indian children
The women were eager to point out their mother, their mother-in-law,
and their grandmother. They proudly showed off their babies,
all dressed up for “The Festival” the little girls already wearing jewelry. The
women and girls were strikingly beautiful and festive in their colorful
molas, with bright blouson sleeves and intricately designed patterns
on the front and back. Many of them had a painted black stripe
running from the their foreheads to the tip of their noses. They
wore golden rings in their noses, earrings, jeweled breastplates, and
intricate beadwork, called unni, on their wrists and legs. The
scarves were always the same: a bright orange, small print design.
Kuna Girl in Pink Dress
Other than Antonio and his son-in-law, we didn’t have the opportunity
to meet many Kuna men. They were heavily into drinking in the
congresso, where vast cauldrons of rice were being cooked for the feast.
Some islands have chica huts; we did not see one here. The
chicha of Kuna Yala is a mild alcoholic drink made from fermented sugar
cane juice. The grandmothers drank shots directly out of a bottle
that looked like white rum, but perhaps was chicha; however, they stayed
near their houses. The children ran wild, having a grand time
with all their friends from neighboring islands.
We were anchored right off the south side of Mamitupu, a small island
with thatched huts around the perimeter for a few families, tall coconut
palms and a few spreading breadfruit trees, a congreso, a chicha hut,
and a large basketball court in the center. The anchoring process
had been challenging, with reefs close to the island and eight-foot
depths coming in through the channel. The rewards of anchoring
here have been well worth the effort. At our stern, within 50
feet, is an island home, built on a sand bar and surrounded by a wall
of stones to protect it from the sea. At our port, we can observe
the village life of Mamitupu. Off our starboard pulpit seat lies the
picturesque island of Korbiski, where the local island ferry docks. Today,
ferries were bringing the villagers from the neighboring islands to
the Festival. Pangas were also bringing their cargo of Kuna
ladies in bright, colorful attire. What a colorful sight!
Gunter and Richard Observing Mamitupu
We arrived here about noon, motoring the six-mile passage from last
night’s anchorage at Cayos Lemon. Immediately after anchoring,
a man in a dugout canoe approached Pacific Bliss. He was from the
closest home, right at our stern. He was selling molas that
his wife had made and apologized that she could not come because of
a lame leg. We purchased a few, then began to spread out a lunch
on the cockpit table. What a view! We were sitting right
in the midst of Kuna Indian life. Children came up to us in dugout
canoes just to investigate the big ship. Older boys splashed and
played alongside Pacific Bliss, showing off by turning over their canoes
and righting them again.
Boys Overturning their Canoe
The families had come from other neighboring islands to attend a rite
of passage for a twelve-year-old girl. The ceremony involved cutting
off her hair, Antonio had explained. We could see groups of women
surrounding the girl as the rite was performed. Antonio had invited
us to the island for the party following the ceremony.
After walking through the village, we spent some time with Antonio’s
family. He was the only one on the island who spoke English, and
was very helpful.
Antonio’s Family Sits for a Portrait
Antonio’s daughter-in-law, granddaughter
As we left the island for Pacific Bliss, the children crowded around
to see us off. This is the essence of cruising, I thought.
I would not have traded the experiences of this day for anything!
Children crowd around as we return
to Pacific Bliss.
See the Photo Gallery for additional photos of the San Blas Islands.