A GLIMPSE INTO THE LIFE OF A KUNA - KEEPERS OF THE WESTERN CARIBBEAN
The reader should note, we indigenous people do not view time as being linear as the non-indigenous do, and to non-indigenous readers - you may form the opinion that the true story below is 'disjointed' or 'does not flow in an orderly progression of date & time'.....for we see past, present, and future as all one sacred circle...where a past event experienced or future event we may have foreseen in our dreams and visions - is EQUALLY relevant to our lives in the present.
So bear this....OUR cosmovision...in your mind as you read the rest of what is provided here for you to learn from.
I first met a proud young Kuna lady called Taira Edilma in 2012 during her first year of the inspiring and uplifting Project Access Training made possible by the Tribal Link Foundation, held each year at the United Nations headquarters in New York, for a select group of present and future indigenous leaders from around the world; prior to and during - the annual United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Taira's parents are both Kuna, from the legendary community of Ustupu...it is an island stronghold of the revolutionary spirit in the Kuna Territory, and life there was the one thing that impacted Taira the most. Taira was born in the city on the mainland, Taira's mother was an orphan because when Taira's maternal grandmother died - her maternal grandfather abandoned his own daughter - and so she (Taira's mum) went to live with an aunt...but alas; her aunt died in a tragic fire as their traditional wooden sided leaf-roofed home burned to ashes very quickly.
Taira's mum was different in the community - because in those days the tribe did arranged marriages, Taira's mum married for the first time at the age of 15...some other relative chose her husband for her - but the husband used to beat her....she mustered up the courage to leave her first and abusive husband without a child; and she had a strong desire to work for her people...this all occurred in the 1950's.
Then, after her aunt's death and her 'escape' from her first husband, Taira's mum went to live with the children of her aunt who had died in the fire; her mum had broken the old arranged marriage cultural tradition. Taira's mum grew up very poor - attending school without shoes, and only attended school up till 3rd grade level. Taira's mum left her orphaned cousins and went to live with another aunt (sister of her dad who abandoned her) - as a live-in maid. Eventually the man who would later become Taira's father met her mum when she lived in this last house - and they both fell in love and got married, it was HIS first marriage; but he too only reached to the 6th grade level in the Educational System in Panama.
Taira's dad took his new wife with him to Panama City as he had to move there to seek employment, but Taira's mum did not speak Spanish - only her own Tribal language Kuna. Taira's mum used to stay at home while her husband worked, and in the city there was a park nearby - so Taira's mum would often sit in the park and intently observe the social movements as they staged frequent protests in that park; and that is how Taira's mum learned to speak Spanish over time.
In the 1960's and 1970's the Military was ruling Panama, and many years later in 1983 General Manuel Noriega took power. Taira's mum joined the movement for social change in Panama - and became the first woman and first indigenous person to join the movement; eventually she became a liaison between the Kuna Chiefs and General Manuel Noriega who ran the military government. She began securing all kinds of humanitarian aid and directing it to Kuna communities to be shared freely in the communities.
Taira says her mum became a politician for her people and her dad became two parents rolled into one, she credits this social dynamic in her household as being the thing that both inspired her to serve her people, but as well caused her much heartache as a young girl - who rarely saw her mother, and who did not learn what she was supposed to from her mum (who was always busy helping others) when she became a woman herself. Taira was the youngest of 5 children, and from age 5-18 her mum was rarely available to her....but these are the years a daughter needs her mother the most. When Taira came of age and experienced the onset of puberty in that significant way all girls do, her mum was not there...so Taira in her young mind - felt that her mum did not love her. Her dad was an excellent cook, so he taught Taira how to be one too, and he also taught his daughter to be a carpenter, a mason, etc. Taira said she never learned the 'womanly arts'...only by hearing her dad talk to her brothers about Chivalry and 'how to treat a woman' did she think she was learning what she needed to know, but she grew up thinking that it was how she was supposed to treat a man too, so she began giving boys flowers, opening doors for them etc, as she did not know that THAT is how men are supposed to treat women.
Taira's older brother began taking her to the political protests when she was 15, her mother also took her too, but she never learned anything about domestic things from her mother. Taira's mum would take her to the Kuna islands of the Western Caribbean just off the mainland of Panama, and leave her with family members there - with an elder woman who was a grandmotherly figure. The adults were very watchful and careful with the children, and there on her people's islands Taira had all the traditional food and cultural education ...but this elder also died.
The Illegal (under International Law) American Invasion of Panama changed her life forever, Taira was a girl of 11 years old when on 20th December 1989 it began, people were getting ready to celebrate the Christmas season and she was in the city when it started, and the Panama Defence Force base was near to her house...she saw the Americans destroy that base and kill every single person that was there with plane dropped bombs and missiles and machine gun fire from helicopter gunships. Taira's big sister had an 8 month old child at the time, and Taira was holding the baby...during the gunfire and continuous explosions her younger brother screamed at her "GET UNDER THE TABLE!"...soon thereafter a Catholic priest came to their house and hurried everyone to the Church as a sanctuary for that first terrible night. Her mum was manning a radio set denouncing the American invasion - and her brother who used to take her to political protests was denouncing it as well.
The only income the family had in that time was from Taira's mum selling Molas (traditional intricately hand embroidered blouse of Kuna women) as there were no jobs, the way her mother made those Molas was to design them with symbols that represented the invasion; so perhaps a dove with bullets or bombs raining down over it. That was the first time in their lives that they saw their father cry, as he was unable to provide for his family - because they were living under occupation with no jobs available. Taira's older brother then took over the movement and totally immersed himself in it, and he became her mentor. "The invasion of Panama marked the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, and they became totally opposed to American interference in the world"..as Taira said.
So Taira was back & forth from the city to the community, and her brother kept taking her to the protests. At the age of 18 Taira realised that it was not that her mum did not love her (as she had believed) - but it was in fact that her mum had to sacrifice her family life in order to serve the people better and more effectively. Taira's dad always understood and supported his wife's deep commitment to their People.
Taira's dad used his life savings so his wife could fly to the USA and see the world, she went and began making contacts all over the Hemisphere, then the Government of Panama began to seek her to join their political party. Eventually Taira's mum was too infirm to keep up her hectic pace in the struggle for indigenous rights in Panama, but Taira's brother kept on insisting that Taira join the Kuna Youth Movement - and Taira joined it .
Taira was taken to other tribes to empower them, and Taira got to know the Embera, the Ngobe-Bugle, and Kuna from other islands and the mainland of Panama; and the pride in being a Kuna welled-up in her soul. From there Taira was invite to speak at National and International events, and during these meetings whenever she was talking - Taira would remember her grandparents, she would remember the revolutionaries of 1925 - when those Kuna heroes fought for their autonomy from the Government of Panama and she would cry....but an elder told her "I do not want to see you cry, remember you have crocodile skin so you must be strong".
HISTORICAL NOTE: On February 25, 1925, after years of abuse by non-indigenous Police on Kuna Tribesmen & women an uprising led by two Kuna sahilas (village political leaders), Nele Kantule from Ustupu and Ologintipipilele from Ailigandi, broke out across the San Blas Islands and the adjacent Caribbean littoral. Police stations were attacked and the Policemen were killed or sent fleeing. The Panamanian government called upon the Americans for military assistance, but what happened instead was a US-brokered truce. The settlement included the removal of American citizens from what is now Kuna Yala by the US Navy and the tacit recognition by the government in Panama City that Kuna communities would continue to rule themselves as they always had. Prisoners were released. The police were withdrawn from Kuna communities and only a token police presence remained in the area. Government schools that taught the Spanish language were allowed, but only on condition that they did not denigrate or overtly try to undermine the Kuna way of life.
Taira realised despite all of this, she was still missing something, she was missing the people. Being a city born girl was a disadvantage, but it was counterbalanced because she was the child of parents who were well-known for serving the community; so she always volunteered to do work in the community.
Another aspect worthy of noting - was this fact...even though Taira was coming from the city to visit her people in their own territories - she always wore Molas (the traditional clothes of her people), and at this time many girls in the community were no longer wearing traditional clothes, but now because of these positive examples of cultural pride - it is commonplace to see Kuna girls & ladies wearing traditional Molas again.
In 1972 the Kuna Youth Movement was founded in Central America, in North America the American Indian Movement was founded in 1973, in 2012 the Idle No More movement was founded in Canada, in 2013 the Amerindian Peoples Liberation Front was founded in Guyana, and there is a growing and powerful Native Youth Movement in North America...all of these things strengthened Taira, and indeed have strengthened ALL pro-traditionalist native peoples of the Western Hemisphere - which is called 'Abya Yala' in the Kuna language (Kuna Yala means 'Kuna Territory').
Since 2007 Taira had spoken with the President of Panama, organised demonstrations, helped to establish Youth Movements among the Embara and Ngobe-Bugle people, studied Indigenous Rights at the University of La Paz in Bolivia, then she returned to Panama in 2010. In 2012 the Kuna Youth Movement re-ignited again, but Taira felt she had completed what she had to with the youth.
Concerning her second year of Tribal Link Project Access training, Taira found this second (and final year) to be the most special, not only because the foundation laid in the first year - had made the second year that much easier to master, but also the contacts, and the deep bonds of fraternity, the soul connections she experienced and the high level of information and understanding that she will inject into ALL her endeavours henceforth as a direct result of her training; in the never-ending but noble struggle for indigenous rights in the Americas.
I am proud to have met Taira and connected with her soul as a result of the priceless Project Access Training made possible by philanthropic donations to the Tribal Link Foundation - by compassionate true human beings who see that a better world IS possible, and all that is required is for those who can - to offer their assistance so that noble efforts such as this will continue to sow the good seed in the hearts of mankind.
Damon Gerard Corrie
13 Highgate Gardens
Wildey, St. Michael
Tel: (246) 228-0227 Fax: (246) 437-2018
Copyright © 2013 Damon G. Corrie