Friday, February 27, 2015

More Revolution and a Little Chica

The next morning we went to the Congresso, the largest hut on the island where the Kuna hold their weekly community meetings. It was packed to the brim with Kuna in traditional dress. Today was the adult reenactment of the Revolution with Kuna dressed as Panamanian Police yelling and harassing a group of Kuna in the center of the hut. All the actors take their roles quite seriously and we had a shotgun pushed in front of our faces by a screaming “policeman” (made a believer out of me). Many of the young children were quite frightened as policemen yelled and beat the Kuna laying on the ground and had to be consoled by their mothers. With the hundreds of Kuna’s packed into the small space and the screaming, crying, wailing, and such it was quite an emotional experience for everyone. We eventually crept out the back for a break and took a walk trough the now almost deserted village.

Five chiefs of the village watch the ceremony from a raised platform. Albinos are somewhat common in Kuna Yala due to the small indigenous population.
Act 3 was about to start in the central square, with the caciques or chiefs seated on an elevated platform overlooking the square resplendent in their Sunday best ties, dress shirts, and Panama hats. All around the perimeter of the square were groups of Kuna, from older women in traditional dress to younger Kuna girls in tight jeans and “Juicy” tops with the smart phones recording the activity. There were also lots of young Kuna children, with the 6 year olds carrying the babies on their hips. This is fairly common among the Kuna, with the younger children having full time childcare responsibilities.

These "actors" represent a peaceful Kuna family in their village.
Also around the perimeter were small banana tree covered huts with Kuna doing traditional activities. These represented the Kuna villages for purposes of the play. Act 3 began with the traditional dance, followed by Kuna “actors” portraying daily Kuna activities which we soon disrupted by the Panamanian police.

Our guide, Ferdinand, warned us he plays "a very very bad man."
Here the Kuna rebel, under the leadership of Juan Fernadez, and kill the Panamanian police chief.
Using foam batons the police brutally beat the Kuna with the “wacks” resounding throughout the village. Again, it was quite brutal and realistic — no one pulled any punches that I saw — and disturbing for the young children. For the older kids there were giggles and smirks. The beatings went on for over an hour and eventually the Kuna surrounded the police chief and beat him to death. With everyone cheering Juan Fernandez, a group gathered up the dead police chief, carried him down to the dock, and threw him in the water. It was disturbing to know that 90 years this exact act took place exactly where we stood. Very sobering for all of us to think about what these peaceful people where forced to endure.

All the cruisers took a break for lunch back on the boats then returned around 2:00 pm for the highlight of the day, the Chica Ceremony.  We were invited into the large Congresso hut which was full to the brim with Kuna, men on one side and women on the other. The Chica Ceremony is to celebrate the coming of age a young Kuna girls, ranging from 11 to 13 years old. Our guide invited us (men first then women) to the side of the room where the mother of the Chica girl gave us a coconut shell with water to rinse our mouths, then next to her the Chica girl, whose body was painted in dark purple dye to protect her from the spirits, used a small gourd to fill a larger bowl with the chica, a fermented sugar cane drink with a taste similar to a flat wine. We had to drink the entire bowl standing in front of her, then retire back to the men’s bench where from that point forward men would bring a huge bowl of chica and refill our coconut shells.

Photographs are not permitted during the sacred Chica ceremony so I had to sneak this one when no one was looking.
I lasted through about three rounds, big drinker that I am, but everyone else kept drinking into the wee hours of the night. The idea is that the Kuna use the ceremony to prepare their body to receive a new spirit. The idea is to get into a sort of stupor so the new spirit can enter your body. Two groups of chiefs sat at each end and two lower level chiefs (with a necklace of what looks like pan flutes) alternate bringing them bowls of chica and blowing smoke from a short, fat pipe, into their faces. The same routine goes on at the women’s end, with the Chica girl's family doing the honors.  The mood is initially quiet and somber, with occasional dances or pan flute playing. The ceremony goes on into the wee hours when I imagine everyone is almost passed out (but with a new spirit, hopefully). No photos are allowed during the Chica ceremony but the above narrative should give you a good idea of the mood.

We spent the rest of the day roaming the village with Phil and Monica from Miss Molly, looking at the five-room school house a one end of the island, and the restored grassy area (with help of the German foundation) at the other end. The experience gave us a much better understanding of the Kuna culture and a feeling of what their everyday life must be like, certainly not that far removed from their lives hundreds of years ago.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Viva la Revolution

After a couple days of boat projects at Shelter Bay Marina, we headed back south to the San Blas Islands via Isla Linton, a nice anchorage about three hours south of Colon. The next day we headed back to the Swimming Pool where we saw our friends Phil and Monica on Miss Molly.

While we enjoyed our time in the Swimming Pool and Bandeup, we stayed longer than planned due to a nasty cold that Walter caught. Miss Molly had left to attend a very special festival, the Reenactment of the 1925 Kuna Revolution on Isla Tigre.  While I just wanted some more bed rest, I understood how much Meryl wanted to attend the festival so we plotted a course to Isla Tigre, a short but circuitous 12-mile sail to the southwest on Tuesday, Feb. 25th. You don’t just sail straight from A to B in the San Blas, the omnipresent reefs are everywhere and you’ve got to be very certain of your navigation, evidenced by the many wrecks on the surrounding reefs.

With just the genoa flying we had a relaxing sail averaging about 5 to 6 knots the whole way to Isla Tigre. We could see a lot of sailboat masts in the distance and knew anchoring was going to be an issue. After a dogleg right around one reef and a dogleg left around another, with surf breaking on all of them, we rounded the corner of Isle Tigre and shoe-horned ourselves behind Miss Molly and very close to a beautiful French Catana cat, whose captain was on the foredeck glaring at me the whole time.
The village of Isla Tigre where the Revolution took place in 1925.
The VHF crackled to life with a call from Miss Molly giving us the 411 on the festival and an invitation to dingy in with them around 6:30 pm.  Isla Tigre is a relatively small island, but boasts a population of over 2,000 Kuna adults and 500 children. The island was spotlessly clean with round wooden stick huts covering every square inch of earth. You would not call Isle Tigre a traditional Kuna island, but more transitional as they have some electricity, an occasional satellite TV dish, and some younger Kuna dressing in more Western style.
Kuna's from surrounding islands come to Isla Tigre for the Revolution Reenactment. Some are dressed traditionally while the younger Kuna tend to favor more Westernized clothing.
Kuna women in traditional dress lead the procession in front of the audience and the Chiefs.
Many Kuna women wear the traditional winnies, long strands of beads wrapped around each leg.
We entered a large open plaza area full of Kuna dressed in their incredibly beautiful native dress. The Kuna have a sense of style and color that rivals no one, and their native molas reflect their feel for color and design. Most of the women wore bright red headdresses, a colorful top and a wraparound sarong-type dress with designs similar to those seen in Polynesia. Their legs are bound with winnies, a continuous beaded line that wraps from ankle to just below their knees.

Each "act" of the Reenactment began with a group of Kuna men playing pan flutes and women on maracas.
A haunting Peruvian melody played continuously on the loudspeakers as hundreds of Kuna men and women milled about, with children darting in an out of their mother’s shadows. Festive balloons and red/yellow flags criss-crossed the plaza with an occasional electric light here and there. An announcer talked continuously in Kuna about the meaning of the celebration and the importance of Kuna’s understanding their heritage and fight for independence.

The Kuna are second only to the Pygmies in lack of height, the average Kuna being about 4 ft. 11” and are a peaceful, respectful, and friendly people. It’s very difficult to think of them as warriors having to fight for their independence, but that’s what happened in Feb. 21, 1925 when the highly repressive Panamanian police pushed them the last inch too far. 

The Kuna flag is based on a centuries old Sanskrit symbol.
The Kuna had remained loyal to Columbia, who relinquished the Canal area to Panama following a US inspired one-day revolution.  The Panamanian’s, wanting to consolidate their power and influence over the Kuna, constantly harangued them about their customs, native dress, and any other thing that popped into their head, to the point of Kuna’s suffering severe beatings and death at the hands of the police. On Feb 21, 1925, a group of Kuna on Isla Tigre, lead by Juan Fernandez, rebelled and killed the police chief on the island. When word of the revolution reached Colon, the Panamanian government readied a military force to deal with the Kuna, only to to be saved at the last minute by the intercession of a U.S. Navy vessel, the USS Cleveland. The US left a clear message to the new Panamanian government, hands off the Kuna.

Ferdinand briefed Monica, Meryl and Phil on each day's activities.
Only two Kuna speak passable English on the island, and one, Ferdinand, briefed us on the festival and the event schedule. He also dutifully collected $20 from each boat to help defray expenses for the festival. He was also an “actor” in the event and cautioned us that he played “a very, very bad man.” He was kind of a character in many respects.

The Revolution Reinactment Festival, for lack of a better term, was centered around four acts, similar to a play. The first act, that night, was a series of vignettes about the Kuna, their culture and their struggle with the Panamanians. All the acts begin with a group of men and women facing each other, the men with pan flutes and the women with maracas. The men play a haunting melody and dance interwoven with the women shaking their maracas in rhythm.

The procession features different aspects of Kuna culture.
Kuna Yala is most famous for the beautiful molas made by the island women (and a few men).
In the second "act" Panamanian police attack the Kuna tearing husband from wife.
In the central Congresso hut Panamanian police harass and threaten the Kuna.
The Kuna rise up under the leadership of Juan Fernandez and kill the Panamanian police.
This was followed by a group of Kuna, lead by a couple with a baby, who was held high in the air to celebrate life. Other Kuna followed with symbols of their culture, such as molas, carvings, and handicrafts. The next scene, rather frightening to the young children in the audience, showed the Panamanian’s rushing in to slaughter the peaceful Kuna, leaving piles of dead bodies in their wake. In a final scene, the Kuna rebel and slay the police chief, with all the children chanting the name of “Juan Fernandez” the liberator of the Kuna.

This little Kuna girl kept us in stitches all night long with her antics.

The most endearing moment of the evening was a 4-year-old Kuna girl who played hide and seek with Meryl and I, oblivious to all the regalia going on around her. A priceless moment.

German couple working with the Kuna on sustainability projects.
We were fortunate to be seated next to a German/Austrian couple who work for a German foundation that promotes sustainability around the world. The woman spoke fluent Spanish and passable Kuna and filled us in on the challenges working on sanitation, refuse removal, habitat restoration and other projects they were sponsoring on the island.

There is no sanitation system on the island, the Kuna use what are euphemistically called “long drop” toilets that perch out over the water. Currently all trash goes into the sea. Water is plentiful thanks to a pipeline from the mainland. The little electricity is supplied by gas generators and an occasional solar panel. Given all that, the community has functioned well for centuries with little changes.

The ubiquitous "long drop" toilets used by the Kuna.
With the aid of the German foundation, the Kuna have begun restoration projects on one end of Isla Tigre.
The Kuna’s are receptive to improvements, but have almost no resources and receive very little from the Panamanian government with whom they have a tepid relationship. The men travel to the mainland in their ulla’s (wooden canoes) to tend small agricultural plots with coconuts and pineapple, fish the surrounding waters, while the women (and some men) make the famous molas that sell from $20 up to $100.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Quick Trip Back to (Almost) Super Bowl City

It was so nice to see the smile on Chris' face as we explained the design of her new mola from the San Blas Islands.
It’s always a mixed blessing arriving in Seattle. We lived there our whole lives and love the city. Most of our family and friends are in the area and fond memories come flooding back when we’re circling the city to land. But this was going to be a quick turn-around trip. It's always so nice to pull up at the Berries house and know our bed is made up and ready.

Brad's new house in Preston, WA.
Grandma Meryl playing with Bennett and Brody.
I think Brad likes the riding lawn mower that came with the house more than the house.
Our first stop, as always, was our son’s house to visit his family. He had recently purchased a new home just outside of Issaquah in Preston and it took us a while to find it. It's a gorgeous house on 9 acres with a spacious lawn and its very own lake!  He was so proud to show us around the property and I just know he’ll be building hiking and biking trails for the boys to explore. He moved from a somewhat small house to one so big it even has empty rooms. I think, however, he’s fearful his itinerate parents will someday move in with him.  We had a great couple of day playing with the grandkids and getting caught up with their lives. Again, that’s the hardest part of cruising, being away from people you love.
So great to visit with our old North Bend neighbors Paul and Cynthia and see there new house.
The Boat Show, The Boat Show.
As usual, the next few days were filled with doctor appointments, tracking down boat parts, and provisioning in the massive (to us) US grocery stores. We even managed to sneak in a quick visit to the Seattle Boat Show where we saw the same vendors selling the same products. We did pick up a few items on sale, so it was a worthwhile trip. It was rather strange, however, going to seminars filled with people whose dream is to sell their house and sail off into the sunset. Oh the stories we could tell them.
It was a great Super Bowl party, but our luck just ran out at the end.
Not wanting to wear out our welcome with the Berries we stayed with the Ballew’s for the remainder of our trip; they are the consummate hosts and always make us feel so welcome (as do the Berry's). We were fortunate to be invited to Irene’s sister Pat's house for a big Super Bowl party. So fun to watch such an exciting game with a group of fun people, even though the end of the game was kind of a bummer.
How all this stuff ends up on an airplane amazes even me.
Traveling light with The Conner's.
Packing up all our junk is always an issue, but this year we had the brilliant idea of getting a couple of huge used suitcases at Goodwill and loading up all our boat supplies and food into the hard sided roll-a-boards. Even though we weighed everything carefully, we wanted to avoid the fiasco of paying the $300 excess baggage, so we took the suitcases over to an empty check-in counter and carefully weighed each one, adjusted items from bag to bag. I was taking back a 35 lb. anchor windlass motor (as a spare) and unfortunately that had to go in my carry on bag. When we boarded the airplane and I was lifting up my bag to the overhead storage everyone must of thought I was a wimp, but in reality it weighed about 65 pounds. Ya do what ya gotta do.

We took an 11:00 pm flight to Houston and slept most of the way. After a two-hour layover we boarded the plane to Panama happy to be headed back to the boat. Since the flights went so smooth, my radar was up and sure enough one bag didn’t make it. That meant we had to stay at an airport hotel and pick up the bag later that evening. Naturally TSA had confiscated some dumb things out of the bag, including some grease, boat polish, and a cleaner to the tune of $150. What are you gonna do?

We took advantage of being in Panama City and had our taxi driver swing by the French Embassy the next morning to drop off our passports so the French visa could be inserted. That would have required a separate trip so it worked out OK.

It was wonderful getting back to the boat, except the minute we got on the boat the motor for the fridge gave it’s last breath of rotation and died. That meant we had to scramble to find another boat to take our freezer stuff and buy enough ice to keep the rest of the stuff cold. I had to quickly pull out the massive motor and take it to the marina so it could be sent out for repair. Our boat doesn’t like it when we are gone and this is its typical behavior.

Even though we had a ton of things to do we still found time to run and jump in the pool to cool off and have sundowners with a large group of cruisers at 5:00 pm each night. Over the next  few days we stored our provisions, worked on various boat projects, and got in some nice walks in the nature reserve that surrounds the marina.

Later in the week we did an overnight trip back to Panama City to pick up our visas at the French Embassy. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to make their 11:30 am closing time, so we had fun exploring the old town and enjoying a few drinks at the Fish Market.

The next day we split up with me heading to the French Embassy (which I swear opened at 7:30) and Meryl to the American Embassy where we had an 8:00 am appointment for additional pages to be inserted in our passports. Unfortunately, the French didn’t open up until 8:30 and I had no way of getting a hold of Meryl, so I rushed out to the American Embassy to find the waiting room packed with hundreds of visa seekers. Luckily Meryl had everything under control so we got our pages, stopped at Islamorada to buy a South Pacific chart, then on to Albrook Mall for a quick lunch and bus ride back to Shelter Bay. No Brad Pitt war movies this time.