Historically the San Blas islands belonged to Colombia, but generally the Guna lived their own life. In the early 20th century Colombia agreed that the San Blas islands would belong to Panama, and Panamese police established on the islands. The Panamese policy was to surpress the culture and language of the Guna. The Guna tribes started a rebellion and that led to deaths on both sides. Then, the League of Nations (predecessor of the United Nations) agreed to prevent a war, or at least a massacre. The Panamese government sent the army to invade the San Blas Islands, but when facing the threat of an American warship before the San Blas, they decided to start to negociate with the Cuna first. It led to a treaty, resulting in a great autonomy for the Guna tribes.
Life on San Blas
The Guna have their own language, culture and economy. Already for centuries they live from fish and from the mulas (clothes, patchwork) they sell. They don’t have properties like the Western do; the land is for everybody. Only the coconut trees and their coconuts are distributed and belong to someone or a family. So never take a coconut from the ground, because you get an argument!
The Guna have their own administration and justice. There is a central ‘Congreso’, but most of the power is on the lower levels, per island or even family. One rule is that a Guna has to marry someone from the Guna tribe, or will get excommunicated. There is no strong monogamy, like in the Jewish-Christian tradition. All this together, leads to more inbreeding, that results in albino children. In their belief the albinos are God sent, to protect the moon from disappearing during an eclipse.
If a judge or the Congreso gives a penalty, it is often a job that helps the community. It can be to bring an amount of sand from a sandbank to the island, to keep the island’s level high enough. (more about this later).
It is a matriarchal society. The groom comes into the house of his family-in-law and lives there. He takes the name of his wife’s family.
With their diet and lifestyle, the death rate of the Guna on hart deseases and cancer is very low.
Sustainable living, but a drowning future
The Guna people live sober. Many catch their fish in their cano, with a paddle and a sail. Only for tourism (time is money) there are some boats with fossil propulsion. There is no calculation of the Cuna’s carbon footprint, but it is definitely very low.
In 2016 it was expected that the San Blas islands will have been disappeared before the year 2100. But in the current pace of climate change that will be much quicker, more like in some decades.
Let us keep the Cuna’s live here on San Blas. With their great sustainable lifestyle, they don’t contribute to the excessive use of oil and gas. What about saying to yourself today to stop using and buying so much? Yes, every minute you get incentives through channels and social (?) media, but finally the decision is in yourself that as of today you only use what you need