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San Blas Islands

04 March 2017 Go back

The Oyster 56 Sea Flute visited the San Blas Islands, Panama together with a group of Oyster World Rally yachts, recounting an insight into the Guna way of life:

Our destination, the San Blas archipelago, which is a string of three hundred and forty small islands along the Panamanian coast and home to the indigenous Guna Indians. Some islands are just several hundred metres offshore and some up to twenty miles. The whole area is covered in shallow coral reefs and most islands are ringed with their own ‘house’ reefs.

Our chosen destination was Green Island. Situated behind a substantial reef which affords its great protection from the ocean swell. Within minutes of anchoring some Gunas from the nearest Island had paddled out in their dugout canoes (Ulu’s) to welcome us with a smile and asked if we required any fruit or fish. The Gunas are tiny people (the second smallest race in the world) with boundless energy, fiercely proud and protective of their way of life. There is obviously a happy union between the Indians and the few cruisers that visit these islands, but it is essential you respect certain protocols to preserve this peace.

Guna Yala is officially part of Panama but they have an autonomous rule which has enabled them to preserve their simple way of life which is pretty much unchanged from the time Vasco Nunez de Balboa arrived with an invasion force in the seventeen hundreds. They have a strictly structured hierarchy but are also a matrilineal society. The women choose to marry when they feel ready and will choose their own husbands. The husband will then move into the woman’s family compound. There is virtually no crime in Guna Yala and any misdemeanours are dealt with uncompromisingly by the Saila’s who are the regional chiefs and who all the village elders report to. The Saila’s are also the spiritual leaders and responsible for preserving the medicinal knowledge and traditional Guna way of life. We got a very good insight into this by chatting to a few of the vendors who could speak a little English.

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See more on the San Blas adventure on Sea Flute’s blog, including a ‘Chicha’ ceremony during a visit to an inhabited village… http://blog.mailasail.com/seaflute/37

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