Our trip to the Embera Indian Tribe in Panama
A couple years ago my family and I took a trip to the Embera Indian Tribe in Panama (my birth country). It was one heck of an experience that will never be forgotten.
Our journey began in the city with a 2 hour trip by car to get to the edge of a canal off the Chagres River. Once we arrived, an Embera Indian was waiting for us in a hand carved canoe with a small motor attached. I took one look at the water, then the canoe and thought; oh my, what have we got ourselves into. We boarded the canoe and off we went for a 50 minute ride through murky, muddy waters of the Chagres River. The water was dirty because of the heavy rains the day before. Normally, during dry season, the river waters are clear and you can see down to the bottom.
At first it was a bit scary; especially knowing the river was infested with crocodiles that occasionally would pop their heads up looking at us. All I could think is, it would make a great hand bag. LOL. I do admire the bravery of crocodile and alligator hunters. It’s a tough job and dangerous sport. As we traveled down the canal through the endless Jungles that seemed to lead to nowhere, a sense of peacefulness and surreal tranquility came over me. I was totally speechless and in awe with the beauty of the natural surroundings, the giant trees with huge green leaves and the sound of nature all around us. As we took this nice quiet, calm peaceful ride through winding canal enjoying the beauty of nature all of a sudden we got into open waters on the other side, the view was just breath taking. Our guide took us over to some very tall trees so we could see the monkeys swinging from branch to branch. What a precious site. These monkeys were so happy to see us. As we started to head towards their camp we could see these huts slowly appearing one at a time as we got closer, what an incredible site. Upon arriving we were welcomed with open arms and serenaded with their traditional music.
These Indians are indigenous people of Panama and Colombia. For centuries, they have lived semi-nomadic lives as hunter-gatherers and fishermen. They live off the land and one of the few tribes left. These Embera Indians of Panama historically inhabit the Darien Province, a remote rainforest region that borders Colombia to the east. Many of them left the region that they and their ancestors called home for centuries when the Darien jungles became increasingly dangerous due to the incursions of Colombian guerrillas and drug traffickers. Some of them found safe haven on the banks of the Chagres River. Because of their appearance and tribal lifestyle they once were considered savages. It is only in recent years that these communities have welcomed a coexistence with the so-called “modern world”. Their wisdom, understanding and knowledge of the natural world has been passed on for many generations, with much of it remaining only in linguistic form; that is the ancient Embera language now threaten with extinction.
Right after our arrival we met up with the “medicine man” which gave us a tour of the outdoor classroom. One thing that caught my eye was the children wearing regular clothing and not their normal attire which is a piece of cloth over the lower half of their bodies. The reason for them wearing western clothing is to prepare them for the outside world once they venture on into upper grades and attend a school in the nearest town. Just looking around you realizes how simple their lives, yet how hard it is without the needed supplies to teach these children. I was glad to have been able to provide them with school supplies, gifts and toiletries for these children and their families. The teacher was ecstatic and appreciative to see all the supplies we brought them as she doesn’t have much to teach these children with.
As we moved on to tour the grounds we were able to get a priceless lesson on natural remedies. I was so intrigued with what the medicine man was telling us about the plants, trees and flowers, I had to pick his brain and ask many, many questions.
Our lunch time was incredible. The meal for that day was supposed to be fish caught fresh from the waters however; because of the river being dirty they fed us freshly caught fried chicken instead and patacones (fried green bananas) which was just as delicious. They prepared us a bowl of water with cilantro and lemon to sanitize our hands and the food presentation was just beautiful with these giant leaves used as platters and plates.
After lunch we moved on to their traditional farewell dance which was a blast. We also got to see and buy the beautiful craft these women personally made by hand. They showcased their gorgeous hand carvings, basket weaving, and jewelry made from fruits. They really have such an amazing talent. These Embera Indians have been forced to seek out a way of survival so they have embraced cultural tourism as a way to earn money for their community as well as through their crafts.
As we completed our tour and it was time to head back, the little children had all changed back into their normal attire, came running to pose for group pictures and helped send us off in the canoes. On our canoe trip back, the school teacher had caught a ride back with us and I was able to have a nice conversation with her. I was shocked to hear how far she traveled by bus and canoe to get to this tribe once a week to teach these children and prepare them academically so they would be able to transition into a city school. I commend her for how far she journeys, her passion for teaching these children and loving every moment.
Hope you enjoy our pictures below. Back to About page