Posted by: Sailing Camelot | August 10, 2012

July 26th – Tusipono, an Embera Indian Village

Today we take a group tour with three other couples.

Ladies and Gentleman, I present you “The Goofy Goons”

Halfway between Panama City and Colon (on the Pacific coast) sits the Chagres National Park, where six Embera Indians villages are located. Only three of them welcome visitors.

Now, this is an unusual sight…

Embera Indian dress code: the beaded skirt is called Ambura

After an hour’s drive in comfortable big SUVs we reach the shores of Rio Chagres; a few young Indians dressed in loincloths and some sort of a miniskirt (called Ambura) made of colorful beads are waiting to take us to their village up the river in their long and narrow dugout canoes (Piroguas). It seems surreal!

Dugout Canoes are called Piroguas

They are a rickety ride!

But there is one detail showing evidence of modernization: the canoes are equipped with 15hp outboards. Hey, you try rowing eight well-fed Gringos up the river with a paddle!

The guy in front is watching the depth of the river, as it gets shallow in places.

About twenty minutes later, after a slow ride up the river immersed in spectacular scenery, we get off the canoes and start trekking in the jungle.

…And so it starts…

Me and Tom, cooling our heels.

As usual, I’m forever dillydallying, nose in the air, looking for something beautiful to capture on camera. And there’s plenty of beauty to capture…

Wait! I must take another shot!

I KNEW it was worth walking with my nose up!

Following winding paths and crossing shallow rivulets we finally arrive to an idyllic spot with a waterfall cascading into a small basin.

Our destination!

Our guide was always many steps ahead of us…

It looks very inviting and I don’t need any encouragement to jump in the cool, clear water! Tom bomb-dives in as well, whooping like an excited child.

That would be Tom…

If I were a man, there would be a serious shrinkage issue… The water was pretty COLD!

We frolic in the water to our heart’s content, then still dripping wet we trek back to the canoes to be taken to the village.

Ma’am, your carriage awaits.

She should hold the “Miss River 2012” title… Such a pretty lady.

I felt really welcome, here! Tusipono village, Embera’ tribe.

At the village we’re welcomed with music, wide smiles and handshakes.

The gentleman to the left is 93 years old. I couldn’t believe it…

The Tusi Pono Marching Band!

This instrument is a turtle shell upside-down. Made me ask “how was the soup?”

We are directed to a huge palapa building where the men play music for the women dancing their welcome dance for us.

The Central Hut

The Dancers getting ready

There is a different dance for every occasion, we’re told. It’s a form of expression.

This is the “Hospitality Dance”

… They were quite agile, it’s an energetic dance!

We’re then taken to a different hut where Antonio the Chief gives us some background on the village customs and the tribe’s daily life. Actually he’s Second in Command, but today he’s officially the Chief because the boss is away from the village.

Antonio The Deputy Chief and Guillermina explaining materials used in their hand weaving

There are 20 families in this particular village, 68 people in total.

The land is community owned and community farmed. Everyone in the village pitches in to work at harvest time.

The village “Main Street” looking down toward the river…

.. and up toward the hill

If one hunter gets a larger animal such as a peccary or a tapir, everybody in the village shares the meat.

Health care is primarily provided by trained Shamans.

The houses of the village are set about 20– 50 feet apart, raised on posts about eight feet off the ground, with no walls and tall thatched roofs made from palm fronds.

It does look like a movie set…

… Or like a vacation village

Got to be in good shape to climb that ladder!

All the joinery is made of vines called “bejuco”.

Hanging from the supporting posts and beams are hammocks, baskets, pots, bows and arrows, mosquito nets, clothing and other items. The floor is made of split black palm trunks or white cane.

Privacy -or lack thereof- is not an issue here…

Must be Laundry Day!

The kitchen is built on a clay platform about three feet square; on top of this base they build a fire, supporting cooking pots over the fire with a tripod of sturdy sticks.

The Kitchen

The houses are accessed from the ground via a sloped log with deep notches forming a ladder. They turn the notches face down at night to prevent animals from climbing into the house while they sleep.

Elevated Dwellings

The men sport “bowl cut” hair styles, and when not in towns still wear nothing but a minimal loin cloth. The women wear brightly colored cloth wrapped around the waist as a skirt.

The common Bowl Cut

Looks perfect on him!

Except when in towns, the women do not cover their torsos (they were covered during our visit), and wear long, straight black hair. The children go naked until puberty, and no one wears shoes.

The next Chief? He has the charm…

Around each village the jungle is partly cleared and replaced by plantain and banana plantations – a commercial crop for the Embera, who sell them to get cash for their outboard motors, mosquito nets, fabrics and other necessities.

The whole presentation is given in Spanish, but in the village their own language is spoken, so we are quite shocked when two young boys address Tom in perfect English…

The Ladies preparing our meal

Great presentation!

We are then served a simple but very tasty meal of delicious fried fish and patties made of corn and plantains, all attractively wrapped in banana leaves with a decorative hibiscus flower, and lots of fruit: bananas, mangoes, pineapples, watermelon.

Looks fabulous!

And tasted even better! Fried fish, corn, banana and plantain patties. YUM!

After the meal we thank our host and return to the main hut, where the women are displaying and selling intricately woven baskets, exquisite carvings, beaded jewelry and lengths of fabric.

Hand Woven baskets and plates are their trademark

The fibers used for the weavings are all colored with natural dyes from plants

These two young men spoke perfect English!

Needless to say, we walk away with a couple of baskets and a carving…

We’re finally ready to leave, and are accompanied down to the river by a large contingent of the smiling and friendly villagers, all trying to communicate with us. It almost looks like a movie set!

Our festive escort upon our departure

The children are taken down to the river to play

The colors, the children, these small and colorful people, this life beyond anything I could possibly ever imagine… This is possibly the richest experience I’ve ever had and I know it’ll stay with me forever.

Goodbye, beautiful Embera People! Thanks for the wonderful hospitality.

I guess everyone in my group feels the same, judging by the silent ride back home, with everyone lost in their thoughts, still processing this incredible day.

Of course! Wherever he goes,Tom meets new friends.

Today we visited another world. I just can’t believe it’s only an hour away from a big, modern city…



  1. As usual ….a great blog….fantastic photos!!!!
    We will be back in the city on Sunday afternoon. Hope to see you.

  2. I just saw your web site tonight pulling up Bahia Del Sol. What a journey you have had and love your blogs! Thanks for sharing! Chris, from the Beverly J next to you in Bahia Del Sol. Enjoy your journey!

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