Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ustupu – The ‘Day of the Children’ Celebration

Traditional Kuna ladies preparing for the fiesta.
We were sailing along in the eastern part of Kuna Yala (aka Guna Yala, aka San Blas Islands), Panama, when we decided to head into an anchorage near the traditional town of Ustupu. The eastern end of Kuna Yala is home to the more traditional villages. From a distance we could see that Ustupu had a cell tower and we wanted to try to buy SIMM cards for our phones so we would have a local Panama number and access to internet if really really lucky. On our way to the tienda to look for cards we ran into a local named Andres. He speaks some English and is very worldly. Both he and his father have traveled to a number of countries outside of Panama including Europe and North America. He has over the years also befriended many cruisers passing through Kuna Yala. Andres invited us to watch/partake in/visit the Day of Children celebration that was starting that afternoon and served as our guide for that day and the next, introducing us to his family and others in the community and telling us about Kuna culture.
We have a lot of really great photos, but they will have to wait for a better Internet connection. These are just a tease. It was a two day party, with a lot chica drinking. Chica is the local liquor made for these celebrations out of sugarcane. To me it tasted a bit like a mix between mead and port. The women enjoyed offering the chica cup to Chris (documentary proof in a later blog). That is a chica bowl in the picture above.
ustupuIMG_6345 Andres and his daughter with the soccer ball we gave her and her brother. (Soccer balls courtesy of San Diego’s very own Juli Veee- thank you, Juli!)
ustupuIMG_6347 The celebration began with participants dancing, accompanied by harmonica and whistle, through the streets of the village, and then past the basketball court to a large community building.
Here we are in the Congresso hall during the peak of the second morning celebration. The Congresso hall is where the official meetings regularly occur to discuss village business with the chiefs.  A lot of chica has already been consumed at this point. Interestingly, the elders in the community really tie one on but the younger members seem to partake only in limited quantities. And there are no drunken melees… different from our culture. As you can see in this photo, Kunas are a small people, reportedly second only to pigmys of Africa. It made Chris and I feel tall for once.
ustupuIMG_6414 Andres’ son posing in their house with his new football ball. Note mom’s handpowered sewing machine on the table behind, where she was constructing one of the traditional mola blouses all the ladies wear in Kuna Yala.

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