There are few countries in Central America that still preserve a strong indigenous tradition. Luckily Panama is one of them with several tribes living in various natural parks or deep in the jungle. Embera is such a tribe that together with Wounaan share the valley of Chagres river and its tributaries. I settled to travel with Embera Village Tours (www.emberavillagetours.com), an agency specialized just for this and the experience was astounding. Ann, the agency founder, who is American is married to a member of the tribe, being herself part of the Embera Puru tribe. Our guide David Blank, a traveler who lived in many countries around the world, was probably the best for this tour. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
To get there is a sort of a trip, almost two hours by car followed by a canoe trip on San Juan River, a tributary of Chagres River. Two Embera were manning the canoe through shallow waters that was dug out of a tree and could hold up to 25 people. We boarded the long boat, 7 of us, me, two Canadians and 4 woman from Manhattan but three of us all, lived in Great Neck, Long Island….
The 35 minute boat ride brought us on a beach in front of the village that was waiting for the arrival with music and songs. The village has about 25 people living in a number of huts raised from the ground to be protected for flooding of the river and animals. They live in full harmony with the nature, fishing, hunting and planting a number of crops on lands that are located a little bit further on San Juan River valley. The village we visited, Embera Puru, is just one of several Embera villages located 2-3 km away from each other. In the village we got a presentation about their daily life and traditions, we had a delicious lunch of fish and fruit and the Embera did several dances.
We went also in the jungle with Edwin, who was the village “botanico”, the man knowing everything about the jungle plants and how can be used to treat illnesses. He is not the shaman, who mainly deals with spiritual issues, but together with the shaman and the two annual visits of doctors they keep the village healthy. Edwin learned his trade from his father who was also a “botanico” and died at 92. The village income is not kept in common. Each family manages for itself but they help each other for all needed village efforts. The Embera do not marry and arranged partnership is a thing of the past. They choose a partner that is for life and introduce her to the parents who would bless the relationship. The women work all sort of impressive artifacts that they sell in the village. But more than any information that were given to us, the Embera are extremely nice and friendly, a real pleasure to be surrounded by them, an unmatched experience. After a dip in the river we got back in the canoe and out of the natural jungle to the construction jungle of Panama City where the Carnival was in full swing with new floats and frenzied crowds.