I've been to the Embera Drua village in Panama on the banks of the Chagres River twice. Once with my family the year JoAnn celebrated her 15th Birthday and then in 2008 when I visited Panama with a group of dear friends.
The visit is a day trip, you start out very early in the morning in a van, you drive out of Panama City for about 45 minutes, get picked up on the banks of the Chagres River in a dug out canoe and then you head up river for about 20 or 25 minutes until you get to the village.
The visit is with the Embera's is in their village, learning about their customs, their way of life, eating, dancing, a tour with the Medicine Man, and then free time to hang out, ask questions, walk around, purchase their arts and crafts and enjoy the river until it is time to head back.
Both visits were lovely, delightful, interesting, fun and thought provoking. So much that 6 and 7 years later I think of the Embera Indians most of the time when either I'm significantly stressed or when the world is in crazy mode like it has been as of late. At work for many years I kept a photo of one of these visits on my desk.
The tour companies arrange both day visits and/or weekend visits that allow you to stay with the Embera's for 2 days. And that's what I think about, one day wanting to go back and staying with them to experience their way of life for some time.
Not for 2 days, I'm thinking more like 2 weeks.
The Embera's live in nature, up close and magnified.
Embera means people.
The wide open skies always above them, the river everyday close to their actual huts. The village we visited has limited electricity. The families live in raised huts with dried palms for the roofing material. They sleep in hammocks. They eat fish, fish and fish from the river and fruits and vegetables they grow. No Kroeger, Publix or Fresh Market, and no deliveries from the city or the mainland once a week.
The Embera's don't have cell phones, tablets, televisions, radios, books, newspapers. No internet, or WIFI, no connection to the world, to news, to updates on wars, Ebola, politics, discoveries, disasters or the Nobel Prize recipients. No Bon Appetit or National Geographic, no AJC or GMA.
They do have one public phone in the village. We were told that it's mainly used by the primary school teachers that come from the city on Monday and leave on Friday. They don't wear a lot of clothes and usually no shoes at all.
One of the activities during the visit, a Q&A with one of the members of the Embera tribe who speaks Spanish and translates for the other Emberas that we are visiting with. We ask questions of them and they ask questions of us.
We wanted to know more about their culture, customs, food, medicine, religion, and they wanted to know how we managed buttons and shoelaces. And belts, look at the photo above. Their thoughts on these items, that we should be very uncomfortable and not able to breathe properly.
We asked them if they visited Panama City and they absolutely said NO. One person from the village is designated to go if they have some extremely unusual reason to go. They told us they do not like cement roads, buildings and the box things with wheels, (cars) - they were very uncomfortable with this idea all together. One of their village members had actually been killed in a automobile accident and it was very hard for them.
Maybe over time their customs will change. Maybe one or two or three will want to go to the city and learn. But learn what ?
If they truly want to keep their established lives and customs, they already know all the things they need to know. And what would visiting or living in a metropolitan city teach them ?
What would they gain ?
Do they miss out if they don't know about Mozart or Van Gogh ? or that Panama gained it's independence from Colombia in 1903, or that the US had a significant role in building the Panama Canal ? Fifty years from now if they are in the same village, living the same simple, healthy, happy lives, would that somehow be a bad thing? What will life in Panama City be like in 50 years ?
Or do we miss out because …….
We don't really know the constant night skies with a million stars…..
Or we've never heard the daily morning serenade of a serious river…..
Or the symphony possible when hundreds of crickets decide to sing….
Do our minds really know simplicity ?
Our version of unplugged is mostly "scheduled", their version so constant and routine that the opposite would perhaps short circuit them.
I am glad that I know of the Embera's even if only for a few hours of my life.
The "possible" in how they live is always a reminder for me that I can be kinder, gentler, and yes that I can celebrate and acknowledge and recognize the values and benefits of S I M P L I C I T Y.
From Wikipedia ~
The Embera–Wounaan is a semi-nomadic indigenous people in Panama, living in the province of Darien at the shores of the Chucunaque, Sambu, Tuira Rivers and its water ways. The Embera-Wounaan were formerly and widely known by the name Chocó, and they speak the Embera and Wounaan languages, part of the Chocoan language family.
The Chocó, or Embera people live in small villages of 5 to 20 houses along the banks of the rivers throughout the Chucunaque/Tuira/Balsas River watersheds in the Darien Province of Panama. There are generally three villages on each tributary that branches off from the main river system. Each village is about a half day's walk apart. The villages are built on a small rise, set approximately 100 feet in from the river. The houses of the village are set about 20– 50 feet apart atop the rise on posts, with no walls, but tall thatched roofs. Around each village, the jungle is partly cleared and replaced by banana and plantain plantations, a commercial crop for the Embera, who sell them to get cash for their outboard motors, mosquito nets, and the like. The hills leading down to the river from the villages is usually hard packed reddish clay. There are sometimes large boulders being played on by naked children. Dugout canoes are usually seen pulled up on the riverbanks.