History in San blas islands

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The San Blas Islands, made up of over 300 islets, are sprinkled along the eastern coast of Panama in the Caribbean Sea. Their history does not go back many years; in fact, they have only been inhabited for a little over 200 years.

Early History

To understand the history of San Blas, you must first understand the history of the Kuna, the independent indigenous group that now live on the islands. The Kuna originally lived in what is now Colombia, however, when the Spanish arrived around 500 years ago, they escaped to the Darien region of Panama. The problem with that region was the fact that it was deep in the jungle, so disease was rampant and trade was limited. The Kuna were suffering in that area and still in danger due to the Spanish invasion and the violence. For these reasons, in the 1800s, they began moving to the uninhabited islands off the coast, especially the ones near the mouths of fresh water rivers. On the islands, they had access to plenty of trade routes and were more protected from the diseases of the jungle.

Gaining Independence

In 1903, Panama gained its independence and subsequently decided to impose a national culture upon the country including the Kuna. The Kuna, who at this point had maintained their traditional culture for over 400 years, protested forcefully. With the support of the United States, the Panamanian government declared San Blas an independend state in 1925, and it was made legal in 1938. The constitution of the Kuna of San Blas, called La Carta Organica de San Blas, was approved in 1945.

Nowadays, the Kuna inhabit around 40 of the 300-some islands. Each one is run by a chief who is a representative at councils in El Porvenir. The self-governing province of Kuna Yala did not allow tourists or anthropologists until the late 1940s, and there is still limited running water and electricity in most areas. Scuba diving is prohibited on the islands they inhabit, as well, although there are scuba opportunities in the still uninhabited areas.

Kuna Culture

The Kuna have sustained their traditions for over 500 years. They have an independent economic system, distinct language, and specific customs different from any other indigenous culture, even those in Panama. The women still wear brightly colored clothing, wide skirts, and bandanas around the neck, wrists, and legs. They respect Mother Earth in all of her glory and try to live in harmony with nature.

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October 28, 2009 change by nicole mesaros

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