World ARC - Day 24 - 1st Feb – A Day with the Emb era Indians.
Steve and Lynda Cooke
Fri 5 Feb 2016 00:56
Two mini buses left Shelter Bay Marina at 7.30 a.m and thus began our adventure. Two hours later, we arrived somewhere on the Chagres River the buses parking by the riverbank . Rows of dug out canoes were in view. We were greeted by numerous Indian men, bare chested, bodies and limbs black with henna, wearing only bright coloured loin cloths (brief but less revealing than speedos!) All passengers were handed a basic looking life jackets and wandered down the muddy bankside to the canoes. Each canoe was manned by two natves - one on the outboard at the stern, another armed with a long pole at the bow.
Our canoe had an inch of water in the bottom; reassuringly, the boatman took a handful of mud and used it to fill a hole in the side of the boat!
The journey upstream was long the countryside unspoilt. There were no settlements - an occasional farm, evidence of terracing but mainly lush tropical rainforest along the riverbanks. At times the river was shallow and our man would have to use his long stick to help propel the canoe over the shallows. As we approached the village, young men were stood waist high in the river, ready to help the boats through the rapids.
When we arrived at the village, we were welcomed by the women and children. They wore only brightly coloured skirts, their bare breasts adorned with patterns of henna. The women were particularly thrilled to welcome the youngest visitor in the party - baby William - who immediately became the focus of their attention. He was swept up in the arms of one lady, the others circling around her. William looked on bemused as he was whisked away and treated like royalty.
As we climbed up to the village, an Indian welcomed us playing a bamboo flute.
We were welcomed into the communal hut . Around the edge of the hut, the villagers displayed their crafts - woven baskets, wood carvings, jewellery etc which they hoped to sell to their visitors. The Indians live on government land and are not permitted to farm so are reliant on tourists to support their traditional lifestyle. One of the village chiefs addressed us to inform us about his tribe and their way of life. Our guide acted as interpreter though the chief did speak some English. We learnt how the tribe had left Colombia when their lives had been made difficult by the Farc. Some had originally settled in Panama City but they were not happy and resettled in the Chagres River area so that they could continue with their traditional lifestye. There were 141 people living in the village. Their huts were built on stilts and a ladder hewn from a tree trunk provided access. There were approximately thirty family huts. At the top of the village was a school ; two teachers taught there, living in the village from Monday to Friday. We were free to wander around the village. There were many chickens and cockerels scuttling around, a number of the families had dogs, one with a litter of puppies.
We were served lunch of fried fish and plantain, served in a banana leaf. This was coooked in a pot over an open fire by some of the women. The village became quite busy when a large group of passengers from a cruise ship joined us. We were all entertained by some traditional dancing, first the women with their butterfly dance and then the teenagers with their fish dance. There followed a celebratory dance which involved the whole community, the visitors also being invited to participate .
At the end of our visit, we travelled down steam by canoe, the return journey much quicker with the flow of the river.
It was a privelege to spend a day with the peaceful, hospitable Embera people and one that will be remembered .