MPH Panama Practicum 2013: Embera

Kathryn McMahon

July 14, 2013

We have officially reached the half way mark of our trip. As I am sure everyone is conveying, we have learned so much is such a short period of time, we all feel like our heads our spinning. This past weekend we were provided with the opportunity to get away from our field assignments and get first hand experience with the vast components of the Panamanian culture. Yesterday we visited one of the indigenous tribes called the Embera and what a great culture immersion it was.

Being able to live among the people of Embera for a day and learn about their way of life and practices was simply amazing. I have visited indigenous tribes from other countries before, yet it never ceases to amaze me how these tribes can live and survive with out all the modern amenities that we see as necessary. The people of the Embera live almost completely off the land. Well they did at least, until recently when a National Park was created out of their homeland. With the creation of this National Park also came the creation of new laws that prohibited the Embera people of living completely off the land. These laws stated that the Embera people were no longer able to cut down trees to build their homes, boats, and other resources as well as, prohibited them from hunting. This required the people of the village to adapt and change their life style. Currently, in order to earn a form of income and ensure the survival of the people, the Embera tribe puts on tours and shows of their culture for tourists. They went from living off the land to living off tourism. Tourism has become their main source of survival and this broke my heart. It seemed to me like almost making a joke of their way of life, putting them on display like zoo animals for people’s entertainment. I was saddened that the tribe had to result to that and it blows my mind that things like this are still happening.

However this visit was not all sad. We really got a great cultural experience. We were able to see some of the tribe’s traditional dances, learned about their common medical practices, and enjoy a traditional Embera meal. After we shopped around at their market and were able to see and purchase some of their handmade art, jewelry and other things. I really enjoyed this cultural experience. I wish we stayed with them longer than just a few hours to really get a taste as to how they live.

About the MPH Panama Practicum

A group of University of Southern California graduate students are researching public health in Panama City, Panama, for a two-week international practicum, organized by the USC Master of Public Health (MPH) program. This post was excerpted from panama.usc.eduView all posts in this series »