MPH Panama Practicum 2013: The Embera People!

Marina Gettas

July 14, 2013

For this entire trip I have been so excited for this experience.

We headed out to Embera; it was nearly an hour in a half drive. Our tour guide, Juan, was still as entertaining as before. He spoke about this history of Embera and its relationship with the United States. Cool fact: The Embera people helps/helped the United States with Jungle Survivor Training.

Our bus driver, Carlos, dropped us right by the Chagres River. We took a little boat to get to the Embera village. At this point, this entire trip was worth that riverboat ride. We rode in between two large segments (islands) of natural greens. The trees and grass were so full and so rich in green color. Families were swimming in the Chagres River. You could really feel God in that moment. It was just an indescribable breathtaking experience.

After getting stuck on the rocks and having the tribal men push the boat out of the rocky terrain, and stopping to take pictures, we finally got to the Embera community. We were greeted with such kindness, there were women who came and shook our hands, and men playing musical instruments. It felt like a true welcome!

We were directed into a big large room where the Embera people showed us some of their native dances; we even had the opportunity to dance with them. I danced with a native! It was a lot of fun, and beautiful to see a little part of the culture.

The Embara community invited us to eat lunch. They served plantain chips with fish in the most beautiful banana leaf arrangement. We washed our hands in a bucket filled with herbs- I didn’t have a chance to ask what was in it, or why they put the herbs in the water. Then they offered us an array of fresh sweet fruit: bananas, papaya, pineapple, mangos and melons. The fruit was delicious. I ate so much papaya. Yum!

As we finished up eating, the tribal leader and a woman came up to discuss the indigenous community. Cool Fact #2: A hut/home in the Embera community costs nearly $10,000. The primary way they survive financially is through tourism. The woman came up and spoke about the methodology of creating their hand woven baskets, and explained how every type of material is made. Some of the baskets can take up to a month, and it looks like it would- they are so beautiful and detailed oriented. We had an opportunity to shop before heading out to the riverbed to start our migration back home.

It is so interesting to see how a group of people can live out in the wilderness and survive, particularly happily. I didn’t see or have the chance to ask about the school system in Embera, but I assume that everything that is taught is taught through traditions and legacy. I don?t think that the Embera people know how to write and read. Yet, they are so smart, and know how to survive well in this isolated area. It is so impressed by their lifestyle.

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 »