MPH Panama Practicum 2013: The Embera People

Sharon Ravanzo
July 17, 2013

On Saturday, we had the opportunity to visit with the indigenous people of the Embera tribe. It was a fun-filled adventure from start to finish. We took a canoe and explored the waters of the Chagres River. On the way to the village, the canoe was caught in sand in a shallow area of water. I got out of the canoe and helped our guides maneuver the canoe when I took a step forward and suddenly found myself neck deep in water. There was a sudden drop in the grounding below me, and I yelled more so out of concern for my phone that was in the backpack on my back. One of the girls removed my backpack and I swam towards the end of the canoe where I could more easily climb back in. After reaching the village, we were greeted with traditional dances, a wonderful feast, and a meeting with the top two leaders of the tribe. Our visit culminated with the opportunity to shop for native souvenirs hand-crafted by the villagers themselves. It was definitely a wonderful learning experience!

However, what I found especially interesting and upsetting is that the people are limited to the regulations placed by living within a national park. They are forced to pay for wood, palm leaves, and supplies to build their huts that would otherwise be free in nature. Their primary means of income are now through tourism and visitors such as us. I loved seeing their way of life and respected their desire to preserve their culture.

The view just outside of the entrance of the Embera villiage 🙂

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 »