MPH Panama Practicum 2013: The Embera

Adriana Morales
July 18, 2013
The day in Embera was a very different experience. The first thing I noticed was the clothing. We climbed into canoes to be able to get to the Embera village, and the people driving the canoes were from the community. Their clothing was so interesting and intricate. While in the canoe we actually got stuck a couple of times! A few of us even got out of the canoe to help push us out of the shallow area were we were stuck. Arriving at the community was breathtaking. They greeted us with their music and cultural dances. We were then taking into another hut in which they were cooking food and gave us a brief presentation about their culture. The food was absolutely amazing. The fish was very fresh and delicious, I was pleasantly surprised since I don’t really like fish! The banana leaf that they rolled up to make a cone to put the food in with a flower on top was a beautiful presentation. The cooking did seem like a fire hazard though! The roof is made of dried palm trees, and where the smoke was rising from the tops was completely black. It really looked like it would catch on fire or it would collapse. During the presentation they also showed us how they make the baskets and different artifacts that they sell, which was very interesting. They put so much time and work into these items.
I could not help but wonder what they think of their having to exploit their culture for profit. They are not able to hunt on their land nor can they hunt because they area they live in is a national park and under the protection of the government. To build their huts, they need to buy the palm tree leaves from other places. Their food, what they are not allowed to hunt, must be purchased in the city. They are largely uneducated, so they have to find a way to make an income for their community. They put al their items out on display to sell as much as possible, and it must take them so long to make these items that they sell at relatively cheap prices for the time it takes for them to make them.
It was an interesting day, but I am curious to know more about their lives when they aren’t in front of tourists.

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 »
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