KUNA & EMBERA PEOPLES – Tribal Survival Support


2 Kuna Matriarch
The Simple Life!
Beautiful Kuna Children
Old meets new
Traditional children of the Islands
Clothes, who needs them.
Wonderfully happy children
Traditional Kuna Islands home.
Local artist's work
Kuna woman's right of passage ceremony captured on canvas
Chimu presenting inside Kuna longhouse
New Bathroom shower installation
New community building construction
Ceiling Tiles being installed
Chaski with Embera Community
Embera women starting the day
Embera Community along river
Embera performing traditional music
Embera Patriarch & musician
Two wonders of the jungle
Simple pleasures of life along the river

Who are the Kuna?

The Kuna is the name of the indigenous people of Panama and Colombia.  In the Kuna language, they call themselves Dule or Tule, meaning “people”.  Their language is called Dulegaya, meaning literally, “people-mouth”. Many make their home in the Darien Gap.  This area is a break in the Pan American Highway consisting of a large swath of undeveloped swampland and forest within the Panama Darien Forest in Central America and the northern portion of Colombia’s Choco Department in South America.  Because road building through this area is expensive, and the environmental impact is so great, political consensus in favor of road construction is nearly impossible to achieve. Consequently, there is no road connection through the Darien Gap joining North America with South America.  This means the missing link in the Pan-American Highway.

The Inti Raymi Fund and Its’ Assistance

The Inti Raymi Fund visited the Kuna Tribe living in this area November 2013 because there was a need, as there always is, for assistance in the preservation of this culture. The village agreed that the best use of the money was for some very needed structural improvements for their Yala Community School as well as the Yala Community Support Center.  This school and community center provide a strong focal point for the preservation of this tribal group by continuing their unique traditions, songs and language.  It was agreed that new ceramic tile floors, fresh paint, a solar panel and a new bathroom facility were some of the improvements needed. Inti Raymi Fund provided the funds and now, their community center and school are updated and in good repair.

Because of an unfortunate experience the Inti Raymi Fund encountered just prior to our meeting with the Kuna Yala, we were only able to assist this very worthy community with $10,000.  Since our customary gift is $25,000 and that was the original intended amount, we feel that we should share the circumstances that prevented that gift from being given in its entirety.  Hence the following story:

The Inti Raymi Fund aspires to be unique in its approach to giving.  Our mission is to assist “ with dignity and respect” so that the way the funds allocated to each project is determined by the group as a whole.  It’s simple, pure and transparent. This is what differentiates us from other non-profits and makes us special but in this there is always the possibility of deception as our gift is given in trust directly to the people.  Our mission in Panama actually started in El Porvenir Island where we were intending to help with the customary $25,000 gift.  During our transactions with the group “leaders” it is estimated that $3,000 went unaccounted for (and was pocketed) at the time we presented them with that portion of the gift installment.  We investigated the situation, halted further distribution of funds and moved on, but from this experience, our resolution going forward is to coordinate through the elderly women or matriarchs of these communities and not the elders or leaders.  Because these women are nominated by all members of the community for their principles and trustworthiness, we felt they were the wisest choice to receive, protect and distribute the funds. We have since held to that plan and have not been disappointed. A fuller account of this incident is below:

The Need for Transparency

In June 2012, the Inti Raymi Fund visited the Islands of San Blas, a semi-autonomous region of the Kuna Indians, in Panama.  Very specifically we arrived on the island called, El Porvenir and met with the island’s head of tourism, the island’s minister and treasurer.  Next, we notified community of our interest to assist them in self-help projects of their design and had several traditional meetings with the whole community including elders to discuss the best use of this gift.

During our final meeting we delivered to the community $3,000 USD for the improvements they asked for.  Shortly thereafter, and upon receipt of an itemized budget for the entire $20,000 budget, we wired $2,000 into a bank account controlled by the head of tourism, with an e-mailed confirmation from the island’s minister and treasurer.  With $5,000 in the bank, the three El Porvenir leaders requested additional funding for the next set of improvements, but fell short of delivering satisfactory photographic proof of the use of the initial $5,000. ($3,000 deposit + $2,000 wire).

Given our concern, Chaski, one of our directors from Peru, flew to Panama City to investigate the situation.  After an arduous trek and salient discussions with these men, we were able to put the project back on track and wired the next $5,000 for the next stage of “improvements”. Over the next three to six months, we worked and struggled to get substantial proof of additional improvements from the 3 leaders of the community. Because of their lack of cooperation and suspicion of theft by these three men, who supposedly had their community’s interest at heart, we cancelled the remaining $10,000 of funding for El Porvenir and redirected the remainder of the Panama budget into the communities of the Embera Peoples in the Darian Gap region of Panama. These are pics of the men who stole from their people.

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Lesson Learned:

It is our estimate that $3,000-$5,000 of the $10,000 gifted to the El Porviner Island went unaccounted for.  This was a valuable lesson:  we learned that the elderly women in these environs should always be present advisors and spoke people for their communities.  Everyone trusts them, and they know everyone; who could better look out for the benefit of the group? Our resolution from this early experience is to coordinate through the matriarchs nominated by all the members of the community, due to their wisdom and trustworthiness.

Project Details

Sponsors: Chimu

Start Date: Est. YE, 2013

Completion Date: Est. YE, 2014

Funded so far: $20,000 USD

Total Project: $20,000 USD

Lives Affected: 500


Team Members


CHIMU - IRF Director & Beth McGrain