That Sinking Feeling

Saturday, September 01 2012 @ 09:07 PM UTC

Contributed by: Don Winner

By David Dudenhoefer - For centuries, the Guna (a.k.a. Kuna) Indians have successfully defended their territory on Panama’s Caribbean coast. They allied themselves with French pirates to fend off the Spaniards during the colonial era, and revolted against Panamanian authorities in 1925 to demand the autonomy that they now enjoy. Today, they face an unprecedented threat as seasonal waves and rising seas resulting from climate change slowly consume the islands out from under them.

More than 30,000 Guna live just a few feet above sea level, in crowded villages on 41 small islands, which makes them especially vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change. Their autonomous territory, the Comarca Guna Yala, stretches for 232 miles along Panama’s northeast coast, comprising all 365 San Blas Islands, coastal lowlands and a densely forested mountain range that has kept them relatively isolated.

Originally a rainforest people, they moved onto the islands generations ago to escape the insects and diseases of the coastal jungle. They have since become exemplary seafarers, travelling between their islands, fishing grounds and coastal farms in dugout canoes powered by lateen sails or outboard motors. They fish for food and income, shipping lobster and other commercial species to Panama City. They also grow coconuts on the uninhabited islands and coastal lowlands, which they sell to the Colombian traders who ply their territorial waters in large boats. (Click Here to read the full article)

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