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Tribal Culture of the Panamanian Rainforest

  • Kuna/Guna Indian Woman

  • Emberá-Wounaan Women

  • Emberá-Wounaan Indian Family

  • Emberá-Wounaan Warrior

  • Emberá-Wounaan Child

  • Emberá-Wounaan Indian

  • Emberá-Wounaan Indian Children

  • Emberá-Wounaan Indians

  • Emberá-Wounaan Children

  • Emberá-Wounaan Men

  • Emberá-Wounaan Children

The Wounaan are one of several indigenous peoples living within the Darien rainforest jungles of Panama's largest and wildest province. It is thought that the Wounaan began inhabiting the Darien area in the late18th century to escape the encroachment of the Spanish towns and to be able to continue practicing their way of life. They seem to have lived in relative isolation from the outside world until the mid 20th century. While urbanization is slowly driving the indigenous tribal cultures into developed areas, many Wounaan villages still appear along clearings of meandering forests by the Darien, where they live in small extended families while maintaining their traditional lifestyle. They are known for their extensive knowledge of the rainforest and its inhabitants.

In these rainforest villages, Wounaan women are renowned for weaving intricately decorative baskets and men are respected for their expert tagua nut and coco bolo wood carving abilities. The items produced by talented male and female Wounaan artisans are prized outside of their own cultures by those who recognize these distinct skills. By continuing these crafts, they keep the indigenous skills alive for future generations.

Male Wounaan tribal members seen wearing their traditional bowl haircuts are those who still reside in the rainforest. The Emberá and Wounaan tribal cultures, both inhabitants of the rainforest take great pride in their crafts. Some consider the Wounaan to be more skilled artisans and this is a sort of great pride to these sensitive people. In their carvings, the exquisite rendering of each flower or native creature shows their respect and deep love for their rainforest home.

Both the Emberá and Wounaan have similar river basin cultures The semi-nomadic Wounaan dwell independently in small family groups along the river banks. Three decades ago, the government of Panama designated the area overlapping the National Park and the Biosphere Reserve as their indigenous autonomous territory. They have been dedicated to preserving their environment for generations. They could be considered early adapters of ecologically sound lifestyles. An estimated 2,600 Wounaan inhabit the tropical rainforests today along with approximately 15,000 Emberá, each possessing rich native skills that should be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

(Click Controller to see indian carvers at work)

Rainforest Design® Carvers

Step into our world and watch our Wounaan Indian artisans create our beautiful Rainforest Design® shell cameos.