Second Visit to San Ignacio Tupile
The next day, Tuesday, we've decided to take the movie camera,
but not the guitar, as well as a few choice gifts, back to the
island. I've gone through all of my clothing and have made a
donation bundle of several pairs of pants and shorts, many
t-shirts, as well as 3-4 button down shirts, that I think someone
on the island will be able to use. We bring a half pound bag of coffee,
a Spanish-English dictionary, a box of pencils, and a few dollars with us,
as well as a printout of a group picture of a bunch of kids,
that we had taken the previous day.
Today when we get to the government dock, there is a different
Columbian trader there, transferring coconuts and soda crates, but everyone else
at the dock recognizes us and smiles and waves and helps us ashore.
The first thing we do is stop at the school and tape the photo
of the kids up where they will be able to see themselves.
Then we walk over to the church and ask around about the "Padre",
to whom we'd like to donate the clothing to distribute.
Someone across from the not-open church says the Padre lives at the other end of
the island, and directs a couple of children to lead us there.
They appoint themselves our "official guides" and we set out.
So begins our second day on the island, and soon, once again,
we have an group of about 10 kids who follow us wherever we go,
laughing and playing games along the way. It's already
afternoon again, and the Kuna adults have finished their
work day, and so are also out and about and virtually everyone
we meet greets us with a smile and an "Hola!", or even sometimes
a rudimentary English "Good Afternoon!".
We make our way through the heart of the village, walking
down paths between rows of thatched huts. Here and there
Kuna women can be seen in their brightly colored dresses,
singly, or in pairs, perhaps sweeping a porch, or holding
a baby in their arms. The men, after a day's work, are to
be found sitting on benches on the main street, relaxing
and chatting, or perhaps mending a fishing net, or working on
their house. A few of the buildings are more substantial
frame-and-gable construction, but most are thatched huts
with palm fronds for roofs and bamboo for walls. A family
home might consist of two or three of these huts grouped
together, sometimes with a fence surrounding them to form
a "private" yard.
It's about 1/4 mile to the Padres' house, completely
at the opposite end of the island, so in the process of
getting there we pass within 100 feet (the approximate
width of the island being 200 yards) of nearly all 1300
inhabitants of the island. The people live very close
together (though common areas are unusually spacious here) and appear to have
developed a good set of rules for keeping the peace and tranquility of the village.
We've heard that in general there is a curfew
on the islands; that children are in at dark, women
by 8:00 pm, and men by 10:00 pm. Foreigners are not allowed,
in general, to spend the night on the island, unless they
have permission from the "sahila" (pronounced "Silah"),
or chief. Social rules like this are understandable given
the density of people, and must work pretty well, as once
again, almost everyone smiles at us and says hello as
we pass and we never see an conflict or argument or
anyone scold any of the children.
We meet the Padres. There are two of them, Padre Luis from Spain
and Padre Freddie, from Costa Rica; they split their worktime between
this island's and nearby Playon Chico's churches. It turns out that Padre
Luis also plays the guitar, but he takes a pass on getting together as he
is very busy every day with his tasks. They speak no English and we speak only limited
Spanish, so after about 15 minutes of light chatting, we give them the clothes
to distribute to the islanders and bid them adios, receiving a polite blessing.
From there, we walk back the way we came with our entourage in tow.
Along the way, the kids make it clear that we are approaching a
tienda, so we stop and buy four soft drinks, giving one
each to our two original "guides" and having four other kids split
the other two drinks. As we continue walking towards the main
part of the island, who should join us but Anel and Nil, our
English-speaking guides from the previous day.
We explain to Anel that we would like to make him the official
guide, pay him some money, and get his permission to film him.
He has no problem with this. He understands completely and rises
to the task by answering our questions in English, on camera, as we continue
to tour the island.
As we make our way past Rudolfo's house, we hear the strains
of his guitar and decide to stop by. Bold with our success at
enlisting Anel for the "movie", we ask Rudolfo if we can film
him and the two girls (his nieces) as they sing the Spanish & Kuna song they
did the previous day. Although he's a little disappointed that
I didn't bring my guitar, as he would like to learn some "rock
and roll", he quickly consents to the filming. So as 8-10 kids
are jamming his tiny doorway, we get some great footage of him and
the girls singing the tune twice, once in Spanish and once in
Now we are really on a roll, so we ask Anel if it would be
possible to visit with the sahila, the chief of the island.
He says "yes, it is no problem, we have two", and the entourage moves off
to one sahila's house. We walk past the volleyball court
where a vigourous game, between teenage school classes,
with the girls in team uniforms, is taking place. Anel
leads us through a small maze of alleyways and then
sticks his head in a hut and says a few words. He
then comes to us and says that this sahila is indisposed
but could join us in 15 minutes or so. So we saunter back
out to the "main street" where the families are all
gathered, perhaps 100 strong, to watch the volleyball.
After a few minutes, Anel gets our attention and says that
another sahila is ready to see us, and points him out sitting
on a chair in front of more substantial house close by. He is dressed
regularly, in nice pants and a button down shirt, cap and sandals,
and Anel takes us over to meet him. The scene is unusual
because of its normalcy. He is just another guy out watching
the volleyball, and there is nothing overt to differentiate
him from anyone else. Nonetheless, we treat it as
a moment of some dignity as, surrounded still by 10 or more
kids, with Anel to translate for us, we introduce ourselves.
We do our best to convey our pleasure at visiting his
beautiful island, and as a token, offer him the bag of
coffee as a gift, which he graciously accepts. One of his friends,
another man in nice shorts jokes about wanting to take the coffee
from him, but in general it seems like the sahila is very pleased by our gesture.
He says he is especially glad for the village children to meet us visitors, and that we
are welcome here.
We ask Anel to convey that we would like to make a donation
of a little bit of cash to the village school, and the sahila
tells him to take us to the director of the school. Apart from
that, we make a little more small talk, and then take our leave
of the sahila/chief. Anel walks us along the side of the volleyball
court, not that anyone could miss us, with our tag-along group
of 10-15 kids and people, to the other side where he then
points out the director of the school, who is also watching the
game. We introduce ourselves to the director and explain that
we want to make a donation to the school. We give him a package
of 32 pencils along with a somewhat substantial amount of cash.
He is genuinely thankful as he stands up to take the gift and
shake our hands.
From there we make our way back to the main street and Anel takes
us clear back to the other side of the island, where the Padres
live, to show us a hotel for foreigners, which is currently
closed, but when open is $15/day, including all meals! After
that, we return back down the main street to the main part
of the island where, coincidentally, the dance group from the previous day has
begun gathering for their rehearsal. I ask Anel if he thinks
it would be possible to film them, and he says yes, so we
go over and negotiate with the leader of the group. He says
that for $5 we can film the group, so I give him $10, which
makes him quite happy, and everyone takes their places.
The group consists of 6 adolescent-to-adult males in modern clothes, and 6 young girls,
all around 6-7 of age, wearing traditional dress, and the dance they do is quite remarkable. They all
do their parts quite seriously, the men playing pipe flutes and the girls
shaking maracas in a steady beat. They repeat the same tune
over and over, getting louder and quieter as they line up
in one formation, then twist and dance around each other to
line up in another formation, doing a hopping, two-step sort of thing
in place the whole time.
After the dance is over and everyone applauds, the leader asks if we would like to
see a second dance, and we say yes, so they line up in a new
configuration and start another song. Meanwhile, as we film
and photograph it, we still have our entourage of kids, and
adults up and down the street are watching the dance along
with us. The kids become hams for the camera, imitating the
dancers, and mobbing us for photos as the dance reaches
its culmination, first getting loud and intense, and then
softer and softer until the last step is taken and everyone
It is now starting to be dusk. There are some eye signals
exchanged between a few of the adults and Anel, and it suddenly
becomes apparent that it is time for us to go, before it gets dark.
So we head back to the Gov't Dock, where DITTY is safely parked,
having probably been watched over all day. We bid our adieus to
Anel and Nil, thanking them each with a bit of money for their work, and
the Spanish-English dictionary for Anel, and thanking all of the sweet kids
that have been following us around, then step down into the dinghy and start the motor
to go to RHAPSODY.
As we leave the dock, at least a dozen people are smiling and
waving and saying goodbye to us. Wow, what an experience!