Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Darien Part 4: And Then They Painted Me

One of the aspects of my Darien visit that I was most looking forward to was getting to experience an indigenous culture so different than the one I live in.  I had heard tons of great things about the Embera and Wounaan people from other volunteers: that they're friendly, open people, the women still don parumas everyday, they feed you a lot of food, and that you can (especially on special occasions) get painted with jagua- a dark blue dye made from a small fruit.  Similar to henna, these faux tattoos last 1-2 weeks before fading away on their own.  Said to have both medicinal and bug repellant properties, jagua was originally used as a type of camouflage to aid with jungle hunts.  Today this tradition is used mostly on special occasions and holidays and can be quite intricate and beautiful.  

Since I didn't know if I'd have the chance to return to the Comarca Emberá-Wounaan, I was determined to get painted during my short visit.  Though I'm sure the guys were tired of my daily inquisitions of the who/when/how/how much of jagua, it finally paid off and I talked a sweet Emberá woman into painting me on my last day. 

The local women's group making tortillas for a fundraiser

Jagua paint

The jagua is painted on with small sticks, cloths, and/or fingers.  While at first the design doesn't appear to be very dark, it deepens into a deep navy overnight.  Since I don't have any tattoos- and especially not full sleeves or leg pieces, I wasn't used to the range of reactions I've gotten since getting painted.  I've seen everything from disgust to looks of being intimidated to outright impressed. While sometimes it's been a little trying to be so obviously judged on a superficial element in which the observer usually doesn't even understand, it's been both eyeopening and quite entertaining.  As your mom always told you, "Don't judge a book by it's cover."  :)

My sweet little Bocas neighbors modeling some of the handwoven masks I bought in the Darien.

If you want to learn more about the Emberá or see cool photos of life in the Darien, you should check out Nick's blog here.

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