The region of Guna Yala is home to the indigenous Guna people. It is located on the eastern coast of Panama and contains more than 350 islands, 50 of which are inhabited by the indigenous Guna people. I arrived on the islands in the month of February, during the “Arinii” period, which according the the Guna׳s calendar is the iguana month, characterized by summer rains and the presence of Iguanas that come down from the trees to lay their eggs in the ground.
'Children of The Moon' - Guna people have a very high rate of albinism. One of the community's legends says that during the period of lunar eclipses the albinos had a special mission in which they had to protect the moon from a dragon that tried to eat it. They were the only ones allowed to go outside at night, and therefore were called "the children of the moon”.
Life on a sunny tropical island is not easy for people with albinism. The strong sun puts them at a very high risk of getting severe skin problems, such as cancer. Mothers of albino children say that they are facing a difficult problem as their children go out and play with friends during the day despite the strong sun. In addition, there is no suitable medical center for treating albinos on the islands and most of them lack financial ability to buy dermatologic creams.
In the Guna culture, women have a very important role. All traditional ceremonies celebrate the phases of a woman’s development - a girl's birth, puberty and marriage. There is a clear preference for the birth of daughters, because once they get married, the husband moves into the wife's house and whatever he earns or hunts belong to the wife's family. Moreover, all essential possessions such as land plots, animals and other goods belong to the matriarch of the family. Women dress up with a traditional long cloth called “Mola” that combines symbols from Guna medicine and nature, which is believed to protect them from evil spirits.
Unfortunately, the Guna people are not only faced with financial constraints, but also with unpredictable weather conditions and ecological disasters that threaten their daily life. Examples of such problems are the uncontrollable rising sea levels which probably in the future force them to abandon their island homes for the mainland, and the lack of waste disposal systems, which results in a big amount of rubbish and plastic stuck on the island. Needless to say, the future of Guna children together with its magical culture is uncertain and in danger of extinction.
In February 2020, I spent one month and half on the island of Ustupo - the biggest island of the Guna Yala Comarca, 4-6 hours by boat from the main port. My intention was to document the island’s youth generation, their daily lives and the daily challenges they face.