San Blas boy with an Iguana, © 2008 Ed Zerne
I visited San Blas as a small child. It was my first real awareness of Race and Ethnicity.
The island residents brought out some albino children for the tourists to photograph. The Cuna [San Blas] charge for photographs to be taken…
In my child-like mind I looked at the Albinos and determined that these “white” children could not come from these “brown people”…
the only way the Cuna Tribe could get these “white” children was to kidnap them ! In fear I clung to my mother’s skirt. I was about 3 or 4 at the time.
My sophmore year of high school [1960-61] I attended a boarding school in Costa Rica… one of my roommates was from San Blas.
The molas that the Cuna make are wonderful images… The Peace Corp sent a group to San Blas many years ago… they taught the women to use sewing machines as a way of “improving” their productivity. The machine made Molas almost destroyed the market for Molas !
In order to maintain the value of the Molas they had to return to “handwork” [reverse applique is the name of what they do…] Those who are Mola experts will count the stiches per inch to determine the value of the Mola.
In 2000 my wife and I went on a cruise and one of the locations we stopped at was a San Blas Island. It was there that I made the photograph that this image is based on. I found the whole thing depressing. That there was very little of what one might call progress in the welfare of the Cuna. It does not seem that there is a good solution to the issues of Native Peoples and their cultures and Modern Culture. It is a very complicated subject.