Kuna Yala Prepares for Revolution's 90th Anniversary

Ustupu, Kuna Yala

Ustupu, Kuna Yala

This February marks the 90th anniversary of the Kuna Revolution of 1925. The Kuna are set to commemorate their freedom with festivities on the island of Ustupu and throughout Kuna Yala. The events surrounding the February 25th anniversary will celebrate Kuna culture, which, thanks in large part to the revolution, has persisted through colonialism and continues to thrive today.

The Kuna people originally lived in what is today northern Colombia and eastern Panama, but moved west to the San Blas islands following the Spanish invasion. While there were many earlier revolts and struggles to maintain cultural identity, the 1925 revolution was by far the most monumental. Directed by chief Nele Kantule, the Kuna led a swift revolution in response to government policies seeking to forcibly suppress Kuna customs and assimilate indigenous peoples with Hispanic culture; no Kuna lives were lost.

Shortly thereafter, the Kuna people reached an agreement with the Panamanian government to become a semi-autonomous territory. The revolution marked a critical step towards the revitalization and preservation of Kuna language, art, and way of life. Today, the Kuna remain in control over their territory, known as the Comarca de Kuna Yala, and pass down their traditional practices from one generation to the next.

The Kuna people have a rich culture that revolves around the importance of Nabguana, or Mother Earth, in their daily lives. Traditional dress includes clothing known as molas, a colorfully printed textile. The Kuna are spread over many smaller islands and depend on the ocean for much of their food, but also practice subsistence farming along the edges of the forest. As such, environmentalism is a key concept for the Kuna: the land they inhabit provides them with not only a place to live, but with a multitude of resources, including materials for traditional medicine.

Nele Kantule’s grandson, Don Jesús Smith Kantule, works to carefully document the uses for different plants in the Kuna Yala territory so that future generations may continue to embrace traditional practices. With support from Land is Life, he has even established the Ibeorgun Traditional Knowledge School in his home community of Ustupu, in which to teach the children in his community about their culture, environment, and balu wala – the good life.

Festivities are scheduled to begin in the days leading up to the anniversary, with people from all over Kuna Yala traveling to Ustupu to celebrate their nation take part in the many cultural events commemorating their independence. Planned activities include a parade, theater performances, and sports exhibitions involving indigenous youth.