Revolution & History
Knowing a culture’s origin is extremely difficult, especially when its history has been mostly shared orally. The first thing we can say about the Kuna people is that they originally inhabited forests and mountains, when there were no frontiers. For many centuries, as it is known in America, indigenous peoples went through a long struggle with European conquerors and pirates, some were successful, some others weren’t. The Kunas resisted the Spanish conquest for centuries, and they would stand firmly and fight against any threat.
Around the middle of the 19th century, the Kunas started moving towards the coast and nearby islands. This took more than 80 years, and brought more access to merchandise exchange, less diseases and less mosquito and snake bites.
In 1903, while Panama was planning its separation from Colombia, the Kunas were forced to choose which country they would be part of. They were divided: one pro-Colombia group, led by Inabaginya, and one pro-Panama group led by Simral Colman.
Between 1912-1924, Belisario Porras was elected 3 times as president of the young Panama, along came his plans of “civilizing” the Kunas: consumption of traditional alcoholic drinks, use of nose rings, molas and winis were prohibited. In each community, the government imposed its rules by beating and imprisoning rebels. Colman and his successor, Nele Kantule, looking for support, were the main organizers of what is now known as the Tule Revolution of 1925: on February 22, 1925 –the first day of the Panamanian Carnival-, the Kuna communities revolted against the police.
With some North American support, negotiations between Panama and Kuna Yala were achieved. It was agreed that violence and culture suppression would stop in return of loyalty from Kuna Yala to the Republic of Panama. In 1938, the San Blas Comarca was created (later renamed: Kuna Yala).
Source: Howe, James. "The Kuna of the World". The Art of Being Kuna.