Saturday 23 April 2016

Aboard MS Expedition: Native welcome to Panama


Village of Mogue, Rio Mogue
Thursday 21 April 2016

The stifling heat and humidity persisted, but our excitement remained
undiminished as we set out for the Darien Jungle Reserve to meet the Embera
people who live in the village of Mogue along the river of the same name.

We arrived in a small fleet of locally made 'dugouts', rough but rugged
wooden runabouts driven by small outboard motors, after navigating the
winding river a couple of kilometres inland. Dazzling little kingfishers
flitted among the leaves while herons and ibis patrolled the banks in search
of the little crabs that fearfully scampered in and out of their holes in
the mud.

The village sustains a population of about 500 residents spread out in
spartan but sturdy stilted huts made from quality local hardwood so prized
by the loggers.

Even though I was in another country in another hemisphere on the other side
of the world, I couldn't help making comparisons with the lands and people
of Melanesia who likewise live in isolation, trying to preserve their
ancient culture and homelands from the [insert your own adjective]
influences of Westernised culture.

This proud and attractive ethnic group live a largely subsistence lifestyle
amid the dense jungle and mangrove swamps on the south-western coast of
Panama. Here they grow the most succulent pineapples and watermelons in the
rich soil and, thanks to a large degree from responsible tourism, maintain
some elements of their traditional culture through handicrafts, song and

The influences of modern 'civilisation' could not be ignored. Some curious
residents filmed us with camera phones and all about the village were
plastic soft drink bottles and scraps of crisp and sweet packets. One of our
guides despaired at the issues of trash disposal, while another enlightened
us as to how he and some of the villagers were repurposing compactable
plastics into house bricks and pavers.

The debate continues: how to preserve and integrate tourism into a delicate,
isolated culture while maintaining that culture's dignity and integrity. In
my opinion, while it is being conducted by sensitive and considerate
operators working with properly trained professional guides, it works as
well as can reasonably be hoped. The alternative is for these politically
vulnerable people to fall prey to the darker side of capitalism.


* Local dugouts navigate the Rio Mogue
* G Adventures guests treated to performances in the village square
* Young Embera women perform traditional dance
* Portrait

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