The Kuna population is around 47,000. They migrated from the Darien region of Panamá to the San Blas Islands on the Atlantic coast in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1938, after a long struggle, the Comarca of San Blas (Kuna Yala), a semi-autonomous territory, was recognized by the Panamanian government. The other two Kuna comarcas in Panama are Kuna de Madugandi and Kuna de Wargandi. Believed to be descendents of the Caribs, the Kuna Indians still live in much the same manner as their ancestors.
In the Kuna language, their name is Dule or Tule, meaning "people." The name of the language in Kuna is Dulegaya, meaning "people's language." The Kuna language is the main language of daily life in the comarcas, and the majority of Kuna children speak the language. Spanish is also widely used, especially in education and written documents.
In the San Blas Islands each community has its own sahila. Decisions are made in meetings held in the Onmaket Nega (Congress House). There are 49 communities here and the region as a whole is governed by the Kuna General Congress, which is led by three Sahila Dummagan.
The economy is based on agriculture and fishing. Plantains, coconuts, and fish make up the Kuna diet with a few domestic animals, and wild game. Coconuts and lobsters exported, and migrant labor and the sale of molas provide other sources of income.
The Kuna are famous for their molas, a colorful textile made with appliqué and reverse appliqué. Mola panels are used to make the blouses of the Kuna women's national dress, which is worn daily by many Kuna women. Early molas were decorated primarily with geometric designs, probably with roots in basketry or weaving. Soon mola makers began to depict everyday items and to copy from books and other print material.
The Kuna have a matriarchal society in inheritance passes through the women. A young man, after marriage, must live in his mother-in-law's house and work for several years under apprenticeship to his father-in-law. The Kuna have a custom for every happening in their life and these customs are passed on to their children through dances and chants. These happenings are also portrayed in their Molas.
The traditional dress of the women in the San Blas is spectacular. They are resplendent with gold nose rings, arm and leg bands of beads, sarongs and the colorful mola blouses. The Kuna men appear drab beside the Kuna women.
Indigenous Indians in Panama