Wounaan History

The baskets made by the indigenous Wounaan are other Panamanian handicrafts that are a work of art. Wounaan baskets are woven by women using fibers from the dodgy palm tree, abundant in the Darien jungle. The work is done entirely by hand which guarantees that each basket is unique. Like other crafts, its manufacture is learned from mothers to daughters, perhaps one of the reasons why it is still being manufactured. The basket weave is compact and features designs that make it a decorative item in any home. The dyes for the designs are natural, they are extracted from roots, plants and fruits. It is very common to find Wounaan baskets for sale in handicraft stores in different parts of the republic. Within the tropical jungle of Panama there are varieties of plants, trees and palms. Among the most important we can mention the dodgy palm, or in the “wiguier” dialect. It is a palm that grows very tall and has many thorns. Woun hii women, inherited from their ancestors, have learned to weave the beautiful baskets (Hosigdi) from fibers of dodgy leaves. The duration to finish a basket is 3 to 60 days, dedicating 6 to 8 hours a day. The quality of choice determines your braid. Quality baskets, which take longer to finish, are very thin and hard. The Baskets: They are woven designed by Wounaan women, who are currently becoming famous among collectors. These groups are made entirely of plant materials, made entirely by hand. The fiber comes from the dodgy palm tree (Astrocarium standleyanum) that are native to the Darien rainforest in Panama. Through a long and arduous process the fibers are extracted. The dyes are extracted from some wild roots, plants and fruits that grow in the jungle, for example: annatto (Bixa orellana), jagua (Genipa americana) and cocobolo wood residues. Wounaan women inherit this complicated art from their mothers and grandmothers. The Wounaan live in the Emberá-Wounaan region located in the Darién province, in the districts of Chepigana and Pinogana. Emberá-Wounaan is an indigenous region of the Republic of Panama. It was created in 1983 from two enclaves located in the province of Darién, specifically the districts of Chepigana and Pinogana. Its capital is Unión Chocó. Its extension covers 4,383.50 km² and has a population of 9,544 inhabitants (2010), most of them belong to the Embera and Wounaan ethnic groups, distributed in 40 communities. These two groups are similar, they share the same culture, the same type of housing, the same clothing and the same traditions. They only differ in the language they speak, one speaks the Embera language and the other speaks the Woun meu or Maach meu language, in both languages ​​it means “man or people”. During the colonial period, these aborigines, both the Emberá ethnic group and the Wounaan ethnic group, were known by other names, such as: Citares, Zirambiraes, Citabiraes, Chocoes and others. They entered the isthmus around the 18th century from the Chocó region of Colombia. The latest studies indicate that before the arrival of Christopher Columbus they probably occupied the lands of Brazil. the problems of civilization seem to be in comfortable harmony with their surroundings. Proud, peaceful, honest, but distrustful of strangers; they live a daily existence in which there is little financial pressure. Ignoring government procedures and regulations, they generally make their own laws. They are generally related to the most infamous stories of indigenous people in the Darien, possibly due to their wild appearance, which has ignited the imagination of myth-makers. The men use a loincloth they call guayuco (Andia in their dialect) and a handmade skirt originally made with plastic beads (used on special occasions) called amburäco, but when they go to the towns they wear shirts and pants, although currently men wear T-shirts and modern pants. The women use paruma fabrics and wrap their hips to the knees and necklaces around their necks woven by themselves called chaquiras, and their bodies are painted jagua (natural paint produced by a plant). Their houses are built on pillars, to protect them from river flooding (they are very resistant). The roof is conical, it is made using the leaves of the plant known as guagara, although they also use the leaves of the royal palm, but they also use other styles. The floor is made of palm bark called jira. They sleep on mats that they make from tree bark. The Emberá-Wounaan are a people who live and work around rivers. They build their canoes (pirogues) with espavé wood, hawthorn cedar and yellow pine. The indigenous people are excellent goldsmiths and wood carvers. The women make basketry articles; baskets, mats and ornaments. They practice gardening, fishing and to a lesser extent hunting and gathering. They practice agriculture: banana, rice, corn, tubers, and others, completing their diet with what is produced by fishing, hunting and gathering. The most spectacular has to be vegetable ivory: the palm nut called Tagua that is the size of an egg and is carved. The appearance and the color, but also the hardness, are reminiscent of ivory. In recent years, with the increase in tourism, its crafts (wood carvings and tagua seeds, beads, basketry) have become an important resource for its economy. They are monogamous, in general marriages are endogamous. The social structure is based on extended families that share jobs and ceremonies. The jaibaná (shamans) are in charge of traditional medicine and rituals.