The Kuna are a vibrant people, fiercely independent, and live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. They inhabit the Comarca Kuna Yala, an autonomous region of Panama that consists of roughly 360 absolutely stunning islands off of the Panamanian isthmus and the inward strip of the mainland. On these lands they live a very traditional lifestyle and sustain themselves through fishing in their dugout canoes, subsistence agriculture, hunting, gathering, their art form (Mola making), and, increasingly so, tourism. Their islands boast a gazillion coconuts palms, sand so soft you might decide to stay, and, of course, hammocks galore. In fact, the Kuna revere hammocks so much they are married, buried, and even conduct official village business in them; not to mention sleep and chill out when they’re looking to catch an afternoon snooze. Who needs beds when you live in a tropical paradise?
It’s not all sunshine and fresh seafood. Their culture has come under many of the same threats that globalization has brought countless indigenous and traditional communities around the world. Malnutrition, illiteracy, pollution from gobs of plastic wrappers and packages, cultural dilution, narco-trafficking, climate change and a number of other issues face the integrity of this unique culture. Industrialized foods have infiltrated their diet and with it have increased the occurrence of problematic diseases. Tourism traffic and the almighty dollar have become focal points for the communities, drawing attention away from their traditions and their land. Additionally, these people are not exclusively interested in living a traditional lifestyle. Many have moved to the city to become successful professionals throughout the world. Though, unfortunately, many others who have moved to the city seeking opportunity struggle daily with poverty, crime, poor educational institutions, and food insecurity.
When traveling Central America, one might notice the abundance of pasture land that is the mainstay of most land use in the region. This is not what nature intended. Central America belonged to the rainforest and its millions of lifeforms. Since colonization from the Western world, vast tracts of forest have been slashed and burned to make way for subsistence agriculture and in most cases pastoralism, i.e.- deforestation. In the Kuna’s case, nearly all their forests remain intact protecting critical biological corridors for birds, monkeys, butterflies and other animals that traverse this critical land bridge. They believe every piece of nature has a soul and should be treaded on lightly, if at all. Their society provides an amazing wealth of knowledge as to how to carve out a livelihood in cooperation with tropical rainforests and seas. They do not practice slash and burn or any sort of industrial fishing. While very few cultures can claim to be perfect stewards of the land, the Kuna rank highly. For this reason we believe an investment in the Kuna people is also an investment into nature; if we can support their traditional way of life we can preserve these lands for generations to come; safeguarding these forests and their ecosystem services for all of humanity.
We, at Teysha, seek to enable the Kuna to continue this traditional way of life. By developing businesses that compliment their cultural institutions and traditional practices we can create pathways to sustainable livelihoods. We aim to create small businesses that embrace traditional agrarian culture and their art form. Kuna Kicks facilitate access to a global market and diversify Kuna industries to help provide a more versatile economy in a globalized world. On the other side of the equation, we to empower consumers with a choice that enables indigenous communities, like the Kuna, to thrive in this brave new world.