Development for the Embera Indians
The Emberas are an Indian tribe in Panama who, just like all Indians, have experienced a harsh history. During the time of the exploration of the New World, the Embera Indians were also attacked and the Spanish attempted conquer and convert the Indians to Christians. However, these Indians wouldn’t change or give in therefore they fled and split up. Today they live throughout Panama and even now aren’t treated equally by the state. An example is that a dam was built a little farther by the lake where they live. Because of this they had to move their whole town. The Panamanian government told them they would get money back for what it cost them. However since it happened, which is five years ago they haven’t gotten a single penny. The Embera Indians even started a law suit against the government, but this was never even looked at. They have also asked the government for more civilization, this includes electricity to where they live and clean water, but even this is too much asked.
In most aspects they now live as we lived about 100 years ago. However, they really want to change this. After living in one of the Embera towns for a little less than a week we found out they would really like transform. The Emberas want to increase the tourism in their town, sell more arts and crafts, get some kind of protection of their natural environment, get investment in fishing, and create a cultural center. The reason for this is of course money, with this money they want to become more developed. However, I have to disagree with some of the things they desire. Getting more tourism, a cultural center, selling more arts and crafts, and investing in fishing will cause their culture and traditions to be lost. On the other hand, protection of the natural environment is definitely something positive. In addition, I think they should spend more time on education.
Firstly, the Emberas want to increase the tourism in their town. We, School at Sea, stayed at four huts. Each hut earned 150 dollar for the five nights we stayed there. For them, this is a lot of money. Much more than anything they earn in a month. From this aspect it is quite understandable. However, what I feel they don’t realize is what an impact it could have on their culture. After awhile they will have enough of having people in their homes the whole time and also enough money to build a hotel. Before one knows it the Emberas will become a tourist attraction. However, they told us they absolutely don’t want this. The Emberas want to keep the culture they have now, besides that is what they have been fighting for since the Spanish came to invade the New World. Increasing tourism would be harmful to their cultures and traditions.
The Emberas used to have their own language, but we noticed now that only very few speak it. Most of them speak Spanish, classes are also given in Spanish, however according to our Spanish teacher their Spanish is not fluent. Also, they had a party and most of the people started dancing a sort of salsa which is also a Spanish influence. When they were showing us their traditional dance, we noticed that most of the women, especially the younger ones, didn’t know what they were doing. It was evident that their culture was going lost and this without much contact of the ‘Western’ world.
To help tourism, the Emberas also want to build a cultural center. Kind of like an open air museum with museum and copies of the huts they live in. In Dominica we, School at Sea, also went to an open air museum. To us it felt really unreal and we also completely didn’t get a sense of how the Indians lived there. It is true that this would help to inform the world about their culture, but I wouldn’t be sure how many people would be interested in seeing such thing since it doesn’t really live an impression. Nonetheless, if the Emberas would build a cultural center outside their town, it wouldn’t harm them but may stimulate their income, which would be beneficial for their living conditions.
Thirdly, selling more arts and crafts could be helpful for two reasons. First of all, it would spread their cultures and secondly, it would help their flow of income. Nevertheless, I don’t think this would help or work. When we visited Panama City we saw their crafts in enough shops, but if they want to earn more they probably have to decrease the price and increase the number of crafts. This would mean they wouldn’t spend as much time creating, for example a basket or would find machines which could do it for them. However, this would create the opposite effect of they want. Their culture wouldn’t be shown or spread since it isn’t the traditional way of making things. Nonetheless, if they could find an efficient way to produce the crafts that doesn’t cause their culture to go lost it could work and help.
The last point I disagree with is increasing and modernizing the ways of fishing. Some of the boys of School at Sea joined some of the Indians in fishing. The Emberas go swimming by using a flashlight to attract the fishes, and then they shoot the harpoon at the fish. According to the boys of School at Sea it was really impressive to see. Also, they tried to do it themselves but it was really hard. If the Emberas started mass fishing they would again lose their culture. Fishing with big nets is not how they usually fish. Not only would they lose their culture, it might also be catastrophic for the environment. Too many fishes would be taken out of the lake and this would cause extinction of fish in the lake. In addition, I highly doubt the people on land would pay the Emberas the money they deserve for fishing.
It may seem paternalistic, as if I think I know what is better for them. However, the point is that they don’t make the same mistakes as we did 100 years ago. Also, it is obvious that renewal doesn’t blend with sustaining culture and tradition.
I do understand that the Emberas need more money to improve their education (they have an elementary school in their village) and improve hygiene. The water they drink isn’t clean, their toilets are actually big holes in the ground, and they don’t have proper showers. In addition, there is no medical care in the neighborhood, thus if someone is in need of immediate medical help they probably won’t survive. Consequently, most of the Emberas die at an early age. A problem is that once the Emberas do get more education, they leave to the city. This is also the reason why the Emberas always need to get teachers from ‘the outside’.
Even so, I do believe it is utter most important that the rainforest around them gets protected by a company like UNESCO. The rainforest in this area is beautiful and almost untouched. However, this already changed when the dam was built since the water level rose and thus some part of the jungle was washed away. Not only is the nature of the jungle important to protect, the fauna in the jungle should be protected as well. This rainforest is filled with hundreds of birds, different kinds of monkeys, and a lot more. Moreover, the inhabitants of the jungle, the Emberas, need to be protected as well. But from what I have heard and seen the Panamanian government is not going to take care of this. Therefore, it is of essence that someone from the outside with power takes a look at the case of the Emberas.
In conclusion, the Emberas need help, however not in the way they assume. Their first thought is to start making money, but is a lot more important that they become educated and that their hygiene is improved. The first step to earning more money is having a better education. An improvement in education can also lead the Emberas to see that their hygiene needs improvement. Getting more tourism, a cultural center, selling more arts and crafts, and investing in fishing will harm their tradition and culture. Conversely, keeping the rainforest intact will help sustain the environment and keep their tradition. I think eventually, if things don’t unfold as they expect them to, their culture and tradition will all be lost and the process has already been started.