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Ngöbe Bugle
Viaje a Panamá
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Let's learn Ngobe!
 
The Ngobe people maintain their own language.  The majority of the time I request that they speak Spanish with me as I need to practice this as much as I can, but I am also learning a bit of their language out of respect for their efforts to maintain their cultural practices.   Here are a few examples of it: 
 
(Please note that these are only phoenetic spellings.  The person who is teaching me is illiterate - a common problem in the community)
 
yantera dego - good morning
coing - gracias
gwa - fish
bron huve - let's go
nukuro -dog
nu - water
atwai dederre - see you later
meru gite de - I'm hungry
bron tibe - come with me
bron huve - let's go
 
 
 
 

My project here in Panama is with the Ngobe Bugle people.  The Ngobe Bugle are one of the seven tribes of indigenous peoples in Panama.   As is the case for many indigenous peoples in various parts of the world, life here is very difficult.   Distance from needed resources, poor nutrition and medical services, lack of education, and the loss of traditional means for generating income create a harsh environment.   While attempting to maintain their cultural traditions and independence, it is also becoming necessary for this goup to look at new ways to develop and maintain the services they need. 
My role here is to work mainly in the area of health and nutrition - the Panamanian agency that I´m working with is called MOCELVA (Modelo de Comunidad Ecologia Los Valles).  Initially I worked on a grant proposal that will hopefully give MOCELVA the funds needed to operate a program centered around health and nutrition for one year, indluding the construction of a Center for Health.  I completed  an in-depth needs analysis of the community, prepared a one-year program, and wrote the proposal.  Now I'm conducting a series of educational seminars for the children in the communities to learn more about nutritional needs as well as teaching cooking classes to the women (based on healthy eating).  The main purpose in my being here is to help the communities utilize their current food resources to the best of their ability, as well as to look at ways to create increased knowledge and self-sufficiency.
 

The Ngobe Bugle Culture
 
The Ngobe Bugle are compromised of two seperate ethni-linguistic groups (The Ngobe and the Bugle).  They are Panama's most numerous indigenous peoples with a population of about 180,000 Ngobes and 10,000 Bugles and they inhabit the the Ngobe-Bugle Conmarca which is a protected area that operates it's own political system (comparable to a reservation). 
 
The majority of the Ngob-Bugle live in small communities or villages like the two that I am working in.  They live in "chozas" or huts made made of straw with dirt floors. In their farms, Ngobe men carry out an agriculture of subsistence based on slash and burn techniques and produce corn, cassava, bananbas, peach palm, and some other fruits.   During the coffee harvest season more than half of them migrate to work the plantations in the western part of the province.  
 
The women of course, are resposnsible for the primary care of the children and the homes.  Some of them also spend their time working with various arts and create several splendid crafts.    The "chacara" is a type of woven bag made by the women that displays their numerous ancestral legends, mimicing the skin and colors of their animals and the landscape of the Comarca.   These bags are made using fibres from the pita and cabuya plants.  I have information showing how they are made step by step if you have an interest in seeing the process.
 
Two other art forms created by the women are "chaquiras" - a type of beaded necklac and "naguas" which are the traditional dresses worn by the women and girls.  I was lucky enough to receive one of these as a gift from one of my "aunts" in David.  The naguas are very colorful and beautiful and the hand-sown applique work is inspired by the jagged shapes and vivid colors of the Ngobe-Bugle mountains and forests.
 

Naguas for young girls.
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Naguas de nińas