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Understanding traditional Kuna building and tribal cultures of Central and South America in Panama
Jan Balbaligo, a 2014 graduate Diploma student, has been working in Panama with indigenous tribes to build houses and a ceremonial temple for a festival last January which brings cultures together from Central and South America.
Collaborating with the Charity GeoParadise, Jan designed and led the two month build with Kuna, Emberra and Boracan tribes, Panamanian locals and a group of international volunteers. The build was constructed from natural materials such as bamboo, wood and cane harvested from the site and nearby local farms. Traditional and innovative building methods were used to realise the construction of eight traditional Kuna houses fixed around a central village point, and a 10-metre high temple, which was the focal spot for rituals, demonstrations and lectures. Outside each hut, an area was created ready to sell artisan crafts and give workshops, mostly by women who provide the principal source of income for their families.
Talking about the project, Jan says, “The Kuna society is a very matriarchal one, so when I showed up on site and started to work just like them, they were open and engaging, ready to teach me techniques. Communication to the teams was difficult since I did not speak the language at first, but was forced to learn and adapt quickly. Everyday the build demanded more developments to the design, so I had to improvise and be flexible about what could be done in the time we had. Overall, it was a wonderful opportunity to work and learn with an international team in the Panamanian jungle. ”
The two-week Tribal Gathering festival takes place annually and is one part of the charity’s short and long term schemes set up to raise the awareness of tribes living in remote areas, along with their customs and cultures. Tribes represented were from Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.
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