Kuna - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practitioners. The Kuna creation myth includes references to both Pab Dummat (Big Father) and Nan Dummat (Big Mother). The Kuna religion is now called the "Father's Way." Communities alternate political meetings in the local congresos with singing gatherings where saklas and caciques chant religious and historical songs full of symbolism and myth, and the arkar ( vocero , or chief's spokesman) interprets the meaning of the chants. Many Kuna attend Catholic and Protestant churches, in addition to the singing gatherings.

Ceremonies. Kuna ceremonies include an ikko inna (needle ceremony), in which a baby girl's nose is pierced for a gold nose ring; an inna tunsikkalet (short ceremony), a puberty rite that usually lasts one or two days; and an inna suit (long ceremony), a ritual cutting of the hair that usually lasts three or more days. Once a young girl's hair is ritually cut short, she becomes available for marriage. Sometimes an inna suit is held for a very young girl even though she will not be ready for marriage for many years. There are no similar ceremonies for Kuna boys. Special chants exist for birth, death, and the healing of the sick.

Arts. The Kuna are known internationally for their molas. Kuna verbal arts include three different types of chants: pab ikar, historical, religious and political material sung by Kuna leaders; songs sung by kantules (ritualists) during female puberty rites; chants used in curing ceremonies. Kuna women sing lullabies. Kuna dance groups are becoming increasingly popular among Kuna youth. Rattles and reed panpipes are used by the dancers.

Medicine. Kuna medicinal healers are called inatulets or neles (a nele is a seer). They use a combination of herbs and chants to heal their patients. Family, friends, and elderly women play an important role by sitting with patients while healers chant. Beginning in the 1970s, health centers staffed by a nurse or a Western-trained health paraprofessional were established on many islands. The region has one hospital. Many Kuna combine Western and Kuna approaches to healing when they are ill.

Death and Afterlife. Kuna women and children prepare the body for burial. Women are responsible for wailing and mourning; they review the deceased's life and character and refer to punishments or rewards that will be his or hers in the afterworld. To guide the deceased, a death chanter ( masartulet ) may be employed to sing a long narrative song describing the soul's journey through the underworld to heaven. Kuna cemeteries are located on the mainland. Small houses, many furnished with a table, dishes, and other everyday objects, are often constructed over the graves. These articles are for the deceased to use in the afterworld and to take as gifts to previously departed relatives. Kuna women (usually the elders) are responsible for visiting the dead, bringing them food, and keeping their houses clean.

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