Native Planet > Indigenous Cultures > Embera Culture > Embera Drua

Embera Drua

If you haven't read our cultural information Page on Embera people, we suggest you follow this link to the Embera People Culture Page.

In the following pages, we will feature various subjects such as, Village Location, Climate, History, Social and Political Organization, Projects, Tourism, Subsistence, Health, Support, and our Photo Gallery.

 

Location - Access

Embera Drua is located on the Upper Chagres River. A dam built on the river in 1924 produced Lake Alajuela, the main water supply to the Panama Canal. The village is four miles upriver from the lake, and encircled by a 129.000 hectare National Park of primary tropical rainforest.

Lake Alajuela can be accessed by bus and mini-van from the city of Panama. It lies an hour from the city, close to the town of Las Cumbres. From a spot called Puerto El Corotu (less a port than a muddy bank with a little store that serves as a dock to embark and disembark from canoes) on the shore of the lake, it takes 45 minutes to an hour to climb up the Rio Chagres to Embera Drua ina a motorized dugout.

GPS coordinates:       North 09.157       West 79.31

Climate

The climate is tropical with two distinct seasons. The rainy season lasts about seven months from April to October and the dry season is from November to March. The temperature is fairly constant during the year and varies from the high 80's (high 20's C) during mid-day to the 70's (low 20's C) at night. The landscape protects the village from the strong winter winds yet keeps it breezy enough that the village is almost free of biting insects.

 

Village History

The village was founded in 1975 by Emilio Caisamo and his sons. They first called it community 2.60 as it was the name of the meteorological station constructed by the Panama Canal Commission located a little up river from the present community. The sons married and brought their wives to live in the community which later attracted more families. Most of the villagers moved out from the Darien Region--increasingly dangerous due to incursions by Colombian guerillas and drug traffickers--and to be closer to the city to have better access to its medical services and educational opportunities. In 1996, villagers adopted a name that reflects their identity and began to call their community Embera Drua. In 1998, the village totaled a population of 80.

 

Social and Political Organization

The social and political leadership of the village is divided between the Noko or village chief, the second chief, the secretary, the accountant and all the committees. Each committee has its president, and accountant, and sometimes a secretary. Embera Drua has a tourism committee that organizes itineraries and activities for groups of visitors and an artisans committee to assist artists in selling their intricate baskets and carvings. Such organization is a relatively new phenomenon but it is inspiring to see how the community has embraced it.

 

Projects, and NGOs

The village of Embera Drua has its own NGO. Its goals are to support the village and promote tourism and its artisans. Thanks to their efforts, villagers of Embera Drua now own titles to their land. Their main goals are to assist the village in becoming economically self-sufficient. People from the village of Parara Puru lower down Chagres, have joined the NGO as well. If you would like to support their NGO, contact them directly.

Wuanamera Emberamaa Chagres

President of the NGO: Atilano Flaco
Accountant of the NGO: Miguel Flaco

Phone (cellular): 685-3009   Beeper: 124-5155

 

Tourism

This village is being discovered by tourists looking for authentic cultural excursions. Embera Drua is a completely different world in a stunning rainforest that lies an hour drive from the capital, up the Chagres river. To access the village you take a ride in motorized dugout canoe through breathtaking river and jungle landscape. The village is perched high a riverbank overlooking a tranquil turquoise pool of water set between two rapids; it is an ideal swimming spot. The villagers are very friendly and have created a program of activities, music and dance and have built a small bungalow overlooking the river. Day visitors often wish they had planned for an overnight stay. If you go overnight, you might find yourself staying the week. Follow our links to read more about Embera Drua and view our photos.

Visit the village on your own:

If you speak Spanish, you can arrange for a private visit of the village. If you just want to stay in the village for a few days, you can come alone, and arrange with villagers for treks, survival skills lessons, art and craft tutoring, etc. Groups can request musical and dance performances and special meals. In any case you should arrange your trip ahead of time with the president of the tourism committee. Call them directly and if you have time to plan from the States, you can email the village's Peace Corps volunteer. You can arrange your own boat transportation, or ask people from the village to meet you at Puerto El Corotu on the lake (recommended if you come as a group). If you decide to go on your own, you should arrive early at the lake (Puerto Corotu) and catch a boat ferrying locals up river. You might have to wait awhile but everyday boats make the trip to the village. This method will save you the expensive charter price.

Contacts:

President of tourism committee: Johnson Menguisama
Peace Corps Volunteer: Wendy Witt:   wendy_evelyn_wick@yahoo.com 
Village Phone: Tel: 216-7765 (Spanish only)
Current Leader of the village: Elias Ruiz

 

Village Leaders and their responsibilities:

EMPREA DE TURISMO
JOHNSON MENGIZAMA - PRESIDENTE/SERVICIO AL TURISTA
AURESTO VALDESPINO (CORONEL) - SERVICIO GENERAL
MELECIO CASAMA - FINANZAS
NELDO TOCAMO - MERCADEO

CLUB DE PADRE DE FAMILIA
MELECIO CASAMA - PRESIDENTE

IGLESIA EVANGELICA
ALONZO CAISAMO - PASTOR

WANAMERA EMBERA CHAGRES (wecha) ONG
ADAM CAISAMO - PRESIDENTE

Contact a Tour Company to visit the village:

This is the easiest way to arrange a tour to Embera Drua. Most companies offer a half-day tour. A guide will take you to the village and translate and explain all the presentations. One drawback is that a large amount of the money you are spending goes to the tour company, and a smaller percentage goes to the village. Another limitation is that very few companies plan overnight stays in the village, an experience that we highly recommend. A solution is to go with a company that plans multiple trips in a week. You could be dropped off on one tour and then picked-up by another. Although various companies offer trips to Embera Drua we list here the ones that are endorsed by the leaders of the village. If you go visit Embera Drua, please patronize these companies:

AFOTUR
Itzel Rojas and Ingrid Schrieber
Panama Tel: 256-2436
email: afotur@hotmail.com

Other Companies to check in Panama:

EXTREME ADVENTURES - PEDRO GARCIA   &   PASANTE TOURS

(* Native Planet has no affiliation with any of these companies.)

 

Agriculture, Hunting, Fishing

When the National Park was created the government imposed regulations on the community. Logging, hunting were restricted; raise domestic animals other than chicken was prohibited, and for agriculture they were restricted to specific pieces of land and a few types of produce. With so many restrictions, villagers were faced with new financial needs as more food had to come from the outside. Their location in the National Park and the beauty of the forest around them and offered potential as tourist destination. And people began to focus more of their efforts on art and craft production.

Before the restrictions on hunting, the main sources of protein for the community came from animals such as rodent-like conejo pintado, zaino and ñeques as well as iguanas, monkeys and deer.

Currently the main agricultural products are grains like corn, rice, beans, and guandu. They also grow root crops such as yuca, name and otoe. They plant fruit trees such as limes, oranges, cacao, abaca, breadfruit, avocados, mangos, and pixbaes (an important food in the Embera diet).

The Rio Chagres and the Lago Alajuelo host a great variety of fish which constitute a primary source of protein for the village. People who can afford it supplement their diet with extra protein in the form of canned tuna fish, but lack of protein is an issue for most.

 

Health

The area around Embera Drua is mercifully free of Malaria and other plagues. The main health concerns in the village are: flu, diarrhea, skin diseases and skin allergies (due mainly to long hours spent woodworking).

There is no health center in the village, but one of women has received some training as a nurse. Unfortunately she has nearly no medical supplies (check our Medicine Donation Program) and villagers must go elsewhere for treatment.

The closest Health Center is the Centro de Salud de Alcade Diaz. Going there involves a boat ride down to the lake, followed by a colectivo pick-up ride out of the National Park, followed by a bus ride to Chilibre. Transportation alone costs about $6 and the examination and medicines are often more. It is too much to afford for most families. Fortunately a few medicinal plant specialists still work actively in the village to heal minor ailments.

If you are interested in helping the village of Embera Drua privately, please check our donation program.

 

Help the village of Embera Drua - NGO support and private donation program

If you are interested in helping the village of Embera Drua privately, please check our donation program.

If you are an NGO and are interested in offering some support to the village of Embera Drua, contact us, we will help you contact the right people.    Email: nativeplanet@yahoo.com 

 

PHOTO GALLERY

We scanned over 200 photos from Embera Drua only. You can select your photos byl subjects from the contact sheets bellow:

Contact Sheet 1
Ceremonial Dances

Contact Sheet 2
Jagua Body Painting

Contact Sheet 3
Survival; Fishing, Dugout Canoes

Contact Sheet 4
Food & Crafts

Contact Sheet 5
Children

Contact Sheet 6
People

Contact Sheet 7
Friends from Embera Drua 

 

MORE

In the future we hope to publish here the cultural, political and education efforts directly initiated by Indigenous people. We will also add a reference list of books and links on related material.

Recommended Readings

 

Note: Background photographs and design by Jean-Philippe Soule © 1997

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