"I think it is essential to recognize and acknowledge the skills and knowledge, belief systems and aesthetic traditions of the indigenous peoples who have been marginalized and invisible for so long."
The Kuna Indians are an indigenous group living in Kuna Yala (Kuna Land) a small but beautiful territory of primary rainforest and coral islands in Panama.
Since the first arrival of Europeans into their territory 150 years ago their lands have been eroded and the population decimated but this fiercely independent people have managed to resist attempts to dominate them. Remarkably, the Kuna have maintained such a rare degree of political and cultural autonomy that other indigenous groups all over the world have expressed an interest in how the Kuna have achieved this.
The Kuna argue that it is their culture that underpins their integrity, and are aware that their survival as a distinct people depends on the internal strength of their society. Everything comes from this and they want others to know their story so they can maintain a dialogue with the outside world on their terms.
They use their crafts to generate self-confidence in their traditions, and strengthen their sense of identity. For the Kuna, art and craft allows us a glimpse of their world view, of their relationship with the spirit world, the land and life around them, their material culture, ritual life, social and political and economic experiences. The women wear traditional dress with appliqué picture 'molas' full of hidden stories, thread beads up their legs and arms, wear gold nose rings, earrings, and the chest plates and pendants of their grandmothers.
Craft has become crucial to generate much needed income and goldsmiths are eager that the designs be kept alive. The jewellery has only ever been made for community use, and never been commercialised.
Pippa Small works with the Kuna on a project to revive the old skills and designs of their ancestors' jewellery and work on a collaboration of ideas drawing from their traditions and adding a twist.
Her aims are to:
- Encourage the younger generations to learn the old techniques
- Introduce relevant new skills, and tools.
- Create a project that generates income for the community, long term - a non-profit organisation for community craft collaboration.
- Create work that helps the community stay together so they don't have to seek employment in the city.
- To open new high end markets for their crafts internationally.
- To raise international political and cultural awareness of the Kuna
- The first phase of the project will be collaboration on design and ideas that have culminate in a collection that can be exhibited with photographs and a film in London.
The voices of the Kuna will be heard both in the process and in the final product, and we hope, into the future.