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First cartography of the Gunadule nation

The history of the Gunadule people (former Kuna) is a tale of division which began with the secession of Panama from Colombia in 1903. Since then, although geographically separated by a border, the strength of their traditions and language maintain them together.

In 2009, the binational communities agreed to combine their names. Before the Madungandí, Wargandí and Guna Yala (Panama)communities called themselves “guna”, and the Colombian communities which called themselves “dule”; Gunadule means “people that live on the surface of the Earth”, and is one of the 108 cross-border nations the exist in Latin America.

The “Dule” live in the region of Maggilagundiwala in Arquía and Ibggigundiwala in Caimán Nuevo (Province of Chocó), between the municipalities of Necoclí y Turbo (Province of Antioquia), its population is comprised of approximately 2,400 people and have had to face the intrusion of foreigners in their territories.

Three important events have reduced the vital space for the Gunadule:

  • Establishment of the Sautata Mill in 1940 for extracting gold, which caused the fleeing of the former indigenous community of Guna Onguitiwala, from Unguía (Province of Chocó)
  • The violent invasion of settlers and Embera indigenous communities which displaced 160 people from the former Cutty community from Cutí, also in the Province of Chocó
  • The encroachment in the 60s of 7,500 of their 10,000 hectares (18,500 acres) by land owners of the Colombian provinces of Antioquia and Córdoba.

Abadio Green Stócel, the first Indian to obtain a Ph.D. in Colombia and member of this community, recalls that towards 1985 the community began defending its territory, as 32 years ago the people of the Province of Antioquia did not believe there had been original inhabitants in these lands.

To better understand the territorial cohesion exercise carried out by these transborder communities, Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) in Medellín Urban Regional Studies Master’s Andrés David Álvarez Castrillón drew two maps, a geographical and a demographical map.

Beyond the geographic space

To develop the cartography Álvarez visited the Gunadule territory of Armila (first Gunadule community of Panama) Panama City, Nueva Caledonia, Mulatupu and other small islands of the archipelago for 15 days.

He also visited Arquía (in Unguía, Province of Chocó) and Caimán Nuevo (Necoclí, Province of Antioquia), where he interviewed, listened to stories, went to briefings and acquired data which he stored in his field diary.

With this data he developed the first map, locating the regions, reservations and unknown territories; he also included indigenous and urban settlements. For instance, he shows the communities of Ibggigundiwala with 1,700 people and the Maggilagundiwala with around 700 people.

“It is a minor population compared to the Guna Yala (in Panamá) community which as approximately 30,000 inhabitants, plus another 1,500 which live other regions of Panama,” said Álvarez.

The other maps show the links, i.e. the relationships between the communities of Gunadule territories of Panama and Colombia, expressed, for instance, in sacred paths. In this sense the Dule community of Arquía is related to the Paya and Pucurú Guna communities of Panamá not recognized by the government but that maintain a cultural bonds to the east. In 1998, after a paramilitary attack and killing of four spiritual leaders, the bond was broken impacting the safety of the community. A decade later the contact was reestablished.

The other maps show the links, i.e. the relationships between the communities of Gunadule territories of Panama and Colombia, expressed, for instance, in sacred paths.

Even though maps identify the border between Colombia and Panama, the Gunadule community is united by its language and traditions. However this ancestral wealth has not made them immune to violence and besiege, for the last 25 years that have demanded the government and illegal armed groups respect for their territory. This coming February they will unite to prevent coal exploitation and building of hydroelectric projects.

According to Álvarez, the western view on the maps and the territory is “objectified”, in other words specific uses are assigned. However, Green Stócel says the Gunadule cosmography, “when it refers to the territory is not linked to the cosmos or the Earth, because they are microcosmos; the Sun, the trees, mountains, lakes are beings larger that Mother Nature which we considered as the abdomen, because we all come from there,” he added.

In this sense, for the Gunadule, the territory is not a synonym of the map; Álvarez’s proposal is the establishment of a dialogue between their ancestral territoriality and the western cartographic vision.

For Álvarez approaching the manner in which the Dule understand (symbolize) their territory, how two fragmented parts interact and how they have carried out their struggles within the political framework of both governments is an exercise to recognize the value of the validity of American original cultures, to comprehend other possibilities of the indigenous territory.

Gunadule identity

  • The Gunadule nation has its own organizational structure, where a Cacique (chief) is the axis.
  • They have an educational system and an ethnic safeguard plan; besides every six months they have general elections in Colombia and Panama to analyze political aspects, such as the relationship of the Gunadule nation with other countries where they also have rituals and dance.
  • The current territory consolidation of the Guna people of Panama began in 1925, which denied the present of Panamanian guard and being stripped of their traditional wardrobe, trying to prohibit their language and impede activities such as hunting, trying to replace the tradition authority of the saglas (spiritual leaders).
  • In 1936, the Panamanian government approved Law 16 to ratify the Peace Agreement with the General Dule Congress recognizing its territory and their self-government in the region of Guna Yala. The United States is the guarantor of said agreement.
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