Among the over 300 Islands in the Caribbean lay an Island off the Eastern Coast of Panamá called Guna Yala. A proud bastion of female power, the community has since its founding put premium on women over men. In fact, in this Caribbean community, it is more important to be female than male.
Women are a dominant feature in power relations on the Island and have many privileges coming along with that. At marriage, the groom is ceremonially abducted for the bride and later escorted as a captive to live in the house of the bride.
From that period in the man’s life, whatever work he does and its ensuing income are the property the woman and her family. According to the Guna Yala culture, it is the woman who makes the decision about how much a man can keep from his wages and other income.
From birth, through puberty to marriage, Guna Yala women enjoy elaborate ceremonies to herald them into each stage of life. Women are considered golden and a treasure, according to the BBC.
After the puberty rites are performed for the girl, a golden ring is pierced on the girl’s nose to indicate how precious she is. There is a complete acceptance of woman supremacy on this island community.
The women are characteristically dressed in embroidered traditional clothes and work on handicrafts.
Women in this island community are more outspoken and extrovert in nature, and often tend to their small shops selling handicrafts, fruits and drinks.
The main occupations of the men are fishing, hunting and farming. But, there are no specific job descriptions for men and women in Guna Yala. The jobs done by women are not considered inferior.
In fact, women make more money from trading in their traditional clothes and colourful bracelets than men do on the Island community. Tourism has further boosted women’s income.
Though women wield tremendous power and are the final decision-makers at home, they do not assume the role of chiefs or traditional heads in the tribe.
Women are expected to provide their husbands with food since in the Guna Yala culture it is the man who moves into the bride’s home. In principle Guna Yala is not matriarchy, but, women direct the affairs of the home from feeding to making decisions about their children’s welfare.
This is underpinned on the basis that it is the man who moved into the home of the bride so it’s the bride responsibility to provide for the man. Girls at an early age are groomed by their mothers to imbibe in them this sense of responsibility.
Guna Yala, also referred to as San Blas, is host to over 50,000 inhabitants. They live in wooden shacks which are roofed with palm leaves and logs.