The Four Sisters
16 January 2014 | Nuinidup, Guna Yala
It is early morning. The sun is just coming up and the sea and wind are calm in our peaceful anchorage off Nuinidup in Guna Yala, Panama. We have two Guna visitors arriving by small boat. The driver is Elnado and the other is Lisa Harris better known as Mola Lisa.
Lisa is well known in these parts as a master mola maker, artist, and transvestite. Molas are beautiful multilayered fabric art and are a main stay of the economy here. As a male child at birth with seven brothers, Lisa was dressed as a girl and encouraged to help her mother make molas. This is not an uncommon practice here. Lisa is a wonderful and funny person and great storyteller, and today we are enjoying her third visit to Centime.
Also on board are stateside friends, Joan and Lynn, who are excited to see Lisa’s molas.
First, Lisa shares a Guna story called the four sisters. While Lisa’s English is quite good I may not have fully comprehended the story so bear with me or please correct me if I have lost anything in the translation.
“A long time ago there were four sisters who shined bright as planets in the sky. One day God sent them to Guna Yala. The four sisters were: Ina Nadili, the medicine woman; Igua Nadili, representing tree and the wood used for ‘ulu’ dugout canoes; Olo Nadili the gold woman; and Mani Nadili, representing silver. The women came as spirits to visit four Guna brothers who lived in the mountains. The sister spirits had power and knew that the brothers were coming. As they appeared the older brothers didn’t believe in that the spirits were real, but the youngest brother believed in Ina Nadili the medicine woman and he asked her to stay with him. Soon the two were married and Ina became an important teacher to the Guna.
One day after a long and happy life, Ina died. The villagers dressed her in a white mola shirt with geometric patterns. She rested for two days in a hammock that the villagers filled with special foods they made for her journey. After two days they put her in a ulu and sent her down the river. She met many jungle animals on the way. Each one said hello, please take me with you on your journey to paradise, but Ina said ‘No, you must finish your time in Guna Yala.
Finally Ina arrived at two doors. One door had an arrow pointing toward purgatory and the other said “Paradise.” As soon as Ina arrived the door that said ‘Paridise’ opened and she walked through. Ina saw her mother and father and all of her family waiting for her. She was very happy.”
After Lisa’s story she displayed her lovely molas. We each purchased our favorite. Lynn also purchased a mola for someone who is recovering from cancer. When Lisa learned of this she suggest the ‘medicine mola.” Lisa also told us she will return with a “nuchu” or spirit gift for the cancer survivor .
Dennis and I are grateful to be able to meet these amazing Guna and it was fun to share the experience with our stateside friends.