Visit to Mormake Tupu
19 February 2018
A new bottle of Abuelo 12yo rum came aboard today. It may be helping me catch up with my blogs. The past few months have been a whirlwind on Uproar. San Blas is a region unlike any other place we have visited. I've written about the beautiful islands and unusual people who inhabit this area but there is still more to be said. Lisa, Laura, Glyn, I visited Isla Maquina or more commonly called, Mormake Tupu. This means mola making island. Molas are the intriguing needlework, embroidery quilting artwork of the Kunas. Venancio, one of only four mola making men in the San Blas visited Uproar weeks ago. We succumbed to his fine art and bough six molas at far above tourist prices. But they are treasures of art.
We told Venancio our friends from home would be visiting and they would like to see his molas. Sure enough when we anchored in East Lemon Cays with Glyn and Laura, it wasn't long before Venancio came in his ulu (dugout canoe) to show them his wares. Laura is an artist in fabric herself and loved the display. Venancio's brother Idelfonzo mentioned he gives tours of his island, Isla Maquina. A few days later Uproar anchored in the lee of his island. Idelfonzo motored out in his ulu and informed us we could find better anchoring in another spot. We followed his recommendation and he ferried us ashore.
Ashore was his own dock leading to his extended family home. That is typical of the Kuna, they have multiple generations living under one palm-thatched roof. Idelfonzo (name was a challenge for all to remember) immediately brought us into his home, a long and narrow hut with sleeping hammocks, cooking fire and even a small store with a non-working refrigerator. We followed him through the village to the Saila, chief of the village. The Saila was not only the chief but medicine man. He had bowls of herbs and leaves he was quite proud of. There was also a Tapir in one cage and monkey in another. Children were all around and not the least bit shy of seeing visitors. We were informed that we needed to pay $5 to the Saila for anchoring in his village. We did with no reservations. This was not a “shake down” we experienced in some areas where no village was in sight.
Idelfonzo gave us an extensive tour, showing us the school, churches, both Christian and Kuna and meeting hall. They hold counsel every evening. The hall was closed and we could not enter. I bought a package of Kuna Cola (like Coke) and there was much discussion for what the cost would be. I may have received the Yankee discount (double the Kuna price).
We walked by one hut where a family was outside. They held up a young baby and pointed to Idelfonzo. All were laughing hysterically! They made it clear it was his baby. Idelfonzo acknowledged it was his in a quiet voice. He was quick to change the subject. Human nature knows no borders.
One meager hut shadowed an old lady who wanted us to see her molas. She spread them on the sand floor with pride. They weren't that great and we weren't interested. Idelfonzo told us to pick one out. He would pay for it and give it to us as a gift. He explained she need money. We did and asked if we could take her picture. He said we would need to pay her $2 for a picture. I handed him a $2 bill. She was quite reluctant until he explained it was real US money. We took a few pictures. Laura felt bad that this lady sold her sole to us for $2.
I asked Idelfonzo about Nuchu. He took us into his hut and showed us a basket full of carved idols. Each family member had a Nuchu, made specifically for them. If they were sick, the Nuchu would be brought to the medicine man of the village for inspection. Sometimes the medicine man would send the Nuchu to another island for another consultation. Idelfonzo warned us not to touch a Nuchu. He held them up to show us and said, “If you touch this, you die because you are not Kuna!”
I had read that they will sell a Nuchu to outsiders that does not have spirit. The guide book says these are cheap balsa wood replicas. I asked Idelfonzo if I could by a Nuchu. He didn't say much until we got back to his hut. He brought out a Nuchu his nephew had carved. It was three feet tall with two falcon heads at the top and a large nosed face below. It was very heavy wood and took a lot of work to carve. “Five dollars, but it is sleeping so you will be safe.” Sold! That Nuchu is strapped to Uproar's bimini frame. Since, we have caught a large Barracuda! The Nuchu was facing toward the cockpit and Lisa and Laura thought it was a bit creepy. They said it should face aft. Sure enough the next day it had turned aft. I swear, none of us turned it aft!
We asked if we could buy Dulup (lobster). Right next to Idelfonzo's hut was a stone enclosure or aquarium. We saw a variety of fish there when we landed on the island. There was also a pig and chicken in cages. He said there were lobster there. He and another friend put on masks and jumped into the enclosed pool. This was their livewell! After 15 minutes or so, they snared four small lobsters for us. Cost was $20. Idelfonzo said we were to pay his friend because they were his lobsters.
Idelfonzo mentioned his niece had trouble with her eyesight for making molas. He asked if we had glasses. We gave her a pair and she was so pleased. Two other ladies came shyly toward us, wanting glasses. We emptied our backpacks with two more pairs. The seemed to scrutinize them and accepted them without a word of thanks. Well, we tried.
This island was certainly a community. I estimate it to be between five and eight acres. We were told 275 people lived there. Idelfonzo was sincerely interested in the welfare of his neighbors. He was a gracious host to us while showing his home and sensitive to his neighbors. The Kuna lifestyle seemed worlds apart from ours but we are of one blood. Experiences like this are the priceless rewards of the cruising lifestyle.