The Emberá (Chocó) of Darién, Panama: The Stephanie C. Kane Collection

About The Emberá (Chocó) of Darién, Panama: The Stephanie C. Kane Collection

This collection of Stephanie C. Kane’s ethnographic photographs documents everyday life and holidays among the Emberá people living along the rivers of the Darién tropical forest between 1983 and 1985. This region of riverine forest is known as the Darién Gap, as it is the only gap in the Pan American Highway that runs from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. The photographs also include images of the Wounaan and Catio (along with the Emberá, the three indigenous groups known collectively as the Chocó) and people of African descent. After coming across the forested mountains by canoe from the Department of Chocó, Colombia, mostly in the 20th century, these groups resettled along the rivers of the Darién and became Panamanian citizens. Kane studied the Emberá’s transition from dispersed settlements to villages, focusing on the ways in which women and men negotiated changes inherent in development and national integration. The Organization of American States and the Institute of Latin American Studies of the University of Texas at Austin funded her field research. The photographs were taken during the years when the Emberá were writing their constitution and establishing their indigenous reserve. For the first time, the Pan American Highway reached as far as the regional town of Yaviza, two to three days travel time downriver by canoe from the villages, while upriver, a large swath of forest became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Between these large scale events, initiated by forces outside their realm, the Emberá, among whom Kane lived, continued to survive principally by hunting, fishing, cultivating staples (plantains, corn, rice, manioc), gathering wild foods and medicines. In addition, they built canoes and open-walled, stilt homes using materials gathered in the forest and healed the sick with plants and shamanic ritual. For stories that will animate these images, see Kane’s book, The Phantom Gringo Boat: Shamanic Discourse and Development in Panama (Smithsonian, 1st ed, 1994; Cybereditions, 2nd ed, 2004).

view all images

Browse Emberá of Darién, Panama: