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Being Embera

© Joel Redman

The Embera are an indigenous people, living in Panama in the Darien Province on the shores of the Chuunaque, Sambu, Tuira Rivers and it’s water ways. They tend to live in small villages along the banks of these rivers throughout the area. Villages vary in access from some which are accessible to drive to while others require a lengthy journey along the network of rivers via dugout canoe.

Children who attended education had until recently not been given the opportunity to study their own ancestry and traditions and were steered towards a Panamanian education to the neglect of their own indigenous history, this included being unable to communicate in Embera within the school environment. Therefore many communities are going though a period of transition whereby trying to instil their traditions and culture on their youth once again while they still can.

These portraits are shot within the village of El Salto, a proud Embera community who are affected by these decisions of identity. They show some of the community in traditional costume prior to a ceremony.

Traditionally the Embera paint their bodies with dye made from Genipa Americana, the berry of a species of Genip tree. Throughout the year these temporary tattoo’s appear either vivid or slightly faded dependant on how recently they were painted and the prominence of the ceremonies.

The Embera have strong connections with the forest and have an identity that they are proud of and are endeavouring to keep hold of.

More information and films on the Embera Wounaan

click to view the complete set of images in the archive

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