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Darién National Park_2019 12 27_2036 | by HBarrison
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Darién National Park_2019 12 27_2036

Darién National Park + Playa Muerto and the Emberá of Darién, also known in the historical literature as the Chocó or Katío Indians, an indigenous people of Panama and Colombia. The village Playa Muerto lies in Darién National Park (Parque Nacional Darién), in Panama’s Eastern-most province of the same name. Bordering with Colombia, the Darién province is densely covered by rain forest and sparsely populated; its capital is La Palma. Darién National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and extends across some 2,236 mi². The Park is among the largest and most protected areas in Central America. It includes a stretch of the Pacific Coast and makes up almost the entire border with neighboring Colombia. The Park boasts an exceptional variety of habitats, such as sandy beaches, rocky coasts, mangroves, swamps, and lowland and highland tropical forests, which are home to a remarkable variety of wildlife. Representatives of two Indian tribes live on the Park’s riverbanks: approximately 200 Kuna Indians and 1,000 Wounaan and Emberá, together referred to in literature as Chocó Indians. Both tribes are indigenous to Panama and Colombia and have long shared the same territory. Their recent history and their culture are similar. They do, however, speak different languages; their traditional roles – Wounaan were artists, Emberá were warriors – set them apart; and they are politically organized as distinct groups. For centuries, the Emberá lived semi-nomadic lives as hunter-gatherers and fishermen. Their constant movement through the most remote parts of the rainforest did not allow for accurate anthropological studies until recently. It is believed that the Emberá moved from the Amazon to the Choco region in Colombia and onward to the Darién during the 16th century. Today, approximately 33,000 people who identify as Emberá live on Panamanian soil - most of them in the Darién Province. The biggest impact on the Indian tribes in the Darién was caused by the extension of the Pan-American Highway, the famous road link between Alaska and the southernmost point of South America. It was in 1979 that the dirt road was cut straight through the pristine jungle of the Darién. The road opened the region to cars and trucks and offered easy access for Campesinos (poor farmers of Hispanic background) looking for virgin jungle land to clear-cut for cattle breeding and slash-and-burn farming. Today, cattle farms and plantations are bordering the Pan-American Highway in the Darién, and no jungle can be seen for miles on both sides. The area near the border with Colombia is called “The Darién Gap” as it extends around the only missing piece in the Pan-American Highway that stretches from Alaska to the pencil tip of Argentina. The world's longest motor accessible road crosses through the entirety of North, Central, and South America, with the sole exception of the 60 mile gap in the Darién. The large swath of dense pristine forest that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast makes overland travel from North America to South America virtually impossible. Some daring adventurers have tried to cross the Darién Gap, but only a handful of attempts were successful. At the small town of Yaviza, the Pan-American-Highway ends – but settlements do not. Rivers are the highways of the Darien’s interior, and people native to this land travel on them on small motorboats and dugout canoes. This is where the true Darién begins – an untouched virgin jungle. While it is certain that the access to the modern world through the existing part of the Pan-American Highway provides various benefits to the indigenous people of the region, it is clear that, in many ways, it has also caused negative impact and irrevocable change to their lives. Apart from the obvious fact that the continuing deforestation is destroying their natural habitat and hunting grounds, modernization also made the indigenous depend on hard-currency income. In 1985, it was estimated that 25 percent of Emberá people in Panamá still lived according to the traditional dispersed settlement pattern. However, life in settled communities is now considered the norm, or "typical" of most Emberá. In addition to these settled communities, many Emberá now live in urban areas. According to the 2010 Panamanian National Census, over one third of Panamanian Emberá people live in the central province of Panamá, and over 25% of the total Panamanian Emberá population reside in urban districts of Panama City. Thus, subsistence farming has become a thing of the past. Around each village, the jungle is partly cleared and replaced by banana and plantain plantations, a commercial crop for the Emberá, who sell them to get cash for their outboard motors, mosquito nets, and the like. But generating monetary income proves difficult for the Indigenous. Most communities have no land titles and no authorization to exploit the land commercially. Many villages saw their young adults move to the cites. To counter this, a focus on creating the economic basis that allows the indigenous to remain in their villages is Cultural tourism and the sale of handicraft. The Emberá may lack most resources and all but the most basic education, their culture and their art represent two very valuable assets. For more, see: and

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Taken on December 27, 2019