Indigenous Panamanians compete in ancestral games

PIRIATI, Panama _ Some brought bows and arrows to show off shooting skills. Others came to demonstrate their strength, endurance or ability to pull heavy ropes or to paddle small wooden dugout canoes.

The women wore brightly hued dresses in red, orange, green and purple, with hand-embroidered details. Men stained their arms and faces with black ink extracted from a mountainous fruit. Some wore loin cloths with intricate beaded geometric designs, and strings of yet more beads crisscrossing their chests.

For two days, more than 100 competitors from the main indigenous groups of Panama _ the Guna, Embera and Ngabe-Bugle _ converged for the second time to celebrate their ancestral games.

“Everyone has to show dexterity, their tradition, their dance, their behaviour,” said Eduardo Lopez, a member of the Guna community and co-ordinator of the games.

At night, the groups intermingled to share dance and music traditions. Drums beat. Flutes vibrated.

These games held in the Embera town of Piriati, some 55 miles (90 kilometres) east of the capital, drew athletes who will represent Panama in the third edition of the World Indigenous Peoples Games, which may be held in New Zealand, Colombia or another country with a large indigenous community.

Panama attended the first world competition in Brazil in 2015 and participated in the next one in Canada in 2017.

The games in Piriati began with swimming and boating in Lake Bayano, one of the main reservoirs in Panama. Indigenous people fish and motor in the lake on any given day, transporting goods from one side to the other.

For Rigoberto Palacio, a 32-year-old Ngabe-Bugle man from a mountainous village in the Caribbean province of Bocas del Toro, the games represent a way to “rescue, value and enhance” the daily activities of his ancestors. From an early age, Palacio says, he has used bow and arrow to scare away or kill animals such as snakes in his village. He hand-carved the bow he uses in archery competitions.

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