NATIVO - Episode 2.

The Guna and the education in the 21st Century.


Guna Yala is a community on the northern-east shores of Panama where agriculture, fishing and tourism coexist.

Like many other populations of the Americas, the Guna lived the times after the Spanish colonisation attempting to survive and keep their tradition and culture alive. After the nations in Latin America established the equality of all citizens before the law in the 19th Century, the idea of mono-culturalism and linguistic homogeneity borrowed by the western societies started to threaten the survival of indigenous people as inherent societies within the newly born nations.

One of the 2 schools in the Gardi Sugdub island, that hosts students of primary and secondary level.

The Guna fought for and obtained their own autonomous territories - comarca - that would allow them to continue their development as a society. After the revolution in 1925, that led to the creation of many comarcas, education slowly started to shape in an attempt to preserve their immense cultural heritage.

Portrait of Meritxel in her school uniform, and his cousin Jonas.

Dalys Morris teaches economics in the secondary school in Gardi Sugdub: “When I was young I moved to Panama City to study and it was very hard because I only spoke Guna. Now our children start their education programs in Guna and after the very first year we introduce Spanish."

Guna and Spanish go together so that the children will learn about another culture while learning about their own. "I teach my student the subject of economics both in Guna and in Spanish!” - empazhises Dalys.  EBI (Educación Bilingue Intercultural - Intercultural Bilingual Education) thus contributes to a dialogue between cultures and to a respect that there must be in a country where there is great cultural diversity.

Portrait of Edita Lopez holding her grandson.

“I see a virtuous cycle in my class.” - Dalys continues - “Students want to be better and strive for excellence, and this is great not only because without this we would see them dropping school, but also because it makes us professors want to teach better.”

“We want them to know that, yes, there are other languages and many other cultures that are worth knowing and understanding” - concludes Dalys - “but this should never mean that they forget about their own culture, where they come from. They shall never forget they are Guna.”


To read the full story please visit the NATIVO website here.

Published 28/08/2019