Gunas distribution and migrations
The Gunas are an ethno-linguistic group that mainly lives in eastern parts en jungles of Panama. Some Guna tribes can be found within the territory of Colombia in the Darien Jungle, but most of what is known about the native Indians pertains to the Panamanian Guna population. The majority of the Guna Indians (with a population of around 50.000) resides in villages in the San Blas Archipelago also known as Guna Yala (Land of the Guna). Additionally, 1,000-5,000 Guna are estimated to live along inland watercourses connecting to the Archipelago.
The present Guna distribution in Panama is the result of migrations, which began in the mid-1800s, from the highland riverside locations in the Darien Gap to the islands of San Blas. Some Guna remained in the mountain regions but since living conditions are harsh these numbers slowly decrease. Most of their descendants live along the Bayano and Chucunaque rivers in east Panama. This geographical separation (the rivers) has led modern observers and scientists to divide the group into the Mainland or Mountain Gunas, and most commonly known group who lives in San Blas.
Cultural differences between the Gunas groups
There is little contact between the San Blas and Mainland/Mountain Gunas, and there are some differences between them in matters as subsistence activities and degree of acculturation. Nonetheless, this isn’t been studied yet since the mountain group has tended to discourage outside contacts. Therefore, a discussion of the degree of variation and cultural differences between the two Indian groups is impossible. The only common cultural asset that identifies them is their language, Dulegaya. This language is presently classified as one of the Central American languages of the Eastern Chibchan group within the Macro-Chibchan phylum. It is a language that is on the endangered watch list. Luckily the San Blas Gunas are relatively open to the documentation of their culture and habits. Therefore, many of the Guna habits have been documented in recent years.
Hello. I purchased a Kuna mola recently (2021) and it has a word near the top of the artwork in large letters that looks something like the word ORUNLES. I’ll send a photo of it to anyone who has a possible translation. Thanks so much!! -Deb Schubert