The Price of Modernization: Dammed Forever (VICE NEWS)

VICE News travels to the construction site of Barro Blanco, a hydroelectric dam in the Chiriqui Province of Panama. The dam has been the subject of significant controversy for years, as the construction project threatens the local population of the Ngäbe-Buglé, an indigenous tribe of Panama. According to the Ngäbe, the dam will displace thousands of local inhabitants and impacts thousands more who rely on the river for potable water and fishing.

 

The Communities

The Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca has a population of roughly 150,000 people and nearly covers an area of 22,000 km2 (57,000/sq mi). Our project focuses on the communities that the Floating Doctors provide care to and that we have been able to establish relationships with. This is primarily in the coastal communities of the Comarca, but also a few communities in the mountains of Panama. See photos of these communities below.

 

  • Sunrise Over Bahia Azul
    There is no electricity grid here, no roads. The early morning is still and calm. For as far as you can see, there is only nature.
  • The Day Begins
    The morning sounds consist of many birds, families starting their days, and a few boats' motors heading to pick up morning commuters to the main land.
  • After School Fútbol
    Norteño is a central hub, a mile walk from the only road in this area of Panama that connects the Caribbean to the Pacific side. For many other communities farther up the river, this is the easiest way to connect with the rest of Panama.
  • Calm Seas
    Location is everything, especially when establishing a community. This community is positioned inside a bay, protected from big open ocean swells which allows for easier entry and departures.
  • Center de Salud
    A select few communities have these health centers and the people that work in them act as the bridge between the Panamanian healthcare system and Ngäbe communities.
  • The Role of Nature
    Living in rural communities of the tropics shows you some of the most incredible acts of weather. Monsoon like rains and hair-raising lighting can pass within minutes to reveal intense heat from the sun or clear skies filled with stars.

RU: Ngäbe for Cayuco or Canoe

A seemingly common aspect of Ngäbe life, the art of making these boats is incredible and complex. From high in the mountains of La Comarca (The Ngäbe-Buglé Land Reservation), trees are cut, guided down rivers to the ocean, dragged to communities, and finally carved out by hand. Although these boats are found in every single community, if younger generations don't take interest in the practice of making these boats, the skill could disappear from their culture. See photos below, video coming soon!

 

  • Pushing Off
    The "ru" or cayuco is part of daily life for many Ngäbe, from rivers to open ocean
  • Benefits of Ru
    At a young age, many Ngäbe develop incredible core strength, simply by using these boats
  • Morning Commute
    From open ocean to rivers, these boats are an essential tool part of daily life.
  • Hand-Crafted
    The process of making these boats requires a special knowledge of what trees will work best and how to carve the wood without cracking it.
  • Finished Product
    From 6ft to 50ft, these boats are made from a single tree. Various new techniques have been developed, including the use of tar, epoxy, and nails.
  • Quality Over Quantity
    The boats are incredibly durable, remarkably buoyant, and used for transportation and fishing everyday.
  • Weekend Activities
    A model boat race in Ensenada. Apparently, a long standing tradition in this community, it was quite the sight to see so many people out in their cayucos.
  • Ngäbe boat drivers are hired by Floating Doctors to transport medicine and personnel to remote communities. Its incredible how much these boats can carry and how well they cut through water.
  • Continuing the Tradition
    A seemingly ordinary aspect of Ngäbe life is at risk of being forgotten forever. Although there are those that continue the practice of making these boats, many of the younger generation have never seen this process.

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