Prevalence _ Cultural Ramifications of Albinism among the Cuna of

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					                          Prevalence & Cultural Ramifications of Albinism
                              among the Kuna of San Blas and Darien
                                                                            by Ilianette Montanez
                                                               IDH 4200 Panamá: Beyond the Classroom
                       Introduction                                                              Analysis                                                                             Future Challenges
    The Kuna are one of Panama’s tribal populations centralized           Not much research has been done to give conclusive                           Future research must be done to solidify the causes leading
in the San Blas islands on the outskirts of the east coast of         information on the prevalence of albinism among the Kuna, but                to the great number of albinos among the Kuna. Once this is
Panama and the Darien region of Panama.                               the cultural ramifications are clear.                                        established the prevalence of albinism can be minimized.
                                                                          The inability of the Kuna albino to handle the harsh tropical                In order for the health risks related to this disorder to be
                                                                      climate, while being the reason for their proliferation after the            treated a more scientific look at albinism must be adopted by
                                                                      attacks of the Spanish conquistadors, has also led to their being            the Kuna, who are accustomed to a shamanistic approach to
                                                                      the socially revered yet physically inferior portion of the                  treatment. This scientific understanding of albinism will also
                                                                      population. The albino children within the tribe are limited to              allow for an overall better accommodation of albinos in Kuna
    Albinism is a disease characterized by a lack of pigmentation     indoor activities and less physically vigorous tasks throughout              society and lower any incidences of infanticide against albino
affecting the hair, skin, and eyes of individuals with this           the day due to their condition. This sedentary lifestyle results in          children.
disorder. The Kuna are known for their abnormally high rate of        the albino population being physically weaker and more sickly
albinism, which has had various physical, emotional, social and       than the rest of the Kuna, however, this lifestyle also results in
cultural implications within the tribe. This research is aimed at     albino persons being more educated and members of the social                                                             Conclusions
analyzing the prevalence and outcomes albinism has presented          elite. Many albinos become shamans, as they are believed to be
                                                                                                                                                   Albinism has had a great impact in Kuna culture of Panama ,
to the Kuna people.                                                   better connected to the divine, and tribal leaders, as they are
                                                                                                                                                   from legends as to where these “moon-children” came from
                           Findings                                       The high incidence of albinism among the Kuna can be
                                                                                                                                                   to albinos being considered elite amongst the rest of the Kuna
                                                                                                                                                   tribe. While the Kuna maintain a traditional perspective as to
   While the prevalence of albinism amongst the Kuna goes             attributed to the likely occurrence of interbreeding within the
                                                                                                                                                   why albinos are born and become leaders among the elite, a
widely unexplained there are many plausible and concrete              isolated Kuna population. The rates of albinism have been
                                                                                                                                                   more scientific adaptation of their view of albinism would
explanations for this phenomenon. The Kuna tribe experiences          slightly offset by happenings of infanticide towards albino
                                                                                                                                                   result in the better treatment of Kuna albinos, socially,
albinism at a disproportionate rate of 1 out of every 150 -           children for unknown reasons.
                                                                                                                                                   emotionally, and physically.
170compared to the low rates of 1 out of every 10,000-15,000
in every other population around the world.
                                                                                                                   Image 1: One Kuna albino
                                                                                                                   child with two other Kuna
   Many attribute the current number of albino Kuna to the                                                         non-albino children              Escape Artist Inc. (1996). Panama's Indigenous People - The People of the Darien & San Blas. Retrieved October 5, 2011, from
number of albino survivors after the attacks of Spanish                                                                                             Escape Artist:
                                                                                                                                                    Froggat, P. (1960). The Legend of a White Native Race. Medical History, 228-235.
conquistadors on the Kuna territories of San Blas and Darien                                                                                        Keeler, C. (1963). The Incidence of Cuna Moon-Child Albinos. Journal of Heredity, 115-120.
during the 1700’s. The Kuna themselves believe that the number                                                                                       Keeler, C. (1970). Cuna Moon-Child Albinism. Journal of Heredity, 273-278.

of albino children is the result of the mother starring at the moon                                                                                 Power, M. (2006, March 14). Panama's Indian albinos a revered elit. Retrieved October 6, 2011, from Race Relations
                                                                                                                                                    Rodgers, D. (2011, August 08). San Blas Islands, Panama. Retrieved October 5, 2011, from Simply Going South
during pregnancy and that the original albinos where direct                                                                                         Stout, D. (1946). Further Notes on Albinism among the San Blas Cuna, Panama. Journal of Physical Anthropology, 483-490.
descendants of the sun, though albino children are known as                                                                                         Swanson, E. (n.d.). Society-CUNA. Retrieved October 6, 2011, from Center for Social Anthropology and Computing:

“moon-children,” “hijos de la luna.”                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                                    The Gale Group Inc. (1999). Cunas. Retrieved October 5, 2011, from Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures:
   Albinos, through legends passed down amongst the Kuna, are                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                                    The Mayo clinic. (2011, April 02). Albinism. Retrieved October 28, 2011, from Mayo Clinic:
considered to be directly connected to the supernatural world,                              Image 2: Two male                                  

however, the Kuna have shown a tendency towards infanticide                               albino children
                                                                                                                Image 3: Kuna parents with their
                                                                                                                                                    Thorup, S. (n.d.). CUNA INDIANS. Retrieved October 6, 2011, from Panama Culture: Panama's Native Cultures:
against albino newborns.                                                                                                  albino child               Vandercelde, M. (1973). Moon-children of San Blas Islands. Expedition, 15-24.

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