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: http://www.escapeartist.com/panama/Cuna.html
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.” http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/EthnoAtlas/Hmar/Cult_dir/Culture.7839
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 http://www.everyculture.com/wc/Norway-to-Russia/Cunas.html
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 http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/albinism/DS00941
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.