Photo credits El Espectador: Oscar Lopez

Other names: Guanadule, Tula, Cuna "The People" - Tule, cuna, kuna, tacarcuna, cerracuna, darienes.


Photo taken from:e https://www.acnur.org/noticias/noticia/2010/9/5b86a82a3c/los-indigenas-tule-en-colombia-luchan-contra-el-peligro-de-desaparecer.html


Most of the Tule people are located in Panama, in the Kuna Yala, Madungandí, Wargantí, and Wala comarcas. In Colombia, they are currently located in the Caimán Nuevo reserve, in the department of Antioquia,, and in the Arquía reserve, in the department of Chocó,bordering the Gulf of Urabá, in the northeast of the country. They previously inhabited other areas, which they abandoned due to pressure during the colonization period in the 20th century and the presence of armed groups in their ancestral territories.

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Data collected from the website of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Colombia.

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Data collected from the website of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Colombia.

The Cuna referred to themselves as tule, meaning "the people". Other ethnic names, such as Cuna-Cuna, Tacarcuna, and Cerracuna, appear in academic literature. The causal reason for all of them may be the toponym of the ancestral Tacarcuna mountain, which is very important in the mythology about their origin. However, the most authentic name is TULE.


Thanks to the work of the ethnohistorian Kathleen Romoli (1987), we know that the Cuna people had nothing to do with the famous pre-Hispanic settlements of Coclé (Steward and Faron, 1959), but were autonomous communities located along the lower Atrato river, very different from the famous Cueva chieftaincies.

During the 17th century, they had multiple conflicts with their southern neighbors, the Emberá-Catío, over land disputes. The Emberá were invaded by the Cuna and since their claims to colonial authorities were unsuccessful, they resolved to evict them to the north where they concentrated in the area adjacent to the Gulf of Urabá..

During the colonial period, The Cuna played a very important role as traders.. They supplied cocoa, raicilla, quina bark and skins to English, Scottish and French traffickers. They received gunpowder, firearms, tools, used European clothing decorated with glass beads.

The commercial activity undertaken by the indigenous people was so outstanding that in the 17th century, a Scottish company was established dedicated to taking what was supplied by the Cuna to Europe. Lionel Wafer, a traveler who participated in these activities, left very interesting memories about it.

But the company had to abandon its operations due to attacks by Spaniards, French and English pirates. For their part, the indigenous people had to be flexible in their adaptive strategy: supporting the nationals who were having greater triumphs of power. In this sense, we must remember that each of these invaders represented a danger to the land of the indigenous people, which had to be defended by them at all costs.

From 1850 onwards, the indigenous people, pressured by the movements of colonization of their lands undertaken by fugitives from the wars in the states of Bolívar and Antioquia, were gradually migrating to the San Blas or Mulatas archipelago (Romoli 1987) and occupied part of its islands such as Ailigandi, Ustupu, Achutupu, etc.

During the 1925 Cuna uprising in Panama, the rebels proclaimed the Independent Republic of Tule, affecting the Colombian state. Unfortunately, it is not known how such a political movement affected Colombian Cuna communities. However, in the 1930s there was a certain increase in migration towards the localities of the Gulf of Urabá in search of land. Several of these immigrants still remain there, although many of their descendants have returned to the islands or to the Panamanian Darien. REED MORE HERE: http://www.upme.gov.co/guia_ambiental/carbon/areas/minorias/contenid/cuna.htm 


The political regime of the Cuna is decentralized, meaning that the communities are autonomous in their decisions, although they recognize a common ethnic identity and there are numerous ties between members of different communities.

Each community has a saila or political leader, who acts as a spokesperson and arbitrator. They represent the interests of the community in the general congresses of the Tule nation and before the state. They also meet with parties in conflict over debt or adulterous relationships to settle disputes. They can impose indemnity obligations, such as fines or additional work.

 Sailas are not really chiefs, as many of the decisions that affect domestic groups are made by the respective sakka. In addition, at the community level, it is the onmaket or traditional assembly that makes the transcendent decisions and limits the saila's initiative (Hower, 1978).

So, the functions of the congresses are to oversee the sailas, maintain tradition, and provide a democratic element in the Cuna government.


Basically, the traditional economic activities have been horticulture, hunting, and fishing(corn, cassava, yam, plantain, rice, cocoa, and sugar cane).

Horticultural work is shared by men and women. They clear and burn the jungle. Both groups plant, but harvesting and transporting fruits are women's tasks.

"All agricultural tools are of Western origin: metal axes for cutting trees, picks, iron hoes, and picks. The only wooden tool is a 'garabato' or hook used to gather what has been 'cleaned' with the machete"(Morales, 1987:267).

Another very important subsistence activity is hunting, carried out exclusively by men. It is done with shotguns acquired on the San Blas islands, bought or exchanged for canoes. Nowadays, arrows and bows are not used in hunting, only small bows and flat-tipped arrows for children's training.

False-floor traps are also built to catch prey. In general, pregnant females and small animals are released. Only in times of scarcity is any piece caught in the traps. The trapped animal is wounded with harpoons or sticks and then carried by men to the river, from where women transport it to the dwelling.

Hunting, generically, is associated with masculinity. This work ends when the prey is removed from the jungle and placed on the border with the domestic, whose territory and work are linked to women. They, through the action of fire, not only make the animal edible but also metaphorically remove its wild, non-cultural character and incorporate it into society. That is the great transformative role of women and fire. Read more here: http://www.upme.gov.co/guia_ambiental/carbon/areas/minorias/contenid/cuna.htm 


The traditional housing is the large rectangular house where several nuclear families related by blood are housed. Each unit corresponds to a living area with its respective stone fireplace. The floor is dirt, the walls are made of reeds, and the roof is made of palm. They are cool, ventilated, and dimly lit dwellings, in the concept of city dwellers.


Inna or a drink that is fermented from sugarcane juice and consumed in puberty ceremonies is the traditional liquor. It is consumed more by men than women.


Women's attire: Women wear the mola (Wisdom Cape) on a daily basis, a multicolored blouse made of commercial fabrics overlaid and cut according to the particular design desired, referring to events recorded in oral tradition. Due to the influence of tourism in San Blas, commercial motifs of no authenticity have appeared, and even false molas are made by seamstresses from Turbo, Medellin, Bogota, etc.

A blue fabric wrapped around the waist and reaching down to the feet completes the dress. Women usually walk barefoot and heavily adorned with various necklaces made of coins, fish bones, glass beads, etc. They also wear multicolored bracelets and anklets.

Men's attire: In contrast to women's complex attire, men's daily dress consists of a shirt and pants similar to those worn by mestizo farmers.

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Tomada de: https://artesaniasdecolombia.com.co/PortalAC/C_sector/colombia-artesanal-el-universo-cuna-desde-las-molas_9107

Women are the guardians and artisans of the molas, a craft technique with which they create rectangles made with "Reverse Application" (Appliqué) of colored fabrics that they wear on their chest after sewing them onto their blouses.

En las molas se plasma la forma en la que está estructurado su universo. Para los gunadules, según la investigación desarrollada por el “Museo del Oro” del Banco de la República, “el universo es como un calabazo con una serie de capas superpuestas en su interior. Esas capas que lo sostienen son de oro, cada una con un color diferente: azul, rojo o amarillo. Todo lo que hay sobre ellas es de oro y están cubiertas por muchos tipos de flores”. Ver mas aquí: http://www.artesaniasdecolombia.com.co/PortalAC/Noticia/colombia-artesanal-el-universo-cuna-desde-las-molas_9107 


 The origin of the molas comes from body painting (tattoos) which was later transferred to fabric. The molas represent cosmogonic thought, a graphic vision of the world full of colorful and full of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic meaning of this indigenous culture.

The MOLA has contrasting designs and colors, which can be polychromatic or bicolored. The motifs are abstract and represent the forces of nature. The most traditional molas are those with geometric designs, stylized forms of flora and fauna, and the collective or individual interpretation of traditions contained in the oral literature of the nation. See more at:  https://www.cuco.com.ar/molas.htm 


One of the most significant elements of the molas is their DUALITY (they are made up of two phases), an important theme for many Native American societies. According to the beliefs of the Guna Indians, all beings have their purba (double, hidden essence, soul): human beings, animals, plants, objects, etc.

The same word mola indicates the pair of phases that make it up. These phases are related to certain stylistic forms of oral literature. The ritual songs of the Guna Indians are organized into stanzas and repetitions accompanied by slight modifications of words, sounds, or meaning. The same is true for molas. The two phases of the fabric can change the main motif, color, or background.


The image of the labyrinth is often repeated in most molas. The Kuna Indians believe that man, lush tropical vegetation, and animals are constantly brought together through complex paths.

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Foto tomada de: https://artesaniasdecolombia.com.co/PortalAC/C_sector/colombia-artesanal-el-universo-cuna-desde-las-molas_9107

Las MOLAS are manually woven on square or rectangular cotton fabrics of various colors. These fabrics are perforated and overlapped, resulting in a product with special and symbolic meaning. The elaboration of a MOLA can take from 30 hours up to double or triple the time, depending on the complexity of the design and the number of layers of fabric it has.


Family and kinship

In Kuna culture, the extended uxorilocal family is the basic productive association. It is normally composed of a couple, whose husband is the head of the unit and is called sakka, their unmarried sons and daughters, daughters married to their husbands and their descendants. Due to the type of residence, children when they get married must move to their wives' house (Morales, 1987:268).

Such a family organization can be located in one or several houses. Traditionally, it has occupied a single large rectangular house, nega; however, influenced by immigrants from San Blas, some couples when they get married opt to open a separate hut near the wife's parents.

Endogamous ethnic relationships prevail among the Kuna. It is hardly acceptable in Colombian communities for a Kuna person to marry someone from another ethnic group, be it black, "white", Emberá, etc. Whoever commits this infringement is practically excluded as Kuna and loses their inheritance rights over the land. In some cases, only after many years and great demonstrations of cooperation by the offender, will they be fully accepted back into the community.


The traditional burial place is under the floor of the house. This establishes a direct, special, and temporal relationship between ancestors and the living. In addition, these burial sites are extensions of the houses.

When someone dies, they are wrapped in a hammock and buried underground. The body is covered with a board that has carved steps representing the ladder needed to access the place of souls near God, Paptumat.

Relatives and other companions eat chicken and throw the bones into the grave.

According to the Kuna, there are many dangers on the path that the soul must take, including several nia or malevolent spirits that want to kidnap it, but it can throw the bones and distract them while continuing on the path (Gómez, 1969).






The Tule people are located between Panama and Colombia.  In Colombia, they are currently located in the Caimán Nuevo reserve, in the department of Antioquia,, and in the Arquía reserve, in the department of Chocó,bordering the Gulf of Urabá in the northeast of the country.

In Colombia, they are currently found in the Caimán Nuevo reservation in the department of Antioquia, and in the Arquía reservation in the department of Chocó, bordering the Gulf of Urabá in the northeast of the country.The Kuna community in Colombia inhabits a zone of tropical rainforest and subsists by farming, hunting, and fishing based on the resources offered by their environment. They also create crafts, among which the Mola is famous, a heritage maintained by women who also play a prominent role. For the Kuna, social organization is based on the family, with their highest authority being the chief and the sáhilas being the leaders of each village. One of the most significant aspects of their culture is the Mola, which symbolizes the protection and strength of nature.