No one knows for sure when they arrived in Panama from South America, but in the 16th century, they had already occupied the 360 islands that we know today as the San Blas archipelago, pushed towards the Caribbean coast by enemy native tribes and Spanish conquerors. Today, the gunas are found mainly on the islands of San Blas, but also in the jungle of Chucunaque and Bayano.
The Guna people have fought for centuries to keep their culture and traditions alive. During the colonial period, they joined European corsairs and pirates in a series of successful attacks against the Spanish, who had vowed to eliminate them. As the Spanish empire dwindled, they settled in the present-day Darien and San Blas regions, in Panama, and in western Colombia, which granted them land and legal recognition towards the end of the 19th century. Panama, which at that time It was then a Colombian province, it declared its independence in 1903 and the agreements were ignored.
The resentments reached a climax in 1925, when Richard O. Marsh, a Canadian adventurer, motivated the Gunas to declare the independence of Panama by creating the “Republic of Tule.” A peace treaty was later signed, and the Guna agreed to recognize Panamanian sovereignty only after the “wagas” (the no-guna) granted them a good deal of autonomy. Today, the Panamanian authorities rarely interfere with the Guna government and have created three special “comarcas” for themselves.
Guna women wear hand-sewn skirts and blouses known as “molas.” The ¨Mola¨ is an intricately stitched pattern made of layers of fabric in a reverse appliqué technique. The men wear a traditional Guna shirt and less traditional pants like jeans, or shorts. Guna women also paint their faces with a homemade blush made from achiote seeds. They also usually wear a nose ring and paint a line on their nose.
The Guna have the most advanced political system of any other indigenous group in Latin America.