Living Naturally in the Rainforest

Living Naturally in the Rainforest2016-10-17T16:07:48+00:00
Photo: Charlie Eitzen

Photo: Charlie Eitzen

Functioning as a “bridge” between North and South America, Panamá is often referred to as the “Crossroads of the World.” Stretching anywhere from 30 to 130 miles in width, today, this flourishing country welcomes visitors from across the globe, as well as 12,000 ships, through the famous canal that bears its name. As popular as it has become, Panamá still seeks the protection of its delicate rainforest ecosystem and the indigenous people who live there—an initiative supported by the continued production of Wounaan Hösig Di, the entirety of which are made from natural resources of the Darién rainforest.

The country of Panamá is divided into nine provinces, each ruled by a governor of the President’s choosing. Encompassing nearly 17,000 square kilometers in length, the Darién rainforest—which borders two oceans and Colombia—is the most popular of these regions is the Darién rainforest. Historically one of the most biologically diverse regions in all of Central America, this rainforest serves as the meeting point for thousands of species from North and South America—and as such, has always required special government protection.

Since its development, it has always seemed as if the outside world has taken more of an interest in Panamá’s delicate rainforests than the Panamanian government itself; with the majority of its conservation efforts coming from The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Agency for International Development, World Wildlife Fund and others. However, in 1980, Panama took a step towards its own preservation by setting aside 5,790 square kilometers of Darién rainforest land as a national park—recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1981 and marked as a Biosphere Reserve just two years later. Despite these efforts, the majority of the land was still unprotected—and mining, farming, ranching and logging from outside parties has persisted.

The primary residents of this rainforest land are those who make the baskets themselves, members of the Wounaan and Emberá tribes, who have learned to live off the land and use these baskets as their natural source of income. Aiming to help their community build a strong economic base, and continue to bring favorable, international attention to the region, they continue to create what curators believe to be the highest-quality baskets made anywhere in the world.