May 12, 2015
The dichotomy: Main Street evening parade, lively and solemn
First thing I noticed was the Policia in their black and white car, blinking red on the top, leading a parade of many people, some carrying luminaria, handmade paper lanterns on tall sticks extended above their heads. The drums were in the distance with a unique, and it seems, a distinct Panamanian beat.
All together the parade excitement lasted about an hour as it made its way past where I am parked in front of the hostel. There were easily 300 people of the village families young, older, women and men all quiet, behaved somehow and unmistakenly celebratory.
Soon, the first contingent of drummers, the same high school boys I saw coming the other way before dark, over took us, the deeper and louder drummers were still further down the street. Along with them were the lines of brass, long straight, probably traditional horns sounding their repeating call by the changes in the mouths and tongues of these skilled trumpeters.
Between the drummers and the brass, it was a very insistent beat, deep and resonant. The participants of the whole parade were making one step on the left forward, then bringing the right up alongside: step and stop in place.
People were milling all about in the dark on the roadway and on the sidelines of our parking lot, down the street and across the bridge. They were a little quiet, not shouting and cheering, mostly watching and then talking among themselves in smaller groups.
The drums were powerful, repeating over and over their quite distinctive beat. Some of the groups of drummers had upwards of 20 men, some of them tossing their largest drums into the air. I saw only one group with, I think, three tall ladies with batons strutting and prancing before their drum contingent. Seemed to me that their drums were handmade of what I do not know.
What I am told this morning is that it was a very big funeral.
There were no spectators of my White Lodge in evidence where I was watching from the side of my van which is parked on the main street highway right in the path of the parade.
It seems this is the dichotomy of this place, of the town here, perhaps also of the country: indigenous people sharing a particular energetic of their long heritage related to this land which we do not share. Many of the wealthy of Panama come here for the same reason that the earliest settlers of the indigenous nations came here for the altitude where it cools at night. When I have cruised around the town, I have seen their really palatial estates, with well cared for grounds and elegant cement homes of the style of Central America which is kind of a mix with the Spanish.
There are also other white folk, designated ‘ex-pats’ from abroad who may come here seeking a retired life, interested perhaps in the geography. They come to check out the sites and the sights but I have met only one man who was choosing to share in the life or the ceremonies of the Indians. He was involved many years in television news behind the camera. He has done work with the tribes and presently is involved with people here in the town.
But he is rare. Mostly the others shop the market, go to the restaurants but do not seem to join and maybe they are not invited either to participate with the lives of the indigenous peoples. I can’t name it prejudice. It is not. It is simply a dichotomy.
El Valle is, of course, quite unique being on top of a very old volcano, a valley drained of its lake thousands of years ago, now sporting a 21st century tourist town thriving because many of us white folk come here.
But the native peoples were doing just fine before we came. Certainly, by our standards (whatever use it is to compare) they might have needed us to bring them an education about how our world works, a world of commerce and money but not of sacred ceremony. And for us, this is the way of the world and we seek to proliferate our way among all the people imagining that we have found a better way.
And I wonder about that. The journey that I embarked upon (it seems many months ago now) has brought me face to face with this dichotomy. Some of it is the ‘ugly American’ syndrome and even though I am a Canadian, some of that attitude has rubbed off on me from some indigenous peoples.I do not believe at this minute there is any real resolution to this. I am engaged in the conversation I am writing here and I will continue to observe and notice and not take it personally.
Every time I go to the market to buy fresh food, I am confronted with patient, native people. When I talk to my lady down the block at her place, I listen and learn from her. When I go, at those rare times, to a restaurant I notice that the indigenous people cater to me, to us as we represent cash in their pockets when they serve us a fine meal. Some of it is contrived and some of it is just their way as it is our way when hosting our friends.
You can help me out with this with your comments. At some time, I will read what you send to me. And thank you for your thoughtfulness.
Thank you very much, Love, Amraah