National Geographic : 1970 Mar
KODACHROME BYBRUCEDALE(ABOVE)ANDEKTACHROME BYALBERTMOLDVAY© N.G .S . marked with black lines to enhance their length-and ward off devils. Young misses were as likely to be wearing dresses as the traditional mola blouses. The word mola means "cloth," but outsider misuse applies it to the blouse itself, and to the brilliantly colored panels from which it is made. Reaching from waist to armpits, the panels have as many as seven layers of cloth, with designs cut through and edges stitched under to show colors beneath. Exquisite hand sewing can go into this cloth "sculpture," whose design inspiration relies on everything from tribal lore to comic-strip characters and magazine illustrations (page 433). Tooth Extraction Costs Two Coconuts On Ailigandi I got another view of what progress means to Cuna ways. I stayed in a five-room concrete-block hotel-"built as a cooperative venture by 350 of us here," Napole6n G6mez told me. The hotel boasts an island luxury: one flush toilet, which was fed only fresh water to protect its plumbing. I winced when I learned that Ailigandi's fresh water had to be brought in cans by canoe from the mainland-a daily chore for Cuna women. And I lauded a proj ect that would soon bring a plentiful supply from a mainland river. Next to the hotel stands the only hospital 424 Bananas: big business "~' HIQUITA" say the labels that a pretty Panamanian sticks on bananas at the United Fruit Company's plantation in Puerto Armuelles. Panama's number-one export was worth $52,500,000 in 1968. Refrigerated ships keep the fruit green while it travels to markets around the world. In a jungle of banana plants (right) at Changuinola, a worker lugs a stem to an overhead trolley wire that will carry it from field to shed for washing, grading, and box ing. Plastic bags in which the stems grow protect them from insect damage and from bruising or scarring by wind-whipped leaves. Each stalk produces a single stem during its one-year life. in all San Blas. A dedicated young medical missionary, Dr. Daniel Gruver, is its adminis trator-and whole medical staff. His daily routine is a wearying round of ward visits, operations, clinic hours, X-ray work, baby deliveries, and even tooth extractions. "The hospital is supported by the Baptist Home Mission Board and private contribu tions," he said, "but the Cunas pay for medi cal care. I charge 10 cents-the value of two coconuts-for pulling a tooth. Just recently I had to raise my fee for a delivery to two dol lars, and for an appendectomy to three." Most of the Cunas' medical needs, however, are met by the tribal nele, or medicine man. On Ailigandi, GEOGRAPHIC photographer Bruce Dale witnessed a curative ceremony. Wooden medicine dolls and a pot of coals were placed on the ground beneath a ham mock in which the patient lay, covered by a blanket. The nele began a monotone chant and threw cocoa beans and powdered pepper plants on the coals. Pungent smoke arose. In the chant the nele pleaded with spirits of the medicine dolls to descend through the layers of the underworld and find the devil who had stolen the sick person's soul. Chant ing may last for days before the soul is released and the patient cured. "To whom do you go when you get sick?" Bruce asked the medicine man.