Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
he touches he has to eat as many leaves as he can, and then, as this good jungle-man affirmed,
he will infallibly recover.
In the western section of Panama, that is to say towards Costa Rica, live the Chiriqui Indi-
ans.Mostofthem, including thewomen,file their teeth tosharppoints.Like theSouthAmer-
ican Indians they are of distinct Mongolian type, and obviously are of the same origin. Many
of them come among the whites where they work on plantations. I have seen quite a num-
ber of whites who have copied the Indians and had their teeth filed, being convinced that this
protects against decay, and soon I became so used to seeing these pointed teeth that I took no
more notice of them. The Chiriquis sometimes paint their faces with vegetable colours, espe-
cially when they have their annual dance out in the jungle. These dances are called balserias ,
and no Indian ever washes the paint off himself but lets time and nature do this.
A balserias is a mating dance which helps to mix the blood of different tribes. Once a year
to leave as large and flat an open space as possible. This clearing is then divided by a fence in
the middle, and when everything is ready the tribes arrive. Candles made of grease are placed
on the posts which form the division. During the first night all is silence and everybody fasts.
On the second night fires begin to flicker and chicha (corn beer) is made and consumed in
large quantities. Here, as in Bolivia, the corn is chewed, with the only appetising difference
that this is done by the girls about to be married, whereas anybody with or without teeth does
this in Bolivia. On the third night everything is ready, and the dance begins.
Women do not take part in this, but sit behind in their respective camps where they watch
and wait. Any prospective husband is placed in front of a man who is armed with a pole; they
then shuffle along whilst everybody chants a monotonous song. When the chanting reaches
a certain point, everybody goes into a sudden silence, and the men with the poles direct hard
blows against the legs of the dancers in front of them, usually aiming at the part behind the
knees. If the young man resists the blow, or succeeds in avoiding it with a quick motion, he
is entitled to go to the opposite camp and choose a wife. According to his assets or means of
support he is allowed as many wives as he is able to keep. When the balserias is over, one
newly married man stays in the new clearing, where he builds his hut and settles down.
I felt much relieved when we reached David, the most important place in the interior of
Panama. Travelling through the shady forests would have been pleasant had it not been for a
mass of roots that made progress slow and dangerous. Both horses had several times caught
have been in a tight fix had it not been for an American Army official who had very thought-
fully sent four sets ahead to David for me.
I had a very short but extremely pleasant stay in this little town, where I soon made many
friends. Long before I had heard marvels about the place but I found it to be anything but
attractive. Neglected houses and huts, a few stores, a couple of churches which threaten to
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