As the embers of the fogone died down the glow of the bare light bulb overhead gave off its steady light. Idio sat at the table beneath the bulb, his legs hidden from the mosquitoes beneath the flowing excess of his cotton pants. Under his shirt was his small, solid frame, the body of an athlete or soldier, not the 58 year old man that he was. I sat at the table with him, his wife sat in a chair in the corner working away at her artisan work. Between La Senora and me sat their granddaughter on a step, her 15 year old body twisted and left small from the birth defect that caused her mother to abandon to the care of her grandparents. The conversation soon ventured far from wherever it was that it began. We spoke of the Embera culture and the threat it faced of being lost by a generation of youths that place more value on the culture of the outside world- on reggaeton and hip hop, materialism and fatalism. In his words were echoed the fears of the small peoples of the world, those whose children will see their language and culture lost forever. Cultures that survived the bloody onset of the conquistadors, persevered through the persecution of the church, they will now soon die at the very hands of their own people, by not remembering, not caring, they condemn them to die.
From there the conversation took a turn towards religions, both old and new. Wee spoke of God and the many ways the world interprets the meaning of that word. Idio is a Catholic but it was interesting to hear how the church has changed in its role in development. In the Comarca the Catholics are some of the most outspoken champions in the defense of the culture of the Embera. From the church Idio has learned terms such as Mother Earth, equal rights and cultural preservation. The conversation turned from there to the unspoken knowledge of the Embera, their familiarity with the plants and the jungle that has revealed to them all its secrets. He told me with a grin that the men from outside- the whites, blacks and latinos- fight with guns and knifes, but the weapon of the Embera is the plant. The shamans among them call kill with a substance sprinkled unknowingly in the hair or left in wait on a pair of sandals. They also know the plants that can heal. Take this leaf for pain, this root for cancer, and that bark to quit growing hair. Those men and women that know these secrets do not speak of it. It is a knowledge of the cunandero.