The Kuna ladies came early. Three in traditional garments—printed tops, skirts and red bandanas, all varied, along with colorful beads from knees to ankles—rowed and sailed their cayuco a distance of 3.5 nautical miles to Gunboat Island. Finding no tourists at the rustic hotel there, they came to Happy Times. I prayed silently that they had more to offer than molas. I’d be in big trouble with the captain if I bought any more.
I indicated that they should tie up and within five minutes the three were aboard with two plastic buckets. After inviting them to sit down I went next door to s/v Eclipse with whom we’d rafted up and asked Michelle Hufford to join us. She’s better at saying no than I am.
I poured coffee for each lady and offered a splash of milk and a packet of artificial sweetener. Mike stepped into the cockpit with a small plate of cookies and a container of brown sugar. The ladies added two heaping teaspoons to the Splenda in their cups. I almost gagged. Michelle poured more coffee from her French press. Then we ladies chatted as best we could in our espagnol and pidgin English.
They’re from Isla Maquina or Mormake Tupu (more-ma’ke tu’-pu). That’s Kuna for mola-making island. It’s easy to guess what the buckets contain. Two of the three are sisters; the third woman is a good friend. Michelle explains that she and I are amigas who have become sisters.
It’s time to get down to business. I point to the buckets and the ladies begin to pull out one mola after another. I nod in appreciation but they don’t compare to Venancio’s work. Michelle points to the beaded bracelets on one woman’s arms, and she removes some traditional jewelry from a bucket. Now we’re talking.
Michelle buys three bracelets; one for herself; two for friends. I do the same and soon Mikayla has a pretty midnight blue and gold strand on her arm. As another Kuna ties one around my wrist, I study her technique so I can replicate it later.
After we finish shopping I ask the Kunas’ permission to take photos. Michelle grabs her camera and we begin shooting away. Often the Kunas decline photos so we’re thrilled to capture the ladies in their colorful costumes.
The youngest woman asks if we have any magazinos. The Kunas love magazines and will gladly accept any that are offered. I pull out a couple. Michelle locates three, glossy elementary science books.
I have one more piece of business. I have some magnifying glasses—the kind you wear like a pair of reading glasses—to share. I hand a pair to each one and you’d have thought I had given them gold. The ladies absolutely beamed when they tried on the glasses. They looked at the molas in their laps and jabbered excitedly when they saw a close-up of their handiwork.
After the Kunas left, Michelle and I congratulated ourselves on sharing such an amicable cultural experience. As the ladies left in their boat, three small sails stretched tautly against the wind, we could hear them say, “Banay mallo,” which means “Good-bye, friend.”