My Life Adventures

A Day with the Ngabe Indigenous Tribe

I saw a Facebook event the other day that looked interesting.  “The Medicinal Plants & Natural Dyes of the Rainforest Path” tour.  I decided to take the tour to learn more about the different plants in the jungles and their natural medicinal uses.  What an interesting tour it was!!

First we all met at the boat dock in Bocas del Toro and took a water taxi over to the island of San Cristobal where the Ngabe indigenous village is located.  We were met by the leader of the Ngabe Indigenous women.  She took us to the village “office” and we met with a few other women of the tribe.  The Ngabe women wore full-length, short-sleeve, very colorful dresses called naguas.  They each hand sewn their own dresses.

We met the bush doctor Isabelle who then led us to the jungle with her machete to show us the plants she uses to heal her people and how to use them and our guide, Matilda translated for us.

As we walked down our path we first come to the local cemetery.  They have a 14 day ritual when a village person dies.  They bury them on this hill and instead of gravestones (because many can not afford them) they plant Cordyline fruiticosa plants, also known as Good luck plants or Palm Lily.  These plants are known for protection and healing.  As these plants mature they are used for medicinal purposes and the leaves are used to make clothing.

We walk down a little further and she pulls out a “weed” on the side of the trail.  I didn’t get the name of this plant but we all had a taste of the stem of the plant.  It’s what they use for an upset stomach.  It was very tasty and did make my already upset belly feel better.

We head down the trail  and are shown a few more plants then come across a cacao tree.  Isabelle grabs a pod and uses the machete to slice it open.  We all take a part of the white seed and suck/eat the white part around the seed.  It was very tasty but just a little tart.  Matilda then pulls some tiny leaves that grow on the cocoa plants and tell us that they use it to help heal pink eye and remove cataracts.

We head into the jungle and up a hill and see this plant.  This plant is currently being researched as they believe it is used for diabetes and possibly healing cancer.  The Ngabe tribe has been using it to help those with diabetes and other uses.  I apologize, but I do not remember the name of this plant.

Going deeper into the jungle we came across an agave plant.  Matilda explains that the leaves of the plant are used to make clothing and purses to sell.  They demonstrated later how to get the fibers from the leaves and then showed how they would prepare the fiber to make it into string and then sewn together using no tools what-so-ever.  The process was amazing.  The root of the agave is what is used to make tequilla but the tribe does not use the plant for this purpose.

While we were trekking through the jungle, the ladies in the village made us lunch that consisted of coconut rice, fish, a fruit salad which consisted of bananas, plantains and mangos, and a delicious sauce that was made from some of the jungle plants.  The plants were boiled down to a spinach texture, I was able to taste a little lime and cilantro but they wouldn’t tell us their recipe as it stays with the tribe.  I’m not a big fish eater unless it’s a non fishy tasting fish, such as tuna, mahi mahi, grouper so I tried the fish (too fishy) and decided to just eat the rice and “spinach like” plant sauce and plantains.

The children would yell “Hola” to us as we passed their homes.  They were running around chasing chickens and ducks and playing baseball with sticks and small coconuts.  Although I did not see any monkeys or sloth, I did see a beautiful parrot sitting on a window edge.  

The village is surrounded by a lot of trash that the islands have a hard time getting rid of. There is currently a battle going on with the government that asks for help in getting rid of the trash at least twice a month.  The government seems to have ignored these people’s needs.  I’m hoping that changes in the near future.

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