I am not sure how many people who drink Panamanian coffee know about the struggles of our coffee pickers vs government and business interests in Panama. It is very sad.
They said they have no books in the Ngobe language except the Bible, which has been translated. They said they have no stories any more, their great grandparents used to tell them but they do not tell their children.
They do not know their history, they are not taught Ngobe history in the schools on the reservations (the Comarca). They seemed indifferent to the burial sites, the petroglyphs and the pottery artifacts, they have no special meaning or pride for them. At least not for the group I was speaking with.
So, what about those red bandanas. The red hats on the babies. The red baseball caps? I saw three of you wearing those a few weeks ago macheting long grass around the coffee on my farm. I took some photographs. The young Ngobe men wielding their machetes and sharpening the blades. At the time, it had made me curious.
"Oh they are to remember our dead: The Spaniards, they killed almost all of us. Very few survived and we are descended from the small number of survivors. We remember them."
"Actually, there is one story, the story of Urraca. He was a Ngobe chief who led us to battle against the Spaniards 500 years ago".
So what do you think of Gringos? I asked with some trepidation.
"We like you, you are kind. You don't mind that our children are dirty, you hold and love our children and think they are pretty"
"So, what do you want from your life? When you leave this world, what would you like to leave behind" I asked the Ngoble mother of seven children.
"I am a Christian; To lead a Christian life. That is what I want from my life, that is the most important thing for me."
Humbled. This lady is nomadic, she travels to pick coffee with her family with not even a cooking pot. Her focus once the work is done is to lead a good life. No more.
I too am a Christian woman; I try to lead a Christian life. I travel with 200 pounds of luggage and porters and have so many cooking pots, it is hard to find the one I really need. My mind is busy with all this stuff every waking moment.
Today, I was blessed with a greater understanding of this world and the next.
There is a whole body language and different way of communicating among our coffee pickers.
They use their mouths where we use hands and where we use mouths they use hands. Let me explain:
A Ngobe signals with their mouth. They make a big pouting expression as if to blow you a kiss then make a head gesture. The first time you see the pout, a Westerner would assume they are being indecently propositioned, but it is not so.
A big pout followed by a right movement of the head means - over there to the right. A big pout followed by a shake of the head means, No more. And these gestures are many and not intuitive.
There is no shouting that I have ever heard. There is a very loud sound, a yodeling call. Something between a fog horn and a bird call that is used to alert 'the tribe'. On the coffee farm, it usually means 'the chief' (me) is coming'.
If there is a disagreement, a serious conflict, it is not argued, it is fought with bare hands. They use knives and it is ugly and violent. It is a Ngobe thing, the rest of us are never involved.
So, when we use hands they use their mouth and vica versa.......this world is a wonderful and strange thing.