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February 11, 2009

Kuna Indians of Panama Subject of Symposium at the Library of Congress on Feb. 27

Known worldwide for their popular textiles, the colorful "molas" or clothing, the Kuna Indians live mainly in the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama. Less well known is the rich history and oral tradition of this important Caribbean civilization.

The Library of Congress Hispanic Division, in cooperation with the Embassy of Sweden and the University of Maryland, convenes a symposium, "The Kuna and Anthropology: A Century of Engagement," on Friday, February 27, from noon to 2 p.m. in the Mary Pickford Theater, third floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington. D.C. The event is free and open to the public.

In 1931 Kuna Indian Rubén Pérez Kantule traveled to the Ethnographic Museum in Goteborg, Sweden, where he spent six months interpreting the Kuna collections and collaborating with anthropologist Erland Nordenskiold, who was a pioneer fieldworker in the modern tradition of social anthropology.

The fascinating Spanish-language diary kept by Kantule during his research is a sort of reverse ethnography, an Indian writing about the scientists in Sweden in their "museum village." Currently, the manuscript is being prepared for translation into English, as well as publication and digitization by a team of American and Swedish scholars.

Keynote speaker at the symposium is Kuna scholar James Howe, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who will discuss Kuna anthropology. Magnus Dahlbring, formerly with the World Cultures Museum in Goteborg, Sweden, will offer commentary. Tito Pérez Quintero, son of the late Kantule, participates in a panel discussion with Howe, Dahlbring, Janet Charnela of the University of Maryland and Edgardo Krebs of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may also be accessed through the Library’s Web site at www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on a new, personalized Web site at myLOC.gov.

The Hispanic Division, established in 1939, is the Library’s center for the study of the cultures and societies of Latin America, the Caribbean, the Iberian Peninsula and other areas where Spanish and Portuguese influences have been significant. The collections comprise more than 12 million items about the Luso-Hispanic world, including several hundred scholarly books and articles relating to the Kuna Indians. For more information about the Hispanic division visit www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/.

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PR 09-026
02/11/09
ISSN 0731-3527

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