CUNA / KUNA (central region of what is now Panama and neighbouring San Blas Islands)


IndexAmericas → Caribbean, Middle / Central AmericaPanama / República de PanamáCuna



Marshall[1] remarks on the early 1940 Cuna:


“Early emphasis on modesty is extended to sexual training, where children are kept as ignorant of sexual matters as possible until marriage; when parents inform them of the sex act in the last stages of the wedding ceremony. Actually, the children have gained a conversational knowledge from their playmates some years before. Homosexual or other sex play is forbidden, and the crowded conditions of the island villages, at least, prevent much of this being carried on. Watching of the birth or sexual acts of animals is forbidden. The inevitable question of ‘Where did the baby come from?’ is answered by replies that the father met a deer in the forest, who was carrying it, or that a dolphin left it on the beach”.


Even animal reproduction is tabooed. Thus, the “point, that everything concerning sex is to be treated with the utmost secrecy, is very strictly upheld among the Cunas, and it is therefore usual that the girls, and even the young men, when they marry are entirely ignorant in these matters. It is hardly credible that this strict taboo on everything that connects with sex is a matter of protecting the child's innocence, but rather it seems to me to be more likely that it hangs together with the myths about creation […]” (Nordenskiöld, 1938: p370-1)[2]. “In addition to the evasions and circumlocutions used to maintain sexual ignorance among the children, there are also many euphemisms in the myths and chants wherever mention is made of menstruation or birth, and it is considered very improper—indeed, sinful by some—to speak openly of sexual matters, particularly in mixed groups (Stout, 1938:p38)[3]. A girl’s sexual past is “read” during initiation (Marshall, p244), but no consequences are mentioned.












Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Marshall, D. S. ([1999]) Cuna Folk: A Conceptual Scheme Involving the Dynamic Factors of Culture, As Applied to the Cuna Indians of Darien. [New Haven, Conn.: HRAF, 1999]

[2] Nordenskiöld, E. (1938) An Historical and Ethnological Survey of the Cuna Indians. Göteborg, Sweden: GöteborgMuseum

[3] Stout, D. B. (1947) San Blas Cuna Acculturation: An Introduction. New York: [s.n.]