The San Blas
Archipelago or San Blas de Cuna
Islands is a chain of tropical isles in the Caribbean Sea a few miles off the north coast of
Panama. Approximately 50 of over 365 of these islands that make
up the chain are inhabited. Half of the islands are within sight and easy
traveling distance of the mountains and jungle of the mainland. There is no
fresh water supply on the San Blas islands leaving the Indians with the
daily task of traveling up the rivers of Panama to collect water. The San
Blas Reservation was declared an independent state in 1925 and was legally
formed in 1938.
The San Blas de Cuna Islands are the home of the Cuna, a traditional
society of Native Americans. Most of these tropical islands are very small.
Many are surrounded by coral reefs. The islands are part of Panama, but are
primarily administered by the Cuna tribe.
Molas are one of the primary expressions of the visual arts in Cuna society.
All genuine molas were created by a Cuna woman as the focal point for her
own dress. The designs are always original and are an important way for a
woman to express herself and demonstrate her talent and industry in this
politically active and traditionally matriarchal society.
The History of the San Blas
Island tokens is that "SIABIBI" company is owned by John Mann, an island
impresario, who started tourist traffic there years ago. After having been a
diver with the Pan Canal Co., he started trading on the islands, and
naturally buys copra (dried coconut). It requires to purchase the whole
coconut to obtain the copra and since the price of coconuts are shifted from
day to day basis from 5 cents to 9 cents each. It was a tough job figuring
out a way to make a correct accounting at the end of the day. He had to find
a way to avoid carrying bags of change, or hundreds of Dollar bills. So he
thought and got the idea of tokens. It become easy, as by at the end of the
day the Indians are allowed to cash in the day's receipt of coconut sales
from the number of token they have acquired. Each token being worth 5 times
the current price of a coconut, which is payable in Dollar bills with
The Design of the token is also
very interesting. You will notice that the initial CQP besides the Coconut
palm tree. These are the initials of "Charles Q. Peters", who has been a
guide and friend of the Indians for many years. He is the one who gave an
aura of assurance to the Indians that these tokens are legitimate on the
bole of the palm trees of a orchid called "Brassabola Nodosa", translated as
"lady of the night". The Palm tree on the coin is seen up from the ground
and put in potion with albatross flying in the background indicates in
Indian language "Tomorrow". So a little legend comes from the scene, which
translated means "Be patient for tomorrow, you will get paid". The Indians
always flow designs together and for this reason the tree, sky, water,
canoe, land, etc show some message.