After their migration from North America, Kuna ancestors once lived in Colombia although they are predominantly found in Panama today. Since they are interspersed across this South American region, they primarily use music to communicate among themselves despite the distance. Cultural leaders called Ibeorgun to help the Kuna to communicate with their ancestors through song and dance. These cultural events indicate that the Kuna believe that musical traditions also exist in another realm where their gods and ancestors live.
The Kuna vocal music genre, Igar/ Igarra refers to their way of communicating with their world of spirits. In this sense, they believe that animate and inanimate objects are interconnected. The Igar follows a specific spiritual journey that involves cultural leaders, ancestors, spirits and notably non-living things. Similarly, they use formalized patterns of musical interactions like chants to enhance communication during such cultural events.
Cultural leaders who double as chanters feature in traditional Kuna ceremonies like funerals, initiation healing, and exorcism. They learn and teach the Kuna musical traditions which support musical expression during these cultural events. The chants are a dialogue between them and their ancestors in an archaic tongue. Additionally, Kuna dance during puberty-related festivals called gammu burui. During day to day activities, they use improvised singing to communicate among themselves. For instance, female relatives sing lullabies to their children based on a child’s circumstances to show affection or affirmation.
Lastly, Kuna use instruments like shell trumpets, flutes, and panpipes to produce cacophonies which drive away harmful spirits. Furthermore, they believe that dede flutes made from an armadillo skull have armadillo spirits which clear pathways in to spiritual dimensions for communication. These collective cultural events across Panama and Colombia play a critical role in maintaining the Kuna’s identity today.