Deep in the Panamanian rain forest, on the shores of the Chagres River, an Embera Indian Village welcomes visitors interested in learning about their centuries-old traditions. We had traveled in a hand-carved canoe, and scaled makeshift bridges to reach the village. Before I entered into the village's circle of thatched roof huts and glimpsed the laughing children and heard the flute trills of their instruments, I knew that I wanted to connect with the Embera.
After a demonstration of cooking, plant medicine and weaving techniques, I requested a traditional tattoo. A village's elder was enlisted to do the honor for me. The Embera paint their bodies with the juice of the jagua plant. The black etchings are semi-permanent tattoos that last up to 3 weeks. The elder wiped the sunscreen off my arm and pressed sharply into my skin with the tip of a bamboo stick. He slowly created my design, scrawling the lines carefully.