Image by Poncie Rutsch
After a long day of working on waste management solutions, we all needed a way to run around and let our minds relax. Luckily for us, the Kuna did too, and we found a place to do it together on a basketball court located at the far end of the island.
The basketball court was the only area on Tupile big enough for running around. While all the houses were packed together with barely enough space to walk, the basketball court was a special place reserved for the whole community to exercise, have fun, and share common interests.
The court was where many kids would spend their entire day, running around playing soccer, basketball, or any of the other favorite games, such as “lobo” (wolf).
We would walk over to the court at around 5 pm and find a few guys sitting around. Once we started shooting, they would come over and start playing with us. On the first day we were surprised to hear a Kuna ask, “twenty-one?” Not only was it the first English word we had heard from them, but it is a common household game in the United States – we were amazed to find that this specific part of our culture was shared with a community so removed from our own.
Image by Poncie Rutsch
Sometimes we would have to wait for a soccer game to end before we could use the court. But every time we went out there, a group would start saying they should finish their soccer game so we could spend the rest of the evening playing basketball. One day, we heard calls for “five-five, five-five!” A couple of Kunas came onto the court, organized the teams, and even got one extra to be a referee. We had a tip-off, played on the full court, and even had spectators. The game went back and forth until it was too dark to see the ball and we reluctantly agreed to wait until the next day to play again.
Playing basketball with the Kuna was our way of getting to know the people and their culture and attitudes. You can learn a lot about a person by how they play basketball. It’s a sport that requires intelligence, hard work, and cooperation with others. The way someone plays can tell you a lot about who they are off the court and playing the game was a great way to find out who the Kuna are, what they care about, and how they interact with others.
Beyond using basketball as a way to learn, it was a ton of fun and is how we made our best friends on the island. Every day we would have a couple of buddies from the island come up to us and make sure we were going to bring the basketball out after work. The kids learned our names because we were playing with them every day on the court. When walking through the streets, we would get head nods from the guys we played with the night before. Once in a while, we’d even get a couple of high-fives. And every day we went out there, plenty of friends of all ages would be there to play with us.
We left our basketball behind with “Rebel” and a couple of his friends. He was one of the kids that was allowed to play ball with the adults. He seemed to be always running around with us. We know he’s continuing the fun without us on the court, spreading the joy of playing basketball to even more of the Kuna Yala people.
Post by Jonathan Rea