San Blas Kuna: If You Only Learn One Word

Every visit we make to a new culture, we try to learn some of the language.  It’s only polite to greet the people in their native language with a smile if at all possible.  Kuna was a bit of a challenge.  Older and more traditional Kuna speak only Kuna.  Younger and less traditional Kuna may speak broken Spanish and maybe even a bit of English, but Kuna is the native language and it’s the culture they share.

Rayene, sv Kristiana, getting a Kuna pronunciation lesson - we had index cards with a few words of the language to use to interact with the Kuna in the San Blas Islands.

Rayene, sv Kristiana, getting a Kuna pronunciation lesson – we had index cards with a few words of the language to use to interact with the Kuna in the San Blas Islands.

When we were there, we took an index card, made note of some words, pronunciations and phrases in Kuna – some from other cruisers, some from Eric Bauhaus’ “The Panama Cruising Guide” – a must have for cruising Panama.  (We had all the Panama cruising guides and used ONLY the Eric Bauhaus Guide.)

We’d take the index card with us whenever we visited an island and tried our best to speak a few words of Kuna.  They loved it – they would grab our index card and point to a word or phrase and try to teach us the correct pronunciation and inflection.  It was a game and it was fun.

Our friend, Doug, demonstrating how to blow bubbles - none of the kids had seen them before

Our friend, Doug, demonstrating how to blow bubbles – none of the kids had seen bubbles – we took leftover wedding bubbles as give-aways – NO candy, they get enough sweets.

But if you only learn ONE word of Kuna, make it:

Nuwedi — it seems to mean all kinds of things, but the official definition is Good Morning and Thank You — yes, same word for both.  And people seem to use it for Hello and Goodbye as well.  Go figure.

Pronounce as New-WAAA-Dee

They’ll correct you as they smile and chuckle if you pronounce it incorrectly, but you will get a smile and earn some goodwill.

Anyone with other “key” Kuna words or phrases?  Please leave a comment and share!  Cheers!  Jan

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