Children of the Moon: Albino Kuna Indians under Threat


Reuters’ “The Wider Image” reports that large number of albino Kuna (or Guna) Indians—“the alabaster-skinned people born on this sun-scorched constellation of islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama [who] have been venerated as the Children of the Moon or the Grandchildren of the Sun”—are under threat due to the tropical sun, “their mythic, celestial ancestor.”

Experts say there are hundreds of albinos among the 80,000 indigenous Guna, or Kuna, who live in Panama, nearly half on the mainland of the Guna Yala region and three dozen of its 365 palm-speckled islands. There has been no census but Pascale Jeambrun, founder of the local S.O.S Albino organisation, says one in every 150 Guna children born is albino.

At a global level, the rate is believed to be around 1 in 17,000.

In some countries like Tanzania, albinos can be persecuted and killed as a symbol of bad luck, or witchcraft. But the Guna treat their albino children with love and respect.

“As the ancestors say, it’s a blessing,” said Yira Boyd, mother of 6-year-old Guna albino girl Delyane Avila, pictured here drawing in her notebook, who lives on the island of Ailigandi. “If you look after them you can arrive at that special place in the heavens.”

Though not persecuted, Guna albinos face another threat: the tropical sun that can cause them eye problems and skin cancers.

More than half the region’s albinos suffer some form of skin cancer, said Jose Jons, a doctor on the island of Ustupu, compared with an incidence of less than 1 percent in the global population, according to World Health Organisation figures.

As modern medical knowledge about the illness has begun to penetrate the region’s atolls, reported cases of skin cancers have risen, said Rosa Espana, head of dermatology at the National Oncology Institute in Panama City.

She now sees about three Guna albinos a week in her clinic, about three times the number that came three years ago.

Doctors consulted by Reuters said the number of older albinos dying from skin cancer has been rising, but Panama’s health ministry does not keep a tally. [. . .]

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