"Children Of The Moon"

He scurried quickly through the maze of thatched and bamboo huts. A young girl follows throwing bits of coral at the disappearing figure. The 6-year-old girl is an albino, and she is not unique among the Kuna, a band of indigenous people who live in Panama and Colombia, with the largest population in the San Blas Islands off the Panamanian coast. Though not persecuted, Guna albinos face another threat: the tropical sun that can cause them eye problems and skin cancers. Albinism is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes due to a genetic mutation. It is a hereditary condition that results from the combination of two parents carrying the gene. Analytical experts say the Kuna have one of the highest rates of albino births on Earth. They also say there is one albino born for every 145 Kuna births, far above the global average of somewhere around one in 20,000 births. It is perhaps a cruel twist of genetic fate that so many albinos dwell under a harsh tropical sun on these coral-ringed islands.


©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

 I had brought with me several pairs of children`s sunglasses to hand out to the Albino children.

Kuna mythology treats albinos as a special race that could rescue people from disaster, especially during lunar eclipses, when they would climb on the rooftops to frighten away a jaguar, or dragon, believed to be devouring the moon. The mythology gave rise to the term “children of the moon” for albinos. 

Albinism©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Skin cancer©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

                         Lack of skin pigmentation makes for more susceptibility to sunburn and skin cancers.

Adolescents©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

Geneticists have determined that a gene on a strand of DNA known as Chromosome 15 caused the type of albinism common among the Kuna, which gives only minimal pigmentation in skin and hair. Rather than pink eyes common in albinos with no pigmentation, the Kuna albinos have blue or brown eyes.

Juice and glasses©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Intelligent©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

                                 Most pairs of sunglasses were discarded quickly after the photos were taken.

At around the age of 5, boys start accompanying their fathers and other male relatives to the fields and on hunting and fishing trips. Girls stay with their female relatives. Adolescent girls help with the care of their younger siblings. Since the 1960s, Kuna boys and girls have been required to attend primary school. Many youths go on to secondary school and high school; a few attend the university.

Active steps©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved  

Infants are raised primarily by their mothers and grandmothers with the help of other female relatives.


Those afflicted with albinism are generally as healthy as the rest of the population, with growth and development occurring as normal, and albinism by itself does not cause mortality, although the lack of pigment-blocking ultraviolet radiation increases the risk of melanomas (skin cancers) and other problems. They also suffer from involuntary lateral eye twitching or nystagmus.


Vanishing Cultures Photography
Thank you for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it.
Priya Balan(non-registered)
This is sad that a section of the world s population go through diseases such as this. I guess to be born healthy in every way is the best we can pray for. I have studied about albino variety people in Genetics and it is correct that the mutant does create cancer when exposed to sun. Some of them can not see properly either. The article is very informative about the albino people living in Panama and the Images provide detailed visual presence needed to show their plight. With so much development happening in the field of science let's hope they will find a cure!!
No comments posted.