The Wounaan of Puerto Lara

I am thrilled to have been able to shoot a collection of photographs, which is a personal and intimate portrayal of the Wounaan people of Puerto Lara, Panama. In November 2022, I was graciously invited to immerse myself in this Wounaan community to document their daily life, connection with nature, and the traditions they uphold. 

This project is another step on my artistic journey under the umbrella of ‘What’s Human’. Through these portraits and documentary photos of the Wounaan community of Puerto Lara, I wish to showcase the diversity and uniqueness of humanity, and how it manifests across varied cultures and ways of living.

Puerto Lara is a close-knit community with approximately 400 residents, two-thirds of whom are youth and children. The village consists of around 80-100 houses, a large school, a town hall, and a beautiful guest house that welcomes visitors who want to experience life in this remarkable community.

The Wounaan are part of the Embera-Wounaan, a semi-nomadic indigenous group living along the shores of the rivers in Panama’s Darién Province. They live in simple houses often raised off the ground, built on posts with thatched roofs made from palm fronds. The community is matrilineal, and they have their own form of government, living by their unwritten rules and traditions. They are deeply connected to their land, which they farm in accordance to natural cycles, ofter communally. The community has a strong sense of unity and support for each other​.

From the moment I set foot in Puerto Lara, a remote sanctuary, nestled amidst the lush jungles of Panama, but still connected by roads, I was overwhelmed by the openness and vibrancy of life that I witnessed in every corner and every face. Here, far from the next larger city surrounded by the sounds of nature, everything else soon faded: fears of the unknown, goal-seeking thinking, and even the reasons why I initially came. Within days, I was embraced as part of the community. The children taught me Spanish, I helped with the coffee harvest, and every day received some meals prepared by someone new.

As I spent time in Puerto Lara, I observed how the community knows and nurtures nature while making a living from it, how it respects and supports women, the sick and elderly, and strives to foster a promising future for its youth. The joy and tenderness that permeated every aspect of life were so palpable that I couldn’t help but follow my instinct to capture not just the informational pictures I was asked to, but to dive deep with my camera, attempting to capture a bit of the soul of the Wounaan. I was also profoundly moved by the community’s efforts to harmonise tradition with modern life and whilst most activities dimmed down at the dawn of the sun, young people started gathering at the one spot on town with the best mobile reception.

You will see images that speak to the essence of Wounaan’s way of life as it changes, a testament to the importance of supporting indigenous communities and traditions. The photographs are a tribute to the People of Puerto Lara and the joy, tenderness, and resilience that characterise their daily lives. They are a strong vector in forming an answer to „What’s Human?“

Call for collaboration and exhibitions

As an artist, my inspiration is deeply rooted in understanding and portraying the diversity of human experiences. With this collection, I endeavour to create a bridge of understanding and appreciation between cultures as a means to contemplate the question of „What’s Human?“. I have been mindful of the responsibility and sensitivity that comes with documenting indigenous communities, and have strived to portray the Wounaan people of Puerto Lara with respect and dignity.

This exhibition aims to not only captivate the audience with the beauty of the Wounaan’s way of life but also to foster dialogue on the importance of respecting an individuals identity and cultural preservation. I welcome the exhibition to be accompanied by educational panels, discussions, and workshops, and I am open to collaborations to adapt the exhibition for different spaces and contexts.

A portion of any proceeds from any exhibition will be donated to support the Wounaan community in their endeavours to maintain their rich cultural heritage and support local projects.

I am profoundly grateful to the Wounaan community for allowing me a glimpse into their world. Their generosity, warmth, and wisdom have left an indelible mark on my heart.

All photography (c) Marcel A. Mayr. All rights reserved. For exhibitions or publications, please contact /