The Kuna of Panama, today one of the best known indigenous peoples of Latin America, moved over the course of the twentieth century from orality and isolation towards literacy and an active engagement with the nation and the world. Recognizing the fascination their culture has held for many outsiders, Kuna intellectuals and villagers have collaborated actively with foreign anthropologists to counter anti-Indian prejudice with positive accounts of their people, thus becoming the agents as well as subjects of ethnography. One team of chiefs and secretaries, in particular, independently produced a series of historical and cultural texts, later published in Sweden, that today still constitute the foundation of Kuna ethnography.
As a study of the political uses of literacy, of western representation and indigenous counter-representation, and of the ambivalent inter-cultural dialogue at the heart of ethnography, Chiefs, Scribes, and Ethnographers addresses key issues in contemporary anthropology. It is the story of an extended ethnographic encounter, one involving hundreds of active participants on both sides and continuing today.