Enrique Castro Ríos

Panquiaco (Panama-Portugal 2020, by Ana Elena Tejera) explores the impossibility of returning to the origin, following the nostalgia of Cebaldo Inawinapi, who longs to go back to his native Gunayala after years of self-exile in a fishing village in northern Portugal, and suggesting parallels to the mythical Panquiaco, an Indigenous man who, after leading Spanish conquistador Balboa to the South Sea and realizing he has opened the entire Abya Yala to Spanish plunder, surrenders himself to the sadness of the ocean he has betrayed.

Where lies the border between fact and memory, nostalgia and presence, the Mar Océano and the South Sea? Where, between fiction and documentary? These are just two of the countless questions that arise when you surrender yourself to that ravishing cinematic poem which is Panquiaco.

Of profound visual, aural and oral beauty, and with a discourse and formal elements that emulate and intertwine with the Guna cosmic vision of its main protagonists —Cebaldo Inawinapi de León Smith, the sagla[1] Fernando Fernández and the Indigenous Guna community of Usdup interpreting themselves—, Panquiaco threads a delicate narrative Möbius loop that brings us back both to the origin and to the impossibility of returning, to confront us with the watery reflections between pertinence and intrusion, between memory and oblivion. So delicate is this Möbius that to recover the memory of a childhood he nevertheless longs for, Cebaldo must approach his birth in reverse: through death.

Like someone who sews a mor or mola —exquisite traditional Guna reverse appliqué artwork— and stitches together snippets of documentary and fiction, of digital cinema and 16mm celluloid, of on-screen graphics and filmed paintings a-flaking, of a poem by Fernando Pessoa and ancestral Guna songs, Ana Elena Tejera and her small possee of accomplices produce a work of art that is intensely intimate and, even more so, hybrid in the purest sense of the word. For hybrĭda, the Latin origin of this word, denotes the fruit of opposites: the offspring of a wild, free animal with a tame, domesticated one; and in the case of Panquiaco, dare I say, of an Indigenous world with a European, Iberian, Luso-Spanish one. A mestizo or mixtured world, which has often lost the link between its memory and its past, as is the case of Cebaldo on screen. Cebaldo, who like all human beings holds within himself both mournful Panquiaco and gold-thirsty Balboa.


Unencumbered, Ana Elena clearly understands that what is crucial is to convey her story, not to fit genres.[2] Therefore, when asked if Panquiaco is fiction or documentary, she will answer: it is cinema. Panquiaco is dream and lucidity, it is childhood and old age, it’s Dulegaya language and idioma português, it is Indigenous and Ladino. But above all, it is water: water from the Mar Océano, water from healing ablutions, water from off-screen rivers and on-screen clouds, water-mist and water-snow from Cebaldo’s past lives. Water that is hybrid like cinema itself, which mixes a thousand recent and ancient arts and is therefore, by essence and by nature, hybrid. Films like Panquiaco free us from the calcified chains of cinematic genre and transport us to the realm of memory and oblivion.


Enrique Castro Ríos
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Panquiaco represents our isthmus-border between the seas in the select Bright Future Competition of the current Rotterdam International Film Festival 2020 in the Netherlands. Panquiaco was completed thanks to IFF Panama 2019 and its Primera Mirada work in progress award. Primera Mirada is possible thanks to the contribution of the Inter-American Development Bank, IDB.

We will soon publish an interview with Ana Elena Tejera, Cebaldo Inawinapi and María Isabel Burnes, director, interpreter and producer, respectively, of Panquiaco.


[1]  In the words of Cebaldo, a sagla (the “g” is pronounced like a short “i”) is the Senior Poet and leader of a Guna community. In his case, Fernando Fernández is the sagla of Ogobsucun, Usdup’s neighbour community in central Gunayala.
[2]  Genre in cinema refers to whether a film is documentary or fiction; categories like animation and, to a lesser extent, hybrid, are sometimes included.