Morrison Mast | Armila


            The Guna have been doing conservation the right way for hundreds of years

Reclining in his hammock and fiddling with his handmade flute, Santiago Campillo, the leader of Armila's folk music group Gammibe Gun Galu, explains: “The songs we play are the songs God taught to each animal so that they could greet him with music when he visited mother earth.”  This rhythmic, soothing music he references, reminiscent of singing birds and lumbering tapirs (a cuddly-looking relative of the rhino), embodies the spirit of the Guna culture.  It is only appropriate that their music be the music of other animals: Guna tradition upholds the value of other species and lays the foundation for a harmonious relationship between man and nature.Edinson

Luckily for the rest of the world, the Guna Indians are the stewards of one of the world's disappearing treasures: leatherback sea turtles.  Thousands of these enormous creatures nest in the 4km of beach of the Guna village of Armila, Panama, making it one of the world’s most important nesting sites for this critically endangered species.  As over-exploitation causes the leatherback to disappear from the Pacific ocean, this incredible extraordinary concentration is made possible by the Guna's culture, which prohibits the consumption of sea turtles or their eggs.  Instead, Armila’s residents allow their ancient kin (as tradition still calls them) to nest in peace.

But times are changing.

Both turtles and the music face an uncertain future.  Population growth and diminishing availability of fish have brought the human-turtle relationship to a critical head.  Western influences are wearing away at the Guna culture, and long-held taboos that prohibit the exploitation of turtles are going with it.  New financial pressures on families means that certain elements of their culture, such as the town's unique musical tradition, are being left behind.  If their needs are not addressed, both the music and the turtles may succumb to the same fate of their counterparts elsewhere: gradually (or rapidly) fading away.

In 2012, a campaign emerged from the combined effort of Armila’s Sea Turtle Commission and the local music group, Gammibe Gun Galu, along with the support of the local, state, and federal government, to simultaneously safeguard their culture and their precious population of sea turtles. 


         Links and Media Coverage

  • Gammibe Gun Galu's Bandcamp Site - Listen to a professional recording of this ancient traditional music.  All profits from the sale of the album directly support the group's activities and sea turtle conservation in Armila.
  • State of the World's Sea Turtles - An article co-authored by Amanda Gibson and Morrison Mast describing the power of crowd-funding to support conservation initiatives.
  • World Indigenous Network - This campaign and Armila's grassroots efforts were featured on the World Indigenous Network's site.
  • Soundroots World Music - The campaign and Armila's Work featured on the SoundRoots World Music and Global Culture blog.
  • Fundación Yauk Galu - Armila's grassroots NGO which will be responsible for the management and implementation of campaign funds.  

            What We're Doing

In the beginning of 2013, a community of over 50 concerned conservationists from all over the world came together to fund a multifaceted, grassroots conservation project in the town of Armila.  The crowd-funding campaign, spearheaded by Morrison Mast and Amanda Gibson, raised over $5,000 to jumpstart the following initiatives.

 Sea turtle monitoring and conservation program in Armila.

Science forms the necessary base for any successful conservation program.  Local young people and commission members are poised to do the work.  The equipment and training provided through this campaign is allowing them to collect data so that the national government and the global community will recognize the importance of their beach. 

 Community-run aquaculture project in Armila.

Fish, Armila's primary source of protein, are becoming scarce due to climate change and population growth.  Residents have already begun to eat species that they have never resorted to before.  To keep the pressure off the turtles and ensure a stable source of protein through the coming years, the community is following the lead of other Panamanian communities by cultivating tilapia.  The government matched the money we raised for this project by a factor of 6:1, and is providing engineers, consultants, training, feed, and baby fish stock for the first year of production.

Support of Gammibe Gun Galu, the town's traditional folkloric band

Through sale of their first professional recording, Gammibe Gun Galu, the nation's most respected Guna music group, will be able to raise sufficient funds to meet their regular needs and the needs of Armila's conservation efforts.  They need this initial capital to turn their high-quality recording into a high-quality product that taps into markets that digital downloads can’t reach.  With these fund we were able to print and ship the first 250 copies of "Gammibe Gun Galu," which will be sold in tourist stores, at shows, and around the world (online), with 100% of profits benefiting the group.  Since most Guna youth have skipped CD's  and gone straight to handheld USB-audio players, we also used a portion of the funds to purchase USB drives, loaded with Gammibe Gun Galu's music, to be distributed throughout the nation.  We hope that this access to traditional music in a modern device will positively impact the preservation of the Guna's traditional music throughout the nation.

The funds generated from this campaign are currently being used to implement the above initiatives, and are being managed by the Sea Turtle Commission of Armila, the family-run musical group Gammibe Gun Galu, and the environmental agency ARAP.  Besides the cost of the materials used to prepare your thank you gifts (framing, printing, and shipping photos), 100% of these funds go directly to the community.   To make a donation, please use the PayPal donation portal at bottom of this page.  


All donations will receive a personalized thank you card.

$15 will get you a digital download of Gammibe Gun Galu's Album

$25 will get you Hard Copy of Gammibe Gun Galu's Album.  Listen to the tracks at*

$150 will get you an original 8.5x11" print of your choice from  You can view an album of photos from Armila at*

For a $2000 donation you will receive all of the above plus a week-long stay, meals inculded, at Cabañas Ibedi al Natural, Armila's premier ecotourism destination.**


*Additional charges may apply for international shipping.

**Airfare and expenses outside of Armila not included.  Depends on seasonality, please contact us directly at either of the below addresses to claim this perk

If you have any questions about how your donations will be used or managed, please contact us at morrison.mast[@] or achaigibson[@]