Exploring one of Panama’s Dry Season Traditions: The “Junta de Embarra”

c. Ruth Metzel, a newly constructed “quincha” house in La Palmira, Los Santos

One of the Azuero’s unique traditions are its houses made out of “quincha,”  a mix of water, straw and dirt, that when accompanied by the region’s traditional clay tiled roof, creates a spectacular housing design that is often cool even in the intense Azuero heat.

Yet, what people often don’t see when they admire these traditional structures is the incredible process of building a “quincha” house! During the dry season, traditionally someone can become sponsor, or “padrino,” of a mudding bee, “junta de embarra,” an event where neighbors work communally to build a house by hand, arriving before sunrise and working, eating and drinking throughout the festive day.

This April, I had the chance to see this tradition in action at two “juntas de embarra” in Los Santos province. One junta, sponsored by Columbus University and the Latin American Social Workshop in Chitre, provided architecture students from around Latin America with a chance to experience rural Panama’s traditional architecture firsthand.

Before the junta, the sponsors organize the building of the house structure out of wood and cane stalks.

On the day of the event, community members work together to create the blend of water, straw and dirt needed to cover the frame of the house.

The community works together to produce a house like the one above by transporting the mix to the frame and putting it on the frame using a characteristic slap and then a reorganization of the mix to fit the structure.

The day is a very festive one, with much “seco,” a traditional regional beverage, food at midday, and a frequent “saloma,” or Santeño yelp, encouraging participants to keep up the good work!

For more information about traditional architecture, please contact Arq. Olier I. Ávila Iturralde, author of “Indicadores y Vivienda Vernacular” and professor of architecture at Columbus University in Chitré at oavila44@yahoo.es.

c. Ruth Metzel, Student hard at work at the “junta de embarra” in Chitre

Written by Ruth Metzel, Director of Programs, AEP