Hoisting the Mola Sail Designed by the Indigenous Guna

Nathan Gray, Myrna James | November 9, 2021 | Leave a Comment

This is the sixth blog in a new blog series by Geoversity

In my earlier posts announcing the launch of Geoversity’s Bamboo Ark – first in October of 2020 and again in March of 2021 with news of an indigenous youth leader voyage to COP 26 in Glasgow – not once did I mention COVID 19, which had become top-of-the-fold news. In my Voyages of the Bamboo Ark post, I wrote blithely: “If we meet our objectives, this ‘pocket version’ of the Bamboo Ark will sail from Dublin, Ireland to the mouth of the great Clyde River and up to Glasgow in time for the opening of this decade’s first UN global conference on the fate of planet Earth.”

After reading my second post, a skeptical friend of mine wrote, “If Miguel de Cervantes had been born about a half of millennium later, Don Quijote would have been a sailor modeled after you! Bon voyage, Captain Quijote!”

Of course, plans change. Allow me to fast forward through all of the planning pivots that have occurred since last spring to share a special moment for all of us involved in the Geo 2030 initiative. On Monday morning, September 13th, the great sail of the Bamboo Ark v1 was indeed hoisted for the whole world to see. Just as originally planned, the event took place at the site of the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo at the Pacific entrance to Panama’s storied interoceanic canal. Instead of rising over an actual floating vessel as originally envisioned, it was raised over the floor of the Biomuseo’s grand atrium by a hundred hands, and then, led by three Indigenous Guna pan flute players, carried out onto the street for the start of the Bamboo Ark’s symbolic voyage to COP 26 taking place in Glasgow. It is an extraordinary work of Indigenous Guna cultural and artistic expression – a traditional “mola” (colorful handsewn cloth appliqué unique to the Guna people), covering 40 square meters.

The finished Mola Sail with the 17 of the 37 Guna mola artisans

Leading the debut of the Bamboo Ark and Mola Sail at COP 26 are two young Guna leaders, Iniquilipi Chiari, a co-founder of the Guna Youth Congress and of Geoversity’s School of Biocultural Leadership (GeoSchool), and Agar Inklenia Tejada, a student of architecture and design associate with Geoversity Design. They conceived the Mola Sail as a way of both introducing the call-to-action message of the Bamboo Ark and affirming the indigenous perspective of our essential oneness with nature. To ensure genuine Guna ownership of the design, they consulted their elders, particularly the chiefs of the Guna General Cultural Congress and the Congress of the Guna Nation. Agar then involved the most accomplished designers of molas and, with the help of her aunt and grandmother, assembled a team of 37 women artisans to create the largest mola ever created in the history of the Guna people. 

Agar Iklenia Tejada working on the Mola Sail
Guna elders piecing together the Mola Sail elements
One of the 37 Guna mola artisans sewing her section of the Mola Sail

Agar and her team of mola artisans are from Gunayala, one of the three autonomous territories in Panama of the Guna people, with densely-populated island communities imperiled by a rising sea. “For me,” explains Agar, “the Mola Sail represents the origin of my people’s identity as a Guna nation. It symbolizes our deep caring of our Mother the Earth with its honoring of the sky, sun, sea, earth, and of all living beings. It’s the sail that unites us and moves us forward to fight for the forests, rivers, and oceans of our Mother.”

The original artwork and design by Agar Iklenia Tejada

Here is a short video of the Bamboo Ark Mola Sail launch event at the Biomuseo that wonderfully conveys both the spirit of this remarkable undertaking and its inspirational potential.  

I’m writing this post en route to Glasgow where our COP 26 production team is gathering under the direction of Laurie Meadoff, the founder of CityKids Foundation and a co-founder of the GeoSchool

The debut of the Bamboo Ark at COP 26 is being presented by the Global Climate Uprising Festival, which is also producing Vital Signs for the Planet, A Concert for the Planet with footage provided by NASA and National Geographic. Taking place in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on November 2, the concert will feature a message from Iniquilipi and Agar together with photos of the Bamboo Ark Mola Sail. 


The Bamboo Ark Mola Sail has been included in the selection of images from around the world to share with millions of people in Glasgow on the famous Armadillo during COP26, when world leaders and heads of state are gathered to address climate change.


We’re also working with MINGA Indígena, a powerful alliance of indigenous peoples from around the Americas that has welcomed the opportunity to hoist the Mola Sail and join us on the voyages of the Bamboo Ark.

"Our Geo 2030 action agenda is grounded in the hard work of preparing our ocean, riverside, and forest communities for the wrenching changes we have to make in the face of a rising sea, flooding rivers, landslides, incursions by loggers and ranchers, and parched forests on fire. We must continue growing stronger in our resolve, smarter in our organization, and united in our action with our brothers and sisters of lands close by and far away."

-Iniquilipi Chiari, Co-Founder and First President, Guna Youth Congress, Director of Indigenous Affairs, Ministry of the Environment, Panama, and co-founder, Geoversity School of Biocultural Leadership.
Iniquilipi Chiari and his daughter Anna

Also joining us in Glasgow will be Marianne Mensah, the head of Climate Innovation and Sustainability for the Sustainable Design School of France (SDS), Geoversity’s Bamboo Ark design partner. Together with Geoversity COO Claus Kjaerby and myself, she will be presenting our plans for building a prototype version of the Bamboo Ark early next year in Panama. We have presentations taking place in both the official COP 26 “Blue Zone” and at various venues open to the public that we’re sharing with MINGA Indígena.

If you’re interested in knowing how all of this turns out, check out our Bamboo Ark current events site on the Geoversity website.

We’ll be updating this page regularly as we head toward the building of our first Bamboo Ark early next year.

We gratefully acknowledge the support we are receiving from the unusually enlightened Panama Tourism Authority, the subject of an earlier post

We look forward to having you join us on the unpredictable and exciting voyages of the Bamboo Ark!  

Nathan Gray has over 40 years of experience in the fields of international development and education. He is one of the staff founders of Oxfam America supporting emerging community development leadership in low-income countries and has been a pioneer in socially positive investment. Nathan started the youth leadership organization Earth Train Foundation in 1991. In 2001, he led the establishment of its international base in Panama where he co-founded the Mamoní Valley Preserve with Colin Wiel & family, and founded Fundación Earth Train, now Fundación Geoversity. Together with Verne Harnish, he directed the launch of the Geoversity ecosystem with its annual The Nature of Business executive events, as well as Geoversity’s “Designing with Nature” and Geoversity’s School for Biocultural Leadership initiatives. He was a contributing author of  Disaster and Development (Fred Cuny) published in 1989 by Oxford University Press and a contributing author of Change Not Charity – Essays on Oxfam America’s First 40 Years, published in 2010. Nathan Gray is the Co-Founder and President of the Geoversity Foundation.

Educational background: BA in International Relations from San Francisco State University as well as special studies in literature at the Universidad de Guanajuato, Mexico; Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain; and Université de Toulouse, France.

Myrna James has published 9 books and 80+ issues of Apogeo Spatial, a publication about using data from space to study the earth for the benefit of humanity. Immersed in the geospatial world, she has come to value the importance of place, biodiversity, conservation, and how we as healthy humans need to connect to the living earth. She traveled the world solo for 18 months and believes that expanding one’s worldview will increase one’s consciousness, whether from traveling, seeing the earth from space (“The Overview Effect”), or other means. This view shows the exquisite beauty and sacredness of the planet without national boundaries, as it is in nature.

The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to joan@mahbonline.org

The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.