HAMPDEN (AP) – Members of the Chocoe Indian tribe from Panama paddled their dugout boats to the middle of a river to meet a delegation of Penobscot Indians, who paddled their traditional birch bark canoes down river to welcome the visitors to Maine.

The Chocoes, who had arrived in a larger vessel, the Pajaro Jai, were meeting with indigenous people outside their country to draw attention to conservation and their efforts to create a self-sustaining future for themselves.

After Thursday’s meeting in the Penobscot River, the Chocoes gathered on board the 92-foot handcrafted sailboat with the delegation of Penobscots and a member of Maine’s Passamaquoddy tribe. The tribes held a purification ceremony and exchanged gifts.

The sound of traditional drums being played could be heard across the water.

“We never thought we’d find other indigenous people like ourselves so far from home,” said 23-year-old Chocoe Nilsa Caisamo in a translation by Jim Brunton of Westport, Conn., founder of the Pajaro Jai Foundation.

Meeting later Thursday at the Penobscots’ Indian Island reservation, the two tribes discussed their environmental concerns, including water quality, and development of tribal businesses.

Brunton, owner of a software company, financed the $1.4 million Pajaro Jai, which means enchanted bird. The 82-ton ketch’s crew includes native Chocoe Indians from the village of Mogue in the Darien rain forest of Panama.

Under Brunton’s guidance, the Chocoes built the vessel from rain-forest lumber as part of a 15-year project. Images of snakes, birds and other animals from Panama were carved into the boat’s burnished wood interior.

The boat sailed from Colombia on June 4 with stops scheduled in Washington, New York, Mystic., Conn., and Maine.


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