We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham Research Online
You are in:

The birth of design : a Kuna theory of body and personhood.

Fortis, P. (2010) 'The birth of design : a Kuna theory of body and personhood.', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute., 16 (3). pp. 480-495.


This article explores the concept of ‘design’ (narmakkalet) held by the Kuna people of Panamá. It demonstrates that the native concept of design and its relation to the human body is central to Kuna ideas concerning personhood. The main argument is that design is an attribute of the body which enables the creation of persons through the transformation of their relationship with animal entities. Through analysing the particular case of ‘amniotic designs’ (kurkin narmakkalet), which are sometimes visible on the heads of neonates, the article shows that designs provide a visual representation of the relationship between human beings and animals, and as such are integral in the formation of persons among the Kuna. To comprehend Kuna aesthetics, it is suggested, we need to look at the way Amerindians conceive the person, at how bodies are created, and at the relationships that human beings and animals entertain.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Download PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Fortis, P. (2010), The birth of design: a Kuna theory of body and personhood. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 16 (3): 480–495, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:19 May 2014
Date of first online publication:September 2010
Date first made open access:No date available

Save or Share this output

Look up in GoogleScholar