Mola Mania in Kuna Yala

Kuna Yala (aka San Blas islands) November 9 to December 9, 2012

Molas are fabric panels of reverse appliqué. They are handmade by Kuna women in Panama. The Kuna woman use two mola panels as the basis for the blouses of their traditional dress.

This is a mola blouse. There is a similar mola panel at the back of the blouse. This is a traditional Kuna design, not related to the Nazi swastika.

Molas take weeks or months to make. While we were in Kuna Yala, we became quite fascinated by molas. There were many opportunities to buy them. Women came to On Delay in ulus (dug out canoes) or motor boats. In some of the villages, we were offered molas to buy. There was a mola-and-drinks hut on Dog island where tourists from the mainland visit. When we got to Panama City, we discovered molas for sale there. Prices ranged from $10 to $60 and quality varied similarly.

Sarah, Tony and I visited Isla Tigre, a traditional island that does not see many tourists. This is the only place that we were offered mola blouses for sale (and only mola blouses — we were not offered any standalone panels). I infer that we were offered blouses that women had made for themselves. When they saw us walking by, they saw the potential to make money: Women appeared at the doorways* of their houses holding up molas and calling politely to us.

[*Aside: I’m not sure that doorway is the right word. Their bamboo huts don’t have doors.]

Further evidence that these blouses in Isla Tigre were for local use: the patterns were geometric, not pictures of birds or flowers or mythology — which are more common in the standalone molas offered to visitors. The molas blouses are incongruous in that the stitching of the molas themselves is so neat and intricate but the stitching on the blouse is sloppy and childish, the parts are held together with basting stitches, the trim is gaudy commercial trim and the sleeves are curtainy floral material not in keeping with the mola panels. Sarah and I each bought a mola blouse in Isla Tigre. Mine is shown above, and look for a picture of Sarah modelling hers in the gallery below.

We (mostly Gayle :)) took pictures of the molas we bought. Here is our mola-mania gallery. I hope you enjoy it.

2 thoughts on “Mola Mania in Kuna Yala

  1. I forwarded this to my daughter, Amy, who volunteers with Ten Thousand Villages..They could be interested in some of the goods made by women..

  2. Holy Mola-Palooza! I forgot how beautiful this “gallery” looked all together and wonder if the Kuna women miss all of our business 😉 Thanks for posting Jane.

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