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Mola Madness! Previous Log
Date: 25 January 2008 Next Log
Central America > Panama> Caribbean > Kuna Yala Log Menu

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Ah, the Kuna people of Panama. Sit down and let me tell you more.

Here they come!  Photo credit: Skip and Cathy MoyerThe Kuna people are indigenous to the Darien highlands of Panama, but moved to the coastal islands around the time the Spanish arrived, and made a living trading with English buccaneers and other visitors. They live in closely packed communities and are fierce guardians of their main income source, the coconut (they even post couples to live on isolated islands just to protect the precious nuts). More recently, with increased exposure to cruise ships and private yachts, they are finding a new way to make money; the Mola!

Buy This Mola! Let the barrage begin..Kuna women are mad about molas. The moment you drop anchor, they paddle out in their dugout canoes and push molas like theres no tomorrow! Dont dare say "No Thank You"; Kuna women are shrewd businesswomen and could hawk molas to a nudist colony!

The outer islands (Chichame, Lemon and Holandes cayes) are the big leagues. Kuna women carry molas on consignment, and if you try to bargain, they'll whip out a mobile phone from their bra, call up the maker, and coordinate the wheeling and dealing.

No! Buy MY Mola!The mola in fact, is so important to a familys income that it cements her power in the family unit (although they are traditionally a matrilineal society anyway). In fact, when a man marries a Kuna lady, he packs up his belongings (sometimes just a machete and some clothes) and moves into his wifes hut.. with her inlaws, hammock beside hammock!

If a family rears only male children, the youngest is not only encouraged to sew molas, but often become a woman entirely. Homosexual and transgendered individuals are a fairly common sight in the territory, and this makes for great "Nature vs. Nuture" debates! Is it a choice, or just a society where people can be themselves? Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves...

My First Mola: This is a $5 Mola made by a novice. How cute..So what is a Mola? A mola is a reverse applique sewn fabric (normally 3 to 5 layers thick), traditionally depicting geometric shapes, often Kuna symbols (triangles are popular, but the official Kuna symbol, the swastika, is understandably rare on molas now due to low sales demand..). Recently, due to tourist demands, the depiction of animals is becoming more popular. Small molas sell for $1 to $5, and large molas sell from $5, most often $20, up to $80.

The best molas feature heavy materials, multiple layers and tight stitches; the closer and tighter, often the better. Notable Mola "masters" are Venancio and Lisa - ask for them by name!

Makin' Molas - Photo credit: Skip and Cathy MoyerWhere does the Mola fit into the Kuna wardrobe? First, only the women dress in traditional clothing. Typically adorned with a red or orange bandana, a nose piercing and gold earrings, face painting (usually red cheeks or a bold line down the forehead and nose), intricate beadwork on their arms and legs (called uini) and a colourful flowing skirt (usually blue with orange patterns). The piece de resistance is their blouse; lightly coloured, airy with frills, the blouse is a bit old fashioned looking, but when the mola is stitched on the front and back, it really completes the look.

Some might say the Mola ties the outfit together.

The indisputable Mola Master. He otherwise needs no introduction.
El Tigre
Do tigers really have blue jowls, green ears and patchy stubble?
Holy Mola!
The entire cast of the Lion King.
Geometrics and Fish
A blend of traditional and "new school"
Another Blend
This time with sailfish.
Do fish actually kiss?
Dont argue with Kuna ladies. If they say so, it is fact.
4 Surprised Fish
I need to join Molas Anonymous.
Uini beadwork
Kuna "bling".
Kuna Headwear
So you can indentify which Kuna gang you are dealing with.
Chicha Mola
This is a Lisa original, depicting the fermenting of sugar cane beer, Chicha (shown by green blob), and eager monkeys.
Mola Masters are born, not made
But sewing molas and wearing the bandana is as far as I go.
Scorpion Mola
Hmmmm.. I know just where this should go....
Pandillo Scorpio
Dont mess with the Scorpion Gang from the mean streets of Portobelo!
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