Kuna Mola from the San Blas Islands, Panama

Item PM08         

This Item was Sold on 18 August 2010 for $19

Similar artifacts for sale are often found on the Panama Molas web page. 

Historical Pricing information for this item and similar artifacts can be found at: Historical Artifact Prices.

This is an older two layer mola made in the 1950s or earlier. Most of the cloth from these early molas came from the country of Colombia. This one has six panels, each containing a repeating abstract design. This mola was removed from a mola blouse. It would display well on a wall if mounted in a frame. Length = 39 cm (15 inches) ; Width = 28 cm (11 inches) ; Weight = 38 gm

About Molas: The mola is a rectangular piece of cloth that was made by Cuna [ Kuna ] Indians located in the San Blas Islands on the Atlantic coast of Panama between the Panama Canal and the country of Colombia. The Cunas are indigenous Carib Indians who were never subjucated by the Spanish. They have always been somewhat autonomous from the governments that have claimed the San Blas Islands as part of their territory. However, the Cuna have alway tolerated the presence of European based cultures, including the missionaries who had an impact on the Cuna culture. Until the recent past [ 100+ years], the Cuna did not wear much clothing. They painted their naked bodies with abstract geometric designs and dieties using dyes from native plants. The missionaries convinced them that it was in their best interests to wear clothing in the presence of Christians, so the Cuna learned how to make their own clothing from cloth that the missionaries provided. Because the clothing covered the abstract designs on their bodies, the Cuna learned the art of reverse applique, so that multiple layers of cloth were cut out and then sewn together to form beautiful abstract designs with the stitching invisible on the side that was displayed. Molas were usually made in matched pairs and one mola was displayed on the front of a mola blouse and the other was displayed on the rear of a mola blouse. Although the molas were made in matched pairs, the two molas were intentionally made different and the more skilled seamstresses incorporated a larger number of subtle differences. Over the past several decades, the production of molas has become a real industry in Panama with Cuna woman making large quantities of molas having contemporary Christian themes or commercial themes (Disney, comic book heros, commercial products, etc.) and the art incorporates messages without spelling errors and without anything related to the Cuna culture. Although these contemporary molas sell at a premium on eBay or to tourists on cruise ships, they lack the spiritual meaning that the original molas had to the Cuna people. Many of the simple molas with abstract geometric designs are among the most valuable, especially to collectors like myself who spent a lot of time travelling in the San Blas Islands and sometimes living with these gentle and resourceful people.

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