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About Molas

The traditional costume of a Kuna woman consists of a patterned blue cotton wrapped skirt, red and yellow headscarf, arm and leg beads, gold nose rings and earrings and the many layered and finely sewn mola panel blouse. 

The artistry of a mola reflects a synthesis of traditional Kuna culture with the influences of the modern world.  Mola art developed when Kuna women had access to store bought yard goods.  Mola designs are often inspired by modern graphics such as political posters, labels, pictures from books and TV cartoons, as well as traditional themes from Kuna legends and culture.

Geometric molas are the most traditional, having developed from ancient body painting designs.

Kuna woman sewing a mola Many hours of careful sewing are required to create a fine mola. The ability to make an outstanding  mola is a source of status among Kuna women.
The quality of a mola is determined by such factors as 
  • number of layers
  • fineness of stitching
  • evenness and width of cutouts
  • addition of details such as zigzag borders, lattice-work or embroidery
  • general artistic merit of the design and color combination.
When Kuna women tire of a particular blouse, they disassemble it and sell the molas to collectors.

Since mola panels have been worn as part of the traditional dress of a Kuna woman they often show signs of wear such as fading and stitch marks along the edges of the panels.  These"imperfections" indicate that the mola is authentic and not made solely to be sold to tourists.

Molas are often sold in pairs, the pair consisting of the back and front panels of a blouse.  The two molas are usually two variations on a theme.  Matched molas complement each other and should be displayed or used together for the greatest impact.

Mola panels have many uses.  They can be framed as art or made into pillows, place mats or wall hangings.  Some people even make them into bedspreads or incorporate them into quilting projects.

Molas are very sturdy and well sewn.  They have already been washed many times and can be safely hand washed in warm water.

The mola blouse is an important symbol of Kuna culture.

The Kuna rebellion that led to the legal recognition of Kuna Yala as a semi-autonomous territory by the government of  Panama was initiated when the government tried to prevent Kuna women from wearing their traditional mola costume. 

Traditional Kuna women's costume
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