What is a Mola?
Molas are colorful panels sewn by the women of the Guna Indian tribe, who reside here in Panama in the San Blas Archipelago on the Caribbean Sea. Molas are part of traditional costumes worn by Guna women. Four mola panels are formed into the front and back panels of a blouse. In Dulegaya, the Guna’s native language, “mola” means “shirt” or “clothing”. Traditionally molas depicted the geometric shapes woman traditionally painted on their bodies. Over the last 50 years molas have evolved and now depict everything from wildlife and scenery to political posters. Molas are created by layering between two and seven pieces of fabric together and then cutting back portions of fabric to create a design and reveal the underlying colors. In Guna culture, women who craft intricate and elaborate molas are highly respected. Some molas take up to six months to complete! You can see more on this Wikipedia page on Panamanian Molas.
Protection of Guna Culture
The molas of the Guna Indians have a kind of ‘copyright’ protection. Only the Guna people are allowed to produce them, and the mola patterns cannot be copied for use in printing without licensed permission from the Guna chiefs from the indigenous province (comarca indigena) of Guna Yala. The ‘Comarca’ is part of the Republic of Panama but is autonomously governed by the chiefs of the Guna people. You need to show your passport to enter the Guna Yala Province.
Where to Buy Molas in Panama?
Tourism in Panama has boomed in recent years and molas are now readily available for sale all over Panama City. You will have the opportunity to purchase molas when we visit the artisan market on our Panama City Tour
If you are interested in learning more about Guna culture consider visiting the San Blas Islands, home to the Kuna’s, on our Kuna Yala & San Blas Islands Tour.