Shopping in Panama? Know Your Molas
by Txconnection on February 1, 2011
The thing about traveling is that you're always picking up new and unusual skills wherever you go. On my recent trip to Latin America, I learned many things, including how to eat bony fish, spot sloths, crack coconuts and fish for piranha. Probably the most peculiar skill I picked up is how to tell a good mola from a bad mola.
If you are not familiar with the mola, it is a hand-stitched, multi-layered rectangular piece of cloth that forms part of the traditional dress of Kuna women. In the autonomous region of Panama known as Kuna Yala (San Blas), women express themselves through their molas, which often incorporate natural, everyday life and geometric motifs, often done in bold colors. Each piece reflects the unique experience, creativity and interests of the artist. If you are any good at being a Kuna woman, you know how to make an exquisite mola.
The first time I mola-shopped in Panama, I had no idea what I was doing. I was happy to purchase whatever the Kunas presented to me. After I returned home, I did some research to find out whether the molas were authentic. That's when I realized that the molas I had purchased were unimpressive, one-layered embroidered molas with bad stitching. I chose artwork with simple designs that were apparently just crap, nothing a proud Kuna woman would ever wear.
On this past trip, I had the opportunity to visit Kuna Yala again and was eager to judge the quality of molas. I was so excited that I bought more molas than I know what to do with. If anyone knows of a secondhand market for molas, please let me know!
If you visit Kuna Yala, you will undoubtedly purchase one of these beautiful pieces of artwork. Here's what you need to know.
* Colors. Look for strong, vibrant colors.
* Layers. The number of layers is also important. Molas are made using two to seven pieces of cloth. The more layers a mola has, the higher quality the piece.
* Edges. Pick a mola with clean, smooth cut edges.
* Stitching. The best molas will have small to invisible stitching.
* Patterns. Complicated and striking patterns are a sign of an advanced mola-maker.
* Bunching. Make sure the cloth on your mola doesn't bunch.
I cannot think of a better memento to remember your stay in Kuna Yala. Hopefully, these tips will help you in your quest to find the perfect mola.