Molas: Preserving Kuna Tradition

Virtually self-governing since the late 1930s, the Kuna people of the San Blas Islands are determined to protect and conserve their traditional beliefs, heritage and environment. One of the ways they have attained this preservation is through their beautiful hand-stitched molas. Mola is the Kuna word for blouse, but it usually refers to the colorful panels on the front and back of the women's garments. It is one of the most well preserved native art forms on the planet. Molas are 100% hand-stitched by the Kuna women, using a unique reverse-applique technique. The panels can consist of two layers of color or multiple layers. The more layers, the more complicated and valuable the mola is found. The Kuna women spend hours perfecting the fineness of their stitches, and the evenness of their designs. Ability to produce high quality molas, has long been a source of status among the Kuna women.

Traditionally, molas contained geometric patterns. Today, molas are inspired by the landscape, political posters, picture books, and television images, along with regional Kuna legends and culture. They are an absorbing and brilliant combination of the ancestral and modern world.

Molas are sold to tourists and have found their way to museums around the world. But, Molas are made to be worn. When a Kuna woman tires of her piece, she may disassemble her blouse and sell the panels. They are commonly sold in pairs: the front and back, and tend to have a common theme. Signs of wear helps to determine whether or not the mola is authentic.

If you would like to learn more about the Kuna people and their traditions, our Spirit of Panama tour is a great way to discover the San Blas Islands as well as visit some of Panama's best natural wonders. Our 3-day Panama tour extension to the islands is also recommended.