The mola is the signature craft of the Kuna Indian women of Panama. The Kuna Indians live in Kuna Yala, known commonly in the dominant culture as the San Blas Islands, an archipelago of more than 300 islands on Panama’s north coast.

Although mola is the Kuna word for blouse, the word most often refers to the front and back panels of the traditional blouses worn by Kuna women. The front and back panels are always very similar but never identical, representing simultaneous continuity and change. Utilizing a technique called reverse appliqué, the women layer fabric and cut intricate patterns, exposing colors in the underlying pieces of fabric. Typical motifs are geometric, mythological/biblical, animals or marine life.

Molas are a relatively recent craft, and are thought to have derived from a tradition of elaborate body painting.Kuna families live in matrilineal groups. Each family lives in a compound comprised of a thatched sleeping hut, a thatched cooking hut and a courtyard. Mola making is one of the most important activities among the Kuna. Typically, older women in the family group tend to household tasks such as cooking so that younger women may concentrate on mola making.

What makes a good mola?

Kuna women use several criteria to evaluate a mola’s quality:
  • Smooth, even, narrow lines
  • A central design or primary motif that stands out from the background
  • Symmetry: visual balance within the panel
  • Stitching nearly invisible to the naked eye
  • Number of fabric layers
  • Intricate cutouts, such as curves, zigzags or tiny squares

Crossroads Trade molas are priced by quality. The more expensive molas reflect more complexity, outstanding craftswomanship and fine design.

We’ve also made a difference by providing reading glasses to the women. The older women are thrilled to be able to continue their work. Collecting donations of reading glasses has been one specific way Crossroads Trade has enabled families to generate more income, while maintaining a traditional art.

Crossroads Trade wants your feedback and ideas. Your purchase will make a substantial difference in the life of an artisan. Please contact phone at 617-975-2001 or by email if you would like to see more examples, have any questions, or would like more information.

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