Mola, a Kuna word, has several meanings: fabric or cloth, shirt or upper garment for men or women, brightly decorated women's blouses, or colorful layers of fabric, cut and hand-sewn into designs for fronts and backs of Kuna women´s blouses. Kuna women from the San Blas Archipelago produce most of the work, though some molas are also made by Kuna women from inland Panama and western Colombia. Developed in the late 1800s from an earlier tradition of body painting, designs were first painted on cloth and later sewn. Early blouses, dark blue with wide red hems, evolved into those with multi-color designed borders. Borders were widened over time into the rectangular panels of today, and motifs, too, have changed, integrating images from daily life and popular culture. Red, yellow, and dark blue or black remain the preferred colors.
Designs are produced with a combination of reverse appliqué and appliqué. Two or more layers of different colors of cotton cloth are hand-sewn loosely together. The design and its details are cut through the top layer or layers to reach the color selected by the worker. Minute hand stitches attach each folded cut edge to a lower layer. Frequently small scraps of color are inserted beneath the top layer and worked in tas-tas, slits, to emphasize special details of background pattern.
Traditionally worn with a wrap-around skirt (sabured) and a red-and-yellow head scarf (muswe), molas are an important reflection of women´s skills and Kuna identity. Shown here is a sample of molas from the museum collections, including several "inside" views to illustrate technique. Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Production of this gallery was generously supported by The Ford Family Foundation.
Sherzer , Dina and Joel Sherzer
1976 Mormaknamaloe: The Cuna Mola. In: Ritual and Symbol in Native Central America, ed. by P. Young and J. Howe, pp. 23-42. University of Oregon Anthropological Papers No. 9. Eugene.
Salvado, Mari Lyn
1997 The Art of Being Kuna. UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Los Angeles.