When you visit the San Blas Islands you will find Guna Indians selling Molas to every tourist from their small canoes and on the islands. In the Dulegaya language, which is the Guna’s native language, “mola” means “clothes” or “clothing”. These pieces of clothing have complicated patterns knitted on them such as zigzag, the more complicated the more expensive the mola is. The artistry of the mola creation reflects a synthesis of traditional Guna culture. Mola art developed throughout the years when Guna women had access to store-bought yard goods.
History of Molas
The mola originated with the traditional practice of Guna women painting their bodies with geometrical and zigzag designs, using available natural colors which were available on the Islands and in the Jungle. Later, the mola designs were sewn into cloth bought from the foreign settlers in Panama. Recently in the past decades, these same zigzag designs were woven in cotton and became commonly known as molas.
How its made; Mola
Geometric/zigzag molas are the most traditional form of Guna art. They were developed from body painting designs that were used by the Guna’s in special occasions. Nowadays, many hours of careful sewing are required to create a outstanding mola, this is also a source of status among Guna women. The quality of a mola is determined by multiple factors such as number of layers, the fineness of stitches, evenness and width of cutouts, addition of details such as zigzag borders and animal patterns, lattice-work or embroidery, and the general artistic merit of the design and color combination. The more complex the mola is the more status the Guna woman will receive.
When the Guna women get tired of a particular mola, they disassemble it into small pieces and sell the molas to collectors and tourist. Since the mola pieces that you can buy have been worn as part of the traditional dress of a Guna woman, they often show signs of wear such as fading and stitch marks along the edges of the panels. These “imperfections” indicate that the mola is authentic and not made solely to be sold to tourists. It also shows that the mola is not fabricated in any industrial environment. The “Mola panels” as many refer to them have many uses. They can be framed as wall art or made into pillow covers, place mats for your food or wall hanging decorations. If you have enough panels you can even make a bedspread of molas or incorporate them into complex quilting works.