The Mola

BEYOND CULTURE, AN ART FORM

Mola means ‘shirt’ or ‘clothing’. According to regional tradition, girls start confectioning molas once they reach puberty, some, even before. The complete traditional outfit consists of a dulemor, shirt with Kuna appliqués on the front and back; a saburet, patterned wrapped skirt; a musue, red and yellow headscarf; a wini, arm, and leg beads; an olasu, gold nose ring; and earrings. When Pasqual de Andagoya, Spanish conqueror and governor of San Juan, arrived in Darian, he wrote: “the women are very well dressed, in embroidered cotton mantles which extend down to cover their feet, but the arms and bosom are uncovered.” The concept of body coverage was brought by the missionaries that arrived in the area; with this cultural intersection, shirts were included in the traditional outfit. Molas represent tradition and culture for the Kuna community, women that do not wear them are uncommon. Especially after the 20th century, when the Panamanian government tried to “westernize” the community by forbidding their customs, language, and traditional outfit. Outraged, they started a revolution in 1925. After dense battles and a large wave of resistance, the government yielded. Kuna communities now govern their territories autonomously.

The creation of Molas originated in the tradition of Guna women. Before the arrival of Spanish missionaries in Panama and Colombia, the Guna women used to paint geometric designs over their skin. However, due to the fact that they had to cover their bodies, they translated the designs and wove them over the fabric using the reverse appliqué technique, where several different colored fabric layers, from two to seven, are stacked and sewn together. The design comes to life as the artisans cut through the fabrics. After completion, it is turned under and sewn, making the stitches almost invisible. Some molas have cutouts implemented to add an extra variation of color or to colorize a specific part of the pattern.

The number of layers and colors, type of stitchings, intricated zigzag borders, embroidery, design complexity, latticework implementation, and overall evenness, determine the quality of the mola. Due to their great amount of dedication and craftsmanship, they are sturdy and can be safely washed several times. This makes their creation flexible, being able to be made into pillowcases, garments, wall hangings, or carpets. 

Among the Mola Textiles, there are two main designs: Naga and Goaniggadi.

Naga

Naga embodies protective geometric designs that represent natural elements, and that have a grounding connection between culture and nature.

Goaniggadi

Goaniggadi is a figurative mola. It mirrors figurative daily life events to obfuscate enemies through its radiant colors and serves as a protective emblem and an example of cultural imagery represented through craftsmanship. 

EXPLORE ITEMS WITH KUNA TEXTILES

The Colombian Design Brand Mola Sasa works closely with the Guna Dule communities in an interdisciplanary design process making bags, pillows and other fashion accessories from the colorful textiles.