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A Brief Study on Kunas’ Artisans

In April 2017, one of our Colombian friends, Carlos Cortes travelled to San Blas island in Panama and visited the largest existing Kuna community to learn more about the local artisans and their amazing Mola. 

Mola, is a colorful textile art form, made with the techniques of appliqué and reverse appliqué. Unfortunately due to restrictions placed on foreigners, visiting the residential parts of the island was not an option, so Carlos was unable to see the actual Mola creation process which typically takes place in the artists residence. He did have a chance to chat with them as they worked in their market stands on the island and below is the summary of the information gathered. The picture below was taken during this visit and the Kuna artisan pictured was part of this study.

a kuna female artisan standing in front of the mola bags

Summary of Results

  • What do you use as inspiration for the design of your Molas?

Their inspiration included everyday life or commonly used objects such as chairs and nails.  Nature was a common theme…animals, plants, fruits, flowers and the elements found in the nature around them. The colours used in the Molas are based on their cultural colour symbols.. For example, green is connected to water as the beaches near San Blas are green; red reflects the sunrise, orange the sun and purple the sunset, night and darkness.

  • What is the importance of this activity for your culture and economy?

It is a significant source of income for the local economy, especially important for those Kunas that live outside of urban areas. It is one of the few jobs available in their community. The monetary importance of the Molas is obvious to the Kunas as it is one of their main economic activities and crucial to sustaining local economy.

Culturally, the art of making Molas is passed from one generation to the next to ensure this tradition survives over time. The artisans are proud of their Mola artwork. Molas are part of their traditional outfit, used to decorate their blouses and skirts and they play an important role in keeping their traditional clothing as it has always been.

  • How do you feel about foreigners buying your Molas?

The Kuna artisans see selling their Molas as a business transaction. They prefer selling them to foreigners referred as “gringos” because they tend to pay them more for these than locals. They feel like they don’t understand nor care about the meaning of the Molas. 

  • How is the price of each Mola determined?

Depending on its complexity, time spent to make it, size and amount of layers of each Mola, the price is set by the maker. Generally, the more layers, bigger size and more complexity to make it the more expensive the piece. Often, if someone buys more quantity of Molas discounts are given.

 SWOT Analysis 

swot analysis of kuna artisans

Edited by: Kat Gracie.

Survey conducted by: Carlos Cortes

Thank you so much for your contribution to this study!

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