mola01
Birds in four-square pattern. (exterior, front)
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mola02
Birds in four-square pattern. (interior, front)
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mola03
Birds in four-square pattern. (exterior, back)
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mola04
Birds in four-square pattern. (interior, back)
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mola05
Baseball game. (exterior)
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mola06
Baseball game. (interior)
6 of 32
mola07
Two birds and a flower. (exterior)
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mola08
Two birds and a flower. (interior)
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mola09
Mola with aquatic figures. (exterior)
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mola10
Mola with aquatic figures. (interior)
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mola11
Mola with bird and fish. (exterior)
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mola12
Mola with bird and fish. (interior)
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mola13
Bull and small anthropomorph. (exterior)
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mola14
Bull and small anthropomorph. (interior)
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mola15
Two-headed, three-legged animal. (exterior)
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mola16
Two-headed, three-legged animal. (interior)
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mola17
Two birds, probably in a cage. (full view, front)
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mola18
Two birds, probably in a cage. (detail, front)
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mola19
Two fish, probably in a cage. (full view, back)
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mola20
Two fish, probably in a cage. (detail, back)
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mola21
Sun motif. (exterior)
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mola22
Sun motif. (interior)
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mola23
Cat with collar and bell, catching bird. (exterior)
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mola24
Cat with collar and bell, catching bird. (interior)
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mola25
Child's mola blouse with two cats. (full view, front)
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mola26
Child's mola blouse with two cats. (detail, front)
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mola27
Child's mola blouse with two cats. (full view, back)
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mola28
Child's mola blouse with two cats. (detail, back)
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mola29
Man in hammock, monkeys. (exterior)
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mola30
Man in hammock, monkeys. (interior)
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mola31
Rooster and beer bottle, cups, and flag. (exterior)
31 of 32
mola32
Rooster and beer bottle, cups, and flag. (interior)
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View the entire gallery or click on the above images to enlarge.

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 MNCH collections, including several "inside" views to illustrate technique. Photography by Chris White, research by Hattie Mae Nixon and Pam Endzweig, and web development by Keith Hamm. Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Production of this gallery was generously supported by The Ford Family Foundation.

Further Reading:

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.