Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


The Kuna of the San Blas (Kuna Yala) region of Panama are highly regarded for the mola panels that they make using appliqué and reverse appliqué. These panels form the front and back of blouses that the women and their daughters wear both in their daily lives and for special occasions. Mari Lynn Salvador found, when doing her research on the making of mola panels, that there are different types of designs and that these categories are recognized by the Kuna women themselves as being distinct. Each of the different categories requires a different approach to its manufacturing process.

One particular category has a narrative quality, that either tell stories of daily life in a Kuna village, recount one of their many stories that explain their world view and/or depict an image of a Christian parable or event. These narrative mola panels are worth examining for several reasons. They are made in a fashion unlike any of the other mola panels. They demonstrate a similarity to other media used by the Kuna. Using the mola blouses in the collection of Denison University as examples, it also becomes clear that the Kuna absorb the Christian stories as their own and use them not only to explain Kuna realities, but also picture themselves playing parts in these stories. This discussion will begin with a brief history as it relates to the development of the mola blouse.

The Kuna are an indigenous people who, because of their location, came into contact with the early Europeans explorers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Also, because of this location, they have seen much strife since the arrival of the Europeans. Many governments have tried to claim the land as their own; the Spanish government, the Panamanian government, the Columbian government and even the American government when plans were being established for the Panama Canal. Throughout, the Kuna have remained cohesive, to the point that they have retained sovereignty over their lands, one of the few indigenous groups to do so.