The Mola as Tourist Fodder

Laura on January 15th, 2008

Panama is ever increasing its infrastructure and services for the tourist industry. The artisans of Panama follow suit altering their arts to provide the widest possible array of options to the traveler in hope of becoming satellite beneficiaries of this booming industry. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, one can find numerous mola “doo dads” for purchase. Take for an example this very common oven mitt. In reality, it is neither a true oven mitt (it is made of very thin foam that offers no protection against oven heat) nor is it a mola. It does however appeal to many people looking to take a little something home with them due to its price (less than $10.00), is familiarity and its likeness to a.) mola and b.) images seen in Panama.

I recently read a posting by Jenny Bowker an Australian quilt maker living in Cairo, Egypt. Her blog Postcards From Cairo highlighted a trip she and a fellow master quilter named Mohamed made to France. They had little fortune in selling their work:

“…I have been encouraging the workers to make the best and most beautiful work they can and they have responded with stunning pieces. Unfortunately what sold was the smaller and cheaper work – so that is what they will now make, and the best will be folded away and not repeated.”

I reflect on this phenomenon given the abundance and popularity of small pieces of so called “mola art” that represent little time and skill invested as compared to the mola panels that inspire them. I have a few Kuna friends in the mountainous, crater-valley town in which I live. They are here from the San Blas to sell their goods during the week and grow in number on the weekends as we have a well known open air market frequented by travelers. Sure enough, many of them offer a dozen or so mid to low quality mola panels and all manner of mola-esque souvenirs.

Do these lesser productions affect the quality and popularity of the mola? I wonder. Unlike the quilters of Egypt, the majority of Kuna women continue to craft dazzling molas to adorn their blouses for their own enjoyment and community respect. Like the ember of a wavering fire these women maintain the art form for the time being.

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