Molas are part of the traditional dress of Kuna Indians of Panama and are worn by the women on the back and on the front side of their blouse. Together with the blue print cotton skirts, the red and orange head scarves and the characteristic glass bead strings on wrists and ankles they represent the traditional dress of the Kuna women.
Becoming famous in the last couple of decades, Molas are now shown in museums and private collections of textile art all around the world. High collectors value have those molas, whose completion take more than hundred hours.
Machine-made are those Mola blouses which are intended for daily use. Due to the intensive sunlight they are exposed to, the colours will fade quickly and look dull. Those Molas fashioned for special ceremonies and to the pride of their owners are always hand-made.
Molas have their origin in the body painting. Only after the colonization by the Spanish and contact with missionaries the Kuna started to transfer their traditional geometric designs on fabric, first by painting directly on the fabric and later by using the technique of reverse application. It is not known for certain, when this technique was first being used. It is assumed that the oldest Molas are between 150 and 170 years old.
As an inspiration for their designs the Kuna first used the geometrical patterns which have been used for body painting before. In the past 50 years they also started to depict realistic and abstract designs of flowers, sea animals and birds.
Depending on the tradition of each island, Kuna women begin with the crafting of Molas either after they reach puberty, some even at a much younger age. Women prefer to dress in western style are in the minority as well as in the communities as in Panama City.
Molas have such an importance for the Kuna and their traditional identity that they can be made responsible for the independent status of the Comarca San Blas. After the attempt of the Panamanian government to "westernize" the Kuna in the beginning of the 20th century by forbidding their customs, their language and their traditional dress, a huge wave of resistance arose. This resistance movement culminated in the Kuna revolution of 1925 where, after heavy battles, the Panamanian government had to make the concession of giving the Kuna people the right to govern their own territory autonomously.