As an inspiration for their designs the Kuna first used the geometric patterns which have been used for body painting in ancient times. After the arrival of the Spanish the Kuna had access to fabric and they started to transfer their motives onto textiles. The exact date when reverse applique was used for the first time, is not known, but it is assumed the the first Molas have been made 150 – 170 years ago.
The old traditional geometric designs of the body painting are still used in contemporary Mola. In the past 50 years the Kuna also started to depict realistic and abstract designs of flowers, animals and humans. So Molas are often used as "living history books", showing hidden symbols of medical plants, protective symbols or legends and stories. Typical Mola colors , such as burgundy, orange or black are referring to the vegetable colors as used for body painting.
Molas have such an importance for the Kuna and their traditional identity that they significantly contributed to the independent status of the Comarca San Blas. At the beginning of the 20th century when the Panamanian government attempted to forbid the Kuna customs, their language and their traditional dress, a huge wave of resistance arose. This resistance culminated in the Kuna revulution of 1925. After heavy battles the Panamanian government had to make the concession of giving the Kuna people the right to govern their own territory autonomously
Most of the Kuna women still wear their traditional dresses, consisting of a blouse with Molas on front and back, blue print skirts and orange-red head scarves.