Make a mola: a fantastic example of folk-art from Panamá! Beautiful Panamá: the tropical and mountainous isthmus with coasts on the Caribbean and Pacific that connects the Americas. Off the northern coast of Panamá, there is a string of idyllic islands (an archipelago) called the San Blas Islands. The Kuna Indians were driven out of Panamá by the Spaniards in the 1500’s, and took their boats to live on these islands. They continue to live there today, hunting, fishing, and maintaining traditions. One of Panama’s best-known handicrafts is the mola, intricate reverse-applique handwork made by the Kuna, and now an important symbol of their culture. The layers of brightly-colored fabric form animals or geometric shapes, and are used to decorate the blouses of Kuna women. In fact, the most outstanding designs take hours of complex sewing to complete and is a source of status, and a display of artistic expression and ethnic identity. In the following intricate craft, your kids can make similar designs out of construction paper.
Before gathering your supplies (construction paper, scissors, glue), show your kids examples of molas from Panamá. I bought this one in Central America; of course it’s fantastic if you can show your kids real examples, but thanks to google images, your kids can study molas on-line before they begin their project.
After you’ve looked at the images, and noticed how the layers and shapes fit together, note the common colors and designs. Have your child draw the outline of their choice of an animal or plant onto a sheet of paper and cut it out.
Next, trace the figure onto another color paper. When they are finished, cut out one of the figures slightly smaller than the first, and glue them together. Then the kids can begin to create layers of shapes to glue onto the figure. My kids started with a small black shape, glued it onto another color, and then cut that out leaving a bit of a border showing. By repeating this step several times with different colors, you get the layered look.
The next step is to glue the figure onto the background, and then decorate the background with additional geometric shapes. The quality of a mola lies in its attention to details, its fine stitching, evenness and width of cutouts- this project took us all morning, but we loved the end results!
To learn more, visit the National Museum of the American Indian’s site: The Art of Being Kuna: Layers of Meaning Among the Kuna of Panama.
I love the colors!