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The Art Of BEING Kuna

The Kuna Indians are indigenous to Panama and may well be the remaining vestige of the Carib strain that once inhabited the north coasts of South America and parts of the Caribbean.

The major portion of the Kuna reside in 52 island and 10 mainland communities along the Caribbean coast of Panama. The comarca, or district, of San Blas, often called Kuna Yala ... literally means Kuna Land. The Kuna are one of Panama's three major indigenous groups.

The Kuna are a matriarchal society in which the line of inheritance passes through the women. After marriage, the young man must live in his mother-in-law's house and work for several years under apprenticeship to his father-in-law. Kuna myths suggest that, symbolically, Kuna women hold high status. Daughters, pampered with clothes and jewelry, are preferred to sons because they eventually bring additional manpower into the family.

Wearing 'molas' has come to symbolize Kuna ethnic pride tied to a "traditional" way of life. Molas are "THE Cuna ethnic boundary marker par excellence in that for both Cuna (Kuna) and non-Cuna it is a constantly visual, striking sign of Cunaite". After the 1925 Revolution of the Kuna Yala, against the colonial police and Panama ... which attemped to force the women to change from 'mola' (and wearing their asuolos - nose rings) to western dress ... the majority of Kuna women living in the communiteis where the colonial police had been stationed proudly and defiantly dressed in 'mola' and their 'asuelos'. Most of the women living on Nargana, the island most heavily influenced by missionaries, continued to wear western clothing. Since the revolt, wearing 'mola' has been seen by conservative and moderate Kuna (both male and female) as an important symbol of the Kuna people's right to self-determination.

Understanding who wears molas, why they are worn, and within which social contexts illuminates the ways women's dress defines Kuna ethnic identity and is used symbolically as a means for resistence. For some women, wearing molas was symbolic of their social and political autonomy as indigenous people. For other women, wearing mola was tied to a way of life. In the majority of San Blas communities, however, women are free to choose what they wear.

Kuna Yala

Another page about the Cuna.

The Cuna Indians of Panama
About Molas
Folklore - The Revolt of the Chagres
Panama - More Than A Canal
Front Page - Fly With Me to Panama