Panama is a small but beautiful Spanish-speaking country of the Central America situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America. Before the arrival of the Europeans, especially Spanish settlers, this island country was inhabited by the indigenous Indians. The prominent indigenous tribes of Panama were the Cueva and the Coclé whom were largely annihilated by the Spanish colonizers during the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century, the areas were occupied by Kuna (the native Indians of Panama) who were living in Colombian region of Uraba before the Spanish invasion.
Traditional dress of Panama is mainly influenced with Spanish culture but the Kuna people have kept the indigenous dress alive to some extent. The traditional clothing of Kuna women consists of hand-made blouses known as “molas” with skirts.
Their dresses are sewn with a reverse appliqué technique. The women also colorize their faces and noses with a special paint which they prepare from achiote seeds.
The Kuna men wear a traditional Kuna shirt with pants, jeans, or shorts. The Kunas cultivate in their lands plantain, bananas, and avocados, among other fruits and some tuber plants like manioc and ñame.
The eating habits of Kuna people are also unique as they love to eat hunted food, a special fish (Tilapia) and plantain.
Originated from Spain, La Pollera is the symbol of pure Panama heritage. This is the national dress of the women of Panama. Earlier in the nineteenth century, pollera was worn by housemaids or nurses but later on it was adopted by women of every class in Panama. It is pertinent to mention that Pollera is not restricted to Panama only, but the dress is adopted by women of many other Latin American countries by making little transformations according to their own choices and needs.
Hand-made pollera is the favorite preference of the Panama women which is not only worn by them in day to day affairs but also in different festivities, wedding ceremonies and folklore dancing events. Genuinely, Pollera is a ruffled blouse worn off the shoulders. The skirt is on the waistline with gold buttons. The skirt also has ruffle, so that when she lifts it up, it looks like a peacock’s tail or a mantilla fan.
Traditionally, the Panama women also wear several golden chains and other ornaments as necessary items of La Pollera. Zaricillos (earrings) are usually gold or coral, and to complete the outfit, the female wears slippers which match the color of her pollera. There is tremendous variety of Pollera in Panama these days but traditionally Pollera is always liked in white color and made with fine Lenin.
Panama women adorn their head and hair with floral decorations matching with Pollera. The hair is parted into two braids and tightly pulled back behind the ears. Such exquisite embellishment is known as ‘tembleques.’ Sometimes these shining enrichments are made with the ornaments of gold, silver, and pearls and originally of sea shells or coral.
It requires lots of labor, plenty of hard-work and phenomenal skills to make a Pollera and it might take several months to be stitched. Sometimes Irish linen is also preferred by the women and they apply magnificent stitching, complex knitting and appliqués to make their dress unique and prominent. The most lavish and expensive one is called “the pollera de Gala” which is considered as one of the most luxurious dresses in the World.
The traditional outfits for men in Panama include straw hats along with white cotton shirts and rousers. Both men and women participates in carnivals and traditional gatherings and dance as the women do a gentle sway and twirl their skirts, while the men hold their hats in their hands and dance behind the females. Traditional dress of Panama and the exotic Mola and La Pollera are unique and well-known in the whole of South and Latin America for their immense beauty and decorations.
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