Mola Museum in Casco Viejo, Panama

The Mola Museum (“Museo de la Mola” in Spanish, or MUMO) opened on December 1st, 2019 in Casco Viejo, Panama.

The Mola Museum exhibits a total of 183 molas, all made by Guna women.

The Mola is a traditional textile art form made by the Guna indigineous group of Panama (and Colombia). Molas are fabric sewn onto panels that feature complex, bright, multi-layer designs using a reverse appliqué technique. In the Guna language, called Dulegaya, mola means “clothes” or “blouse”. Traditionally, the full Guna dress includes a skirt (“saburet” in Dulegaya), a red and yellow head scarf (“musue” in Dulegaya), sleeves for the arms and legs (“wini” in Dulegaya), a gold nose ring (“ondau” in Dulegaya), and earrings(“dulemor” in Dulegaya).

History of the Mola

Molas originated from the Guna tradition where women painted their bodies with geometric designs, using naturally available colors. After the Spanish colonization and subsequent contact with missionaries, the Gunas began to transfer their traditional geometric designs onto fabrics, first painting them and then using the reverse appliqué technique. It is unclear when this technique was first used, though it is assumed that older molas date between 150 and 170 years old.

Over the last 50 years, in addition to the more traditional geometric designs, the Gunas began to incorporate both realistic and abstract designs of flowers, animals, birds and water into their molas.

Depending on the tradition of each Guna Yala island, Guna women begin to make molas once they reach puberty, though some start much earlier. Molas are extremely signifant to the Gunas, as they are the primary piece of art that represents their tradition and culture. Travelers can see Guna women all over Panama, including Casco Viejo, wearing traditional dress and selling molas as souvenirs.

According to the Guna belief, molas serve to prevent evil spirits from possessing indigenous people and to celebrate important rituals, such as the celebration of puberty.

Production of the Mola

Molas are made entirely by hand using several layers (usually 2 to 7) of different colors, which are sewn together. The design is then formed by cutting different parts out of each layer and then sewing their edges. The highest quality molas feature an extremely fine stitch, where very small and thin needles are used.

The primary design is normally cut from the first layer, and then the other progressively smaller designs are cut from the other layers, revealing the colors below. It is also possible to cut several layers at the same time or to change the color sequence. Some molas incorporate patches of contrasting colors, which gives the design color variation.

The quality of molas can greatly vary, which creates a difference in price. High quality molas features numerous layers and extremely fine stitching.

Molas can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to 6 months to make, depending on the complexity of the design.

Location of the Mola Museum in Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama

El Colegio II Building
Jose de Obaldia Street
Casco Viejo, Panama

Mola Museum Location in Casco Viejo, Panama

Alberto Motta Foundation

The Mola Museum is part of a project that belongs to the Alberto Motta Foundation. The Alberto Motta Foundation focuses on contributing to projects and programs of education, health, culture, environment and decent housing, and the Mola Museum falls perfectly into culture and education. Since 2017, the Alberto Motta Foundation has been backed by Guna through an agreement signed with the Guna Yala General Congress, Guna General Congress of Madungandi, Guna General Congress of Wargandi, Guna General Congress of Tagarkunyal and the General Congress of Guna Culture, with the aim to provide a space to appreciate the Mola as a piece of art.