Kuna Woman in Traditional Clothes Holding Bird in San Blas, Panama (Photo of the Day)

Kuna Woman in Traditional Clothing Holding Bird (San Blas, Panama)

This photo is of a Kuna Yala woman, a resident of Carti Island, in traditional clothing. The colorful part right above her skirt is a mola, which means ‘shirt’ or ‘clothing’ in Dulegaya, the language spoken by the Kuna. The ring in the woman’s nose is called an olasu. The arm beads are known as wini.

Did You Know That…

…Molas, many of which contain geometric patterns, were originally body paintings?

It’s true. It was only after colonization by the Spanish that the Kuna started to create the designs on fabric.

While there in Carti, I saw many molas of flowers, trees, birds, crabs and other animals. They were gorgeous and I enjoyed checking out the various styles. Although many seemed similar, I saw plenty of unique ones, some with vibrant oranges and blues.

What Inspired the Photo

The colors were just too good to pass up; same with the expression on her face. I’d just arrived on the island after a long day of travel and was experiencing and enjoying a bit of culture shock. No doubt she was part of it.

Truth be told–she was a real character and a keen businesswoman. She charged me for the photo and I paid it. While I tend not to do this (I often try to buy something instead), I didn’t mind in this case. She had a unique look and I wanted to remember it and her.

Photographic Details

Camera: Olympus XZ-1
F stop: 2.2
Shutter: 1/250 second
ISO: 100
Filter: None

Your Thoughts/Reactions?

Have you ever visited the San Blas islands of Panama? If so, what did you think? Did you have a chance to interact with any of the Kuna?

I enjoyed meeting these unique indigenous folks even though communication was challenging. Sometimes I got lucky and was able to use Spanish with them; other times, I wasn’t able to and tried to use phrases from my travel guide. This was, as you can imagine, a bit amusing.

How do you feel about paying people for photos? Does it seem fair in that they need a way to earn a living and this is an easy way to do it? Or do you think that it’s wrong on some level? I recall paying her $1.

I also spent money on the molas (not hers but someone else’s); prices were excellent on the island (versus the mainland where they were triple the price.) I bought several as gifts and a few for myself and I’m glad I did. Whenever I look at them on the walls in my apartment, I smile. They bring back some nice memories.

Can’t Get Enough?

Want to see more photos from around the world? Here are the other ‘photos of the day‘ (people, places and things) from several continents. Here are additional posts from Panama and other photos and stories about locals I’ve met while traveling.


15 Responses to Kuna Woman in Traditional Clothes Holding Bird in San Blas, Panama (Photo of the Day)
  1. Maria
    February 4, 2013 | 7:28 am

    Wow! So glad I caught “the bus” this morning. Had no idea about the Molas and now that I think of the history therein, there’s a plus for colonization… printing the designs on fabric made it available to others (something that could be traded).
    Maria recently posted..Live-Stock OptionsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 4, 2013 | 6:42 pm

      Hi, Maria. Cool stuff, right? I’ve got a couple left. One is orange and of two fish and another is blue–of a bird. Love them! Sort of wish I’d bought more. Would be great to sell! :)

      • Maria
        February 4, 2013 | 7:05 pm

        Did you make any contacts while there? If so maybe you can call or write and get a supply chain going then open an online store :-)
        Maria recently posted..Live-Stock OptionsMy Profile

        • CB Driver
          February 4, 2013 | 7:23 pm

          Good idea! I could probably get in contact with someone. Will keep that idea in mind. You never know!

          • Lisa Oxley
            March 26, 2013 | 7:27 pm


            This site has the best ones.

          • CB Driver
            March 26, 2013 | 9:46 pm

            Thanks for sharing that! I love the one that’s on the homepage–of the archer. If I saw that in person, I would definitely buy it (if within my budget). It’s so cool!

  2. Wilfredo
    February 5, 2013 | 9:51 pm

    Some years ago I visited San Blas and there was talk of Cholera. Thankfully everything was cool. I was impressed by the fact that only women wore the colorful Mola, and men wore ordinary clothing. It seemed like the women were in charge but I don’t know? I have a mola waiting to be framed. :-)

    • CB Driver
      February 8, 2013 | 9:00 pm

      Cholera? That’s scary. Glad it wasn’t a problem. Re: the women being in change–I got that feeling, too, but I’m not sure. Interesting islands…

  3. Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans
    February 14, 2013 | 12:17 am

    I lived in Panama when I was younger but never encountered the Kuna. A few years ago, I happened to see a Kuna woman wearing molas walking out of New New York Hotel in Las Vegas of all places!
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..Búzios: Positive EnergyMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 15, 2013 | 10:28 pm

      You saw a Kuna woman wearing molas in Las Vegas? That is wild!

  4. Lisa Oxley
    March 26, 2013 | 7:25 pm

    I am a Zonian, born in the Canal Zone. I lived in Panama for 18 years. I grew up being used to seeing the Kuna and molas. They used to allow photos. When they started charging for them, I refused to pay. It is just a way to make money and turned themselves into commercialism. I don’t like it. I will purchase a mola or another item, but I draw the line at paying for a photo. Most of us feel the same way.

    • CB Driver
      March 26, 2013 | 9:45 pm

      Hi, Lisa. Nice to meet you! I didn’t know the Kunas used to allow photos. Hmmm. Shame that it’s changed. I can understand how/why you’d feel that way.

      BTW…when I was on Carti Island, I snapped some general photos (and a few of the women making the molas) and it seemed to be OK (no one tried to charge me). I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to on some of the smaller islands. This particular woman (who was on Carti), however, really ran the photo thing like a business. I gave in and paid because I wanted the photo.

  5. Chill Educational Travel
    April 1, 2013 | 10:51 am

    This picture captures the beauty of a Kuna woman perfectly. The colors, her pose, and to top it off the parrot. I love this photo!

    • CB Driver
      April 2, 2013 | 12:48 am

      Thanks so much, Erin–glad you like it! She’s something, huh? :)

  6. oliver7800
    April 6, 2013 | 3:16 pm

    I never visited San Blas but read about it many a times. About, paying people for their photo. I don’t find anything wrong in that. Their life-style is giving us charm and entertainment and in return $1 is very little.

    Amande in San Blas Islands
    oliver7800 recently posted..LoicMy Profile

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