Volume 19, Issue 4, Winter 2001

The Bat Mola

By Keith & Jen Christenson

Panama has a wide variety of handicrafts, and one of the most famous is the mola. What is a mola? It is a brightly-colored, multi-layer fabric design used to make the traditional blouses worn by Cuna Indian women. The Cuna women wear one mola on the front of the blouse, and one on the back, often with a similar theme.

Of course, molas also make wonderful art, and many are sold framed and mounted to be hung on the wall. Typical designs include brightly colored animals such as parrots and butterflies, but occasionally a craftswoman will use a different theme, such as a bat. The mola pictured here was purchased from the Cuna woman who made it, in the town of El Valle de Antón, Panama. It features a beautiful rendering of the fishing bat (Noctilio leporinus). The fishing bat, known locally as el pescador, the fisherman, is a well-known species among the indigenous tribes. It is shown with its exceptionally long legs, and a fish held tightly in each foot.

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