A Mola is a traditional textile made by the Kuna Indian women from the San Blas Islands off the northeast coast of Panama. The Kuna people were the first inhabitants of Panama but migrated to the San Blas Islands after Spanish colonization. Politically autonomous since 1925, when they revolted against laws enacted to forcefully modernize them, the Kuna have worked hard to preserve a traditional way of life. Life continues largely as it did centuries ago and they continue to make their living fishing, farming, and making traditional crafts like the Mola.
The original Mola were based on geometric designs that the Kuna women painted on their bodies. Post colonization and after contact with the Spanish missionaries, who disapproved of nudity, the designs were transferred to cloth, first by painting directly on the fabric and later by using the technique of reverse application. In the past 50 years realistic and abstract designs of flowers, sea animals and birds have also been introduced.
Most Mola panels are made with an element of slightly mismatched symmetry as part of the Kuna concept known as "acala"–– the idea that everything in the universe is part of a pair, like that of a man and a woman. Each half of the pair are the same (human) but also different (male and female).