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1 PEOPLE, PLACE, AND HISTORY T he San Blas Kuna Indians, an American Indian indigenous people, live in an autonomous territory in Panama, the Kuna Yala, and are considered a micro-island nation. The distinctive mola blouse worn by Kuna women is recognized as an identifier of the Kuna people and of Panama, and the history of this dual symbolism is investigated in this book through an interdisciplinary approach. The origin of the mola is explained in terms of the concept of cultural authentication developed by Eicher and Erekosima (1980), and this is linked to the concept of the invention of tradition (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). Extensive historical research found that each of the components of cultural authentication outlined by Eicher and Erekosima was found to occur. A reference collection comprising molas from six museums provides the basis for understanding the evolution of molas over the last one hundred years.1 Collections of molas were studied at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Department of Anthropology , National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Field Museum, Chicago ; Denison Museum, Denison University, Granville, Ohio; Logan Museum of Anthropology, Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin ; and Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz , Ethnologisches Museum. A visual analysis comparing molas in these museums with contemporaneous archival photographs prompted an investigation of the role of the mola in Kuna culture, since the iconography of the mola panels is obscured when worn as part of the dress ensemble of Kuna women. The motivation for the continuation of the high-quality mola production can be explained by a combination of factors that relate to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory and the central role of ritual, which are linked to positive well-being. Previous research had established a link between textile making activities and the well-being of women in Western cultures, and this book confirms that the theory is applicable to non-Western culture. For the first time, the concept of “serious leisure” is found to be relevant to a non-Western culture. This research also considers the continuation of mola production in the context of the cultural survival of ethnic nation-states and extends the concept of islamiento, developed by Chernela (2011), to encompass the overarching strategy developed by Kuna leaders since the move of the Kuna people to the San Blas islands during the second half of the nineteenth century. The book explores the reasons the mola developed during the first part of the twentieth century as part of the everyday dress ensemble of Kuna women, and why after the Kuna Revolution in 1925, the role of the mola in creating Kuna identity was reinforced. The association of the mola with Panama has in recent years also created a market for the mola as a tourist souvenir. introduction 2 Introduction In addition, this book reinforces the role of museums in preserving Kuna material culture, which is not possible under local conditions, and highlights museum collections as an integral part of a strategy to ensure cultural continuity and survival. Museum collections provide an important resource, vital for researchers from Kuna Indian communities, for tracing the evolution of mola design and the significance of the mola for cultural identity. The book is divided into two distinct parts: the first part proposes an explanation for the origin of the mola, and the second part speculates on the continued role of the mola in supporting the cultural survival of the Kuna people. The remainder of this introduction includes brief remarks about aspects of the history of the Kuna people, the location of the Kuna Yala, selected demographic characteristics, the importance of the study of dress in a global context, and the benefits of utilizing museum collections. locating the kuna yala The Kuna Yala is an autonomous territory known as a comarca, one of five indigenous comarcas in Panama. Prior to 1998, the comarca was known as the San Blas comarca, related to the archipelago of the same name. The Kuna people living in this comarca are distinct from Kuna people living in other inland communities and from a few hundred Kuna people living in Colombia. There is significant migration between the Kuna Yala comarca and other areas of Panama, especially Panama City and Colón. Some of the migration is temporary, related to short-term employment and schooling, though in recent years permanent migration has escalated. Panama’s neighbors are Costa Rica to the west and Colombia to the east, and...


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