As I arrived on the island of Soledad and Miria, just off the Carribean coast, I was captivated by the beauty of the islanders. The Kuna women were heavily adorned with beaded jewellery. From wrist to elbow, knee to ankle. Their cheeks were perfectly rouged and a fine black line lengthened their noses, whilst rich vibrant scarves covered their hair. Over their blouses they wore complex, applique designs, each telling a unique story. Inspired by dreams and visions, these brightly coloured maps told tales of magical soul journeys, each Mola unique to the individual wearing it and their experiences.
The Kuna women were proud to explain their reason for taking such great care in their appearance. The Kuna Indians believe that as Mother Earth provides the plants from which they can make clothes, the Gold from which they create their charms, the least they can do to repay her is decorate themselves with her gifts and wear them beautifully.
I had always been fascinated by the Kuna Indians of Panama as they are a community with a unique combination of fierce independence and deep traditions. They are passionate in defending their culture, land and language and it was an incredible privilege to be able to work with them to bring those values to life through a passion we both shared.
The Kuna do not believe in mining, they instead pan the Gold from the rivers and make flat sheets which are hammered, cut, and carefully engraved. Inspired by the exceptional designs of the Mola’s which had entranced me, we began creating a number of flat chains and disks with emblematic patterns carefully etched on them. Each holding a symbolic meaning to their community.
Although it was an innovative idea to merge women’s designs with a traditionally male craft, it was one which the community discussed and the goldsmiths were in favour of trying.
When the pieces were finished, the Kuna ladies tried them on and gave their approval. As I stood watching the beautiful gold charms dress their necklines and the precious metal creatures encase their fingers, I was delighted with what we had achieved.
It was an incredible privilege to get to know the families on Soledad Miria and to be able to spend time on their island – to walk at their pace, to see the world through their eyes, and understand another way of being in the world.
See our film made with Chris Wyatt below.