A Panama hat is a traditional brimmed straw hat, which became famous around the world because of the workers on the Panama Canal who wore them, hence the name “Panama Hat”. Now, we can find them everywhere! Contradictory to its name, the Panama hat has nothing to do with the Republic of Panama in Central America. It is actually of Ecuadorian origin. Locally, it is also called “sombrero di paja toquilla”, because it’s made from the plaited leaves of the plant, also known as Carludovica palmata. Weaving of the traditional Ecuadorian toquilla hat is an old art that it was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2012 by UNESCO. This term is used to define practices, traditions, knowledge and skills communities passed down from generation to generation as part of their culture heritage.
Since the earthquake that hit Ecuador in 2016, the local community of artisans in Picoaza, a former village that decades ago was absorbed by growing urban sprawl of the city of Portoviejo, has been struggling to keep the tradition alive. Before the earthquake, the production of the Panama hat was already dwindling due to economic problems in Ecuador and competition from Chinese hat producer. Today, the situation is even worse.
“We still work on weaving the straw, but we don't have the equipment to make the trim,” explains Margarita, President of a local producers association, composed of families who have been working together for over 60 years and that was formalized two years ago. “We are forced to sell the hats at a much lower price and when they are still unfinished. Therefore, most of the income produced is needed to pay for distribution and there is not much money left for the local producers.”
Read, watch, listen and share news and stories of our work, initiatives and more