Panama Hats and Fibre Sacks Made in Manta, Ecuador 

27 Mar

Our visit to Manta, Ecuador, focused on the country’s rich craft tradition. Like many, I did not know that the famous Panama hat is actually from Ecuador!  The traditional weaving of the hat started here in a town like Monticristi 

Made from the inner leaves of a type of palm, the hat is woven by hand as women and men lean forward over a stone and cushion while focusing on the intricate weaving patterns. 

Weaving a hat. Dyed palm leaves are behind him.

We had the opportunity to see the process from start to finish: watching a young woman slit off the outer skin of the Palm using the thorn from a green guava plant; then the boiling of the Palm; the drying; the dyeing; the weaving; the pounding; the ironing; clipping the extra leaves; and then selling them. 

Almost completed hats

It was amazing to watch this labor intensive craft. In fact, we were told that this traditional craft is yucky losing the experienced weavers. It is usually a family tradition, and many younger people no longer wish to do it. Basically most people who do it now have other sources of income and so it as a way to earn extra cash

Why are hats that are made in Ecuador called Panama hats?  They were used in the early 1900s by people working on the Panama Canal.  We were told that when President Teddy Roosevelt came to see the Canal, he was given a hat to protect him from the sun. He then told anyone who asked that he got the hat in Panama. So it became known as a Panama hat. 

We also saw a traditional family owned company that creates and weaves the bags used for coffee beans from fibers found in green guava plants. Also fascinating!

Revealing the fibers by scraping the leaf.

The fibers are scraped out of a leaf, dried and then carded to soften them. After they are spun into large spindles, set on a loom and woven. 

Spinning the fibre into yarn.

The loom is powered by foot pedals as the shuttle quickly shoots back and forth and the fabric for the sacks is created. 

This man worked the loom with both his feet and hands.

Besides seeing the crafts of Manta, named by the Spanish for the giant manta rays that surrounded the port, we saw the beautiful beaches and lush green scenery. A fun day for those who love crafts. 

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