The Panama Connection

“Cock your hat – angles are attitudes.” Frank Sinatra

My Hat 4I love hats. There’s something about having a hat on your head that proclaims to the world, I am here. For those of us who wear hats, there is a sense that we are wearing a work of art.

My dear friends, L and J, just returned from an adventure in Panama. Traveling into the verdant mountainous jungles, they came upon an artist known for his creative ability of transforming the leaves of the toquilla palm (Carludovica palmate) into what is known as the Panama hat.

Hills around LaPintata,Courtesy of L & J
Hills around LaPintata,Courtesy of L & J

So now, thanks to L and J, I am now wearing my “Panama” at a jaunty angle everywhere I go these days. This is a hat like no others. Even on the warmest days, with the sun directly on my head, I never feel hot. According to L and J, the positioning of the hat denotes the emotional state of the wearer.

The Panama hat plant a.k.a. toquilla palm is not a palm tree. And it grows in more places than Panama, from Central America to Bolivia. In fact the Panama hat is originally from Ecuador. Artisans were weaving the leaves into hats as early as the seventh century. When they were “discovered” by the Americans and Europeans, finished hats were shipped from Ecuador to the Isthmus of Panama before heading out to other parts of the world. And that is why we now know them as Panama hats.

On December 6, 2012, the art of weaving the traditional Ecuadorian toquilla hat was added to the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list. The more I read, the more I know how important it is to preserve this tradition. I wear this hat proudly.

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

36 thoughts on “The Panama Connection

    1. Neither did I! It seems that the wind/breeze is able to find its way through the weave. The fall is fast approaching so I’m thinking that a change of hats is in the near future…


    1. My pleasure! It has been hot in Vancouver these past couple of weeks so I have worn my Panama every day to keep me cool. The weave allows the air to pass through unlike any other material. Truly amazing.


  1. A great tribute to the Panama and yours look very stylish, Rebecca. i love wearing hats and learning something new; this was a treat this evening. I have no idea why this blog of yours never turn up in my reader. I’ll unfollow and refollow, maybe that helps??
    Greetings from the North with a big hug ❤


    1. Thank you so much for your visit and comments. The reader has deleted some of the blogs that I follow too – not certain why that is? I think it may be that when anyone changes their theme, their posts are dropped from the reader. I recently changed this theme (because of the large font) so that may be the problem.

      I knew you would love wearing hats! They speak to me about adventures. And speaking of adventures – your last post on the tall ships was amazing.

      Hugs coming across the ocean!


  2. I have a Panama hat that I wear a lot but I never any of these things about it! Thanks for posting Rebecca. I had to go search with google to find this post amongst all your blogs as they are not appearing in my reader!


    1. Who would have guessed that there was so much history and meaning attached to our hats? Think of the Baseball cap, the Fedora, Top Hat, Fez, Beret. And then there is the new hats like the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter and Zorro’s black hat. So many stories to look into… 🙂


  3. Hi Rebecca…

    I am really glad to read those respectful words for american traditions…
    Because american are not just people from US but instead of it the inhabitants of a whole diverse continent, right?… (A sort of digression here)
    Thanks for highlighting these cultural values and the fact that Ecuadorian toquilla hat has been added to the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list.
    I love your photos too!…
    Best wishes and I hope you have a marvelous week ahead,

    Aquileana 😛



    1. I never leave the house without my Panama Hat. I never thought that I would form such an attachment to a hat (and I have a few). It is so wonderfully comfortable and cool. Every time I place it on my head, I think of the creative endeavour that made it all possible.

      I agree wholeheartedly that we live in a global world, with rich cultural diversity. This is what makes our blogging community strong and courageous. 🙂

      “He who is different from me does not impoverish me – he enriches me. Our unity is constituted in something higher than ourselves – in Man… For no man seeks to hear his own echo, or to find his reflection in the glass.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


  4. 1. that ‘under the shadow’ image of the mural is STUNNING!
    2. i’ve just returned from a trip to quito, where murals jump out from all directions. you’d be in visual paradise to absorb all that’s here!
    3. of course i loved this post! i live in manabi, where the town of montechristi is located. that’s the true ‘hub’ of the panama hats and the palms that produce the fiber.
    that’s so great that the man asked you about the origin of your hat! of course he was able to spot ‘authenticity’ (and class!)

    i miss our late-night logging-off conversations! one of these days i’ll have reliable internet again!



    1. I admire your tenacity and determination in the midst of an uncertain and unreliable internet connection. About a week ago, my computer had a meltdown in the middle of writing up a blog post. There I was staring at a blank screen. It was the most interesting feeling to be “unplugged” from the rest of the world.

      I am so excited to learn that you are at the place where it all began. In my research, I came across Eloy Alfaro (who was born in Montecristi – Manabi), the Ecuadorian national hero who financed his revolution through the export of Panama hats. He is recognized for his ability to bring about national unity. When you know the stories behind the artistic endeavour, there is a greater appreciation for the gift of human labour.

      Thank you for adding depth to this dialogue.


      1. i think/hope that my last reply reached you.. it’s not showing on this end.

        in half an hour, more or less, i’ve managed to load about the first thirty seconds of this video – it’s enough to know that you’ll enjoy seeing the evolution of ivo’s masterpiece, the sculpture of eloy alfaro in montechristi…


      2. Magnificent. A profound journey of love and compassion for a remarkable man. My husband has a working knowledge of Spanish so he translated for me. I have watched the video several times. Thank you so much for sharing!!! 🙂


  5. You look quite stylish, my dear! I too always wear my hats, especially in summer. I thought I had a Panama hat but seeing your beauty, I think mine’s a fake !! xo


    1. Thank you so much! I feel stylish when I wear it. By the way, California was/is a great importer of the Panama Hat simply because of the way it keeps heads cool under the summer sun. I’m quite certain that you have the “real thing.” 🙂 ❤


  6. Hats can be so beautiful and flattering, I am reminded that they also denote authority. I am reminded of army personnel, navy and air force officers and our policemen/women


    1. Oh yes!!! And the best of these hats, in my opinion, is the hats worn by the Buckingham Place guards. The history of hats is a fascinating subject. Humanity has the need to cover their heads, whether for protection against the elements, for safety, or for social status, military, rank, or ceremonial reasons. My favourite hat maker is from Alice in Wonderland!

      “I don’t think…” then you shouldn’t talk, said the Hatter.” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


    1. Thank you!! I have a couple of caps too, which I love! And a few toques, since Canadian winters (even in Vancouver) are rather chilly. One of my favourite “hat” quotes is by Shirley MacLaine

      “Life is like a new hat. You don’t know if it suits you if you keep trying it on in front of your own mirror.”


    1. Thank you Letizia! Have you ever read David McCullough’s “The Path Between the Seas?” It is all about the creation of the Panama Canal (1870-1914). David McCullough is a master storyteller. Anyway, the reason why I brought this book up was that in 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt visited the construction site of the Panama Canal, he was photographed wearing a Panama hat. You can imagine the fashion magazines! Everyone wanted to buy a Panama Hat. 🙂


    1. You would love these hats! Every time I put it on, it seems that I find myself in an adventure. My husband and I were at our favourite coffee shop when an older man approached us and asked where I bought my hat. When I told him, the hat was a gift from a friend who had just returned from Panama, he was able to pinpoint the exact location where it was made. His parents went to Panama when he was very young; he knew the mountains, the language, and the people who made these hats. Everyone has a story; I have a feeling that this man’s life was full of stories. 🙂


    1. It is a fun hat to wear. But the best quality is that is keeps me cool. I can feel the air passing through the weave. I read that these hats were a favourite of the miners of the California Gold Rush. Now, I know why! The hat would protect them in the afternoon heat. Thank you for stopping by – very much appreciated.


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