Wrongly named Panama Hats, these toquilla straw hats have been well exposed worldwide as fine clothing objects. Its image is not strange for many people, they have even been worn by famous characters through the years, still the story behind them is not that popular. It is not rare at all to think just in the final product and not in the process or origin of things.
Weaving straw hats implies long working hours, sharp skills and lots of patience of valuable artisans that stay invisible actors and whose art might sadly disappear someday. UNESCO did its part declaring the toquilla straw hats from Ecuador as immaterial cultural heritage in 2012. At Illa, bringing to light the main actors behind beautiful products is at the hotel’s heart. Getting artists close to visitors is a way to help with the preservation of ancestral ways of doing and thinking.
The given name of Panama hats completely fools people and does nothing on recognizing the artisans behind this old Ecuadorian tradition. The name was given because these hats were worn by workers in the construction of the Panama Canal; it doesn’t have nothing to do with its origin, but just with the place where it was first massively worn.
Although the art of waving straw hats has been replicated in many places through South America, its origin was in the coast of Ecuador where the palm tree grows. The elaboration of these straw hats follows a long process: collecting the palms, separating the fiber, boiling it in water and wind drying to start. Then the real work follows, skillful hands weave the hats. Weaving is done in a pretty uncomfortable body position, artisans need to lay over the hat. After long hours of weaving the hat can be washed and wind dried. Finally, the product is ironed and the remained straws cut. Looking at the final product and being conscious that it is the result of artisans’ work can certainly blow away one’s mind because of the magnificence of the product. The art behind these hats and the excellence achieved in this products brings pride to a whole nation.
Artisans preserving the art
Doña Olguita is one of the skilled artisans keeping the toquilla straw hats’ art alive. She is originally from the south of the country, one of the spots where these hats came from. Her small workshop located in the traditional San Marcos neighborhood showcases beautiful products, but not just that, Doña Olguita is one of the artisan stars at Illa.
Nothing beats the experience of live watching such a fine product being produced and of course, guests can try to weave too. All the elements involved when presenting the experience and not just the product give an extra value. Artisans weaving toquilla straw hats are just a few remaining, still they hope young generations get interested and involved in the art. Toquilla straw hats have become fashionable and are perfect for hot weather too because natural fiber prevents from sweating and provides a good shade. The real astonishment comes when looking at the weaving, the finest the fiber also means extra dedication and a better final quality.
When it comes to unique products, owning an object is not the only important thing, it is even more important to learn about people behind the final result, those are the real gems of culture preservation. Appreciating others’ work is priceless and having such generous people sharing their art is a unique opportunity. Illa is all about relationships, human contact and offering experiences that can tell a more complete story than a merely still image. Ecuador has authentic experiences to offer, amazing stories to tell and that is the destination Illa wants guests to explore.