Exported for over 150 years, the Panama hat has toured the world with this name. It is, however, Ecuadorian. A straw named Toquillas “Cardulovica palmata”. In 1534, coming from Central America, a Spanish fleet landed in Bahia de Cadaquez. These troops came to the rescue of the conquistadors who faced the warriors of the Inca emperor’s own brother, Atahualpa.
During their ascent to the Sierra, the Spanish cross the villages of Jipijapa and Montecristi, Ecuador. Father Jose Maria Cobos was then surprised by the strange headdresses worn by the inhabitants to protect themselves from the sun. Their finesse and their cut remind the wings of the bats, and the Spaniards simply think that they are made of the skin of this animal.
Origin of Panama hat
It is actually a plant fiber called “Pajamocora”, extracted from a palm tree that grows only in this country. It was not until 1630 that Francisco Delgado, settled in the region of Manabi, discovered the skill of the natives of the region to work this fiber. He also discovered the many qualities of this fiber. Its exceptional whiteness, its smoothness and its flexibility allow you to roll the hats in your pocket, and then take them out without being crumpled.
Delgado calls them “Tocas”, toque in Spanish; very quickly the diminutive of “toquillas” appears and this name definitely replaces that of Mocora.
The hats of straw “Toquillas” were grown but it took almost two centuries to become “Panama hats“.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, Toquillas straw hats had settled in the local tradition as hats for men. The region of Guayaquil and the province of Manabi cultivated the palm tree, the fiber of which was the raw material of the Toquillas and many families specialized in making.
The hats were worn everywhere from Peru to Central America, but their manufacture remained artisanal and could not for that reason know a real boom.
However, in 1830, at the outbreak of Greater Colombia, the garrison of Republican soldiers in Cuenca was wearing this hat. This first use does not go unnoticed.
In 1835 the first industry was started in Cuenca. In 1881, the United States undertook the breakthrough of the Panama Canal and thousands of workers from different countries were affected. Very quickly, the veterinary services made the wearing of the hat mandatory to protect themselves from the sun; light, comfortable and practical, the Toquillas were unanimous. Adopted by all, Ecuadorian “Toquillas” traded at a golden price: around $100 per unit. Panama, however, gained its nobility dueto President Roosevelt, who adopted it during a visit of the Canal construction site in 1906, popularizing the name “Panama hat“.
The Ecuadorian hats were going around the world … We find them during the first Cuban revolution (1885), then during the US war against Spain (1898). The only site of the Canal consumed more than 100,000 of these hats.
In 1925, 5 years after the inauguration of the Canal, the factories of Cuenca, which employed more than 50,000 people, produced more than 1,500,000 hats by year, all for export. Until 1972, the date of the first oil exports, hats were the first manufactured export product of the equator.
Reaching a record $5 million in 1977, the hat was sold in more than 120 countries. Since then, the Panama hat has had the honor of wearing many famous heads of the world of entertainment or politics and countless anonymous. Until today where his qualities such as lightness and practicality are well established. Yet today, a real crisis affects this industry. The Panamas governed by a quality label are considered luxury products for export to the rich countries and are taxed accordingly. In contrast, low quality hats, produced in Colombia and Venezuela, circulate freely.
Many private initiatives have been taken for some time to safeguard this production as hats for women. In addition, between the production of fiber and the making of hats, several thousand jobs are insured.
Finally, even if they bear the name of another country, the Panama hat is the only product in the world that can identify with the equator, an aspect of the cultural heritage that it would be good to preserve.