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Don't Be Confused. The Panama Hat Is an Old Ecuadorian Tradition

Sombreros de Panamá. Foto en Flickr del usuario Fabrizio Cornalba (CC BY 2.0).

Panama hats. Photo on Flickr by user Fabrizio Cornalba (CC 2.0).

It's known as Panama hat, but it's a traditional brimmed straw hat from Ecuador made from the plaited leaves of the toquilla palm or jipijapa palm. The name gets its origin from the time when the Panama Canal was built, when thousands of these hats were imported from Ecuador for the workers who labored at the ship canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

According to the BBC, the finest Panama hats in the world come from the Ecuadorian cities of Montecristi and Cuenca, but locals in a small village called Pile say they're manufacturing the “best Panama hat in the world.”

Pile es una comunidad de artesanos y pescadores ubicada en la costa manabita a 40 kilómetros de Montecristi, que tiene como actividad principal el tejido de sombreros de paja toquilla. […] Actualmente, cuenta con una población de 750 habitantes aproximadamente. Hombres, mujeres y niños, desde muy temprana edad combinan sus labores domésticas con el tejido de sombreros de paja toquilla.
Ellos aún mantienen en la actualidad la tradición y técnicas del saber ancestral del tejido de sombrero fino. De aquellos maestros que tenían en sus manos el don de convertir a la humilde hebra de toquilla en una magnífica obra de arte, quedan muy pocos.

Pile is a community of craftsmen and fishermen located in the Manabi coast, 40 kilometers [25 miles] from Montecristi, where the main activity is the weaving of toquilla palm hats. […] It currently has about 750 inhabitants. Men, women, and children, from very early age, combine their domestic chores with the weaving of toquilla palm hats.
They still keep the tradition and techniques of the ancient knowledge of fine hat weaving. Of those masters who had in their hands the gift of transforming a humble thread of toquilla in a magnificent masterpiece, very few remain.

“On the international market, the price of a hat, depending on its quality and fineness, can vary from $100 to $30,000,” reports BBC World.

On December 5, 2012, Pile had good reason to have pride for its legacy and tradition, as Unesco inscribed it on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

En este paraje de sencillas casas costeras, enclavado en medio de verdes cerros y el azul del mar del sur manabita, los moradores se sienten muy felices y a la vez humildes por el triunfo alcanzado a nivel mundial producto de su trabajo ancestral

In this region of simple coastal houses, set deep among green mountains and the blue of the sea of the Manabite south, residents feel very happy and humble at the same time for this worldwide achievement—the product of ancestral labor.

As this is a very expensive product, there are many tips to keep it in good condition, as explained by website Yoqs. Sombreros, boinas, gorras (Yoqs. Hats, berets, caps). Some recommendations include:

En climas secos cuando note que el sombrero esta muy seco y rígido, humidificarlo de vez en cuando con el vapor de una plancha a cierta distancia o dejándolo en el baño mientras se ducha. Así ganará flexibilidad, y será menos quebradizo. En climas húmedos guardar el sombrero en un lugar seco, para evitar que a la paja le salga moho.

In dry weather, when you see the hat too dry and rigid, moisten it from time to time with the steam of an iron from a distance, or keep in the bathroom while taking a shower. It will acquire flexibility and will be less brittle. Under wet conditions, keep the hat in a dry place, to prevent the appearance of mold in the palm.

Among the finest and most expensive in the world, Panama hat made in Pile, Ecuador.

I love fans, but to get as a present a “Panama hat,” that really… enamors!

I want a Panama hat.

I wish spring were here, so I can wear a navy blue polo T-shirt for the first time, and a Panama hat.

Fortunately, it seems the future of the Panama hat is well assured with a new generation of handicrafters. In the so-called Hat Road, it's always sought to keep the tradition alive training the younger ones in this craft:

Pile es también un importante pueblo en esta ruta, ya que produce los sombreros más “Finos” de Paja Toquilla del mundo. Es importante recalcar, que sus habitantes aprenden a tejer estos finos sombreros desde niños en la escuela como una más de sus materias escolares, procurando así mantener viva la tradición que ha venido sobreviviendo por varios siglos.

Pile is also an important town in this road, as it produces the “finest” toquilla palm hats in the world. It's important to stress that its residents learn how to weave these fine hats since they are children, as a school subject, aiming to keep alive a century-old tradition.

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