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Mola: Cuna Life Stories and Art
     

Mola: Cuna Life Stories and Art

by Maricel E. Presilla
 

My little girls,

You will grow up and marry a grown boy.

You will grow up....

I will look for molas,

Molas for the little girls.

—Cuna Lullaby

The remarkable Cuna Indians live on the San Blas Islands off the northern coast of Panama. Cuna women hold much of the power enjoyed by men in other societies. They select their husbands, pass property on to

Overview

My little girls,

You will grow up and marry a grown boy.

You will grow up....

I will look for molas,

Molas for the little girls.

—Cuna Lullaby

The remarkable Cuna Indians live on the San Blas Islands off the northern coast of Panama. Cuna women hold much of the power enjoyed by men in other societies. They select their husbands, pass property on to their children, and make a unique form of art called molas that depict every detail of their lives.

The spectacular fabric designs in vibrant tropical colors that appear on the front and back panels of molas give us a window into Cuna life. We may see a day in school, mythical birds, the story of Noah, jungle animals, or a girl's coming-of-age.

Author Maricel Presilla learned how to read molas when she stayed with the Cuna. Mola is her tribute to the women she came to know and the amazing art they create.

An American Bookseller "Pick of the Lists"

One of Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Presilla, who visited with and interviewed people of the San Blas Islands off the northern coast of Panama, offers an intriguing picture of the lives of the Cuna Indians through their unique folk art....An unusual and effective look at a culture probably unfamiliar to American children."—Booklist

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As in her Life Around the Lake (coauthored with Gloria Soto), Presilla again examines a little-known culture by means of its textile arts. This time her subject is the Cuna Indians, who inhabit the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama, and the avenue for exploration is the mola, a vibrant cloth panel with embroidered and appliqud designs. Outsiders frame molas as art; Cuna women sew them into blouses. The author's language is often as vivid as the painstakingly stitched, densely hued fabric art; she notes that from the air the San Blas Islands "seem no bigger than jellyfish floating lazily in the shiny turquoise and cobalt blue waters of the Caribbean Sea." Cuna women create the molas; as the author explains in an endnote, the high prices these works fetch from outsiders buttresses the dominant role women have traditionally played in Cuna society. Aided by crisply detailed photographs of molas, Presilla paints a memorable portrait of "women who wear their lives." Ages 7-up. (Oct.) TOUSSAINT L'OUVERTURE: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom Walter Dean Myers, illus. by Jacob Lawrence. S&S, $16 ISBN 0-689-80126-2 As a young Harlem Renaissance artist, Lawrence's first success was a series of 41 narrative paintings chronicling the life of Haitian activist Toussaint L'Ouverture, who in 1791 led a rebellion against the French planters. Lawrence's stylized tempura art, painted predominantly in muted earth hues, is punctuated by luminous splashes of white and red. His striking compositions recreate the drama of how the self-taught Toussaint became the revolt's leader, organizing workers into "a mighty army of liberation" to abolish slavery on both the French and Spanish sides of the island. They also convey Toussaint's despair in prison, where he died before Haiti's liberation in 1804. The battle scenes are a dynamic clatter of spiky, angular shapes and flying hooves; more quiet panels depict Toussaint studiously drafting battle plans and ships ominously arriving from France. Though Myers (Brown Angels) makes some broad leaps that may puzzle kids, he skillfully presents Toussaint's life story in succinct episodes that correspond to the paintings. His clean, effective text supports Lawrence's more complex and powerful paintings, both urbane and elemental in style. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) FYI: The artist whose paintings illustrate this book is himself the subject of a picture book (reviewed below).
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6Molas are blouses with intricate, brilliantly colored reverse appliqu panels worn by Cuna Indian women. The decorative motifs are taken from the women's daily lives, folklore, and imaginations, a fact that this charming book uses to good effect. Presilla obviously loves and admires the Cuna, who inhabit the San Blas Islands off the north coast of Panama. The text describes the customs and lives of these matrilineal people and includes quotes and songs from the Cuna themselves. On every page, a detail or a full panel of a mola photographed in glowing colors amplifies the text. The method of the garment's construction is briefly described. Directions for making reverse or "cut-through" appliqus can be found in Jeremy Comins's Latin American Crafts and Their Cultural Backgrounds (Lothrop, 1974; o.p.) and in Judith H. Corwin's Latin American and Caribbean Crafts (Watts, 1992). There is more detail about the Cuna, and molas, in Ana Mara Vzquez's Panama (Children's, 1991), which would be better for reports; but none give as many examples of this wonderful folk art as Presilla's book.Pam Gosner, Maplewood Memorial Library, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
In the San Blas Islands off the northern coast of Panama, Cuna women make a unique and beautiful form of art called molas, in which layers of fabric of various textures are sewn together, then snipped and stitched into pictures comprised of bold forms and bright colors. They wear these on special occasions. Presilla (with Gloria Soto, Life Around the Lake, p. 452, etc.) tells the history of the Cuna, and in the molas they have created, vibrantly presents their entire culture, from lullabies to cooking to cosmology. Historical and cultural materials quoted in the text will expand readers' understanding, but the real glory of the book is the full- color parade of pictures of the molas. An accomplished, unusual look at a little-known culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805038019
Publisher:
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
10/28/1996
Edition description:
REV
Pages:
32
Product dimensions:
10.38(w) x 10.36(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Maricel E. Presilla journeyed to the San Blas Islands as part of her ongoing study of the foods and cultures of Latin America. After receiving her doctorate in medieval Spanish history, she wrote two books for young readers: Feliz Nochebuena, Feliz Navidad: Christmas Feasts of the Hispanic Caribbean, and with Gloria Soto, Life Around the Lake. A native of Cuba, she lives with her husband in Weehawken, New Jersey.

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