Current Location: Las Brisas Anchorage, Panama City
Date: 10 November 2010
Hello again to all our visitors. We continue to make progress with the radar installation, although recent high winds have prevented completion. According to Moe, one more trip up the mast should see the job finished.
In Panama, November is the month for celebrations of independence (from Spain) and secession (from Colombia). Last week was the official Independence Day, followed by Flag Day (both days public holidays). Today, the 10th November, is the anniversary of the first town in Panama, Los Santos, declaring its independence from Spain (also a public holiday). The Secession Day from Colombia is celebrated at the end of the month, the final public holiday for the month.
There has been an embarrassment of choices of parades to attend both in the capital and in the outlying towns. We decided a brief road trip was in order and traveled by local bus to the town of Las Tablas in the Los Santos province which forms part of the Azuero Peninsula.
The ‘Mil Polleras’ Parade used to be held in the banking district of Panama City, however it was more recently re-located to Las Tablas. It was an appropriate move as the hand stitched dresses are made in Las Tablas and surrounding communities. The Azuero Peninsula is the focal for Panamanian folkloric traditions (music, dancing, clothing) from the Colonial period. On the other hand, the contrast of seeing 1000 women in traditional dress dancing down skyscraper lined streets would have been quite a sight.
The pollera is the national dress of Panama. One story I heard about the dress was that is was a work dress typically worn whilst rounding up the back yard chooks (hence the name). In essence, a pollera is a full circle pleated skirt with a blouse that can be worn off the shoulder. Made from light cotton, in this tropical heat the flowing dress makes a good sartorial choice. It is derived from the house dresses worn by women in C17th Spain, however with the passage of time, it has become in Panama a more ‘dressy’ dress, particularly when the head piece of gold or beaded seed pearls, and numerous gold chains, are added. When seen up close they are gorgeous items of attire from the cross stitched patterns to the lace work – and frankly far too nice for the chickens to appreciate. Can’t see myself wearing one, but can certainly appreciate the skill involved in making one, not to mention the dancing…
The parade was not just confined to women wearing polleras – as soon as we got off the bus we became aware that we were a little under dressed as neither of us had a Panama hat to wear (Moe’s buff and my Cancer Council sunhat didn’t quite cut it). What many people (us included) think of as Panama Hats, are actually made in Ecuador, and made from toquilla palm. The Sombrero Pintada, or what we called a campesino hat, a made in Panama Panama Hat, comes in various styles from plain to patterned, all broad brimmed. The men tend to wear them with the brims folded up, giving many of them a Gomer Pyle appearance. As the photos below will show, many of the women just know how to wear a hat.
The dancers were organized into what appeared to be village or town groups of up to 40 or so people: the dancers, both women and men; the singers (women); and the band (men). Instruments played by band members included drums (several types), other percussion instruments, violin, and accordion. There was also an impressive age range of participants from Kindergarten aged children, older children, teenagers, young adults, adults, to jubilados (retirees). Our observation was that if you wanted to be involved, a place would be found for you somewhere in the group.
It was a mostly clear sunny day and the atmosphere joyous. A big day on the bus to get there and back, but well worth the effort. As with the dance performance at Mi Pueblito, we were able to stand quite close to the action, which was wonderful. Sorry, no sound recordings, only photos.
So, here’s some photos from the afternoon festivities, with only some of the 1000 pollera wearing gals and their entourages.
We’re off to buy hats and practise our dance moves. So, how many polleras did you count?
Margaret and Moe