Panamanian Customs: The Mil Polleras


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Ladies of the Azuero in Their Polleras

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Tiny Pollera Beauty

This coming Saturday, January 11, 2014, the Azuero will celebrate Mil Pollera, or One Thousand Polleras.  Nearly every woman in the area who owns a pollera, the exquisite national costume of Panama, will don it and dance in the parade in Las Tablas.  As will their tiny daughters.  And their men.

The Mil Pollera is an event the Panamanian government established as a way to celebrate the national heritage contained within the beauty and tradition of these lovely costumes.  Every stitch in these incredible dresses is set by hand.  It can take as long as a year to make one and requires a team of skilled seamstresses.  A full pollera costume complete with tembleque (a delicately quivering beaded hair decoration), the requisite and very traditional gold chains, earrings and headpieces can cost upwards of $20,000.

Bonnie Birker, a former Peace Corps volunteer who now lives in Guarare, wrote a fascinating book about the seventeen different types of polleras and their construction.  We reviewed her book, The Art of the Pollera,  in an earlier post if you are interested.

The Las Tablas style of pollera is arguably both the most famous and the most elaborate, constructed from yards and yards and yards of white lawn, decorated with handmade netting, several distinct types of embroidery, and at least five different types of appliqued ribbons.  The costume includes special shoes, a yarn pompom, exquisite hair decorations, and pounds of gold jewelry.  The jewelry is often a magnificent set passed from eldest daughter to eldest daughter.

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Local Musicians Play Tamboritos

The 2014 parade is set to begin at 4:00pm on January 11 in the Las Tablas park square.  For anyone interested in folklore, this will be an event not to miss, an extraordinary display.  Over 10,000 ladies – and men – in national costume are expected to participate this year, along with the bands of musicians called murgas, all smiling and singing and dancing to tamboritos, the cheerful national rhythm and dance of Panamá.