Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Dulemola (Blouse Panel) with Scene of Churches



Dulemola (Blouse Panel) with Scene of Churches


The dulemola panel features two churches, a subject that is obviously not “traditional” since the Guna religion was and continues to be shamanic and nature-based. Yet, according to dulemola artists, equal-armed cross shapes stand for the top lashed cross-bars of local thatch structures called palapas. Indeed, the two on the church roofs take the symmetrical cross shape (a universal symbol representing the World Tree and the four directions) and occupy the same relative position as in a palapa. Below them, however, are Christian crosses that are characteristically longer in the vertical direction. Thus, these four crosses, perhaps further alluding to the four cosmic directions, subtly combine indigenous and imposed religious symbols. 

The Guna are familiar with the various missionary groups who first entered Panamá as early as 1699, but did not take hold until the 19th and 20th centuries. The Panama Canal Zone, being American territory for nearly a century, increased the influx of American missionaries of all denominations. By the 1950’s the Guna were a focus of the Southern Baptist Home Mission and today Mormons are a common sight in the San Blas Islands. The Guna maintain a basic tolerance for various religions, though their own religious practices are still paramount. Indeed, what may be an abstract tree between the two churches could refer to the Guna traditional orientation toward the spiritually alive Earth as more central than the churches introduced by outsiders.

Geographic Area

Central America, Guna Yala (San Blas Islands/North Coast of Panamá)




20th century



Credit Line

Lent by Sherry Thorup

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017

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