Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Open Access Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Forestry (MS)

Administrative Home Department

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science

Advisor 1

Molly Cavaleri

Committee Member 1

Blair Orr

Committee Member 2

Audrey Mayer

Abstract

Panamanian sombreros are made from a palm-like tropical grass called Carludovica palmata. In Panama, there are two distinct styles of sombreros: Pintado and Capireño. While several other plants are used in the traditional Pintado, the Capireño is made entirely from the dried fiber of C. palmata. Both sombrero styles are woven by rural people, who are for the most part subsistence farmers. Formal employment is scarce in rural Panama, and so are incomes for rural inhabitants. Sombrero weaving is one small industry that can earn money for both men and women.

The purpose of this study was to document the plants used in sombrero production, and to determine if individual weavers were limited by access to the plant fiber. Next, I sought to determine if improved management of fiber would be beneficial to those involved in the sombrero industry. Infrastructure, artisan culture, and government outreach were compared between two sombrero-producing districts in Panama in relation to the sombrero market. Finally, sombrero prices by weaver gender and age were compared between two districts, and current sombrero prices were compared to prices from ten years ago.

My results suggested that individual weavers in Panama may lack access to fiber. For this reason, improved management of plants could provide individuals with additional fiber that could be used to improve earnings from hat sales. Government outreach has been assisting artisans in the district of La Pintada, but additional help that focuses on irrigation would be beneficial. Education for weavers and support of weaving groups may prove beneficial also, especially in terms of supporting work done by female weavers.

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