Did molas evolve from body painting?

A commonly heard theory about molas suggests that they evolved from a tradition of body-painting. There is some evidence that Guna women might, at one time, have gone around topless with painted designs on their torsos — including one photo we have from the 1930s (which Facebook censors when we try to post it). But we have also seen rare paintings of Guna women from 1842 — and they are fully clothed. So the body-painting-to-mola-blouse theory is hard to prove. But this very old nuchu carving of a Guna woman seems to support it. Traces of paint remain on her scarf and skirt. But her torso is decorated only with a design of carved lines — much like the body painting we see in use by Embera women from the neighboring Darien. The carving shows signs of pretty good age, and might even pre-date the earliest known mola photo (1887). Your theories, suggestions and remarks-of-all-kinds are welcome. This piece was collected by Kit Kapp in the 1960s.

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