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True History of Montecristi Hat (Panama Hat)

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Declared in 2012 by UNESCO as Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Montecristi Hat (erroneously known as the "Panama Hat") has been considered for many years one of the main typical and typical crafts of Ecuador.

Since the time of our aborigines, this weaving technique has been developing, resulting in a product representative of a cultural identity for Ecuadorians.

Preparation of the Montecristi Hat

The making of this Montecristi Hat is purely artisanal. It stands out for the quality of the fabric, the characteristics of its raw material and the way in which the knowledge has been transmitted to continue weaving it to this day. This tradition creates intrinsic and symbolic values ​​to the hat, appreciated by both the national and foreign public.

Montecristi is where the finest hats are made. Long-lived weavers teach new generations how to make a toquilla straw hat, starting with children with simple hats. When a craftsman reaches adulthood, he begins to weave fine hats, as his fingers have achieved the necessary practice to take on the responsibility of weaving complex fine hats, characterized by impeccable finish, uniform color and meticulous details from crown to brim.

History of the Toquilla Straw Hat

Historically, members of indigenous cultures, such as the Huancavilcas, Mantas, and Caras, were considered skilled weavers of these hats, as well as textile art. They lived in the territory that currently corresponds to the provinces of Guayas and Manabí (Montecristi is a city of Manabí, where the correct name "Sombrero Montecristi" comes from).

The technique of weaving these hats has been transmitted from generation to generation from colonial times to the present day, remaining intact as a tradition among the inhabitants of the Ecuadorian coast and also in the mountains, specifically in the province of Azuay.

This tradition has changed only to improve and innovate models that are in accordance with consumer tastes.

The evidence leads us to assume that the production of toquilla straw fabrics began in the Integration period (500 BC – 1500 AD), specifically with the Manteña culture. Archaeological finds have revealed a wide variety of figurines showing head protectors resembling helmets, whose manufacturing material could have been straw obtained from palm leaves.

Due to the abundance of said palm in these areas, members of the Manteña culture could have used it for its softness, flexibility, color and ease of use in fabrics.

The Hat during the 18th and 19th Centuries

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Montecristi Hat began to be known outside of Ecuador. Already in the 18th century, it was produced and sold in large quantities, exported to Panama.

In the 19th century, the toquilla straw hat began to be seen as a business opportunity, which is why it was introduced in Europe.

This fact is of great historical importance, since the desire to get to know the new continent motivated the purchase of products from it.

Between 1880 and 1881, the French engineer Fernando de Lesseps undertook the construction of the Panama Canal, linking the Pacific with the Atlantic. In November 1906, then-U.S.

President Theodore Roosevelt was photographed wearing an Ecuadorian hat while inspecting the construction of the canal. This photo appeared in all the newspapers and made the hat a fashion trend. Everyone wanted a Montecristi hat, just like Roosevelt's hat.

Recognition and Cultural Value

But, unfortunately for us, the identity of the hat was confused. It is known as the "Panama Hat", ignoring the fact that it was made in Ecuador. When Theodore Roosevelt visited the Canal and wore the hat, his popularity increased.

People arrived in large numbers to Panama, and the use of the Ecuadorian hat began to spread as the most suitable for the climatic conditions and types of work in that place.

Glorified during the 19th century, the Montecristi Hat has since been considered the prince of straw hats. The national hero and emblematic figure, Eloy Alfaro (president of Ecuador at the beginning of the 20th century), helped finance his liberal revolution in the country through the export of Ecuadorian hats. His father, Manuel Alfaro, was one of the largest exporters of toquilla straw hats in Manabí.

Preservation of an Ancestral Tradition

The toquilla straw hat should be known as "Montecristi Hat". Recognizing the value of the origin of this fabric is very important. It is an ancient culture that still lives among us, it is not only a hat, they are also artisans who dedicate their lives to perfecting the weaving and preserving the memory of a centuries-old hat.

The high price of "Montecristi Hats" does not matter, since the quality and usefulness they offer justify it. They became a mandatory piece of clothing. These hats were shipped to Panama from Ecuador in large quantities and spread to North America, Central America and Europe, achieving worldwide fame under the mistaken name "Panama Hat."

The fame and use of this hat was mistakenly expanded with the name "Panama Hat", without recognizing that toquilla straw grows in Ecuador and is hand-woven by Ecuadorian artisans. The real name is "MONTECRISTI HAT".

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