"The Traditional weaving of the Ecuadorian toquilla straw hat"
Declared "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO since 2012
The “Montecristi Hat” (mistakenly known as “Panama hat”) has been considered for many years one of the most representative handicraft of Ecuador. This weaving technique has been developed since the time of our aborigines. It has become a representative product of the cultural identity for ecuadorians. This technique of weaving these hats has been passed from generation to generation since colonial times to the present. It has remained intact as a tradition among the people of the Ecuadorian coast and in the mountainous, specifically in the province of Azuay. It has only changed solely to improve and innovate models to suit the tastes of consumers.
History. It is considered that hand-waving toquilla straw began in the integration period within the "Manteña Confederation", as several figurines made of stone or ceramics present a sort of protection on the head -some kind of a helmet.- This "helmet" may has been made with toquilla staw, as this material very so common among them.
XVI Century - Early hats.When the Spanish conquerors arrived in what today are the provinces of Guayas and Manabi on the coast of Ecuador (1532), they observed native Indians using "Straw Hats" covering their ears and necks. These hats looked like "headdresses", such as those used by the nuns or widows in Europe. Then they named these hats as "Toquilla" because they were made of "toquilla straw". Quickly, the spanish began to also use the “Ecuadorian Hats”.
Historically, members of indigenous cultures, such as Huancavilcas, Mantas and Caras were considered as skilled weavers of these “toquillas straws hats” as well as in the textile art. They lived in the territory that now corresponds to the provinces of Guayas and Manabi (Montecristi is a town of Manabi where hat-trading take place, therefore the correct name is "Montecristi Hat”). Probably, these skills were inherited from their ancestor and the same knowledge to get this supper quality has been passed from generation and remains today.
During the colonial period, artisans were considered as true masters for weaving such high quality of “straw hats”. Their reputation was very high in the “Toquilla straw hats” business to such a point that artisans were taken to other places for sharing this ancestral knowledge. In the decade from 1943 to 1953 the highest finesse of Genuine “Montecristi Hats” for export were starting to produce. Paris opens a worldwide exposure in which Panama participates with a collection of “straw hats” prepared by Philip Raimondi, french who lived in that city.
This collection made a favorable impression of European inhabitants due to the fineness of the woven. Unfortunately for Ecuador, hats were marketed as “Panama Hats” instead of “Montecristi Hats”.Despite being known as "Panama Hats", the “Genuine Montecristi Hats” are manufactured in Ecuador, NOT Panama. The hats took that name since the beginning of the Panama-Channel’s construction, where thousands of hats were imported from Ecuador for its workers.
Between 1880 and 1881, French engineer Fernando Lesseps undertook the construction of the Panama Canal to link the Pacific with the Atlantic Ocean. It was November 1906. Then U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt was photographed while he was inspecting the construction of the Panama Canal. Roosevelt was wearing a beautiful “Montecristi Hat”. The picture appeared in every newspaper and the hat became fashionable! Everyone wanted an “Ecuadorian Hat”... Just like Roosevelt's hat! But to our misfortune, the hat's identity was confused. They called it "Panama Hat", ignoring it was Made in Ecuador.
It is right at that precise moment when Theodore Roosevelt visited the Chamber wearing the “Montecristi hat”, when its popularity increased. People were arriving in large quantities to Panama spreading the use of “Ecuadorian hats” as the most suitable for climatic conditions and the type of jobs in that place. Glorified during the XIX century, the Panama has since been considered prince of straw hats.
It is right at that precise moment, when Theodore Roosevelt visited the Chamber wearing that “straw hat”, when the popularity of the "Montecristi" increased. Panama was in the spotlight for the global attention that caused the union of two oceans, Pacific and Atlantic. People were arriving in large quantities to Panama, spreading the use of “Ecuadorian hats” as the most suitable for the climatic conditions and the type of jobs in that place. The "Montecristi" was glorified during the XIX century. It has since been considered "Prince" of straw hats.
The national hero and former presidente of Ecuador, Eloy Alfaro, helped finance his liberal revolution in Ecuador through the export of Ecuadorian Hats. His father, Manuel Alfaro was one of the largest exporters of toquilla straw hat in Manabi.
No matter the high price of the “Montecristi Hat”, but the quality and utility that it provides makes it worth it. It became a mandatory piece of clothing. These were sent to Panama from Ecuador in gigantic proportions, and then redirected to North America, Europe, and worldwide, extending the fame and use of the hat with the wrong name "PANAMA HAT".
The fame and the use of this hat was wrongly and undeservedly extended with the name of “Panama Hat", without recognizing that the “toquilla straw” grows in Ecuador, it is then hand-woven and block in Ecuador by Ecuadorian artisans. The real name is "MONTECRISTI HAT".