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Hat tip from Unesco with heritage status for Panama's milliners

Cultural authorities at Unesco have recognised the artisans of Panama for their distinctive woven hats.

The headgear in question, nothing to do with Panama hats which actually come from Ecuador, is the pintao, meaning painted hat.

They are handmade from five different plants and a dose of swamp mud.

Production of the circular-brimmed hats is still a family affair carried out on a household scale.

The industry's centre is La Pintada, a district about 105 miles west of Panama City.

"They don't have anything (artificial), no machinery; no factory as such exists here in La Pintada," said Reinaldo Quiros, a well-known artisan and designer who sells hats out of his home.

"Each artisan in his own home makes the hats maintaining the techniques taught by his ancestors."

The widely known "Panama hat" is a brimmed hat traditionally made in Ecuador from the straw of the South American toquilla palm plant.

The hats are thought to have earned their misleading name because many were sold in nearby Panama to prospectors travelling through that country to California during the Gold Rush.

Artisans of the truly Panamanian pintao hat start with the fibres of several plants that are cured and then woven into braids that are wrapped around a wooden form and sewn together from the crown of the hat down.

Several bands of fibres are dyed black with the leaves from a different plant and then stuck in mud for three days.

The fibres are woven into fine geometric designs and integrated into the hat giving it its name.

"The pintao hat has become an integral part of regional outfits throughout the country worn during traditional dances and community festivities," the United Nations' heritage arm's statement said.

Depending on the quality of the work some pintao hats can cost hundreds of dollars.

Authorities estimate that 4,000 of La Pintada's 25,000 residents work creating or selling the hats.

Pedro Mendoza, a 50-year-old hat maker, hopes that the Unesco recognition takes the pintao hat beyond the country's borders.

"It's really good what's happened," he said.

"The hat for us is a way of life."


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