Oh, the Travesty!

August 21, 2019 · 2 min read

Dresses from rural Andalucia, the branches, plants and flowers of Mallorcan embroidery, turtle shell combs of Sevilla luxuriated through gold coating, the criolla aspiration of flowery hair ornaments beautified through superior imitations crafted out of pearl laced fish scales, the Panamanian pollera is a handcraft whose components were picked up over the years, resulting in one of the world’s most admired traditional dresses.

Empolleradas (women wearing polleras) receive tourists in the airport’s arrival exit, they feature in many of the country’s tourism ads, the streets of the city of Las Tablas are yearly filled with thousands of empolleradas parading in the Desfile de las Mil Polleras (The Thousand Polleras Parade), photoshoots in this dress go up to 300$ USD. The least to say is that Panamanians take pride on it, especially as a symbol of the grace and femininity of their women.

Pollera Panameña
Empolleradas (Panamanian woman wearing traditional polleras)

This pride, nevertheless, is many times based on a nationalistic rigidity that, unlike your usual flag fetishization, is rooted in a very traditional conservatism. As if some decree had declared that the country free of further evolving, because it has reached peak national status.

In 2015, a morning show hostess stirred criticism during a Halloween celebration, as she appeared dressed in a pollera and a skull themed face painting. The social networks exploded, demanding respect for the country’s traditional dress, furthermore rejecting its link to Halloween, “an ugly party”. The media holding’s producer had to come forward to appease the outrage, arguing that the hostess’s intentions were to counter Halloween with traditional Panamanian legends.

Later, that year, a similar controversy rose as artisanal beer brand “Bruja Insurgente” launched one of its designs, featuring an empollerada with a similar skull makeup, illustrated by artist Andi Soto.

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Foto Bruja Insurjente

The pollera’s magic resides in its long built pasticheness, why not allow it to keep evolving? As a transit country, it would be folly not to see that Panama itself is a pastiche. Of what use are national treasures if not to be intervened, travestied, brought down to hell and back? How else can a people explore its own identity and expand it further from its boundaries?

I’d like to end this with my favourite example, which goes back to more than a decade ago, hidden in the depths of the internet, partly due to the then lesser popularity of social networks to voice outrage in.

It might as well have been from a 300$ USD photoshoot: pollera clad model sitting on the grass next to the Panama Canal, head femininely tilted to the side, and at the bottom, the Bridge of the Americas which unites North and South America. The catch? The model was Ecuadorian artist, Jonathan Harker. A man.

About the Author:

My love affair with words started when I wrote my first novel. You won’t find it in libraries, though, since I wrote it when I was 8 years old. You’ll understand that, naturally, I burned it.

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