Architecture and Crafts

Colonial style mud (quincha) houses are very common. These adjoining houses are examples of the communal bond that is very typical of the communities of Parita in Herrera, and La Villa and La Palma in Los Santos. The houses have high entrances like the ones found in Parita. The style of adjoining entrances and cascading roofs are typical of the town of La Palma.

These houses stand out because their vertical proportions are high to allow the entry and circulation of air. It is important to highlight the broad panels of the front door that open and close and the colonial tiles that give the house a cool and welcoming air.

Something else that stands out are the “Celosias,” handmade wooden carvings placed in house windows. Similar objects, “Tragaluces,” are placed in doors to brighten up the interior of the house. The combination of the hinges and cuts on the two piece doors allow you to close them while sustaining air circulation. Some of these houses still conserve the clay and cement tile floors in the “Maquillas” style that resemble mosaics.

In TonosĂ­ there are still wooden houses painted with bright colors and decorated doors and windows.

The traditional crafts of the region are often made of mud and clay, and can include jars, vases, and picturesque ceramics from the town of La Arena near Chitré. All of these pieces have rigorous procedures for their production. In form they are placed in the clay oven to make them stiff and then the final touches of paint and glaze are applied.

The traditional tulas made from pumpkin shells, are still very useful as containers for carrying water to farm workers out in the fields.

Other water bottles, or totumas, made from the calabazo tree, usually rest atop a matching wooden counter called a “Parador,” that contains an old-fashioned clay sink in the middle to hold fresh water.

The Sombrero pintado or pintao is one of the most common garments worn by Azuerense men and women, especially at parties. These garments are made from cogollo palm tree, and la pita or junco plants which are made white through a series of processes. The fibers that do not become totally white are died black with a dye made from the Chisná bush. The first step in making the hat from these fibers requires skill to create fine weaves or plaits called crizneja. The hat is made by sewing these criznejas with a pita thread around a model (molde or horna) of the recipient’s head made of Cedro Espino, Espavé o Corotú. The quality of the hat depends on the number of times the material goes around this model. A simple sombrero could be of 15 rounds or less while a finer sombrero could be between 16 and 24 rounds costing up to $500.

The workers’ sombreros are made from junco, rougher fibers that are less white, and do not have the black ribbon interwoven as in the sombrero pintao.

The diablíco masks are one of the most intricate handicrafts in Azuero, and are made around a mud base, preferably made of the red earth left by leaf-cutter ants. The mask becomes a representation of gargoyles, Panamanian animal species, fictional figures, etc. The production begins using paper-maché, with pieces of newspaper which are placed around the mold and glued in place with a homemade paste (of flour or cassava), and later a thick covering layer (of manila or cement). These masks are painted with very striking primary colors.


Author: Irving Vergara