Waiting for the morning harvesters, the young toquilla plant has been preparing for the past week absorbing water from the rain and humidity. The buds must be green and flexible to be collected to ensure elasticity and no breakage. The Ecuadorian coast humidity and cool wind from the Andes create a perfect environment for this endemic plant known scientifically as Carludovica Palmata.
Toquilla’s wonderful attributes are not new; Pre-Columbian inhabitants of the costal regions, adjacent to the Andes, already used the palms to weave baskets, hats, roofs and other more rudimentary household items. Now-a-days 90%of its crop is used for Panama Hats or Toquilla Straw Hat as locals call the famous hat.
As a self-regenerating, wild crop, toquilla guarantees enough material all year long. A clean cut ensures the healthy regrowth of the plant; local harvesters use their machetes to cut the palm and then carry bunches of stems back to their villages to be processed into straw.
The buds are carefully selected and then tapped to separate the stem fibers from each other. The plant is then torn and separated from the outer skin and the stem is separated to create strings. The fibers are boiled to remove chlorophyll and hanged to dry. Finally the dried straw is smoked several times to achieve the brightest color.
This artisanal process takes a few days to complete and it is performed by entire families as a tradition passed down from generation to generation. The reward is the toquilla straw finally being ready to be transformed into beautiful hats by skilled weavers. Such a skillful, delicate and laborious process did not go overseen; in 2012, the weaving art of the traditional Ecuadorian toquilla hat was added to the UNESCO as Intangible Cultural heritage of the world.

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