Catacaos, Piura, Peru Panama Hats
by David Schneider
(Los Organos, Piura, Peru)
Panama hats in Catacaos Peru
Catacoas in the department of Piura, Peru
Catacaos is a town near the city of Piura.
Lin and I went to Catacaos a couple of times. She was looking for jewelry findings and we also wanted to check out the crafts.
Catacaos is known for its filigree silver jewelry and its pottery.
But what surprised me was the Panama hats.
Having lived in Ecuador a number of years, we know that the real "Panama" hats so popular in the early 1900s were not from Panama but from Ecuador.
The Genuine Panama Hat is Ecuadorian
In Ecuador, we lived in Montañita, a small town on the coast of Guayas, Ecuador. Our friends Pedro and Iralda Reyes lived in a nearby village where the local trade involved harvesting and processing the plant material for Panama hats.
Pedro eked out a living being a middleman. He would hike an hour or two each morning into the mountain harvesting area and arrange the processing and transport of the material used to weave Panama hats.
Why are Panama Hats called Panama Hats? Panama hats are made of paja toquilla, a fiber from a small palm plant.
These hats were not originally called Panama hats, but were hats made several centuries ago and popular among the plantations on the tropical Pacific coast of South America.
These hats became more universally popular during the Gold Rush to California in 1849.
At that time, tens of thousands of gold seekers traveled from the east coast of the USA and other Atlantic regions headed for the gold fields in California, on the Pacific Ocean. T
To get from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a huge number of gold hunters crossed the country of Panama, the shortest overland route to the Pacific.
An enterprising man from Ecuador saw a business opportunity and took the hats to Panama. These light weight hats became very popular with the miners because of their flexibility and durability.
However, because they were bought in Panama, they acquired the misleading name of "Panama hats".
Lin and I each had special hats made there by one of the few old-timers still making the hats
in that village - most of the "straw" was sold to artisans in other towns of Ecuador. Mine eventually "rusted" out but Lin's Ecuadorean Panama is in the next room right now - 21 years old this year and not a hole in it.
Real Panama hats are made of a material called "paja toquilla," which looks like straw but is actually fibers from a cactus type plant. They are light, flexible, and long-lasting. If you get a chance, read "Panama Hat Trail;" for around $6 bucks one of the best entertainment deals you'll find. Hilarious and rambunctious, our copy of this "documentary" made its way from one to another of our friends once too often and is now in unknown hands.
Back to Peruvian Panama Hats
Anyway, the surprise was that here in Peru, excellent quality Panama hats of paja toquilla have been and are being made.
If anyone else has more info on this, please let us know so that we can update our information.
Campesino Panamas and Tourist Panamas
The local Peruvian style Panama hat is a little different than the ones you are going to find in Ecuador, from what I can tell.
The real genuine Peruvian Panama generally has a much wider rim like a cowboy hat. The typical country folk style that has been around a long time has a wide brim with a rolled up edge all the way around.
You can see one in on the rack in one of the photos if you look close.
I bought mine in a tourist town when I first spotted them. It doesn't have the "campesino" roll to the brim which I can of regret, since that style kind of grows on one here.
You can see these hats in old photos of Peru farm workers, musicians, etc, if you run across those.
Of course, for the tourists, a lot of the fedora style hats are made, so you can see those in Catacaos also.
Catacaos is about 15 minutes off of the Panamerican Highway south of Piura. </span></span> View Larger Map