For the pre-columbian peoples who inhabited the coasts of what is now Ecuador and Peru, the toquilla (Carludovica Palmata), was a plant of daily use and well known in all its applications.
I will focus briefly on explaining a little its use in basketry by these peoples. For our aborigines, basketry was a great technological advance that spread throughout America with great efficiency. With the toquilla as with other types of palms, baskets were made to collect, transport and store fruits such as cocoa, coconuts or bananas. Also, it was used in the construction of roofs for structures that provided shelter in an almost permanent way. Rudimentary traps were woven to catch fish in small beds of water or crabs and cephalopods if they were installed in the sea. In addition to these uses, there are records in the General Archive of the Indies which was created at the request of Charles III in 1785, in order to unify all information on the administration of the overseas territories. In this Archive the colonizers describe that these Indians of the coasts on the Pacific use big headdresses, woven with palm leaves that apparently helps them to protect themselves from the sun. This is the origin of the toquilla straw hat, which was manufactured in a daily way to protect them from the rigors of the weather and were also used for ceremonial purposes.
The Spaniards brought us measles, Catholicism, colonization, but also the charcoal iron, the press, the needles and sulphur. Together with our weaving techniques, they gave identity to the modern toquilla straw hat. Not only for its look and iconic appearance, but rather because this symbiosis of two worlds gave birth to a hat that combines tradition and exquisite refinement in equal parts.
The turning point for the commercial history of the toquilla straw hat can be found during the construction of the inter-oceanic canal of the Isthmus of Panama. In a professional way, several tens of thousands of toquilla straw hats were exported from Ecuador, destined to be part of the endowment of the canal workers. It was then that President Theodore Roosevelt visited the works on November 14th, 1906. This visit was widely broadcasted throughout the world, through the United States, Panama, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Spain, among others. The photographs of the president dressed in white linen, wearing an elegant toquilla straw hat adorned with a black ribbon became an icon of fashion, business and the highest levels of political relations. The international media baptized the hat as “Panama Hat”, name by which even today is known the most representative hat of Ecuadorian craftsmanship . Since then, Ecuador has increased year after year the number of export of toquilla straw hats. Today, in the world of high quality hats, ours is the king of straw hats. Manufacturers from Italy, France, Mexico, Colombia, China, etc. They establish offices in Ecuador to attract artisans and teachers that allow them to reach the level of excellence of our work, in their industrialized factories. Fortunately, our product is entirely handmade and with no participation of machines during its manufacture.