In an interview with Orbe, Santiago admitted that the handmade process is complex. You have to get different plants, scratch, dye, dry out and weave the fiber.
A piece takes weeks, depending on how many times you have to turn the fibers around (15, 16 and even 24), which makes it more elegant and more costly too.
Mesmerized with his grandson, Santiago says that this heritage art is passed on from generation to generation.
After that he picks up the raw material: acorn, reed, bud and pita (natural fibers to weave) and the chirná (to paint). His eyesight has declined and wears glasses, like almost everyone in town, but his passion for work has not diminished.
The use of this piece is typical in the countryside, especially in the provinces of Coclé, Los Santos, Herrera and Veraguas, mainly by peasants to protect themselves from the strong sun during their daily work. Women also use it, and it can be seen on special occasions and festivities. Each October 19, the Civic Day and Commemoration of the “Sombrero Pintao” is celebrated in La Pintada, and several activities occur at the end of that month. In 2011 a law was passed to protect, care for and encourage the production of the accessory.
Its history goes back several centuries, when Panama was still a Spanish colony, and it is said that, depending on its use, it refers to the people’s mood, if you are successful in life, if you have wisdom or if the one wearing the hat is looking for a girlfriend. For example, if the front and back wings are raised (“a la pedrá”) it shows you agree with the current moment, and if the front is turned forward it means sadness, amid mourning.
In 2017, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognized as Intangible World Cultural Heritage assets the procedures and handmade techniques used to make a “sombrero pintao”, but it’s a privilege for Santiago to weave the next hat, without a break, as if it was the love of his life.