Straw or panama hats

Making straw hats is a centuries-old tradition on the island. From 1840 onward hat plaiting became an important home industry. Hats were exported to Santo Domingo, St. Thomas and even New York. Soon after, though, export went downhill because of the American Civil War and because fashions changed.
The beginning of the 20th century showed a revival lasting for more than two decades. A bumper year was 1912 when almost 1.7 million hats were exported. Also, they were popular with tourists as souvenirs.
To improve the quality of the hats, the Curaçao Company for the Promotion of Farming founded special plaiting schools where young women were taught to make top quality hats. The catholic church trained hat plaiters as well, for instance at schools for the poor.
Nowadays, only a handful of Curaçaoans still master the hat plaiting craft. Since straw hats, sombré di kabana, are worn as protection from the blazing sun and at the harvest festival Seú, they are now mostly imported from Ecuador, Haïti, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela,
Straw hats are made from the dried leaves of the Carludovica palmata, the panama palm. According to frater Arnoldo’s book about local plants, this palm tree does not grow on the island. The leaves used to be imported from Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia. According to a hat plaiter from Bándabou, the leaves of the local panama palms tend to break when they’re too old. For delicate hats palm leaves from Cuba and Haiti were used. The leaves were cut lengthwise into long strips, a time-consuming job. After that, the plaiting could begin. The finer hats were then bleached and dried in the sun.
It was mostly women who applied themselves to hat making, but men would work in the hat industry as well.