Panama Hats In Becal, Mexico
In 1859, Father Ignacio Barzuna, a Catholic priest, introduced a wide variety of
Guatemalan palms to Becal. These Guatemalan palms consisted of strong fibers yet were very flexible. Shortly after Father Ignacio Barzuna introduced these palms to Becal, families began
using it to weave straw hats. The look and feel were so identicial to the legendary panama hats, that the people called them "jipijappa hats" or "jipi hats." (Jipijappa is a city in Ecuador where
the finest panama hats are known to be woven.)
Since Becal is located in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, the weather is extremely
hot and dry. These two conditions cause the palm fibers to become brittle and impossible to weave. To overcome this problem, the Mayan people (the majority of the people in Becal are Mayan)
weave the hats in natural and man-made underground caves usually in the back yard of houses. The caves provide a cool and humid enough place to allow the panama straw fibers to be malleable
enough to be woven into hats. This also allows weavers to pull the straws tighter during the weaving process without the worry of tearing or cracking of the straws. This usually helps yield
tighter panama hats. During the panama hat production peak in Becal, there were said to be over two thousand occupied weaving caves.
Becal is still in this current day a very underdeveloped city. Many families
forego the use of electricity because of the cost. The Mayan people are able to live just by living off of the land. The intelligence, craft and artistic nature of the Mayans are passed on
through generations of Mayan culture. Even the dye colors used to dye the panama hat straws are produced through ancient Mayan techniques in which various plants are used to extract pigments.
Therefore, the panama hats made in Becal are natural to its very core.
For over a century, the skilled hat weavers of Becal have been weaving panama
hats that are just as fine in looks and quality as the panama hats being woven in Ecuador. Hat connoisseurs from all over the world hold high regards for the panama hats being made in Becal.