Cutarras – Woven Sandals from Panama.

Thanks to a reader of Huarache Blog I recently discovered Cutarra sandals from Panama. I had already posted photos of them on Huarache Blog as woven sandals possibly originating from Guatemala. But until a few days ago I had no certainty about their their name and origins. Below is one of the photos I took. You can see more photos on the post called Mystery Huaraches From Guatemala. Click on the link.

I was very interested in the design of these sandals because it suggested the evolutionary transition between the simple ‘Pata de Gallo’ and complex woven Huarache designs.

It turns out that although the design is not from Mexico but from Panama, the sandal/footwear traditions in these 2 countries are similar. In Panama there also exits a variety of woven sandal designs (called Cutarras) that resemble Huaraches. Worn by indigenous and country people, the construction method is also very similar, as are the names for the tools used; for example Panamanian artisans use a ‘Cogedor’ (originally made from deer bone) to guide the leather strip, whereas Mexican Huaracheros use a ‘Correjidor’. The only difference between the Cutarra and the Huarache cultures seems to be that unlike in Mexico, traditional Cutarra designs are still made weaving around the customers bare foot and not a shoe last.

I have found a few good articles in Spanish about Cutarras on the internet at the following links:-

‘El zapato artesanal por excelencia: las cutarras panameñas’ – Written for the publication Nuestra tierra by Ariosto Velasquez
‘La cutarra,el calzado del campesino’ – Written for the publication La Prensa

What follows is a summary of what I learned from articles on the internet.

As with Huaraches, the origins of Cutarras are unclear. Some say they were introduced to Panama by the Spanish, while the name comes from Chief Antataura’s tribe which inhabited the region of Parita before the Spanish arrival. It’s said that while the Spanish imported livestock which was also used to make leather and sandals, the indigenous peoples named the sandals ‘Cutarras’.

Interestingly ‘Chancleta de Palo’ clog sandals in South Eastern Cuba used to be called ‘Cutaras’ some say in the indigenous language, others suggest Friar Jiménez Urrutia named them. The Spanish dictionary suggests the word ‘Cutarra’ means ‘zapato basto’, or rugged shoe in the region of Central America, Cuba and Mexico. The origin of the word ‘Cutarra’ probably comes from the Aztecs who wore sandals called ‘Cotaras’.

The first Cutarras in Panama were called ‘cutarra de cuero cru’, ‘Cutarra of raw leather’ and were made from un-tanned leather (although this seems unpractical)

Like Huaraches, for the past 500 years the Cutarra has been worn traditionally by country people, typically from the region of Azuero in Panama.

The most traditional Cutarra design is called “gorguera de faena”, or ‘labor collar’. This woven design includes a strip of leather that passes between the toes (called ‘fijador’) to provide a more secure fit on steep, wet and muddy terrain. In regions of Panama where there isn’t as much incline and water, Cutarras don’t have a ‘fijador’ toe strip. Below is a photo of some Cutarras with a ‘fijador’, from the unsurpassed Ethnographic Collection of the Shoes Or No Shoes? Museum. Click on the link.

Traditionally Cutarra sandals are made from strips of veg. tanned, brick colored bovine leather, which are woven around the users foot and through holes in a veg. tanned yellow horse leather sole. The weaving process can be seen in the photos below borrowed from this very informative article at www.folklore.panamatipico.com. Click on the link.

Today to meet consumer demands many different styles of woven Cutarras are made with nailed or stitched rubber soles instead of leather. And even though the production process has been simplified, by weaving the designs onto lasts and not directly onto the consumers foot, many younger Cutarra artisans are choosing to make less labor intensive modern, non-woven women’s sandal designs for a living instead.

So as with Huaraches the tradition of the ‘True Panamanian Footwear’ seems to be slowly disappearing. If any readers have more information about Cutarras or other disappearing traditional footwear from Central and South America please let Huarache Blog know.



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