Category Archives: Amazon Connections – Issue 3

Amazon Connections – 3rd edition of the newsletter of the Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amazon Artisan Profile – Felicita Butuna Chichaco (Bora village of Brillo Nuevo, Peru)

By Campbell Plowden and Yully Rojas

Felicita Butuna making "naca naca" model belt - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Felicita is 36 years old and married with two sons who are 10 and 14 years old.  She started learning to make handicrafts when she was 11 years old and continues to make them today as an important source of income for her family.  The Center for Amazon Community Ecology began developing a close relationship with Felicita and her family in 2009 when the group began a pilot project in the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo in the Ampiyacu River region of Peru.

Rolando Panduro teaching Bora woodsmen how to use a GPS - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Felicita’s husband Rolando was CACE’s first local coordinator for our copal resin project in the Ampiyacu while Felicita helped us bring together artisans in Brillo Nuevo through her leadership in the village handicraft association that included her mother, aunts and cousins.

Amazon artisan Felicita Butuna Chichaco from Brillo Nuevo, Peru with a chambira palm fiber hammock - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Working with these creative mostly-women artisans hasn’t always been easy.  They were used to working by themselves or with a close family member, guarded their best techniques and sold their hammocks and bags on their own to buyers in the town of Pevas (where the Ampiyacu River enters the Amazon River) or vendors in the city of Iquitos.

Amazon artisan Felicita Butuna from Brillo Nuevo, Peru with chambira palm fiber "tapetes" (hot pads) - Photo by Yully Rojas/CACEThe artisans were alternately curious, welcoming and skeptical about CACE’s proposal for them to work closely with us and each other to develop and sell new and more crafts.  They liked the idea of making more money by reaching other markets, but many women resisted requests to finish their pieces on time and fix them until they were almost perfect.

By tapping her deep patience, craft skills, and diplomacy, Felicita helped convince the women it would help them all to share their talents and weaving tricks with each other.  Amazon artisan Felicita Butuna Chichaco from Brillo Nuevo, Peru with chambira fiber Amazon guitar strap - Photo by Yully Rojas/CACEThus began a few informal workshops in the open air living room of her home.  When one woman got stuck sewing thin strands of chambira fiber into oval eyes of a snake-pattern guitar strap, another would take it up and finish it.

Felicita noted, “Many women were upset with the way the project worked at first, but now they see the positive results.  They have learned to work under pressure and have greatly improved the quality of their work.”         

Amazon artisan Felicita Butuna Chichaco and son Bill Panduro making chambira palm fiber "naca naca" snake model belt in Brillo Nuevo, Peru - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEFelicita’s family life has gone through some significant changes in recent months.  When Rolando won a position as a local representative, they moved to the town of Pevas.  His salary allowed them to have a better standard of living, but their oldest son had a very rough time adapting to his new surroundings.  He become rebellious, had problems every day and was missing a lot of school.

Amazon artisan Bill Panduro with chambira palm fiber "naca naca" snake model belt from Brillo Nuevo, Peru - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEFelicita and her husband recently decided it would be better for Bill to go back to Brillo Nuevo to finish his studies among his people.  Felicita had already began to teach Bill to make some crafts, and he has become a good artisan in his own right.

Felicita is still making handicrafts for CACE as part of the Brillo Nuevo artisan group.  She return to her village to live some day.

On Saturday, May 21, Felicita and her aunt Ines Chichaco are both going to do a live demonstration of their craft making via video conference from Peru and speak with guests at Spirit of the Amazon.

Toucan logo for Spirit of the Amazon - a fundraising party for the Center for Amazon Community Ecology This party is a fundraiser for the Center for Amazon Community Ecology.  Please join us if you can.  You can also DONATE to CACE on line to support the group’s conservation and community programs.


What makes a journalist? – story by an Amazon Field Volunteer

Natalya Stanko in the jungle at Brillo Nuevo, Peru - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACENatalya Stanko is a recent graduate from the Penn State University Schreyer Honors College in journalism.  She spent six weeks in Peru during the summer of 2009 as an Amazon Field Volunteer with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology.  She accompanied Center director Campbell Plowden on visits to Bora and Maijuna native villages, the campesino village of Chino on the Tahuayo River, and the Jenaro Herrera Research Station on the Ucayali River operated by the Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP).

She reflected on her time in Peru in the essay below “What makes a journalist.” Also see Natalya’s running account of her experiences at: Report from the Field – Natalya’s Log.

Read more about the Amazon Field Volunteer program.  Please contact Campbell Plowden at if you are interested in applying.

What makes a journalist

by Natalya Stanko

Natalya Stanko and Yully Rojas in motocar in Iquitos - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEIt was on my last day in Iquitos, Peru that I finally understood what I should have been doing for these last six weeks in the rainforest. When the realization hit me, I was eating yuca and paiche fish with Daniel Valencia, a Peruvian anthropologist working for the Instituto del Bien Comun.  I asked Daniel about how he conducted interviews with the indigenous people of the Amazon, and how he introduced their culture to an audience that was largely unaware of the natives’ existence.

Natalya interviewing Bora artisan Gisela Ruiz Sanchez at Brillo Nuevo - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEI was curious, because I had been doing much of the same. This summer I interned in the Peruvian Amazon with Dr. Campbell Plowden, president of the Center for Amazon Community Ecology (CACE), a non-profit organization headquartered in State College. I learned about the Center’s resin research and shared CACE’s  discoveries and community projects in my blog. I also interviewed artisans and wrote articles about them for CACE’s online handicrafts store.

Daniel Valencia - former staff member Instituto del Bien Comun - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEI had met Daniel in a village along the way, and he asked me to dinner to compare notes. I wanted to make my articles stronger, and I thought Daniel could help me out. That’s why my fork and knife had company this evening: a notepad and pencil.

Daniel did not have a notepad.

In response to my barrage of questions, he stared at me, expressionless. And he said:

“Do you always ask so many questions? Questions may work in the city, but they are useless out in the field. Have you noticed that the indigenous people always say ‘yes’ to whatever you ask them?”


“They’re not used to questions, so you shouldn’t ask them.”

My innards lurched and my brain slammed into my skull. A realization! He was right, and this is what had been gnawing at me all along. All those boat rides, all those faces, all that scrambled Spanish, and I was doing it all wrong.

When Daniel visits a village, he first and foremost does nothing. “I just watch, follow people around. I fish, hunt and pee with them. I listen to their conversations and their silences, and eventually they want to talk to me.”

I looked away from Daniel and listened to the city. Motorcycles turned at the intersection in front of the plaza. I counted 23 motorcycles, one car.

We sat in silence.

The waitress brought us juice. And Daniel said:

“I blend myself a glass of mango juice every morning. It tastes best fresh.”

I laughed and exhaled. I hadn’t done it all wrong! This silence, followed by a sudden break in silence with something as trite as mango juice, was familiar. Daniel could have said so many things to break that silence, but he chose mango juice. And that, as I later learned that night, said a lot about him.

Bora native artisan Elvira Saldana preparing chambira palm fiber at Brillo Nuevo, Peru - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEI knew this silence. Elvira Pena Saldano had introduced me to this silence. I had arrived at her doorstep exhausted from folding and flipping my tongue in mangled Spanish for three hours with the other village artisans. Instead of asking the usual questions, I watched her weave a handbag out of chambira, a local palm tree. Her 16-year-old daughter, Lisbet, watched me, and I watched Elvira, and Elvira watched her hands.

We listened to the rain on the thatched roof. By my United States cultural standards, the silence should have been awkward, but it wasn’t.

And then Elvira broke the silence, not with juice, but with an anaconda. In her native Bora tongue, she sang about a snake that transformed into a school of fish. According to Bora legend, these fish cling to other anaconda like lice to hair, explained Elvira’s husband, Sergio.

In response, I just nodded.

I had asked other Bora what being Bora meant to them. But they never answered, preferring to giggle and talk amongst themselves in Bora. And now, because I didn’t ask, Elvira told me.

Elvira grew up here in Brillo Nuevo, a village of about 80 families on a tributary of the Amazon River. It is where she learned to sing in both Bora and Spanish. And where her 11-year-old pet parrot, Maruja, learned both Bora and Spanish.

Traditional Bora festival at Puca Urquillo - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACENow, fifty-five years later, life is changing in Brillo Nuevo. Everyone used to know how to sing and dance. The community would have ten or eleven traditional festivals every year, Elvira says. Now they hardly have one.

After Lisbet finishes school this year, she wants to move to the city to attend university. Lisbet wants to be a scientist or engineer. She tells me that she is going to learn English, and that she will visit me in the United States.

But for now, Lisbet still spends the afternoon with her mom, learning to weave bags out of chambira.

Ayda Velasquez weaving a bag from chambira fiber at Brillo Nuevo - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE“Now most of us are more interested in making money than singing and dancing and being together,”  Elvira says. “And that is why I tell my Lisbet my stories. Why I sing. And why I teach her to work with chambira. In this way, we are still Bora.”

Elvira broke the silence with an anaconda, with a Bora legend, with her culture and her daughter’s culture — with what was most important to her.

Similarly, Daniel broke the silence with mango juice. Daniel said that he hopes he can always pick a fresh mango. He wants his articles and research about the natives of the Amazon to influence the government to form an area of conservation for the indigenous communities. That way, they, too, can enjoy fresh fruit from healthy forests each morning.

In the Amazon, I learned that, when in the Amazon, most questions are stupid questions, and that there’s always time to find out the answers without asking the questions. I learned that a journalist doesn’t always carry a notepad and pencil.

First, a journalist listens.

And yes, the rainforest has lots of bugs and boats. To find out what chiggers look like and how I survived a 27-hour canoe ride, or to learn more about CACE’s research and community projects, visit my blog: Report from the Field – Natalya’s Amazon Log.

Editor’s Update:

After graduating, Natalya did an internship with the Sierra Club at their main office in San Francisco.  She has now returned to the east coast where she is continuing to pursue her writing career.

Natalya Stanko with Penn State Nittany Lion mascot in lancha on Sucusari River, Peru - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACECACE thanks Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College for its international travel grant that it gave to Natalya and Greg Harriot, another Schreyer student who was the CACE Amazon Field Volunteer in 2008.  Read Greg’s essay from that summer “I need this shot” and see current samples of his cinematography reel.  Natalya’s essay “What makes a journalist?” can also be downloaded from the CACE website.

Artisan Spotlight – Monica Chichaco (Brillo Nuevo) and Romelia Huanaquiri (El Chino) — Amazon Connections (Summer2010/Issue 3)

By Natalya Stanko

Monica Chichaco – Age:36

Community: Brillo Nuevo (Bora native community in the Ampiyacu River region, Peru)

Bora native artisan Monica Chichaco from Brillo Nuevo with husband Beder helping - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE“Well of course I´ve seen an anaconda,” Monica Chichaco says, as she weaves an anaconda design from memory. “It´s three, maybe four, meters long,” she adds. Monica´s husband, Beder, has prepared her workspace by banging a few nails into the floorboard in the living room. Monica uses these nails to secure her chambira fibers for the maroon and white anaconda belt.

Bora native artisan Monica Chichaco from Brillo Nuevo with baby and tutumas - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEBeder says that he and his wife always work together. “Of course, she is the master,” he adds. “I just help.” As she weaves, Monica nurses her six-month-old baby, Mayronela. When Mayronela cries, Monica swings her to sleep in the hammock and then returns back to work.

Bora native artisan Monica Chichaco from Brillo Nuevo weaving an Amazon guitar strap - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEMonica´s 11-year-old son, Willy, and four-year-old daughter, Darcy, peer over her shoulder. The entire family is gathered in the living room, sitting on the floor beside a baby stroller, a boat motor, and a pile of palm leaves that Beder will use to fix the roof. Ten pairs of baby jumpers hang overhead on a clothesline.

This is where Monica works and lives with her family, together.

Editor Update:

Bora native artisan Monica Chichaco from Brillo Nuevo with anaconda model Amazon guitar straps - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEMonica is one of the top artisans making different colors of the anaconda models of the Amazon guitar strapThese straps are woven from strong chambira palm fiber into patterns of jungle snakes with mostly plant-based dyes. See photos of all models of the Amazon guitar strap.


Romelia Huanaquiri Huaillhua – Age:52

Community: El Chino (campesino community on the Tahuayo River in Loreto, Peru)

Romelia Huanaquiri - artisan from El Chino on the Tahuayo River, Peru - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACERomelia has gentle, knowing eyes that inspire immediate trust. She offers visitors cool drinks from her closet-size bodega (general store) and happily shows them the trees, bushes and herbs she grows around her house to heal various ailments.

Romelia was already a veteran artisan when Amazonia Expeditions opened an upscale ecotourism lodge less than a mile from Chino. Her attention to detail inspired others in the village to start making crafts to sell to guests at the lodge. They began making typical baskets and then began weaving rainforest seeds into their creative baskets, which are now sold in gift shops in Iquitos and San Diego and by the Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Romelia Huanaquiri - artisan from El Chino on the Tahuayo River, Peru with chambira basket - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACERomelia sells about 20 baskets a year and also makes bags, woven vases (“tinajas”), and woven pots with tops (“mocawas”). She sometimes puts a piece of shell from the fruit of a calabash (“wingo”) tree in the center of a decorative basket. The green fruits are dyed a lustrous black with a liquid made from the bark of the cumaca tree.

El Chino artisan Jorge Soplin with chambira woven frog - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACERomelia’s husband Jorge is also an accomplished artisan who weaves frogs from chambira fiber and carves jungle animals from wood.

Editor’s Update:

The Center for Amazon Community Ecology sells baskets made by artisans from El Chino at the ticket office and periodic concerts at The State Theatre.

Michael Gilmore: Connecting plants and people — Amazon Connections (Summer 2010/Issue 3)

By Natalya Stanko

Who is Michael Gilmore?

Michael Gilmore with achiote painted on face by Maijuna natives - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEMichael Gilmore is an ethnobotanist—or a scientist that studies the relationship between plants and people—and an assistant professor at George Mason University’s New Century College. He has collaborated with the Maijuna of the Peruvian Amazon for more than 10 years. Gilmore is currently completing a four-year project that maps the Maijuna’s natural resources and their cultural significance. He is collaborating with Plowden and other researchers to preserve the biology and culture of the Maijuna. Gilmore is a key Center advisor and board member.

Gilmore believes in community-driven research. He doesn’t ask what he needs, but what the community needs. “Right now the Maijuna children only know a small fraction of what the elders do. They don’t know the important plant species,” he says. That’s why Gilmore’s next goal is to set up an ethnobotanical garden that facilitates this type of learning in the Maijuna community. Gilmore has a big laugh accompanied by a hearty handshake and boundless energy.

 Who are the Maijuna?

Michael Gilmore pointing to proposed road through Maijuna traditional land - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEThe Maijuna are a group of about 400 people in four villages in Loreto Province, Peru. In the last few years, the villages have united to form a federation in an effort to block the development of a proposed road that would destroy their ancestral lands. [See Editor Update at bottom of article].

Michael Gilmore and FECONAMAI directors at 2009 Maijuna Congress - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEThe Maijuna trust Gilmore, and they have appointed him an official advisor to their federation, FECONAMAI.

Gilmore likewise greatly respects the Maijuna. “The Maijuna said, ‘We’re saying no to this road, and that’s final,’” said Gilmore. “Indigenous people in Peru have been incredibly marginalized. They’re not looked at as people by some in Peru, but as animals. For them to get up, to say something really powerful, that takes a lot of guts.” The future of the road—and of the Maijuna—is still unknown.

Why ethnobotany?

Gilmore said that something was missing from his undergraduate biology curriculum at Colorado State University. He wanted to learn about the human component of biology.

After college, Gilmore and a friend “wandered about Indonesia” for four months. They visited small indigenous communities where they learned to make loincloths and bows and arrows from local plants. “I was impressed by how integrally involved plants were in these people’s lives,” Gilmore said.

After his trip, Gilmore knew what he wanted to study—the relationship between plants and people. True to his character, Gilmore thought big and wrote a letter to Richard Evans Schultes, the father of modern ethnobotany. “And he wrote me back!” said Gilmore, still surprised and flattered today.

Gilmore earned his PhD in botany from Miami University. He first visited the Maijuna with his advisor, ethnobotanist Hardy Eshbaugh, and then returned a year later after learning basic Spanish. Gilmore now also speaks basic Maijuna.

What have the Maijuna taught Gilmore?

Michael Gilmore with Maijuna colleague Sebatiao - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACESebastian, Gilmore’s best Maijuna friend, has taught him what friendship means. “I feel like, on the most basic level, he really has my back,” Gilmore said. “He’s really taking care of me.”

The Maijuna have also let Gilmore experience a different way of life. “In the U.S., we get swallowed up by our fast-paced life,” Gilmore says. “Take a deep breath. Take life one day at a time. Slow things down. Appreciate everything.”

Editor’s Update: According to a conversation with Dr. Gilmore in early May 2011, the political climate in the Peruvian province of Loreto has shifted to support for creating a Regional Conservation Area that would include the four main Maijuna villages and the forest in between.  The completion of a Rapid Biological Inventory of Maijuna lands conducted by the Field Museum of Chicago and Gilmore’s mapping work will support this process.  This protected status would effectively halt plans to put a road through Maijuna ancestral lands.

Dennis del Castillo – Profile of a Peruvian Conservationist

By Natalya Stanko

Slash and burn farming at Tekohaw, Alto Rio Guama Indigenous Reserve, Brazil - Photo by Campbell PlowdenWe’ve all heard the statistic: One football field of rainforest is cleared every second. But have we considered who is doing the cutting?  We picture loggers or ranchers branded with corporate labels, or maybe we don’t dare let ourselves think about it at all, lest it be linked to us.

Dr. Dennis del Castillo Torres, an agronomist by training and conservationist by experience, pictures his parents.  Torres grew up in a village in the rainforest of San Martin Province, Peru with 17 brothers and sisters. His parents used slash and burn agriculture, which is the cutting and burning of forests to create fields. “Environmentally, it was devastating,“ says Torres. “But it was also an economic necessity for us.”

Dennis del Castillo at IIAP research station at Jenaro Herrera - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACETorres, 61, now works to provide new economic opportunities for rural Peruvians, so they don’t have to choose between providing for their families and conserving their forest.  Torres is the former president of the governmental Peruvian Amazon Research Institute, or IIAP, and the current director of its Terrestrial Research Program (PROBOSQUES).  IIAP operates the Jenaro Herrera Research Station, a natural laboratory in Loreto Province where the Center has conducted most of its copal research since 2006.

Before joining IIAP, Torres worked with the United States Agency for International Development (AID), the World Bank, and the European Commission. He has lived in Madagascar, West Africa and Bolivia.

Torres got one chance to go to school, and he took it. On a recommendation of a priest passing through his village, Torres applied for a highly competitive scholarship to attend college in the United States. And he got it. First, he headed to Washington D.C. for one year to learn English. In 1984 he earned his PhD in soil science from Mississippi State University.

Torres traveled the world, learned French, Malagasy, and Kreole, and raised four children. And then, ten years ago, he went home. “Peru, the forest, this is my place,” says Torres. He is currently studying carbon sequestration, or the capacity of forests to store carbon gasses. Climate change — and the gasses that contribute to it — Torres’ greatest environmental concern.

Aguaje fruit with street vendor in Jenaro Herrera - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEAguaje palm in swamp at Jenaro Herrera - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEHe’s also studying alternate ways to harvest aguaje, a popular palm fruit with a scaly shell, large seed, and thin orange-yellow pulp. The city of Iquitos, the marketplace of the Peruvian forest, consumes two tons of aguaje per day. The fruit is used in many beverages and foods, especially ice cream.

Most aguaje is currently harvested by chopping down the tree. IIAP is encouraging harvesters to climb the trees instead. It’s also breeding shorter aguaje trees that will produce more accessible fruits in fewer years. (See IIAP video about aguaje). Torres says that it’s essential for Peruvians to start exporting products with added value, rather than just raw materials. That’s why the Center’s project to develop copal and other non-timber forest products has potential, he says.

New markets, opportunities for copal and crafts — Amazon Connections (Summer 2010/Issue 3)

By Natalya Stanko and Campbell Plowden

It’s been a busy year at the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. The Center is advancing its research on the ecology of copal resin, developing new projects to turn copal and other plants into sustainable sources of income for forest peoples in the Peruvian Amazon, and establishing strong relationships with several indigenous communities.

Campbell Plowden and Bora leader distilling copal resin - Photo by Natalya Stanko/CACE

Plowden and Bora leader distilling copal resin

In the summer of 2009, the Center and its team in the Bora native village of Brillo Nuevo gathered and distilled hard, black copal resin into a golden, sweet-smelling oil, which has commercial potential in the fragrance industry. The Center continued to collaborate with several communities of artisans and began to build an online store that will market handicrafts and other items from the Amazon. Center President Campbell Plowden also joined a team of researchers committed to working with Maijuna native communities to preserve their culture and natural resources. This spring Plowden returned to Brazil to check in with Tembé and Ka’apor Indian villages and other traditional communities as potential Center partners.


The Center’s laboratory is a network of small communities in the Peruvian Amazon. There are few roads here, and most days are hot, humid and buzzing. To get around, the Center team travels by boat and peque-peque, an elongated motorized canoe. Here is a whirlwind tour of the team’s travels and accomplishments this year.


Playing soccer match with Bora natives in the Ampiyacu River area - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Brillo Nuevo is a village of about 425 people and 82 families in the Ampiyacu River region. It is blanketed with thatched roofs, about a quarter mile of sidewalk, a cinder-block school, and two soccer fields. The villagers speak both Spanish and their native language, Bora.

The Center began working with Bora woodsmen and artisans in 2008. It is now developing a two-part non-timber forest product project in partnership with the Federation of Native Communities of the Ampiyacu (FECONA) and the Instituto del Bien Comun (IBC) with financial support from The Rufford Small Grants Foundation and the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center.

Yully Rojas and Bora copal team at Brillo Nuevo - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEThe copal project began in the summer of 2009 when Plowden, agronomist Yully Rojas,and six Bora woodsmen conducted a five-day rapid inventory of copal trees on about 95 hectares of upland forest near Brillo Nuevo. The Bora team learned to measure the girth of the copal trees and to record their location with a GPS device. The team harvested about half of the resin lumps, leaving the other half containing young weevils to continue producing the next generation of adult weevils and resin lumps.

The team then distilled four batches of resin into a pale-yellow oil using a copper alembique, or a traditional distillation pot. According to Haley van Oosten, president of the L’Oeil du Vert fragrance company, copal oil could become a unique and valuable ingredient in some blends of fine perfumes.

Copal resin oil in separatory flask at Brillo Nuevo - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Copal resin oil in separatory flask - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Producing this oil could then give the communities a profitable source of income. Project manager Rojas and local coordinator Rolando Panduro are now leading monthly searches for copal in the region and distilling the resin from different species to find the varieties, ages, and techniques that produce the best aromas. If the first phase of the project is successful, the Center will work with the communities, non-governmental partners, and government agencies to implement a sustainable harvest system for the resin and to develop a self-sufficient local enterprise.

Bora artisan Ines Chichaco making chambira belt at Brillo Nuevo - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The Center is also working with the Bora and their Huitoto and Ocaina neighbors by encouraging several dozen skilled artisans to brainstorm new crafts and ideas in a series of workshops. Inspired by the patterns of local snakes, the Bora women are weaving chambira fibers into elegant belts with stunning, colorful designs.

They are also creating snake patSnake design belts made of chambira palm fiber by Bora artisans - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEterns for custom guitar straps and spider web designs for shopping bags. The Center will help market these items buy exhibiting them at presentations, craft fairs, reptile club meetings, and its online Amazon Forest Store.


The Maijuna are a native group with about 400 people who live in four villages in the Napo River region of Peru. The group has formed the Federation of Maijuna Native Communities (FECONAMAI) to halt the loss of their land and language and improve basic conditions in their communities.

Maijuna Congress at Sucusari, 2009 - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEMichael Gilmore, an ethnobotanist from George Mason University and Center board member who has collaborated with the Maijuna for eleven years, invited Plowden and other researchers to attend the 2009 FECONAMAI Congress in the village of Sucusari. With the enthusiastic approval of the Maijuna, the researchers formed a team to support federation efforts to preserve the biological and cultural diversity of the Maijuna.

The team includes German Perilla, a veteran bee-keeper who will teach the Maijuna how to produce honey for sale, and Christine Beier, a linguist who will document the Maijuna language and encourage its teaching in schools. Gilmore is currently finishing a project that maps the interaction between plants and people on Maijuna lands.

Maijuna native woodsman harvesting copal resin lump at Nueva Vida - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACERojas and Maijuna woodsmen who surveyed the lands around the Maijuna village of Nueva Vida were encouraged by the abundance and diversity of copal trees and resin in the region. The Center also interviewed about three dozen Maijuna women, who said they were interested in selling handicrafts through the Center, but would first like to attend workshops to increase their craft-making skills. Rojas again attended the FECONAMAI Congress in 2010 (read Maijuna Congress account in Spanish) and won formal approval for a Center project with Maijuna villages when funds become available.


Chino artisan Llermet Torres Rojas with chambira basket - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEThe artisans of Chino are talented basket-makers. Their “paneras”, or flat baskets, are tightly woven and elaborately decorated with rainforest seeds and carved wooden pieces.

In addition to paying artisans individually, the Center returns 20 percent of its handicraft sales from that community to support needs in the areas of health, education or conservation.

With almost $600 in crPeru school children with notebooks bought from CACE handicraft social rebate - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEaft rebates received so far, Chino has chosen to buy notebooks and pencils for school children, desks for the school, medicines for their pharmacy; electric wires and lightbulbs for village common areas and food supplies for women replanting chambira palm trees.


Jenaro Herrera is a town of about 5,000 on the Ucayali River. It has a few paved roads, motorcycle taxis, several convenience stores, and many water buffalo, whose milk is used to make the town’s famous cheese (See CACE video: Introduction to Jenaro Herrera).

Angel Raygada photographing copal resin lumps at Jenaro Herrera - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEThe Center conducts most of its copal research at the Jenaro Herrera Research Station, which is an internationally recognized outdoor laboratory operated by the Institute for the Investigation of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP). Project manager Angel Raygada, who is an agronomy student at the National University of the Peruvian Amazon (UNAP), and the local resident brothers Italo and Melaneo Melendez have been monitoring over 300 study trees in the station’s arboretum, natural forest and copal plantation for the last three years.

Italo Melendez harvesting copal resin at Jenaro Herrera - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEThe copal team has been learning about the development of resin lumps and observing how weevils and bees interact with the copal tree. They recently completed a two-year study about the yield of resin produced through the manual wounding of copal trees – the most common technique for collecting resin in Central America.

The Center has begun to collaborate closely with Dr. Paul Fine, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, to determine how many weevil species are involved in this fascinating system and to explore how these weevils stimulate more or less resin on some trees depending on the chemical and physical features of its resin and bark.

The team has encountered many challenges. The research station is legally protected, but intruders have still harvested resin lumps, destroying years of data.

Bamboo and huayruru earrings made by artisans from Jenaro Herrera - Photo by Jennifer Nagel/CACEThe town of Jenaro Herrera is home to many artisans that create jewelry and belts out of chambira and local seeds. The Center now works with several small cooperatives including Artesanias Wicungo, which specializes in making earrings with carved coconut shells.

Jenaro Herrera also has also benefited from Center sale of handicrafts from its artisans.

The school principal has used these funds to Buying school supplies for Jenaro Herrera with CACE handicraft social rebate - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEbuy many basic materials for the school, including first aide and cleaning supplies, paper, a printer, a volleyball net and a soccer ball.


Emidio Tembe and family at Ka'apor village of Xi'e, Alto Turiacu Indigenous Reserve, Brazil - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACECenter director Campbell Plowden did his first studies on non-timber forest products with the Tembé Indians in the eastern Brazilian Amazon. During a recent month-long trip to Brazil, Plowden reconnected with many Tembé and Ka’apor colleagues he once worked with in the Gurupi River region. He learned that many things have changed in these communities in the past ten years.

New infirmary at Tembe village of Tekohaw, Alto Rio Guama Indigenous Reserve, Brazil - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEOn the positive side, greater support from state governments has improved health and education services through better staffed clinics and schools. On the down side, the same roads that were built to facilitate these improvements also led to the expansion of illegal logging into the heart of the indigenous reserves – now often with the support of community leaders.

Ka'apor Indian artisan Mirixira'i Kaapor with tucuca palm nut necklace at Xi'e, Alto Turiacu Indigenous Reserve, Brazil - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEUnchanged is the community’s need to generate revenue without causing severe damage to the forest. Plowden visited an old friend who lives in the Ka’apor village of Xi’e and found that this group is now making a range of beautiful necklaces, bracelets and rings from the carved nuts of the tucumã and inaja palm trees. The Center is now exploring ways to help market this natural jewelry in the U.S. Some Tembé are still making beautiful crafts, but since many of these contain feathers from macaws and other wild birds, the Center cannot buy nor sell these items.

Kaapor girl planting tree sapling in forest patch degraded by illegal colonists near Xi'e, Alto Turiacu Indigenous Reserve, Brazil - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEPlowden said, “One highlight of the visit to Xi’e was jumping into the back of the community pickup truck one afternoon with a bunch of kids and the seedlings of the ipê tree that they had grown in a rustic nursery. We drove out to an area that had been occupied by some illegal colonists and planted the seedlings there in a first effort to encourage the recovery of the natural forest.” One other project the Ka’apor are investigating is collecting seeds that may be sold to other reforestation efforts.

Caboclo at Prainha making furniture at Oficinas Caboclos project on Tapajos River, Brazil - Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACEPlowden also spent time in several caboclo (traditional forest dwellers) communities along the Tapajós River to learn about the progress of their furniture-making enterprise. Instead of logging, the six communities are trying to generate income by selling hand-crafted benches, tables and animal figures from downed wood or carefully cut trees. Since some of their designs are woven from vine roots, the Center may work with the project’s lead organization, the Amazon Research Institute (IPAM in Portuguese), to help communities develop a plan to sustainably harvest this non-timber resource.