Tag Archives: Amazon Artisan Profiles

Artisans of the Ampiyacu – CACE “music” video about native artisans in the Peruvian Amazon

Greetings friends. Please check out “Artisans of the Ampiyacu” below or on the AmazonEcology Channel on YouTube at: http://tinyurl.com/PeruArtisans. It tells the story in intimate images and music of the native artisans that the Center for Amazon Community Ecology works with in the Ampiyacu River basin of the Peruvian Amazon to develop and market innovative handicrafts. Thanks for checking it out and sharing it if you like it.

Casilda Vasquez - Bora native artisan from Brillo Nuevo with Amazon hot pad. Photo by Yully Rojas Reategui/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Casilda Vasquez – Bora native artisan from Brillo Nuevo with Amazon hot pad. Photo by Yully Rojas Reategui/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


The video shows how the Bora, Huitoto, Ocaina and Yagua artisans collect and process chambira palm fiber and transform it into beautiful earth tone belts, guitar straps and other woven crafts with dyes made from leaves, roots, fruits and bark. Artisans tell what making crafts means to them and their families and how CACE sales of their crafts also supports health, education and conservation in their communities. Viewers can learn how to support the CACE Ampiyacu Project on Global Giving at http://www.AmazonAlive.net.

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In memory of two artisan partners

by Campbell Plowden

Alida Soria, Bora native artisan from Brillo Nuevo with daughter. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Alida Soria, Bora native artisan from Brillo Nuevo with daughter. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

One of the best parts of this work is getting to know people who live in small Amazon communities. They welcome us into their homes, feed us, let us play with their children, and photograph their daily lives to help others appreciate their culture and challenges.

The toughest part is realizing that some mothers and daughters who have sold us crafts succumb to the harsher conditions in these beautiful remote places. Two summers ago I was shocked to learn that Alida Soria, a young Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo, died along with her husband and young daughter when a tree fell during a sudden storm when they were camped by a river.

Carlina Davila, Huitoto artisan from Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Carlina Davila, Huitoto artisan from Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I just learned that Carlina Davila, a Huitoto artisan from Puca Urquillo who was the mother of seven children recently died from uterine cancer – an affliction that has taken six other women in the area in the recent years. Girls who are 15 years and under are now being vaccinated against HPV, but older women in the region are still quite vulnerable to these afflictions. These incidents strengthen my resolve to help improve the economic and health conditions in this region.

Handicraft social rebate used to build community pharmacy in Brillo Nuevo

Bora leader working on community pharmacy in Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora leader working on community pharmacy in Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The Center for Amazon Community Ecology has been working with the Bora native village of Brillo Nuevo since 2009 to help several dozen artisans develop and market their handicrafts. Since it takes them five hours to get to the nearest town by motor canoe and a 20 hour ferry ride up the Amazon River to reach the city of Iquitos, it is a long and expensive trip for them to sell their work.

Maria Roque - Bora native artisan and baby from Brillo Nuevo with Amazon hot pad. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maria Roque – Bora native artisan and baby from Brillo Nuevo with Amazon hot pad. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE buys hot pads and other crafts directly from the artisans in the village, and we earmark 20% of our sales to a Social Rebate Fund to help the community meet their local needs in health, education or conservation. Last summer, Brillo Nuevo decided to use part of its account to build a community pharmacy so they would always have access to medicines even when the government health post was closed or poorly stocked.

Brillo Nuevo community pharmacy built with CACE social rebate. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Brillo Nuevo community pharmacy being built with CACE social rebate. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

It was sometimes frustrating seeing work start and stop, but people came together to finish the simple building in March. A village leader is now accompanying our CACE representative to buy the first batch of medicines for the pharmacy. Thanks to everyone whose craft purchases made this pharmacy possible. Donations to support this project are welcome through our Peru Project page on Global Giving.

Painting Brillo Nuevo community pharmacy. Photo by Yully Rojas Reategui/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Painting Brillo Nuevo community pharmacy. Photo by Yully Rojas Reategui/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Photos of Partner Artisans in the Ampiyacu River

Yagua family in Santa Lucia de Pro.  Photo by Anna Loshkin/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yagua family in Santa Lucia de Pro. Photo by Anna Loshkin/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Yagua artisan at Santa Lucia de Pro. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yagua artisan at Santa Lucia de Pro. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Traditional masks made from calabash fruit pods.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Traditional masks made from calabash fruit pods. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


 Yagua artisan Mariela from San José de Piri with woven doll hammock. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yagua artisan Mariela from San José de Piri with woven doll hammock. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Bora native artisan Camila and grand-daughter in Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora native artisan Camila and grand-daughter in Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Bora native artisan Pedro with calabash Amazon wildlife ornamentsin Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora native artisan Pedro with calabash Amazon wildlife ornamentsin Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Ocaina native artisan Pamela hanging yellow dyed chambira palm fiber in Nueva Esperanza, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina native artisan Pamela hanging yellow dyed chambira palm fiber in Nueva Esperanza, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Ocaina native artisan Rosa weaving chambira palm fiber bag in Nueva Esperanza, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina native artisan Rosa weaving chambira palm fiber bag in Nueva Esperanza, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Huitoto native artisan Cherly Flores Ribeira with armadillo ornament in Puca Urquillo, Peru.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Huitoto native artisan Cherly Flores Ribeira with armadillo ornament in Puca Urquillo, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Journey to the Ampiyacu

Yully’s father-in-law loaded two large duffle bags of gear and clothes and two large plastic zippered bags full of food onto the back of his motorcar and secured them with a rope while Yully and I crammed into the back seat with three backs packs. Yully’s husband Victor rode behind us on his motorcycle. Our procession wasn’t as extensive as as Presidential motorcade, but Victor was definitely providing security. It’s not uncommon for thieves to try to take unsecured items off the back of a motorcar at a stop light, and the risk of losing items when entering the chaos of the port is even greater. As we got within a hundred yards of the entrance to the dirt road leading down to the dock, one man grabbed the upper side of the motorcar’s carriage on my side while another grabbed the other to stake his claim for the right to carry our bags onto the boat. Stopping inside the port, at least four more men began to grab one of our bags and it took all of Yully and Victors’ assertiveness to award the winning contract to just two of the would-be porters.

Lucho - Ferry that travels from Iquitos to Brazil.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Lucho - Ferry that travels from Iquitos to Brazil. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We walked up the gangplank of the Lucho – a typical Amazon ferry that legally carries about 150 passengers and cargo. Less than a year ago, there was a string of accidental sinkings caused by the overloading of boats with twice the number of permissible passengers and half the number of required lifejackets that finally prompted the authorities to start enforcing their regulations. They actually now require checking each passenger off a list of people who have purchased tickets. We always try to get a “camarote,” a small cabin with two bunk beds for these 15 hour boat trips – in part for some comfort but mostly so we have a secure place to stow our gear. Even though Yully went down to the port earlier in the morning, the only space available was one bunk in a cabin already reserved for one woman going all the way to the Peruvian frontier with Brazil.

By the time we got all of our bags into the tiny cabin, the space below the bottom bunk and next to the bunk were full, and Yully had about two-thirds of her upper bunk left to curl up in for the night. I slung my hammock between two women each sharing theirs with a young daughter. Our fellow passengers were mostly Peruvians heading down river, but we loaned an extra travel hammock to a 20-something British woman traveling with a German companion. The boat shoved off a bit after 8 pm and I settled into my hammock to read, doze, have a tuna and cheese sandwich for dinner around midnight and then go to sleep.

Logs at sawmill by small Amazon River town.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Logs at sawmill by small Amazon River town. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

When one gets used to the noise of the engines, their absence can be jarring so I awoke at dawn as the captain gently nudged the boat close enough to the bank to allow passengers and cargo to exit and enter without grounding it on the mud. This town was distinguished by its plethora of small rafts of logs tied with crude cables waiting to be hauled into a sawmill perched on the upper bank. One worker continually walked from a side exit of the mill to the top of its little hill to toss planks onto a pile of sawdust and waterlogged discarded timber accumulating at the river edge. As we backed off and continued our eastward journey, a “steward” on the boat made the rounds of both decks and offered everyone a complimentary breakfast of a cup of watered down oatmeal and two rolls.

Landing dock at Pebas, Peru on the Amazon River.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Landing dock at Pebas, Peru on the Amazon River. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Change along small towns along the Amazon is slow but is sometimes noticeable between visits. Arriving in Pebas one great improvement was a bridge that linked the upper level of the town with a floating barge on the river that allowed easy transfer of people and cargo from boats to the town without the perennial hazard of slipping on steep muddy slopes.

Felicita Butuna - artisan from Brillo Nuevo.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Felicita Butuna - artisan from Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We were greeted by several old friends – Rolando Panduro and his wife Felicita Butuna. Rolando had been my cordial host and main village contact in 2009 and our initial project coordinator in 2010. I appreciated all that he did for us, but as time went by, it became apparent that our interests were diverging. In the last elections, Rolando became a representative in the local government and moved to Pebas. As the main organizer of the artisans in Brillo Nuevo we had consulted Felicita about every aspect of developing this work. She also prepared our meals and washed our clothes. I had spoken with her most recently when we interviewed her and her aunt Ines on the phone during our Spirit of the Amazon fundraising party. It was interesting seeing her in a nicer blouse and fancier jeans instead of her usual day wear in the village. Yully and I were happy that “Feli” still wanted to keep making crafts with us.

House in San Jose de Piri. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

House in San Jose de Piri. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Our main task for the day was to make contact with the three villages that had been provisionally designated as sites where we could expand our project. We only needed to take a two minute ride in a motorcar to get to our first stop – the Yagua native village of San José de Piri. It’s hard to imagine how a native group could maintain its own sense of community adjoining a mainstream river town, but at least the border between Pebas and this village was distinct.

Keiko Fujimori for President stickers. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Keiko Fujimori for President stickers. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

It had the familiar layout of both native and campesino villages with a ring of houses made with crude planks and thatched roofs surrounding a soccer field. The few permanent structures were the school, health clinic and meeting house (the “local”).  Many had candidates from flyers and other propaganda from the recent election still on their walls.

Children and dog in Yagua village of San Jose de Piri.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Children and dog in Yagua village of San Jose de Piri. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

At least some people in the village knew in theory that we were going to arrive sometime, but protocol demanded that we find the highest ranking “authority” in the village. While some native villages still have a “curaca” (traditional leader) that presides over occasional festivals, they all now elect a slate of conventional officers (President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary) to convene community meetings and take care of some official business in between. Arriving in such places, the odds are good that most of these people are going to be off in the city, off in their chacras (farm fields), off fishing, hunting, or off in parts unknown.

Chambira bag (xicra) at Yagua village of San Jose de Piri. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Chambira bag (xicra) at Yagua village of San Jose de Piri. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The first few people we encountered didn’t seem to know who the current President was, but after walking up and down the village a bit we ended up in the house of the Vice-President. He was very cordial, said he had heard something about our group’s interest in working there from the association FECONA, and after carefully scrutinizing a letter of introduction, agreed to give us a proper tour of the village and environs and convene a general meeting of the community two weeks hence on our way back to Iquitos. We were excited to learn that artisans in the village made a variety of handicrafts based on Yagua traditions.

Ampiyacu River near Pebas, Peru.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Ampiyacu River near Pebas, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Finally boarding our well-loaded “peque-peque” (a long wooden canoe with an equally long propeller shaft powered by a small engine), our local project coordinator Beder guided us the Ampiyacu River for about 45 minutes before arriving at the village of Puca Urquillo. We climbed up the steep mud hill pausing briefly at a house where two women were busy weaving brightly (artificially) colored chambira bags (commonly called “xicras” – pronounced either as “shicras” or “hicras”).

Eagle painting on door of painter at Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Eagle painting on door of painter at Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Proceeding up to the central area, we first tried to see Percy, the village President and prolific painter whose house was easily identified by the eagle on the door.  Neither her nor other elected authorities were around, but we were welcomed by the “curaca” Victor Churay who could act as a substitute.

Campbell Plowden and Beder Tilley from Brillo Nuevo.  Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

Campbell Plowden and Beder Tilley from Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

The first order of business, though, was emptying a large empty sugar sack full of 20 maracas that Victor had made – presumably for me. These rattles were made of whole “wingo” (calabash) fruits that had been stained brown or black with a juice from a local fruit tree. Some had complex geometric patterns etched into them; other patterns were of classic Indian figures.

Victor Churay - Bora curaca in Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Victor Churay - Bora curaca in Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

I started out picking out the ones I wanted, but after a quick negotiation, I took the whole lot save one. In my last photo of Victor he had donned a narrow width headdress made of yellow and red toucan feathers. This time Victor had on his more usual well-worn green baseball cap. He readily agreed to help convene a meeting with the Bora side of Puca Urquillo when we came back through the village.

One unusual aspect of this village is that there is a large group of houses of Bora families in one half of the community and an equally large group of Huitoto native families on the other side with a shared school, clinic, and regional office of FECONA in the middle. This was not surprisingly vacant on Sunday as we passed over to the Huitoto side in search of some authority.

Huitoto children playing on tractor at Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Huitoto children playing on tractor at Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We eventually found someone to receive our written request for a meeting to discuss our project and got back in our boat. Boat travel often involves dealing with extremes of rain or heat. This time Yully dozed in the middle seat with her umbrella clenched at her side to ward off the intense midday sun.

Mayor campaign ads in Amazon village. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Mayor campaign ads in Amazon village. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

I lay down in the boat with my head on the bag of a teacher we were giving a ride to Brillo Nuevo and read my book about the rise and fall of Comanche indian dominance of the southern plains of the U.S. in the 1800’s. It’s hard to imagine how tough life was for both the Indians and the American settlers. It was easy for me to feel sympathetic in principle for the Indians who were displaced and ravaged by the relentless expansion and diseases of white people moving west. It was equally understandable how grotesque violence perpetrated against “innocents” provoked a desire to punish and even eradicate the responsible parties.

Poster for Oroza Wood. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Poster for Oroza Wood. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Arriving several hours later at the Ocaina village of Nueva Esperanza was another reminder of how the expansion and conflicts of white people had tremendous impact on indigenous people in the entire region. The Yagua were once the dominant ethnic group in this part of the Peruvian Amazon. Some eighty or ninety years ago, many Bora, Huitoto and Ocaina natives were basically slaves collecting various forest products in Colombia. A political conflict forced several large land owners to abandon their holdings, but they took their native slaves across the border into Peru. They ended up in the Ampiyacu and pushed out the Yagua. Decades later the transplanted groups have more coherent social organization while Yagua villages are dispersed throughout the region.  Communities are free now, but are subject to a lot of pressure and opportunities to sell timber to local logging companies.

We had a brief but productive meeting with an Ocaina authority and got a quick taste of a few of their handicrafts before continuing up the the Yaguasyacu tributary of the Ampiyacu to Brillo Nuevo.

Bora village of Brillo Nuevo at low water. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora village of Brillo Nuevo at low water. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Arriving in Brillo Nuevo at different times of the year can impose extremes of travel and getting around. Yully told me that near the end of summer last year, they had to dock their boat near the first edge of the community because the stream leading to the upper end where we normally stay was completely dry. Five months later in the peak of the rainy season, every house within a few hundred yards of the river was surrounded by water. A few families that didn’t have their own canoe were virtually stranded in their own homes. I was blessed again by arriving in a temperate time.

I hadn’t been to Brillo Nuevo in a year, but after five previous visits and living vicariously through the twists and turns of village dramas and our project through Yully, it felt like arriving at my Amazon home away from home. This was not an easy new status to accept since the Tembé village of Tekohaw where I spent the better part of two years had held this spiritual center for me for more than a decade.

Boys jumping into puddle at Bora village of Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Boys jumping into puddle at Bora village of Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

I’m still meeting new people here, but it’s hard not to feel welcome when every passing child greets me with a boisterous “buenos dias” or “buenos tardes” and more than half of the adults salute me as “doctor.” I had hoped that my Bora name “kanepa” – the word for upland copal resin might stick, but I’ve had to accept the more common term of respect as endearing in its own right. Most people here are still fluent in Bora, but they all use their given Christian Spanish sounding names.

Bora artisan Marcelina Chichaco from Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora artisan Marcelina Chichaco from Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

I had hoped we could again set up camp in the usually vacant house next to Marcelina – a good natured artisan and owner of the house with the only public telephone in the village, but it was fully occupied with several young school teachers. I was pleased to be offered a small room in Marcelina’s own house where I could lay out my gear on a wooden bed frame as string my hammock.

The energy of some of our best friends in the village was a bit low, though, because several sisters were suffering from what seemed to be the same kind of sickness – diarrhea, mild fever, and fatigue. I certainly hoped to avoid the same fate.

We met with the community President long enough to learn that we could be the first item of the agenda for a community-wide meeting planned for Monday morning and spread the word we would meet with the artisans in the afternoon. After a simple (as always) dinner of spaghetti mixed with a can of tuna and tomato sauce we went to bed.

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For more information about the programs of the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, visit www.amazonecology.org.

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.

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.

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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.