Tag Archives: Amazon guitar strap

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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Dr. Devon Graham – Interview with an Amazon biologist, community supporter and ecotour operator

Interview by Campbell Plowden

Devon Graham with children patients on the Nenita. © Photo by Project Amazonas

Devon Graham with children patients on the Nenita. © Photo by Project Amazonas

Devon Graham began his career as a broad-based naturalist with a B.S. in zoology at Andrews University in Michigan, spent two years working on agricultural projects with the Peace Corps in Niger, Africa, obtained a masters in biology at Walla Walla College and a Ph.D. in biology at the University of Miami. He is President of both Project Amazonas, an NGO which conducts ecological research at four field stations and provides humanitarian assistance to native and campesino communities in the region and its partner company Margarita Tours which offers special ecotours in the northern Peruvian Amazon. Dr. Graham also teaches field courses about the Amazon and the Everglades in the Honors College at Florida International University and has done extensive consulting and teaching with other educational institutions, zoos, aquariums, and environmental firms.

CACE Executive Director Campbell Plowden often meets up with Devon at their favorite hangouts in Iquitos during their visits to Peru. He and other Project Amazonas associates have been very supportive of CACE’s efforts to develop and market handicrafts made by native communities in the region. Plowden asked Dr. Graham about his work in November, 2012.

CP: What got you first interested about working in the Amazon?

Project Amazonas field station in the Santa Cruz Forest Reserve. © Photo by Project Amazonas

Project Amazonas field station in the Santa Cruz Forest Reserve. © Photo by Project Amazonas

DG: From the time I was a kid I was fascinated by Amazon stories, but never dreamed that I would ever have a chance to go there – it seemed so remote! Then in graduate school, a mutual friend put me in contact with the founder of Project Amazonas, who invited me to come down and do an assessment of the biological field station that the organization was setting up – so in September, 1994, I flew from Miami to Iquitos – a 3 1/2 hour flight (not so remote!), and just kept going back again and again afterward.

CP: What experiences led you to join Margarita Tours and Project Amazonas?

Margarita Tours Amazon birding expedtion. © Photo by Margarita Tours

Margarita Tours Amazon birding expedtion. © Photo by Margarita Tours

DG: Project Amazonas was founded by the original owners of Margarita Tours and former clients of theirs. They wanted to give something back to the Amazon, and this was their way of doing it. I worked for Margarita Tours for a number of years, learning all the ropes, before assuming ownership in 2004. At the same time I was dovetailing-in work for Project Amazonas, and was voted president of the organization in 2000. In reality, the proceeds from ecotour trips by Margarita Tours is a large part of what allowed the expansion of Project Amazonas in its early years, and it still funds my travel back and forth to the Amazon.

CP: How do you view the opportunities and risks of ecotourism for Amazon conservation and communities?

Project Amazonas students learnng to thatch palm leaves. © Photo by Project Amazonas

Project Amazonas students learnng to thatch palm leaves. © Photo by Project Amazonas

DG: Ecotourism can be a very positive thing for the Amazon and its natural environment and communities if handled right. From the start, we have made a concerted effort to involve the local people and communities at every level – all of our employees are Peruvian, for starters, and virtually all of our proceeds also stay in Peru, and are re-invested into conservation, medical and educational work there. It also helps to be selective in the types of ecotours that are offered. We only host relatively small groups of ecotourists, as well as several school groups annually, so our footprint is small. Likewise, our clients are people who are truly interested in the Amazon and who expect to have interaction with the local people, and also expect to get muddy and sweaty in their explorations of the Amazon. No armchair tourists collecting another destination to brag about back home. Our clients like the synergism between Margarita Tours and Project Amazonas, and many of them become contributors to Project Amazonas. We also have a lot of repeat clients – the record to date is 10 trips by one of them!

CP: What have been a few of the best achievements and biggest challenges for Project Amazonas to connect its NGO work to the Peruvian Ministry of Health?

Project Amazonas providing medicines. © Photo by Project Amazonas

Project Amazonas providing medicines. © Photo by Project Amazonas

DG: We conducted our first medical service trip in 1998, and have offered them annually since then. In the early years, funding was the big block to conducting more trips. In the last couple of years in particular, however, interest in participation on trips has skyrocketed, and we have 8 two-week trips scheduled for 2013. A couple of them are already at or near capacity. The Peruvian Ministry of Health has been very supportive of the trips. Peruvian medical personnel are very well trained by any standard, but the Ministry of Health simply doesn’t have the budget to be able to regularly reach the thousands of small communities scattered along tens of thousands of miles of riverbank in the region.

Project Amazonas dentist in community. © Photo by Project Amazonas

Project Amazonas dentist in community. © Photo by Project Amazonas

With our boats, we bring some of that logistical capacity to play, and we also provide much of the medications that local people might not otherwise be able to afford. Generally one or more medical staff from the largest health center in the area to which we are travelling accompanies the boat, as does a doctor and dentist from Iquitos (and additional medical volunteers, of course). The local medical personnel know the communities and use the boat as a base for vaccination, malaria prevention, and education campaigns, while the other medical personnel take care of the immediate needs of the residents.

CP: What do you consider the most interesting research project that has been or is being conducted at any of your field stations?

Project Amazonas research on bromeliad. © Photo by Project Amazonas

Project Amazonas research on bromeliad. © Photo by Project Amazonas

DG: There are so many interesting puzzles to work out in the Amazon that it is hard to say! Two of my favorites (I can’t just pick one!) are “Devil’s Gardens” and a complex story involving cucumbers, flies and wasps. Dr. Megan Frederickson (who is now an Ecology professor at the University of Toronto) was a graduate student at Stanford when she studied stands of an understory tree – Duroia hirsuta – which forms an association with ants that live in swellings in the twigs. The ants kill off competing vegetation, leading to the “devil’s gardens” where virtually nothing, other than the Duroia trees, grow. By looking at growth rates and sizes of hundreds of trees in many different gardens, she was able to determine that some of these gardens may be very old – one large one at the Madre Selva field station was estimated to be about 800 years old. Just this year, Dr. Marty Condon (Cornell College, Iowa) and colleagues studied wild cucumber species that have separate male and female flowers, which are parasitized by different species of fruit flies, which in turn are parasitized by various species of tiny wasps. Both systems are fascinatingly complex, and since I like puzzles, they grab my attention!

CP: What do you think is the value of the work that the Center for Amazon Community Ecology is doing in Peru?

CACE project manager reviewing guitar straps with Bora artisan. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE project manager reviewing guitar straps with Bora artisan. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

DG: Empowering local people in the Amazon to sustainably maintain their environment while providing them with the opportunity to make a decent living and better their futures is essential if we hope to have a functioning Amazon in the future. What CACE is doing needs to be replicated a 100 times! There are a lot of valuable skills that the CACE projects are encouraging – resource management, quality control, marketing, social and political organization skills – all of these are really going to be critical for local people as they take more direct control of their lives and futures.

CP: How do you find balance in your life being a teacher, running a business and directing an NGO?

DG: Balance? Since no sleep or extending the numbers of hours in a day aren’t options, I guess the balance comes from realizing that I can’t do everything, and learning to be OK with that. I’ve started to try to delegate more as well, though that is hard to do! Balance is something that I’m still working on! If someone out there has the solution, let me know!

Native Artisan and Forest Conservation Project on Global Giving

Bora artisan weaving Amazon guitar strap. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan weaving Amazon guitar strap. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


CACE MISSION
The Center for Amazon Community Ecology (CACE) was founded in 2006 to promote the understanding, conservation and sustainable development of human and other biological communities in the Amazon region. We conduct research on the ecology and sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and work with forest-based communities to sustainably manage and market value-added NTFPs as sustainable alternatives to economic activities that damage the forest. For the past six years, we have been studying the ecology, management and market potential of resins and other aromatic rainforest plants and worked with native and campesino communities to develop innovative designs and markets for plant-based handicrafts. We return part of the proceeds from our sale of crafts to our partner communities to support their basic needs in health, education and conservation.

CACE Global Giving Photo ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE Global Giving Photo ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

GLOBAL GIVING CAMPAIGN
Our work with native communities in the Ampiyacu River region of the northern Peruvian Amazon has been funded so far with grants from the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center, the Rufford Small Grant Foundation and donations from CACE supporters. We are participating in the Open Challenge of the Global Giving Foundation to expand our base of support for this project. We can earn a permanent spot on this grassroots funding platform by raising at least $5000 from at least 40 unique donors by December 31. Global Giving awards bonuses of $300 to $3000 for groups that exceed these minimum goals in various ways. Please visit Grow Amazon Artisan Income & Peru Rainforest Trees on Global Giving to view or donate to this project. See full CACE Ampiyacu Project Description. See a summary of project goals and activities below.

Bora women artisans with chambira palm leaves harvested for craft making. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora women artisans with chambira palm leaves harvested for craft making. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


SUMMARY
This project will enhance forest conservation in the Peruvian Amazon by promoting the sustainable harvest and marketing of value-added non-timber forest products (NTFPs) by indigenous communities near the 433,000 ha (1.07 million acre) Ampiyacu-Apayacu Regional Conservation Area. Our project team will work with five Bora, Huitoto, Ocaina and Yagua native communities in this high biodiversity region to: 1) survey and sustainably harvest wild plants used for making value-added products, 2) promote the planting of trees that yield important non-timber products, 3) produce essential oils from aromatic plants, 4) create innovative high-quality handicrafts from local plants with traditional weaving techniques, and 5) build artisan and community capacity to market these products as alternatives to economic activities that damage natural forests. In addition to working directly with artisan associations in the focal villages, the project will closely cooperate with the Federation of Native Communities of the Ampiyacu (FECONA), Camino Verde, the Instituto del Bien Comun, and other Peruvian institutions.

Mishkipanga fruits used as natural fiber dye. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Mishkipanga fruits used as natural fiber dye. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

PROJECT GOALS AND SITES
This project will catalyse forest conservation and community development in the 433,000 hectare Ampiyacu-Apayacu Regional Conservation Area in northern Peru by empowering native communities to sustainably harvest and market value-added non-timber forest products including essential oils and innovative fair-trade handicrafts as an alternative to destructive logging and cash-crop agriculture. This strategy treats rich biodiversity and traditions as assets to improve livelihoods so communities will have tangible incentives to safeguard the area’s 1,500 plant and 700 vertebrate species. The project will focus its efforts in five of the fourteen native communities in the region: Brillo Nuevo (Bora), and Nueva Esperanza (Ocaina) along the Yaguasyacu River and Puca Urquillo Bora, Puca Urquillo Huitoto, and San José de Piri (Yagua) along the Ampiyacu River.

Bora men measuring copal tree at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora men measuring copal tree at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

DEVELOPING ESSENTIAL OILS FROM AROMATIC TREES
This project will help build the capacity of native communities to assess the abundance, sustainable harvest and economic potential of copal and aromatic trees by combining their natural curiosity and traditional knowledge of forest plants and wildlife with new forest inventory and technical skills. It will work with native woodsmen to sustainably harvest parts of aromatic plants and distill them into fragrant essential oils. Marketing these oils would be one new way to generate income without imposing severe impact on the forest. The pilot phase of these activities is based in the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo on the Yaguasyacu River.

Bora leader and CACE Director Campbell Plwoden distilling copal resin. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora leader and CACE Director Campbell Plwoden distilling copal resin. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The CACE Project Manager, Local Project Coordinator, and a rotating team of native woodsmen will map the location of copal, moena and other aromatic trees and plants, collect samples of resin and leaves, and distil them to assess the quantity and quality of the essential oil extracted from them. This information also will be used to devise a management plan with the native communities and help the provincial government establish sustainable harvest guidelines for similar enterprises in the region.

Bora man with rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora man with rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE is collaborating with Camino Verde, an NGO based in southern Peru, to plant 1000 rosewood tree seedlings (now being raised at a nursery in Jenaro Herrera on the Ucayali River) in Brillo Nuevo in secondary forest plots (“purmas”) of five families. This reforestation project will have long-term benefits since residents will be able to begin harvesting leaves from these trees in three to four years and distil them into a fragrant and marketable essential oil. The offspring of these trees will then be shared with other community members to plant in their fields.

By the end of this phase of the project, a cadre of woodmen will know how to use basic forestry equipment (GPS, compass, climbing spikes, pole pruner, and hand pruner) to conduct a basic survey of forest resources, preserve specimens for identification, and sustainably harvest resin and leaves from forest trees. Essential oil samples will be chemically analysed and examined by fragrance company specialists to assess their commercial potential.

Bora artisans Gisela and Angelina with chambira fiber belts. ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisans Gisela and Angelina with chambira fiber belts. ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


EMPOWERING ARTISANS TO PRODUCE INNOVATIVE HANDICRAFTS
The handicraft component of this project will work with artisans from all five community partners in the project. Encouraging these artisans who are mostly women to develop new woven products incorporating snake patterns and native motifs has already begun to transform craft making in Brillo Nuevo village from an individual pursuit to a more collective endeavour. The process is infused with creativity, skill sharing, cultural richness, ecological concern, and pride that craft sales can help fund immediate community needs. We are seeking to strengthen newer relationships with Bora and Huitoto artisans from the twin-village of Puca Urquillo, Ocaina artisans from Nueva Esperanza, and Yagua artisans from San José de Piri. We have had preliminary meetings with the Yagua community of Santa Lucia de Pro to become part of this project in 2013.

Dog with Amazon dog collar and leash. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dog with Amazon dog collar and leash. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE works closely with our partner artisans to develop new products and models of handicrafts. We began by buying and trying to sell some of the crafts they were already making. Customers who liked these often suggested ideas for ways to improve these or make whole new products. We now aim to develop signature products or models with each partner community. In Brillo Nuevo, where we have been working the longest, artisans are refining designs for belts, net bags and hot pads (trivets), dog collars and leashes, and guitar straps woven with chambira palm fiber. See the special brochure about the Amazon Guitar Strap for the full story on this unique product for musicians. We are working with weavers in Nueva Esperanza to develop a line of coin purses and cell phone carriers.

Yagua artisan with doll hammock. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yagua artisan with doll hammock. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

In San José de Piri, Yagua women are making samples of a doll-sized woven hammock. Artisans from Puca Urquillo have made great progress developing diverse models of Christmas tree ornaments that double as hand rattles. Most are made from small calabash fruit pods – some are etched with wildlife figures, others are covered with colored chambira fber. The newest models are woven miniature jungle animals like armadillos.

Yully reviewing guitar straps with Bora artisan. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully reviewing guitar straps with Bora artisan. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

IMPROVING HANDICRAFT QUALITY
Our Project Manager visits our partner communities every month to place orders for the crafts. The village associations then divide these orders among their members according to their particular talents and enthusiasm. We encourage artisans to share their skills with each other informally and organize larger skill-sharing workshops within and between villages so the most accomplished artisans can demonstrate their techniques for making new and complicated products to their peers. When an artisan finishes a craft, the project manager inspects the item and gives the artisan detailed feedback on how to improve it if necessary. We are also encouraging each association to form its own quality committee so the artisans can approach a peer mentor for help and move toward full responsibility for the quality of crafts offered for sale.

Measuring chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Measuring chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

BUILDING A CRAFT MARKET BASED ON SUSTAINABLE PALM HARVEST
Most handicrafts made in the Ampiyacu region (and northern Peruvian Amazon) are woven from fibers of the chambira palm tree. Artisans harvest a spear of young leaves (a “cogollo”) from a palm that has grown naturally in one of their fallow agricultural fields (“purmas”) that is reverting to forest. There always used to be enough chambira for artisans to harvest in a casual way when the demand for crafts from these remote villages was low. As the demand for handicrafts grows, however, the communities need to harvest chambira with greater care and increase its abundance.

Bora artisans attaching pruning saw to pole to harvest chambira palm leaves. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisans attaching pruning saw to pole to harvest chambira palm leaves. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The CACE project will help the communities create a sustainable supply of chambira palm for craft making in several ways: 1) we are providing each pair of artisans (usually a mother and daughter or two sisters) a slender pruning saw to harvest a chambira “cogollo”. This will allow them to remove a spear without damaging the healthy leaves next to it that frequently occurs when harvesting chambira with a machete; 2) we are working with artisans to measure chambira abundance in their “purmas.” Results will show how many crafts they can make from their current stock; 3) we will support the creation of nurseries to grow chambira palm seedlings that can be transplanted into artisan “purmas”; 4) we will encourage artisans to leave some chambira trees unharvested so each plot will have at least one large tree to provide abundant seedlings and natural regeneration in the future.

English Beat leader Dave Wakeling with Amazon guitar strap and Bora artisan who made it. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

English Beat leader Dave Wakeling with Amazon guitar strap and Bora artisan who made it. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

COLLABORATING WITH ARTISANS TO EDUCATE THE PUBLIC AND CRAFT BUYERS
Native artisans from the Ampiyacu region have always had the opportunity to sell their crafts to shops that cater to tourists in the city of Iquitos. The reason this option has not been very attractive for most is that getting to the city is a long and costly trip for them, and the tourist markets are glutted with low-priced bags, hammocks, and jewellery made by hundreds of artisans. The CACE Handicraft project offers our partner native artisans a chance to sell their unique crafts to more lucrative markets in the U.S. and other countries. This effort will best succeed if potential customers feel connected to a craft and the people, plants and places that went into making it. We want them to understand how their purchase can help put an artisan’s child through school, build a pharmacy for the community, and bring back a species of tree that was almost wiped out.

Amazon Forest Store logo. © Center for Amazon Community Ecology
We will work closely with the artisans to record their accomplishments, challenges and dreams for themselves, their family, and community. These rich stories will be presented in long and short forms on handicraft tags, product brochures, the CACE blog, newsletter, website and the upcoming online Amazon Forest Store. To supplement photos taken by the Project Leader and Project Manager, we will train the Local Coordinator to use a camera and video to help document these processes during this project and beyond.

This project’s ultimate goal is not to make new products; it is to help forest-based communities realize that cultivating their imagination and cultural traditions, intimate knowledge of nature, and entrepreneurial skills can improve their standard of living without destroying their forest or relying on charity.

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

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

GIVING BACK TO PARTNER COMMUNITIES: THE CACE SOCIAL CONTRACT
A “Fair Trade” product usually means the item was made by people paid a fair price for their labor in decent working conditions. A “green” star is sometimes added onto this to this label to indicate the product was made with minimal negative environmental impact. CACE aims to surpass these criteria by adding a third component to the social contract with our partner communities. We set aside 20% of the proceeds from crafts we sell made by artisans from their community into a “Social Rebate” fund. These funds are then used to support health, education or conservation needs in that community. With small communities like the native villages in the Ampiyacu region, CACE informs the whole community how much is in their account and then leaves it to this general assembly to decide how these funds will be used. In towns such as Jenaro Herrera, CACE consults with the head of the public health clinic and principal of the public school to use available craft rebate funds to support the most pressing local needs for health and education.

In the case of Brillo Nuevo, rebate funds have so far been used to buy some pruning saws for careful chambira palm harvest, and to buy medicines and materials to build a public pharmacy that is nearing completion.

See full CACE Ampiyacu Project Description.

Steaming Leaves and Heated Emotions

June 28, 2012 – Brillo Nuevo

Our task for Wednesday was to extract as much oil from the leaves from the palo de rosa (rosewood), copal and canela moena we had collected the day before. In all of our previous distillations, we had used a two-burner stove connected to bottled gas to boil the water. Since these tanks are becoming increasingly expensive, unwieldy and hard to legally transport on boats we decided to do our trials at Brillo Nuevo with a fire. We’d ideally need a place that already had a cooking area and easy access to water for heating and cooling. I checked out the house next to Marcelina’s that we had used distilling copal resin there in 2009, but the floor boards of the abandoned structure were too rotten to move around it safely. The kitchen area of the school where we had met with the artisans the night before seemed perfect, but we couldn’t put our gear in the area if parent volunteers were preparing breakfast for the children before their classes. Fortunately for us, less so for the kids, the school director said we were welcome to use the area because the local government hadn’t provided any food for this program in over a month.

Distillation with fire

Distillation with fire. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

While Yully, Oscar and I set up the distillation apparatus, our younger helpers from yesterday gathered and split firewood. After perching the copper alembique pot on three corners of ceramic bricks with other pipes and tubes leading down from its onion-shaped dome to the condensing coil, we realized we had made a major miscalculation. The packed earth cooking area was not nearly as high as the table that Yully has used in the past. With its initial position, the pear-shaped flask that would separate the oil from the distillate water would be on the ground – not an ideal location for a glass item. Our native engineers set themselves to the task and within ten minutes they came back with two matched stumps and an iron grill that provided a tall and stable base for the 20 liter pot.

Yully measuring water for distillation

Yully measuring water for distillation. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

We next prepared the palo de rosa leaves for distillation. Teobaldo tore off leaves, Yully snipped little branches into small pieces with pruning shears, while Oscar and Dennis chopped medium-sized ones with their machetes. By the time we had two kilograms of leaves in the pot, it seemed almost full so we switched to adding carefully measured batches of water and then topped off the pot with another kilo of leaves.

Putting Moldi-Mix caulking on alembique pot. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Putting Moldi-Mix caulking on alembique pot. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

We next fitted the column and dome on top of the pot and sealed all the junctures with a caulking material called Moldi-Mix. As Oscar massaged the yellow and blue sections of thin pieces together to activate it, he was surprised how much it heated up and almost burned his fingers.

Alembique pot caulking and fire montage

Alembique pot caulking and fire montage. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Teobaldo put a handful of firewood under the pot and within minutes, we saw the temperature gauge rising. For a moment we marveled that the fire was heating the water so much faster than the gas stove until we realized that it was a flame on the outside of the pot not the water within that was heating it. By the time we discovered our mistake, the plastic cover on the gauge had melted. We pried off the warped cover, and were relieved to find that the thermometer needle was not damaged. The guys scrounged up a few pieces of “calamina” (corruguated aluminum usually used for roofs) and placed them around the pot to focus the fire inward and shield other pieces from the heat.

Dennis separating rosewood oil from distillate water. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Dennis separating rosewood oil from distillate water. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

About 45 minutes after the fire started again, an amber-colored oil starting dripping into the separatory flask. We measured the weight of oil that came out every half-hour until the process completely ran its course in four hours. The amount was less than we had hoped for, but it had an exquisite aroma. It was not hard to see why this has been a classic scent for millennia.

We didn’t want to start another distillation that could last well into the night so we prepared the leaves from the canela moena to get an early start the next day. The only challenge of this task was dealing with hundreds of irritating ants that had been living in these branches before we brought them down.

I usually took my afternoon bath by a barrel that collected rainwater from the roof of the school. I got a treat today by pouring bowls of warm water over my head from the large basin that collected the heated water coming out of the distilling condenser pot.

My relaxed mood was short-lived.

During dinner, Ines told Yully and me about the better prices that they were now receiving for hammocks and some bags sold through IIAP to a fair and perhaps export market in the U.S. She then almost casually said that she and her three sisters had decided they were going to stop making crafts for CECAMA when Oscar finished his term as local coordinator with us in August. They all liked working with us, but they were tired about receiving so many hurtful comments from others that seemed motivated by jealousy about their frequent craft sales to us and preferential consideration of their family in general. The fact that three of them had received artisan prizes two nights before only seemed to aggravate these feelings.

I was shocked and saddened to hear about the pain that this woman who had such an easy laugh had experienced. I was also worried that if she and her sisters stopped making crafts for us, it would gut the core of our artisan group and ability to keep making many of the most popular models.

I absorbed this news in silence for almost half an hour and then began to explore options. Ines suggested that she could keep making crafts for us if we handled the orders privately. I then described the Alternatives to Violence Project workshops I did in prisons and other places and how these can help people learn how to communicate better and build a sense of community. She thought the artisans might welcome a chance to do something like that. This seemed like a nice idea to consider for the future, but we needed some shorter term approach to deal with this situation.

Campbell checking distillation of canela moena leaves. Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

Campbell checking distillation of canela moena leaves. Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

We began the second round of distillation at dawn the next morning with the canela moena leaves. While there was a distinctive pleasant aroma wafting from the top of the separatory flask, there was no measurable amount of oil collecting inside. We discontinued the distillation after an hour wondering the young leaves used in this trial was responsible for the low oil yield. After the pot cooled down, we cleaned out the spent moena leaves and reloaded it with ones from copal. The result of this day’s second batch was equally disappointing. We aren’t giving up, though. There are many other species to test, and oil content can vary with the age and location of leaves and method of distillation.

Yully reviewing guitar straps with Angelina. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Yully reviewing guitar straps with Angelina. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

While the copal leaves were simmering, Angelina came by to drop off a few guitar straps she had finished making. I took the opportunity to ask her if we could talk. We walked back to her house and sat on simple benches in her front room. I told her how sad I was when the artisans were silent during the award evening and lamented the lack of harmony in the group. While she felt like this schism may have been caused by prideful behavior of some artisans, she said she very much wanted to help the group become more unified. For her part, she felt like we were dealing with the artisans without favoritism and thought that continuing the prizes was a good thing. Our regular feedback on her work had significantly helped her improve the quality of her crafts, and she thought that the multiple-level certificates and prizes would provide additional positive motivation for others. She invited me to attend a meeting of the artisans the next morning to speak my piece.

Several meetings and a few tears at Brillo Nuevo

Oscar in peque peque
Brillo Nuevo was dark and quiet when we finally pulled in just after 10 pm. Half-way into the rainy season, Oscar drove his boat almost to the back of his house. I took off my shoes and socks to wade through the final few feet to the dry bank. In another two months, I would probably be able to step directly from his boat into his living room on stilts.

Rambo with bandaged leg

I tied both ends of my hammock and mosquito net to rafters in the main room while Yully set up her small tent on the floor. Our actions were closely monitored by Oscar´s two dogs that included Rambo whose left front paw was bandaged but hung limply after a bad fall off the deck of the house. We missed seeing Oscar’s wife Ena who was in Iquitos. It was great to hear that she’d finally been able to have cataracts removed from both eyes. She will need to wear dark glasses until her eyes properly heal from the operations, but she can already see more clearly. Ena is a very skilled weaver, but her obscured vision had sometimes made it hard for her to make straight edges on her crafts.

Renee, the young President of the community, stopped by briefly to confirm we could meet with the community at 8 o’clock the following morning. Starting then should give us enough time to meet with everyone about the social rebate and then meet with the artisans before Church started.

Yully and I briefly discussed ideas for the social rebate with Oscar. Setting aside 20% of the proceeds of the sales of crafts from Brillo Nuevo had generated a potential fund of about $900 to support health, education or conservation needs in the community of their choosing. We heard people were considering buying more medicines as they had done with the first round of the rebate.

I asked Oscar if he thought folks might want to produce stories or other materials to help kids improve their reading and writing skills in their native Bora language. He said there was a project in progress to do this, but it might be good to consider using some CECAMA (CACE in Spanish) funds for this since the other project seemed uncertain. Oscar wouldn’t be present at the meeting, though, because he going back downriver in a few hours to attend a training session for church pastors. I curled up in my hammock fully dressed with my fleece blanket and read a bit of The Secret Life of Bees with my headlamp before I accepted that involuntary closing of the book during bursts of sleep meant it was time to call it day.

Alida Soria gathering guisador dye plantI woke just before dawn and packed up my hammock. I was considering paying a visit to Don Eli and his family to express my condolences about the loss of his 24 year-old daughter Alida. Eli has always been very kind to me and key member of our copal team since my first visit to Brillo Nuevo in 2008. Alida and her sister Dalila were keen participants in our craft group. Shortly after I left Peru last summer Yully wrote me that Alida had gone upriver with her baby, husband, and his mother on a fishing trip. They were camped by the river when a sudden storm blew a tree down on top of them. Only Alida’s mother-in-law survived, and she has still not fully recovered from her injuries. It was extra sad to learn that Alida and her husband had just finished building and moved into a two-story house one month before they were killed in this accident. This house remained vacant since people seemed to view it as haunted or cursed.

Alida Soria making Amazon guitar strapEli and his family had appreciated receiving some photos that I had taken of Alida. A camera shop in Iquitos had edited one shot of the baby and printed it against an angelic celestial background. I was hoping to make and give them a DVD copy of a video-taped interview I made of Alida for them as well that morning, but my computer was unfortunately working too slowly to do this quickly.

Pijuayo fruit and chambira palm fibers at Brillo NuevoBeder called us over to his house for a quick breakfast prepared by his wife Monica, one of Ena’s younger sisters. I used to ask my hosts to make thick oatmeal the way I am used to it at home, but I now take it the Peruvian way – a thin hot beverage with a tangy bit of cinnamon. This allows one package to serve six instead of one. While we sipped our oatmeal and downed a few pieces of bread, Beder sat next to a big pile of bright red pijuayo palm fruits and snapped leaves off of chambira palm leaves to remove the fiber strips for weaving.

Brillo Nuevo curaca Manuel Ruiz and Campbell PlowdenWe wandered down to the “locale” (community meeting building) right at 8 AM, but were not surprised to find that no one was there yet and the front gate was locked. The lady on the other side of the path invited us to wait in her house. Our artisan friends started arriving one by one finally followed by Renee. He didn’t have a key to the “locale” either, but led us into the meeting room through an unlocked back door. I greeted people other people I knew as they filtered in and sat down on sat down on the backless wooden benches. I was particularly happy to see Manuel, the curaca (traditional leader) of the village who had last seemed quite discouraged about the general state of affairs in the village.

Brillo Nuevo curaca Manuel Ruiz toasting coca leavesAs Christmas traditions, western medicine, gadgets and Peruvian forms of governance became embedded into modern Bora life, his role as the actual village leader dissolved. He ostensibly retained responsibility for cultural affairs, but village interest in holding traditional festivals and the maintaining the maloca (his home) where they are usually held had waned as well. The large manguare drums in the maloca that he and his predecessors used to be beat to call people together are now silent save for brief demonstrations to visitors. I recorded several hours of Manuel telling stories about Bora legends and festivals two years ago that I hope to translate and post online. Manuel had told me he was even thinking of selling these pieces of heritage and moving to the city. He still regularly prepares his coca leaf and cetico bark ash mixture, but he unfortunately has also often had too much alcohol. It seems some people do want to continue organizing traditional festivals from time to time but prefer to do so themselves.

Medicines provided for partner community by CACE social rebateWhen a critical mass of people arrived in the new meeting house, Renee, Yully and I sat on a bench behind a table on an elevated cement section in the front of the room and each gave brief into remarks. After assuming that the matter of deciding how to spend the balance of the Brillo Nuevo social rebate account was still open, I threw out my suggestion about using part of the funds to create Bora educational materials. Manuel voiced some support for this, but the matter went no further when Renee surprised both Yully and me by reminding the group that they had already decided in a previous assembly to use these funds to build a community pharmacy. It would be stocked with basic medicines that would be sold to community members at cost. Proceeds would be reinvested to buy new supplies.

There is a health a post in the village supposedly backed by government assistance, but it has had problems with adequate and honest staffing. I was disturbed to learn that at least some of the medicines bought with our last social rebate fund had been sold by a health technician for his personal profit. The community, therefore, wanted to have a place to manage at least some medicines under their direct control. When Renee asked the assembly, though, to confirm this decision, there was no response. The silence seemed long and awkward to me; perhaps it was just the Bora way of indicating they weren’t ready to decide.

Donating school supplies from CACE to children at Brillo NuevoEventually Beder spoke up and proposed using the funds to buy basic supplies for all of the school kids – notebooks, pencils, etc. I wasn’t opposed to the idea since we had done this with our first donation to the community, but I was hoping they would choose something other than items that would be consumed in a short time. The robust artisan Ines then proposed building a bridge over a big stream on the trail to Ancon Colonia to help kids from this nearby village walk more easily to the school in Brillo Nuevo. This seemed like a novel idea, but it also went nowhere. People apparently thought Ines was more interested in easing the walk to her farm field on the other side of the stream more than helping bids from the other village commute to Brillo Nuevo.

After half an hour of these fragmented comments, a man who had some community responsibility for health issues voiced his firm support for the pharmacy proposal. Without further prompting from the chair, the gathering clicked into an energized gear. People stood in turn to either endorse or express concerns about the proposal. No one disputed the potential value of a community pharmacy; several did seem convinced the community could not manage it in a fair and efficient way. It was sad to feel that their frequent experience with corruption and incompetence made it difficult for them to believe that successfully organizing this endeavor was even possible. The idea of buying school supplies was briefly revisited, and I wondered if the meeting was heading for an impasse. Renee then asked rhetorically: “the community had already decided to do the pharmacy, did people really want to change their mind?”

I stuck my neck out a bit once more with a reminder that it would be great if the community could have a stated goal that we could promote along with craft sales. They could use the funds available now to build and equip the pharmacy and then consider concrete ways to support education with the next installment. Renee put this idea to the assembly for consideration. It didn’t generate a rousing show of hands, but he noted that enough heads were nodding to consider the proposal adopted. A few people would prepare a list of the materials needed to build the pharmacy and pass it along to Yully to estimate the costs and move forward.

Campbell Plowden and Eli Soria with aguajal copal at Brillo NuevoAs the first meeting broke up, Don Eli and I met each other’s eyes and walked toward the center of the room. He was smiling as usual and we hugged. I said softly into his left ear, “I’m so sorry about your daughter.” We faced each other again, and tears fell down both of our cheeks. I had never imagined crying in a room full of Bora natives.

Brillo Nuevo artisan Ines Chichaco with new chambira fiber net bagAs the artisans coalesced for our second meeting, I sensed some heaviness in the group and imagined they were getting ready to launch into their concerns about pricing. I began by explaining the economic realities of our craft enterprise. As happened with the Huitoto group the day before, our Bora partners seemed to appreciate my openness. It was hard for them to believe that someone could make $65 per hour sitting at a computer to make a website while they spent one or two days collecting, processing, and weaving plants into a craft for $8 to $10. They seemed to trust my assertion, though, that we needed to invest a lot of money to keep buying more crafts from them. Ines definitively stated she wanted to keep working with us.

We then moved on to other themes such as communication challenges. The pace and heat of one discussion alternately between Spanish and Bora shot above my ability to follow it. At one point I motioned for Yully to let Angelina finish her thoughts on one topic. They finally reached a logical resolution that Yully could pass along dates for her upcoming visits or craft orders to any of three members of the quality control committee if the local coordinator wasn’t available.

Bora artisans Gisela and Angelina with chambira fiber beltsWe returned to Oscar’s house to receive completed orders of belts and a few guitar straps. It turned into a spontaneous cooperative craft making session when we found that the holes and loops of many belts were out of place. Angelina’s coral snake models were beautifully woven but were slightly too wide to slide comfortably through the buckle. She went home, carefully removed the excess and came back.

Marcelina Chichaco in hammock at Brillo NuevoInes, Monica, Lucila and a woman who didn’t even make crafts with us adjusted the models made by Ena and others who weren’t there. I was really impressed with the new models of woven net bags that Ines had made and Gisela’s unique multi-colored diagonal belt. Marcelina and kids took turns swaying in a lightweight hammock.

Aurelio and Marcelina playing balsa wood catfish flutesI took photos while Yully recorded and paid people for finished items. Later her husband Aurelio came by with a pair of three pipe bamboo flute inserted in a carved balsa wood model of a sungaro catfish – complete with the black swirly stripes painted on its white body. He and another fellow then played a traditional Bora tune with them. We had hoped to head down river by 11, but we needed a few more hours to get the crafts in order, load the boat and say our goodbyes. It was surreal spending less than 15 hours in the village that’s become my new home base in the Amazon, but it was good to feel I will be welcome again for a more relaxed stay in June.

One grasshopper goes a long way

Ayahuasca earrings. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ayahuasca earrings. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Saturday morning began with a quick outing with Aurelio to collect samples of a few vines.  One popular kind of earrings is made from thin cross-sections of the ayahuasca vine.  Native Amazonians have long used this hallucinogenic plant to induce visions and healing.  Attracting visitors to participate in these ceremonies with shamans of varying pedigrees has become a huge business in parts of Peru and Brazil.  Aurelio told me that “clavo huasca” (which smells like clove), “unha de gato” (cat’s claw – used for medicinal purposes), and “huambé” (a plant whose fibers can be woven into wicker-type baskets) might be good candidates for other vines whose cross-sections might have interesting figures for jewelry.

Clavo huasca vine and leaf. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Clavo huasca vine and leaf. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

I had hoped I could get to these spots in my sandals since my boots were still wet in inside, but urged me to put them on anyway since we needed to walk on some muddy trails to find these plants. After whacking his way through various briar patches near his chacra (farm field), he found a nice-sized clavo huasca. Cutting through a thumb-sized section, though, I was disappointed.  It had a thin dark interior circle, but not much else distinguished it.  Unha de gato sounded more promising since Aurelio said its surface looked like a ring of capital “M”s.  His forays into the woods to find this plant on the way back, though, were not successful.

Aquaculture pond at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Aquaculture pond at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The highlight of the outing for me was going down a side trail to see a pond created by a mud dam.  This aquaculture project was carried out by kids from the village with technical assistance from IIAP (Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon) and financial help by the “Padres de familia” (male heads of households) and government money.  The pond was stocked with 3,000 young “gamitana” (a round omnivorous fish also known as tambaqui) and 4,000 sabalo (a long silver fish that is common in the area).  The students feed these a variety of left-over foods.  When these fish reach maturity in a few years, this pond should have an impressive amount of fish available for their lunches or possibly for selling.  There is another government program that is financing aquaculture on a larger scale in the village that almost 30 different families are participating in.  This number would probably be larger if it weren’t for lingering bad feelings and unpaid debts from the sacha inchi bean project mentioned earlier.

Going fishing in the river and finding more dye plants was my main mission of the morning.  After the usual start on Peruvian time (an hour or so after a designated time for doing anything), I went out with Aurelio and Beder in his “bote” equipped with a 5 horse-power peque-peque engine.  We landed on a bank and walked down to a damp wooded section.  They quickly found three “huacamayo caspi” trees by the creek.  Beder fashioned a hook from a tall sapling and snapped off a branch of the huacamayo sapling so we could pin down its scientific name.

Bora man Aurelio with diamond cuts in huacamayo caspi bark for dye.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora man Aurelio with diamond cuts in huacamayo caspi bark for dye. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We moved on to a larger trunk, and Aurelio used his machete to cut out four diamond-shaped pieces of bark in a vertical line.  He said you could remove an equal amount on the opposite side of the tree, but if you needed more (it takes about a pound to dye one cogollo of chambira), you would need to get some from another tree.  Seeping from the edge of the cut pieces was a line of scarlet liquid.  When boiled with fresh mashed bark, chambira turns a deep fushia.  While this tree is fairly common in these riparian forests, Aurelio later told me that it was also possible to collect the powder from scraping the bark and use this to dye the fiber – a method that clearly inflicts much less damage to the tree.

Armadillo hole near Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Armadillo hole near Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We motored another fifteen minutes up the Yaguasyacu (literally meaning river of the Yaguas – the original native group in the area) and skidded the boat onto another mud landing.  I followed Aurelio up the bank and two steps farther I lurched down with a yelp as my entire left leg broke through a thin layer of dead leaves and sticks covering a deep foot-wide hole – probably a burrow made by a large armadillo.  I felt lucky to climb out with nothing more than dirty pants and a bruise on my arm.  It was an important reminder to pay more attention to where I was walking than where the person in front of me was going.

Huacamayo caspi bark and purple stain from pelejo caspi. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Huacamayo caspi bark and purple stain from pelejo caspi. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Aurelio quickly found his next quarry – a “pelejo caspi” (literally sloth tree).  He removed a branch of this and crushed some leaves.  His hand immediately turned a deep wine red – a contrast to the milder red of the huacamayo caspi bark.

Walking back to the boat (attentive to step around the armadillo hole), Beder plucked an inch-long grasshopper hiding between some brown dry leaves.  His search for worms and grubs in the soil yielded nothing.  While I had a sentimental flinch when he also clasped a rooster-tail cicada in his hand, I knew that if we were going to catch some fish we needed to start with something.

Tying the boat to a branch near a small backwater, the rooster tail dissolved before catching anything, but when our bait supply was reduced to a remnant of the grasshopper, Beder snapped his “barandilla” (five-foot long stick pole with about 8 feet of nylon line) up and pulled a tiny round silver fish into the boat.  He cut this into tiny pieces, and we were set.  I took my barandilla in hand and spent the next few hours fine tuning the art of waiting for the right amount of tug from a fish before pulling up my line.  Yanking too soon or too hard only whipped the line out of the water; waiting too long guaranteed the bait would be gone.

Cachorro fish near Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Cachorro fish near Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Our next catch were catfish called “cunchi” and “shiripira”– Beder carefully snapped off a sharp spine from their dorsal and pectoral fins before removing the hook.  I landed a “cachorro” whose sharp teeth made it look like a miniature barracuda.

Anyashua fish near Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Anyashua fish near Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

My favorite catch of the day was a slender mottled green “anyashua” fish with a spotted tail related to the well-known peacock bass known here as tucunare.

I would have been content to spend the whole afternoon fishing, but I was due to meet with the artisans back in the village.  In spite of local custom, I try to arrive at my appointments on time, but by the time we returned to Brillo Nuevo an hour late, many artisans had come and gone – fortunately with a charitable promise to return later in the afternoon.

Brillo Nuevo artisan Ena Chichaco with tapete. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Brillo Nuevo artisan Ena Chichaco with tapete. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

One person who hadn’t shown up at first was Ena.  She’s a very talented artisan, but she was reportedly pieved when I had sent it back a tapete (hot pad) she had a girl deliver because it had too many spaces in it compared to more tightly woven pads of the same design.  Someone then told Yully and me that Ena was having trouble with her eyes.  This seemed to be a logical explanation for why she was having a hard time with the fine details of making these crafts.

The village has a basic health clinic, but getting eye exams, glasses and attention from specialists requires spending more money than most people can afford.  We were happy to learn that a church-related group that provides free eye care to Amazon communities was going to visit Puca Urquillo in the next few weeks.  We hoped that Ena could get some help from them.

Campbell Plowden with Brillo Nuevo artisans. Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden with Brillo Nuevo artisans. Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

We gathered in the same school room where we had drawn our first designs of snake patterns on the aged blackboard two years.  The group discussed approaches to managing chambira palm trees, electing a new local coordinator, ways to improve their handicraft quality committee, experiments to find a natural color-fast green dye, and establishing prizes to promote different goals.  These ideas included most productive artisan, best service to the artisans, best adaption of a pattern from nature, chambira conservation prize, and best design to promote Bora culture.

Brillo Nuevo artisan Amalia Arirama with white boa chambira belt. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Brillo Nuevo artisan Amalia Arirama with white boa chambira belt. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

While the women now seem comfortable expressing their support or disapproval for concrete proposals, asking them open-ended questions in a brainstorming mode often provokes nothing more than blank stares.  They know each other so well, but they still seem reluctant to put forward their ideas in these group settings.  Sometimes it’s clear my questions were too obtuse or poorly expressed in Spanish for them to understand.  When someone presented them in Bora, they often generated more discussion.

Afraninga snake model chambira Amazon guitar strap. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Afraninga snake model chambira Amazon guitar strap. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Our final agenda item dealt with Amalia’s concern about the use of the Bora logo on the Amazon guitar straps.  After I introduced my views on the topic and apologized for not consulting her first, she launched into a long explanation on the topic.  After an hour and a half of relative calm, the group latched onto this topic with passion; soon at least five were talking in Bora at once leaving Yully and me to ponder what they might be saying.  When the heat subsided, we pieced together that many in the group thought it wasn’t right for one person to claim exclusive rights or request payment for the use of a traditional design even if they had been the first to suggest its application to a particular product.  They could, however, win recognition for such an adaptation.

Brillo Nuevo artisan Monica Chichaco. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Brillo Nuevo artisan Monica Chichaco. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Perhaps in partial deference to Amalia or deciding that the original figure was too hard to weave, the group told us we could sell the most recent batch of guitar straps containing this logo, but they would come up with a new design they all agreed on to use in future models.  This process would never be confused with a Quaker mode of making decisions through attentive listening to different points of view and reflective periods of silence, but this Bora way clearly achieved what seemed to be a solid consensus on how to proceed.  It felt good to be given clear direction from the group on this point; I hope they will become equally engaged with other topics that will determine the success of this venture.

Harlequin beetle. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Harlequin beetle. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

While he hadn’t participated directly in the meeting, Aurelio had paid close attention.  Back in his house he showed me a harlequin beetle with a beautiful pattern on its outer wings that would be stunning design on some type of craft.

Bora man Gregorio with pucafisa dye plant. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora man Gregorio with pucafisa dye plant. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Later Aurelio introduced me to his friend Gregorio who brought a whole plant with him called “pucafisa.”  He said that it grows wild in wet areas near Puca Urquillo where people use its leaves to prepare a blue (“celeste”) dye for chambira and llanchama bark paintings.  He had transplanted some near his home in Brillo Nuevo to experiment with.

Brillo Nuevo artisan Monica Chichaco with chambira dog leash. Photo by Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Brillo Nuevo artisan Monica Chichaco with chambira dog leash. Photo by CACE

As the sun lost its power for the day, Monica and Kori came by to show us the progress they had made with the dog leashes and collars.  I was excited to see how quickly they had adapted the belt-making techniques to these products.  I can’t wait to have my dog Juno model one of them.

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New chambira leashes for dogs; monitoring the copal resin weevils

Yully preparing template for chambira dog leashes with Bora artisans. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Yully preparing template for chambira dog leashes with Bora artisans. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Tuesday morning, Yully and I almost got to sit down to enjoy our morning fried eggs when the first artisan arrived at Marcelina’s house with her 10 foot long piece of wood to have us mark the template for the new woven dog leash and collars.  We had originally thought it would be easy if we laid out a set of two collars and one leash In a single band, but as the challenge of drawing a straight line against a bending tape measure on a rough board because almost comical, we changed gears and drew lines to mark the end points for the three pieces they would weave from one design all within the margins of the longest piece.

Brillo Nuevo artisan Rosa Torres examining dog leash. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Brillo Nuevo artisan Rosa Torres examining dog leash. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Each woman in turn was asked to make a narrow, medium or wide set of woven straps of a given design to begin our experiment in creating hand-made pet supply products – “walk your dog and save the amazon.”  We asked everyone to bring by a short piece for us to look at so they don’t invest too much time making a strap that doesn’t fit the hardware of the buckles and snaps.  I will have to remember that the first batch of every new product we’ve done looked very rough.  The second generation showed great improvement and the third even more after that.

Campbell Plowden by copal tree at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

Campbell Plowden by copal tree at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

I ventured into the forest mid-morning with Yully, our (perhaps lame-duck) local coordinator Beder and veteran craft maker and woodsman Don Lucio.  Our mission on this forest outing was to conduct the first round of monitoring the status of copal trees and resin lumps that had been marked and harvested almost a year ago.  We didn’t need to walk far to get to a mature “purma” (patch of secondary forest growing back after use as a farm plot) of Manuel.  Most of the copal trees there had been planted some 25 to 30 years ago and had grown to a variety of sizes in the tangle of all the other trees that had naturally regenerated since then.  Our best guess is that these were a variety of the genus Dacryodes.

Beder and Lucio measuring copal tree diameter. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Beder and Lucio measuring copal tree diameter. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We walked from tree to tree measuring the diameter to see how much they had grown in a year.  This is a deceptively simple task, but deciding where to wrap the tape around the trunk at the standard 1.3 meters above the ground presents various challenges.   Buttress roots can make a tree seem huge at the base even though its tapers upward to pole size; one side of the base of a tree is often higher than another; trunks can split and veer off sideways; knobby structures can emerge right where one wants to put the tape.  There are many forestry rules to govern these irregularities, but it takes a good amount of training to apply these consistently.

Bora woodsman Beder Tilley inspecting copal resin lump. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora woodsman Beder Tilley inspecting copal resin lump. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Our main task, however, was to observe the number and condition of resin lumps on these trees.  The unfortunate reality was that there weren’t many of these to begin with on these trees last year, and this situation hadn’t changed.  Early in the process, Don Lucio spotted a small hard nodule of resin on one tree.  Removing it we noted that there was a small hole in the center of this tiny lump as well as in the tree.  We presumed that a weevil larva had begun feeding in this spot, but it hadn’t progressed very far.  I noticed other signs that these trees weren’t cooperative hosts.  In some places, I noted fissures in the bark overlying a mound of wood.  While these weevils have adapted remarkably well to copal trees’ front line of resin defense, some trees literally push back against a larva feeding in its inner bark by surrounding it with an extra hard layer of wood.

Adult weevil exit hole in copal resin lump at Brill Nuevo. Photo ay Cambell Plowden/ACACE

Adult weevil exit hole in copal resin lump at Brill Nuevo. Photo ay Cambell Plowden/ACACE

We did find several trees, though, where weevils had become well established.  A few almost perfect hemispherical lumps that were half the size of a baseball had a circular hole in their crust – a sure sign that a weevil had completed its development and emerged as an adult.  Other lumps had fresh white resin on their periphery indicating they still had a live larva growing inside.  Since a few of these were on lower parts of the tree near a main trail, we didn’t give them much chance of surviving to maturity.  Passersby routinely whack trail side trees with their machete, and exposed lumps are an attractive target for curious kids and adults wanting a bit of resin.

Bora woodsman caulking canoe wih copal resin. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora woodsman caulking canoe wih copal resin. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

While the Bora use the resin lumps that appear on these trees to caulk their canoes, their main purpose for planting this kind of copal tree in their farm fields before letting them go fallow is to produce a small edible fruit that is a favorite snack food.  More precisely they chew the slightly sweet and oily pulp that surrounds the seed.  While Yully has spent more than a year dealing with copal resin and appreciates it aroma, she said she wasn’t so fond of this taste in the fruit.  When Beder clarified that they didn’t eat the seed because it indeed was resinous, it immediately generated the idea to try distilling some of these seeds to see if we could extract a nice essential oil from it.  Don Lucio said that Ena Chichaco, one of our main Brillo Nuevo artisans, actually had a large bag of these seeds she had saved after sucking off the pulp.

Bora artisan Amalia with traditional logo belt. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora artisan Amalia with traditional logo belt. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Returning to the village, we were beckoned by another artisan Amalia to come into her house to talk.  Last year Amalia had said she would like to make some belts with traditional Bora designs instead of the snake models we were developing with the other artisans.  I said we’d certainly be glad to have some of these since I hoped our project would be one means to fortify traditional Bora culture, and we agreed on a few basic geometric patterns that she would work from.

Earlier this year, I thought it would be good to add a logo to the snake head on the guitar straps they were making as a way of branding it as a special product made by this community.  I suggested one of these patterns, and asked Yully to consult with the artisans about it use.  They agreed and wove this design into the next batch of straps they made.  Amalia kept quiet at the time, but now given the opportunity to meet with me, she said that seeing “her” design on the guitar straps had reduced her enthusiasm for finishing a belt that she had begun with it.  She and Yully got into a lively debate about what had or had not been said during the community discussions about this topic.

Green anaconda Amazon guitar strap. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Green anaconda Amazon guitar strap. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The topic certainly raised many questions for me.  It is clearly proper for any outsider to ask formal permission to use any cultural icons of a native group.  What is much less clear is who has the right to give such permission.  In the case of this symbol, does the right to use it or authorize others to do so rest with one artisan, one group of artisans, one community, or all extant Bora communities?  These symbols are far from secret since they have been widely adapted to a variety of commercial products available in Iquitos and elsewhere.  We will discuss this matter later this week and see where it takes us.  We are certainly prepared to withdraw its use on the guitar straps if its makers wish us to do so.

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