Tag Archives: Amazon rainforest

Exploring a new partnership with Maijuna native communities

March 5, 2015

Maijuna boys in boat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna boys in boat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I just returned to Iquitos after a successful four day visit to the Maijuna native community of Nueva Vida in the Napo River region of the northern Peruvian Amazon. The main purpose of the trip was to meet their artisans and see if they wanted to work with CACE to develop and market several new models of handicrafts. I also wanted to explore the potential for harvesting copal resin with them and distilling it into fragrant essential oil as a new source of sustainable income for the village.

Campbell Plowden and Shebaco at Maijuna party in 2009.  Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden and Shebaco at Maijuna party in 2009. Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

My journey began with a speedboat ride at dawn from Iquitos to the Amazon River town of Mazan with my CACE videographer companion Tulio Davila. After stocking up on supplies, we eventually met up with our Maijuna guides Everest and his father Sebastian “Shebaco” Rios Ochoa.

Michael Gilmore discussing map with Maijuna in Nueva Vida (2009).  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Michael Gilmore discussing map with Maijuna in Nueva Vida (2009). Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I first met this friendly confident native leader through long-time Maijuna friend and CACE board member Michael Gilmore. We had danced together after a Maijuna federation congress in 2009, and he hosted me last summer in Sucusari when we conducted a quick search for copal trees near his village. I much appreciate that he gave me the name “Baiyiri” – the Maijuna word for copal.

Maijuna leader and elder photo at FECONAMAI congress 2009.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna leader and elder photo at FECONAMAI congress 2009. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our original host for this visit was going to be Walter Perez from Nueva Vida, but on two days’ notice he had flown to Lima with two other Maijuna to meet with the Peruvian President. This was a critical meeting that marked the final hurdle to winning government approval for a regional protected area that would encompass the four main Maijuna villages in the Napo and Putumayo River region and the forest in between. This struggle to gain legal recognition for their traditional lands coincided with a multi-year battle against a road project that would go through the heart of it. I wished Walter well on his mission and was happy to have Shebaco with me again for mine.

Maijuna statue at Puerto Huaman. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna statue at Puerto Huaman. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Like many native groups, the Maijuna are striving to improve their standard of living and standing in modern Peruvian society and maintain certain aspects of their culture that give them pride and sustenance. The Maijuna were once called by the derogatory term “orejones” (big ears) because they had the custom of placing increasingly larger disks into their ear lobes. They gave up this practice a generation ago, but they embraced a program led by linguists from U.C. Berkeley that has reinvigorated the teaching and use of the Maijuna language by all generations.

Chambira palm fiber basket woven by Maijuna artisan.  Photo by Michael Gilmore

Chambira palm fiber basket woven by Maijuna artisan. Photo by Michael Gilmore

Half a dozen women from Nueva Vida learned how to make decorative baskets from chambira palm fiber that were similar to ones made by campesino artisans from the Tahuayo River, but their skills languished for several years because the workshop’s sponsors did not provide follow-up support to market any baskets they made. Since there was a new spark to this enterprise, Michael thought that this would be a propitious time to connect with these budding artisans.

Campbell Plowden discussing basket design with Maijuna artisan.  Photo by Tulio Davila/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden discussing basket design with Maijuna artisan. Photo by Tulio Davila/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Due to our late start from Mazan, we didn’t get into Nueva Vida in Shebaco’s peque-peque (motor canoe) until well after dark. After setting up our tents in our host’s main room and a quick supper of tuna fish and crackers, we went to sleep. My visit began in earnest the next morning by meeting almost the whole community. I spoke no Maijuna beyond my nickname, but showing and discussing a video of our handicraft project with other artisans quickly established a common language dealing with chambira palm fiber and other plants used in making woven crafts.

Maijuna artisans of Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna artisans of Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

There was no doubt they could make the kind of baskets we wanted, but it took a patient dialogue to sort through which dye plants they had available to make certain colors and which colors we should avoid using in our initial designs unless we wanted to provide artificial dyes from the city. Our discussion about pricing for the baskets was uncomfortable for a time because their scale was different than other villages we have bought similar products from.

Maijuna elder sleeping next to copal flame. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna elder sleeping next to copal flame. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While the Maijuna were all familiar with the basic uses of copal resin – burning it for light or boiling it to caulk their canoes, they were fascinated to see and hear the stories about the intimate relationships that copal resin exuding from the trees has with various weevils, flies, ants and bees.

Maijuna harvesting copal at Nueva Vida.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna harvesting copal at Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

For two days I accompanied Shebaco and rotating four-man teams from Nueva Vida to search for copal. We had most luck finding large fresh lumps on trees on or near the tops of little hills and spent the other half of our time slogging through swampy low lying areas.

Maijuna harvesting copal with machete lashed to pole. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna harvesting copal with machete lashed to pole. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Harvesting a lump was sometimes as simple as cutting it off with a machete at chest height. A team member lashed his machete to a pole and thrust the blade under lumps that were attached to the trunk ten to twenty feet from the ground. In a few cases, a spry Maijuna wrangled his way up a nearby small tree or vine to get at some lumps that were twice as high. Two men tried to catch the dislodged lumps below (in Tulio’s long-sleeve shirt the first day and an old cassava carrying bag on the second) while trying to keep dry resin bits from falling in their eyes.

Maijuna tossing copal lump down.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna tossing copal lump down. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The teams quickly adopted our protocol of not harvesting small fresh resin lumps so the weevils inside them could mature and stimulate more resin lumps in the future. They also understood that while they could take old black lumps back to their homes to stoke cooking fires, the dry odorless lumps were not worth distilling because they had lost most of their essential oil. We collected GPS points at all of the trees to aid in finding these trees again in five or six years and combine them with satellite landscape data to help identify other good sites for finding copal trees in more distant Maijuna forest areas.

Maijuna artisan Elena and dolphin ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna artisan Elena and dolphin ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Other highlights of my time in Nueva Vida included fishing with Shebaco and Everest and meeting Elena, an artisan who had woven a beautiful river dolphin as a sample keychain. After Tulio talked with her, I commissioned her on the spot to make fifteen more as Christmas tree ornaments. I was impressed that Tulio was able to sincerely engage with people who are understandably often very shy in this situation to become comfortable enough to share something about their craft making and other aspects of their lives. In the final hours of light, I was very happy to reach an agreement with the president of the artisan association about making an initial batch of baskets for us.

Yully Rojas measuring copal tree with Maijuna team.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas measuring copal tree with Maijuna team. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our Nueva Vida hosts were accepting if circumspect in sharing their evaluation of our visit with us. Every community in this region has had multiple experiences with visitors from various groups coming in to pitch one project or another – many of which lack follow-up or don’t go well for other reasons so I understand why they temper their enthusiasm for a new venture until it proves worthwhile. I already felt a bond with Shebaco, but I was encouraged that several people from Nueva Vida asked me one and only one simple question: “When are you coming back?” So the dance has begun. I hope to see thirty beautiful baskets in three weeks as the next step.

Shebaco observing copal distillation in Iquitos. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Shebaco observing copal distillation in Iquitos. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Back in Iquitos, our project manager Yully set herself to the task right away of distilling the resin collected at Nueva Vida. It was great to learn that it shared the highest yield of essential oil we have produced so far from any region. Analyzing a sample of it will help determine its composition and commercial potential. If these aspects prove positive as well, the next step will be to formulate a management plan to guide the development of this local enterprise in the years to come.

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Hello Peru rainy season

February 24 – Panama City airport

I’m excited to be leaving for Iquitos today. It will be in the middle of the rainy season when both tasty Amazon fruits and mosquitoes (with and without malaria) are abundant. I’m ready, though, because I get to spend a whole month away from the coldest winter I remember after living in central Pennsylvania for almost 20 years. The snow has been pretty, but repeatedly freezing my fingers and toes while shoveling my and a neighbor’s driveway has grown tiresome.

Squirrel on snowy porch in Pennsylvania. Photo by Campbell Plowden

Squirrel on snowy porch in Pennsylvania. Photo by Campbell Plowden

As I started packing two days ago, I saw a squirrel perched on the hand rail of our back porch with her tail curled onto its back giving it a Mohawk look. As she looked at me through the window, I wondered if she was just curious about me or wanted to come inside for a reprieve from the extra chill. I donned five layers to walk my lab-mix Juno, but I did smile when I saw her running with her head lowered to plow fresh powder into her open mouth. It reminded me of a black skimmer slicing through the ocean surface with its open beak to scoop up tiny fish.

Ania teaching Jill to make hot pad. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ania teaching Jill to make hot pad. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I’m also excited about spending a month to advance CACE projects in Peru. It’s hard to believe we are now nine years old! I will again visit the native villages of Brillo Nuevo and Puca Urquillo where we are doing back to back workshops to help 80 Bora and Huitoto artisans learn to make popular models of hot pads, belts and ornaments. I also want to ask them about their goals for their families and communities to gauge how much time they really want to invest in craft-making compared to other ways of making money and tasks of daily life.

Yermeth Torres with frog ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yermeth Torres with frog ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I’ll return to Jenaro Herrera to begin winding down our basic research on the ecology of copal resin as we apply results from these studies to help our community partners sustainably harvest resin from their forest and distill it to marketable essential oil. I’m looking forward to seeing the women artisans from Chino to pick up a new batch of woven frogs whose expressions reflect their creators’ warm personalities. I also want to record how they’ve used CACE social rebate funds to tend young chambira palm trees planted to supply fiber for making the frogs and their signature Tahuayo region baskets.

Campbell dancing with Maijuna. Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell dancing with Maijuna. Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Thanks to CACE board member Michael Gilmore, I will return to the Maijuna village of Nueva Vida to help their artisans make six models of small baskets we can try to market in the U.S. I’m hoping for good health and energy since I spent several days languishing in a hammock after eating something funky at an otherwise wonderful festival.

Rode making guitar strap. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rode making guitar strap. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

After my trips to our partner villages, our project manager Yully Rojas and I are going to host our first CACE public gathering in Iquitos. Almost 200 people who live there have “liked” our Facebook page, so we’re going to invite them to a combo presentation and little party. My hope is that we can start to kindle local and interest and support for our project with the people who live in the heart of the region.

Tracy Stayton. Thirtyfourtunate.com

Tracy Stayton. Thirtyfourtunate.com

Near the end of my trip, we will welcome Tracy Stayton to a CACE Amazon Field Volunteer for ten days as part of her remarkable Thirtyfourtunate project. Having turned 34, Tracy has begun a year-long global giving adventure when she will do 34 acts of service to give back and bring awareness to NGOs and their causes around the world. Follow her journey at: Facebook.com/34tunate.



Thank you to my loving family and many friends for your warm wishes as I head south again. May you enjoy the winter outside as much as you can and savor a cup of hot tea when you come back inside.

I also offer thanks to the Rufford Foundation, New England Biolabs Foundation and GlobalGiving Foundation for support of our work in Peru. Please visit wwww.AmazonAlive.net to support our proect.

A fountain of frogs and new bathroom for children at Chino

by Campbell Plowden

Romelia Huanaquiri with woven bowl. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Romelia Huanaquiri with woven bowl. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Melodi Tuesta with woven bowl. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Melodi Tuesta with woven bowl. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Every time I go to Peru, I look forward to spending at least a few days in the campesino village of Chino on the Tahuayo River. I go there primarily to buy some of the beautiful baskets and other woven handicrafts made by women in the Huacamayo artisan cooperative. What makes these trips possible is that we enjoy an easy working relationship with the Rainforest Conservation Fund (RCF) to help arrange short stays at their lodge, meetings with artisans and leaders, and the purchase and delivery of materials for community projects funded with the CACE social rebate from craft sales. Finally, Chino is a very welcoming community in an incredibly beautiful place where I usually get to go fishing on a free morning.

Yully Rojas paddling RCF boat with floorboard in 2010. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas paddling RCF boat with floorboard in 2010. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I have sometimes taken a small lancha from Iquitos to Chino (an 8 to 10 hour journey often shared with a boat full of people, chickens, fish and bags of charcoal), but Luke, Amrit and I were lucky that our friend Gerardo, an extension worker with RCF, was available and willing to take us there in their motorboat as long as we paid for the gas. While these trips are not guaranteed to be speedy (we once had to paddle the boat to a nearby village with floor boards when the engine conked out), we made it comfortably to Chino on this Tuesday without incident.

The rainy season was over, but water marks more than a foot above the already elevated first floor on the walls in the RCF lodge showed that this year’s floods had been very high for the second year in a row. In past visits, I’ve share the four bedroom space with as many as a dozen students from Grand Valley University doing an Amazon field course with RCF President Jim Penn, but this time, we had the place to ourselves with Gerardo. The house is no luxury eco-lodge, but having access to a flush toilet, cold shower, gas stove, a generator for light and laptop, and a bed covered with a mosquito net canopy was a welcome upgrade after much more rustic conditions in the Ampiyacu.

Campbell Plowden buying chambira basket from Chino artisan. Photo by Amrit Moore/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden buying chambira basket from Chino artisan. Photo by Amrit Moore/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

We spent most the next two days watching the artisans and buying their handiwork. They have a well-deserved reputation for making a great variety of baskets woven with chambira palm fiber that has been dyed with a rainbow of local plants. I had bought many of these during past visits at a “feria” (fair) in the same simple building where coop members display their crafts to visiting guests from the Amazon Adventures lodge upriver. This time I had placed an advance order to buy dozens of woven frogs, particularly small ones designed as Christmas tree ornaments.

Dina Peña with yellow frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dina Peña with yellow frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Estelita Loayza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Estelita Loayza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

When arriving in Chino, I learned that my request for woven frogs had generated some confusion and discontent. The cooperative had split the order among interested members so the benefits would not be limited to the one artisan who had specialized in the making these frogs in the past. This division led to a fountain of new designs for woven frogs including the neat innovation of well-defined feet. See other photos of artisans with woven frogs. See photo album of Chino woven frogs on CACE Facebook page.

Orange woven frog ornament made by artisan from Chino, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Orange woven frog ornament made by artisan from Chino, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Red woven "jewelry box style" frog with clasp. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Red woven “jewelry box style” frog with clasp. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Unfortunately some women did not make their first frogs with a pleasing shape or imbue them with the personality of their master creator. To compound this problem, the original frog lady had not understood the details of my order so she and her fellow artisans presented me with a squadron of larger than life bullfrogs and only one of the ornament sized peepers I had wanted as a tree ornament. I bought as many of the colorful mid to super-sized hoppers as I thought I could sell in the next few years with hopes that tourists would buy the rest in time. Few artisans left empty-handed, though, since I also purchased my usual quotient of 40 woven baskets and pots.

Woven basket made by Chino artisan. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Woven basket made by Chino artisan. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The lesson for me (that I learned the hard way three times the hard way this trip) and the artisans was very clear. Handicraft orders should include very specific dimensions and photos of the desired models. It is wrong to assume that just because someone has made something one year that they will remember how to make it the same way the next. That evening I did a slide show of all the baskets I had bought from Chino since 2008 and gave a CD copy of these images to Exiles (an RCF extension agent who lives in the community) to share with other artisans so they could see and replicate some of the stunning designs they have made in recent years. See sample photos of Chino baskets.

Chino artisan with rosario and huayruru seed necklace. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chino artisan with rosario and huayruru seed necklace. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chino artisans are also looking to expand their craft-making beyond weaving chambira. The day after the “feria,” most coop members gathered in the open-air common area (with a conical thatched roof) to practice making some complex necklaces with huayruru (Ormosia spp.) and rosario (Nothoscordum spp.) seeds. They used a hand drill mounted upward to drill a hole through the center of each seed and then strung them in patterns according to design specifications of a potential buyer. It was neat to see pairs of artisans working comfortably together to figure out the nuances of different models.

Amrit Moore drawing artisan with girl at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore drawing artisan with girl at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit attracted the attention of girls and eventually a few boys as she sketched women stringing beads and weaving bags. She admired one multi-strand shiny red, black, and grey necklace so much that she asked Rosa to make a duplicate for her.

Pijuayo fruit at market in Pebas.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Pijuayo fruit at market in Pebas. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While most Peruvian artisans have many plants to dye chambira various shades of yellow, orange, red, and brown, it is surprisingly difficult to find green plants that can impart a durable green color to this otherwise receptive fiber. This visit to Chino, I was happy that two artisans left the necklace-making session to show me how they use leaves of pijuayo palm (Bactris gasipaes) and cocona (Solanum sessiliflorum) plants to dye chambira green. Both plants are common in home gardens and fields throughout the region, although their fruits are harvested more for food than dye.

Pounding cocona leaf with rock. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Pounding cocona leaf with rock. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan Romelia Huanaquiri who had demonstrated other dye plants to me before escorted us to her backyard and used a pole saw to cut a long leaf hanging out from a modest-sized pijuayo palm tree and plucked the spear-like leaflets off the petiole (stiff central stem of the leaf). She then picked a handful of large plate size leaves from a cocona plant and brought them all back to her house. The next stages of processing both plants were the same. Romelia and her artisan colleague Lastemia took turns folding and smashing the leaves with a round smooth stone onto a large flat one.

Cooking chambira with pijuayo leaves. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Cooking chambira with pijuayo leaves. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Each batch of mashed leaves was then put into a pot with some water and a hank of clean chambira fiber to boil over a fire. Romelia removed the pot from the flame after ten to fifteen minutes, sifted out the chambira, and laid the strands on a table to dry in the shade. The pijuayo dyed chambira had a pleasant medium green tint while the cocona dyed batch seemed quite pale.

Romelia Huanaquiri soaking chambira with pijuayo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Romelia Huanaquiri soaking chambira with pijuayo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Romelia said that it had probably needed a stronger concentration of leaves and longer time boiling. The main reason why Ampiyacu artisans said they didn’t use these plants was that the color in dyed in chambira faded too quickly if exposed to water or sun. We plan to do some controlled studies with these and other plant dyes to test their durability.

Yellow catfish and bananas on canoe. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yellow catfish and bananas on canoe. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke, Amrit and I had a chance to go fishing with Exiles, but the best fish we had were from a couple of large striped (Psuedoplatystoma spp.) and yellow catfish that Gerardo had bought from a local Chino man who had been dropping his line in the water all night. As we enjoyed our supper of fresh doncella, we were also treated to a gorgeous rainbow over the Tahuayo River.

Rainbow over forest on Tahuayo River. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rainbow over forest on Tahuayo River. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Last year, Chino had decided to use its social rebate funds from CACE sales of its crafts to build a basic bathroom for its school children. It took many months to complete, but I was very happy to see that the job had been done well. It was a two-stall wooden structure with basic toilets. A tube had been connected to the gutter from the school roof to funnel runoff water from rain into a large barrel that stood next to the bathroom doors. Kids would need to scoop water from this barrel with a bucket to flush the toilet.

Exiles from Rainforest Conservation Fund at new bathroom in Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Exiles from Rainforest Conservation Fund at new bathroom in Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke made his own contribution to the kids in Chino by teaching English to the high school students for both days we were there. Teaching these classes in Chino and other villages was both inspiring for him and gave him an even deeper appreciation for the advantages of his education opportunities at home – benefits that many of his peers at his high quality public school take for granted.

The community meeting convened to decide how to use CACE social rebate funds from the past year of craft sales was due to start at the typical time of 7 pm. While it was a convenient time to gather after work and family dinners, it also coincided with the peak dinner time for mosquitoes. As people casually arrived, the growing assembly resembled an unchoreographed jerky dance as people randomly swatted their shoulders and thighs and stamped their feet. Within half an hour, Solis Zandromo, the Agente Municipal (top elected official in Peruvian villages) felt that a sufficient quorum of residents had arrived to proceed.

Gerardo Bertiz from Rainforest Conservation Fund helping to buy water pump for Chino bathroom. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Gerardo Bertiz from Rainforest Conservation Fund helping to buy water pump for Chino bathroom. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I presented a brief summary of CACE craft sales from Chino and the amount now available. Proposals came from the floor to carry out various projects, but the group finally reached consensus on a plan to build a cement patio in front of the school so the kids could gather on a dry spot that was often pure mud. If there were sufficient funds, they would also upgrade the school bathroom with a larger tank on the roof so the toilets could be flushed at any time with water pumped from the river because there were often times in the dry season when there wasn’t enough rain to fill the barrel. I passed around a bag of buttered and salted popcorn to the attendees with appreciation for their reaching a decision before the mosquitoes totally devoured me.

Chino leader with water tank for bathroom. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chino leader with water tank for bathroom. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Back in Iquitos, Gerardo and Solis shopped around for supplies at hardware stores and quickly concluded that we actually had enough budget to finance both projects. I didn’t feel a need to accompany them to buy cement for the patio, but it was fun joining them to purchase the giant water tank and test out the pump. I look forward to seeing the upgraded bathroom during my next trip to Chino in the summer of 2014.

Other photos from the trip to Chino

Amrit Moore in palm spate hammock. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore in palm spate hammock. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Girls playing on monkey bars at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Girls playing on monkey bars at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Two kids at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Two kids at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Doncella catfish caught in the Tahuayo River. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Doncella catfish caught in the Tahuayo River. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chino artisans and a plethora of frogs

by Campbell Plowden

Below is a photo gallery of women from the Huacamayo Artisan Cooperative in the campesino village of Chino on the Tahuayo River in Peru who wove multi-colored small, medium and large frogs with chambira palm fiber for the Center for Amazon Community Ecology in July, 2013. Contact CACE at info@amazonecology.org if you would like to purchase any of these items. See accompanying story and photos: A fountain of frogs and a new bathroom for children at Chino. See photos of all woven frogs on CACE Facebook page.

Orange woven frog ornament made by artisan from Chino, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Orange woven frog ornament made by artisan from Chino, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Yermeth Torres with orange frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yermeth Torres with orange frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Sarita Mendoza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Sarita Mendoza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosa Sanchez with orange frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosa Sanchez with orange frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Romelia Huanaquiri with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Romelia Huanaquiri with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Madita Sinarahua with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Madita Sinarahua with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Liria Enocaires with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Liria Enocaires with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Lastemia Ruiz with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Lastemia Ruiz with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Estelita Loayza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Estelita Loayza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dina Peña with yellow frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dina Peña with yellow frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Darli del Aguila with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Darli del Aguila with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dalila Lopez with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dalila Lopez with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Charlita Espinoza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Charlita Espinoza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Carmen del Aguila with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Carmen del Aguila with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The rosewood project in Peru – Part 1: Progress in Brillo Nuevo

By Campbell Plowden

Putting rosewood leaves in bag at Brillo Nuevo. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Putting rosewood leaves in bag at Brillo Nuevo. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The CACE rosewood project began in the summer of 2012 when we collected and distilled some leaves from one rosewood tree near Brillo Nuevo in the Ampiyacu River region. It was the lone survivor of a few seedlings that Oscar López Flores’ father had brought with him from the Algodón River farther north almost 70 years. Oscar remembers growing up with these aromatic trees in front of his home that had long since been left to return to forest.

Bora man separating rosewood oil from distillate water. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora man separating rosewood oil from distillate water. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The oil that we extracted from this tree had a wonderful aroma, but we would clearly need more than one tree to create a community enterprise that would make and sell rosewood oil. Read full story about Oscar’s rosewood tree.

Juan Silvano with young rosewood tree. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Juan Silvano with young rosewood tree. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

We got a look at what such a project might look when we visited shaman Juan Silvano and saw some of the thousand plus rosewood trees that he had planted near his eco-lodge on the outskirts of Tamshiyacu. While most of his fellow rosewood planters had stopped pruning their trees many years ago when government support for the project evaporated, Juan still hoped that he would be able to find a good partner to make essential oil from his rosewood trees and other medicinal plants. Read full story about rosewood and ayuhuasca at Juan’s center.

Rosewood seedlings and scions at Jenaro Herrera. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosewood seedlings and scions at Jenaro Herrera. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

With encouragement and funding from the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center, we combined forces with the NGO Camino Verde and contracted the Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP) to use rosewood cuttings and seeds from rosewood acquired from the Tamshiyacu River region to produce 1000 seedlings to plant at Brillo Nuevo. See full story about rosewood seedlings at IIAP nursery.

Robin van Loon from Camino Verde, Yully Rojas from CACE and Bora family who planted rosewood seedlings in their forest field. Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Robin van Loon from Camino Verde, Yully Rojas from CACE and Bora family who planted rosewood seedlings in their forest field. Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

By February of this year, the nursery had produced 900 good seedlings that were taken by truck, ferry, speedboat, motor canoes and backpacks from Jenaro Herrera to fields around Brillo Nuevo. Robin van Loon from Camino Verde then worked with four families (chosen by lottery) to plant 225 seedlings in a half-hectare plot of each family.See more photos about rosewood planting at Brillo Nuevo.

Luke Plowden and Bora man measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden and Bora man measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

This summer we organized a team of young Bora men to check on the status of the rosewood seedlings in the four plots around Brillo Nuevo. Half of the team including CACE volunteer Luke Plowden first counted the number of rosewood seedlings that were still alive. They then recorded the height, width, number of leaves and general condition of twenty seedlings selected at random in each area.

Measuring soil humidity near rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Measuring soil humidity near rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The team also used a battery-powered probe to record the soil moisture near these sample plants. While we had heard complaints that some plants had been stolen and saw that a few had withered to leafless stems, it was good to find that at least 90% of the plants were alive in each plot and most were in very good shape.

Bora men photographing insect at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora men photographing insect at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While one crew was taking these measurements, four other fellows used digital cameras to take pictures of the measurers and sundry critter and plants in the field. This was our first photography workshop designed to help the Bora document their activities and nature in the forest, field and around their own homes. See photos of insects and frog in the field.

Red lip plant with water at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Red lip plant with water at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

On the next day of the monitoring, we reversed the roles so the photographers learned to use the measuring tape, GPS and humidity gauge while the first group got lessons and practice using the cameras. We gathered in the evening to review the day’s images with the group when we had reliable power and functioning computers.

it Moore and Bora man drawing chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

it Moore and Bora man drawing chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our Amazon Field Volunteer Amrit Moore was beginning another kind of documentation on the first day of the rosewood monitoring. She sat on a log and drew colored sketches of chambira palm trees – the most important plant for making crafts in the region since fibers are pulled from its leaves to weave into almost every handicraft.

Felix Flores sketch of chambira palm. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Felix Flores sketch of chambira palm. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Amrit was joined by Bora woodsman Felix Flores Vega who showed that he had good potential to develop as much skill with a colored pencil as he already had with a machete. Amrit is now working to make illustrations for all of the major Ampiyacu craft plants for a resource manual to be shared with all of the artisans in the region

Go to: The rosewood project in Peru – Part 2: Rosewood in the Ucayali

To learn more about or support this project, please visit http://www.AmazonAlive.net or http://www.AmazonEcology.org.

Campbell Plowden measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas doing training Bora men to use GPS. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas doing training Bora men to use GPS. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

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

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

Yully Rojas and Bora team recording rosewood seedling growth. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas and Bora team recording rosewood seedling growth. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore drawing chambira palm tree. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore drawing chambira palm tree. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden in field with rosewood seedlings at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden in field with rosewood seedlings at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden and Amrit Moore on canoe at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden and Amrit Moore on canoe at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The rosewood project in Peru – Part 2: Rosewood in the Ucayali

By Campbell Plowden

See: The rosewood project in Peru – Part 1: Progress in the Ampiyacu

Recover - Rainforest Ecoversity Center. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Recover – Rainforest Ecoversity Center. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Near the end of our six weeks in Peru, my son Luke and I took a one hour flight from Iquitos to Pucallpa to investigate another rosewood oil project. This trip would have taken us five days to chug up the Ucayali River by lancha (ferry boat) since no roads link Iquitos to the outside world. I arrived in the city with a few disparate contacts, but a series of meetings led to me Limber Gongora – director of Recover (Rainforest Ecoversity Center).

Rosewood seedling under canopy at RECOVER. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosewood seedling under canopy at RECOVER. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Recover is a non-profit organization that does environmental education and rainforest restoration projects at its center just outside the city. When Luke and I toured the center we saw that each of the rosewood seedlings they had planted were shaded under a thatched shelter to prevent the sun from baking them. I was surprised to see that several years after planting, most of the seedlings were still only a foot or two tall. I’d heard that rosewood is not a pioneer species that grows rapidly in open sun, but I wondered if this growth rate was unusually slow due to the reduced fertility or increased compaction of the soil that was last used for cattle grazing.

Lush concession in Ucayali. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Lush concession in Ucayali. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Apart from his work with Recover, Limber is also working with the Lush Cosmetics company based in the United Kingdom to produce rosewood for export. While surveying forest lands belong to a Shipibo community, they discovered that the forest in a logging concession actually had more of this aromatic tree that had been wiped out in most of its former range. Lush ultimately took over the harvesting rights in this area and backed the purchase of an 85 gallon distiller from Heart Magic to process leaves, branches and wood from trees that were already on the ground.

Palo Rosa sign with Shipibo and scientific name at Recover center.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Palo Rosa sign with Shipibo and scientific name at Recover center. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

One valuable tip I picked up from Limber was that they had created their own version of a “rocket” (energy efficient) stove that allowed them to heat the still for a full run with a few pieces of fuel wood instead of having to buy and cart in an endless series of expensive tanks of gas. I wished I could have seen their operation, but it was too deep in the forest to reach with my limited time.

The Lush operation in Peru was getting a decent yield of oil, and they had already produced their first barrel. The company had not been able to ship it out yet, though, because they were still trying to sort out export regulations with the Peruvian government. The species is rightfully listed as a protected species with the Conventional on International Trades in Endangered Species (CITES) so procedures need to be adopted to demonstrate that making and selling this oil is being done in a sustainable way that does not aggravate the threatened status of this tree.

Campbell Plowden with FECONAU leaders in Pucallpa.  Photo by Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden with FECONAU leaders Robert Guimaraes and Felipe Mori Guimaraes in Pucallpa. Photo by Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Shipibo artisan Esther Lopez Chavez with hand-made fabric. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Shipibo artisan Esther Lopez Chavez with hand-made fabric. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

During my stay in Pucallpa, I also met with two leaders from FECANAU (the federation that represents 33 Shipibo native communities in the Pucallpa region) and learned about their forest inventory activities in the Flor de Ucayali community and the group’s desire to develop their own operation to distill and sell rosewood and other aromatic oils. They seemed like good potential partners, but CACE does not yet have the resources to develop a new essential oil project beyond our current ones in Loreto. I did visit one Shipibo community, however, and bought a few of the beautiful hand-made Shipibo fabrics that CACE will try to sell on a limited basis.

My final stop in Pucallpa to learn about the management of rosewood was the IIAP (Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon) office on the outskirts of the city. The director welcomed me and brought me to the office of the man responsible for silvicultural research. He looked through his collection of thick reports on various trees, but they were none focused on rosewood. We then toured the nursery where hundreds to thousands of cuttings of several timber species were being cultivated in protected bins to study their genetic and growth characteristics.

Palo Rosa sign at IIAP herbarium in Pucallpa. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Palo Rosa sign at IIAP herbarium in Pucallpa. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The only rosewood seedlings around were a handful of survivors of two rows planted in 2009 that an almost blank sign indicated came from Tamshiyacu. The researcher assured me that IIAP would be very happy to initiate a proper set of trials at their nursery if we wished to pay for it. His remarks were a potent reminder that the government invests few of its own resources into developing non-timber forest resources. The burden for doing such studies rests almost entirely with non-governmental groups who wish to develop these options for communities.

Patriot 6.5 hp shredder. Photo by Patriot Products.

Patriot 6.5 hp shredder. Photo by Patriot Products.

CACE now plans to purchase a Patriot grinder to shred small branches and leaves from rosewood and other aromatic trees in the Ampiyacu and other project sites into small chips. We will then feed these into a 20 gallon distiller we plan to buy from Heart Magic to extract what we hope will be beautifully scented oils that can be sold for use in perfume and/or aromatherapy. We will continue to share notes with Camino Verde that has purchased the same equipment and has already produced a trial batch of oil from a rosewood tree relative and aims to produce rosewood oil in the future when seedlings it has planted reach an adequate size to be pruned in a few years.

20 gallon essential oil distiller. Photo by Heart Magic

20 gallon essential oil distiller. Photo by Heart Magic

We have raised enough funds now to purchase the grinder and distiller in the U.S. which are not available in Peru. We now need to raise another $4000 to design and build our own “rocket stove” and pay for shipping and customs fees to get this equipment to our base in Iquitos. Learn more about this project and how you can support it at: http://www.AmazonAlive.net and http://www.AmazonEcology.org.

See: The rosewood project in Peru – Part 1: Progress in the Ampiyacu

Sharing clothes and good will with Bora artisans

by Campbell Plowden

Bora artisan with State College Friends School sweatshirt. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan with State College Friends School sweatshirt. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I generally don’t give away many of my old clothes because my size and fashion sense haven’t changed for 30 years and I wear my shirts until the collars are worn through. Other members of my family, however, do periodically clear out items from their closets that no longer fit them or their lifestyle and put them in a large plastic bag. My daughter once carted a batch of nice blouses and pants to Plato’s Closet in hopes of getting some money, but none were accepted because they weren’t popular top brands. We didn’t want to organize a yard sale, so it looked like four bags were destined for Goodwill. I had regularly taken some t-shirts and pants to our Center for Amazon Community Ecology (CACE) field assistants and their families in the past, but the stiff new fees to check a bag on Delta Air Lines made it too expensive for me to continue doing this on my own.

Luke Plowden and Bora boy with donated clothes. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden and Bora boy with donated clothes. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Two things made it possible for me to bring 100 pounds of good used clothing and surplus medical supplies with me to Peru this summer. The first was that my 17 year-old son Luke was going with me so we could use his strength and baggage allotment to bring one extra 50 pound duffle bag stuffed with these donated goods while I carried another. The second was that the “Do Good” Committee of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Young Friends (a group of Quaker teens from the mid-Atlantic region) pledged to raise $200 to pay for the extra baggage charges on our international flight to Lima and domestic flight from there to Iquitos.

Amrit Moore with Bora artisan Ines Chichaco and CACE certificate. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore with Bora artisan Ines Chichaco and CACE certificate. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

We spent the first two weeks of our trip visiting Bora and other native communities in the Ampiyacu River region working with their artisans to develop new products, reforest chambira palm trees, create a communal dye plant garden, monitor the growth of rosewood tree seedlings and recovery of copal resin lumps and finish a community pharmacy built with funds from a CACE rebate of craft sales in the U.S. Amazon Field Volunteer Amrit Moore started making drawings of dye plants for an artisan manual. See CACE update for summer 2013 activities in Peru.

Yully Rojas distributing donated clothes to Bora artisans. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas distributing donated clothes to Bora artisans. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

At the end of our stay in the village of Brillo Nuevo, we hosted an appreciation ceremony where we gave about thirty-five artisans a certificate in appreciation for their making handicrafts with the CACE project. The ten top sellers also received simple prizes (a toothbrush, tube of toothpaste, a pair of batteries, and a small tin of Vicks Vaporub). Our project manager Yully Rojas then distributed an equal share of the donated clothing to all of the women while the young artisan Maria filled and refilled the guests’ cups with bright yellow Oro (“gold”) soda – a special treat in this remote village.

Serving "Oro" to Bora artisans at appreciation ceremony. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Serving “Oro” to Bora artisans at appreciation ceremony. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully and I were both happy and relieved that this gathering had been much more fun than the first time we did this artisan “award” ceremony in 2012 when many artisans were sullen. This year women made jokes when Ines Chichaco won a prize again for being the year’s top seller instead of stewing with resentment. While Ines and another dozen artisans continue to make most of the woven crafts that we sell from Brillo Nuevo, it’s good to see that two dozen artisans, both young and old, now understand we are equally happy to buy creative and well-made crafts from them.

See related story about CACE donation of medical supplies to the regional health clinic at Jenaro Herrera.

Prizes for artisans at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Prizes for artisans at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden and Bora artisan with CACE certificate. Photo by Amrit Moore/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden and Bora artisan with CACE certificate. Photo by Amrit Moore/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Learn more about or donate to the CACE project in Peru at: www.AmazonAlive.net