Tag Archives: Ampiyacu River

Producing the first essential oil from rosewood trees at Brillo Nuevo

Heliconia flower montage at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Heliconia flower montage at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Three years ago we began an exciting joint project with our partner Camino Verde by planting almost 1000 seedlings of rosewood trees in the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo (see Global Giving Report #8). Our aim was to help families create a long-term sustainable source of income by carefully harvesting leaves and branches of these aromatic trees and distilling them into a valuable essential oil.  Our other goal was to promote the recovery of this endangered species brought to the verge of extinction by unlimited harvesting of whole trees for the perfume industry.

Campbell and Bora team members measuring the width of a rosewood tree at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Tulio Davila/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Measuring a rosewood tree at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Tulio Davila/CACE

Our project reached an important milestone this month when our friend Robin van Loon from Camino Verde joined us again to lead the first harvest of material from healthy young rosewood trees planted in the forest fields of five families.  We began by recording the size and condition of every tree. While the seedlings had been planted in the same way, they had fared differently according to the characteristics of the site and management style of the owner.

 

Measuring rosewood tree seedling height at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Measuring rosewood tree seedling height at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

A few men had regularly cleared weedy vegetation that could compete with the juvenile rosewoods; one fellow pretty much allowed nature to take its course.  While half of the trees had died since 2013, Robin complimented the owners that their overall efforts to care for these trees had produced a much higher survival rate than other attempts to reforest rosewood in Peru and Brazil.  One of the plot owners Brito said, “I’m very content that most of my trees are still alive.  It’s important to realize that these trees grow more slowly than many others and don’t mind some shade.

Robin van Loon discussing pruning strategy with Bora team at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Discussing pruning strategy with Bora team. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We did our first round of monitoring on a cloudless day under an intense tropical sun.  As we shifted to collecting rosewood material on the second day, we surrendered ourselves to working in the rain.  Robin showed the team how to cut small branches with pruning shears and how to use a pruning saw to harvest larger branches with a series of three cuts.  Plot owner and talented carver David observed, “It was amazing to see how much better my rosewood trees looked after removing some dead wood and a few lower branches with leaves we can distill.  I suppose this is science, but it feels more like a kind of art I can practice to shape and care for my trees for a long time.  Some of them will eventually produce seeds we use to plant more of these beautiful trees all around our community.”

Rosewood team returning to Brillo Nuevo in rainy season. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosewood team returning to Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Our prime adventure of the day was wading up to our armpits to cross an engorged stream en route to Dolores’ field.  I was deeply relieved when she steadied our videographer Tulio’s arm just as he slipped off a submerged log and was about to plunge his camera in the water.  Navigating around wasp nests on the underside of leaves on the trail and rosewood trees was a challenge that usually succeeded but sometimes resulted in painful stings.  This site was the most distinct since it was on a slope, and most of the rosewood seedlings had been lost to unchecked regrowth of forest tree pioneers.

Weighing rosewood leaves collected at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Weighing rosewood leaves collected at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

After Dolores took on the task of caring for this field, however, the survivors had become the most robust and tallest rosewood trees we found.  While we collected five to eight kilograms of leaves and branches from other fields with many small trees, the few four to five meter tall trees in this distant plot easily yielded 12 kilograms of material.  Dolores said, “It was great to receive my first payment from these trees.  As they keep growing, it’s easy to see how we’ll be able to collect more material each time we prune them and provide some more money for my family.”

We invited two members of the rosewood team to go to Iquitos with us this time to distill the rosewood material.  It was fortunate that Oscar and David drew the lucky numbers since they and Robin figured out how to clean out the stalled motor of the grinder that had not been used for a while.  Oscar immediately appreciated the efficiency of this machine since the last time we distilled material in Brillo Nuevo, he and two other men had spent hours chopping branches into bits with their machetes.

Feediing rosewood leaves into shredder for distillation. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Feediing rosewood leaves into shredder. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Once the shredder got working, we quickly fed leaves into the top hopper and straight branches through a cone to the larger knives.   We poured five gallons of water into the outer tank of the distiller and then packed the inner tank with about 20 kg of finely chopped green aromatic material.  An hour after setting the tank to boil, the first drops of golden oil began to flow into the collecting glass along with fragrant hydrosol – the water used in distilling plants that absorbs some its aroma.  While the oil is the most valuable product of the process, we also hope to market the hydrosol as an ingredient in natural cosmetics.

Our yield from distilling the rosewood material from Brillo Nuevo was modest, but it was a good start.  Leaves tend to have less oil than branches, and this first batch collected from young trees had a relatively high proportion of leaves.  The amount of oil we will be to extract should increase over time as the trees continue to grow and produce larger branches that can be carefully removed without damaging the tree.  This principle seemed to be confirmed a few days later when we collected material from 11 year old rosewood trees from a campesino family’s field near the town of Tamshiyacu.  The yield of oil from these older trees was 30% higher.

Collecting rosewood oil from Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Powden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Collecting rosewood oil. Photo by Campbell Powden/CACE

Oscar described his experience with the rosewood project this way – “I fondly remember the aroma of a few rosewood trees that my father had brought from the Putumayo to plant in our front yard.  I really appreciate the chance to plant rosewood trees in my field in Brillo Nuevo now and learn how to use this distillation equipment to make oil from it.”  He concluded, “Our goal isn’t to create big plantations of rosewood trees.  The Bora have an old tradition of planting many kinds of trees to produce fruits, fibers and medicines (a well-documented process called agroforestry).  It’s great that we can now include valuable rosewood trees in this mix.”

 

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Thank you very much for your interest in this project.  We would particularly welcome your support on the next GlobalGiving Bonus Day on March 16 when a part of your donation will be matched by other donors.  Visit www.AmazonAlive.net to make a contribution.

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Listening to artisans in the Ampiyacu

Angelina Torres and her family of artisans in the Bora community of Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Angelina Torres and her family of artisans in the Bora community of Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The Center for Amazon Community Ecology aims to promote conservation, create sustainable livelihoods and build stronger communities in the Peruvian Amazon by helping native and mestizo artisans to develop and market innovative handicrafts and novel essential oils.

We began working with the Bora community of Brillo Nuevo as a pilot project site in the Ampiyacu River area in 2009.  In recent years we have organized skill-sharing workshops so veteran artisans can teach others how to make new kinds of crafts.  This growth in the number and skill of partner artisans as well as our increasing capacity to market their crafts has allowed us to gradually expand our program to eight of the fifteen villages represented by the native federation in the region.

CACE intern measuring chambira yield with Bora artisan at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

CACE intern measuring chambira yield with Bora artisan at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Surveys done in the field with artisans have given us an idea about the current stocks of chambira palm trees and the amount of palm fiber needed to make different types of crafts.  While our general goal has been to continue building artisan capacity to make and sell more quality handicrafts, the GlobalGiving Feedback Fund has given us a valuable opportunity to ask our partners about their economic realities and dreams, and how making more crafts with our without our assistance could help them achieve their goals.

With assistance from GlobalGiving staff and a team of international affairs students studying monitoring and evaluation at the New School, we designed a survey to ask artisans to respond to questions in four areas: sources of family income, expenses, assets, education levels, personal and family goals, and handicraft production.

We contracted Peruvian videographer Tulio Davila to conduct the survey because he was well known and trusted by the artisans due to his previous work with them in workshops and making instructional videos.  In the course of two weeks, Tulio spent an average of one hour speaking with 18 artisans from three villages – about one third of the artisans we routinely work with.

CACE paying Bora artisan for woven hot pad at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

CACE paying Bora artisan for woven hot pad at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We learned a lot from this first round of surveys.  It’s been obvious from the beginning that our partners don’t have much money; this survey gave us a sense of the upper and lower range of income in the village and how important selling crafts is to many families.  It was also interesting to learn that CACE is the major craft buyer from some artisans and a minor one for others.  We had assumed artisans wanted to sell more, but asking them to describe their goals for one year and five years gave them a chance to set craft production targets and showed us how many more crafts we would need sell to help artisans meet their goals.

Two-story house in Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Two-story house in Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Learning how artisans spend their limited income now and what they want more for has given us valuable insights into their evolving expectations and aspirations.  In the past, people wanted enough money to buy a few basic items (like soap, salt and kerosene) to supplement their subsistence lifestyles.  As access to electricity increases through wider use of gasoline generators and connections to power lines from cities, lighting, TV, and DVD players have become common.  Many people now want bigger houses, bigger boats and engines, chain saws, refrigerators, and nicer clothes.  A few want to raise fish, raise cattle or expand the size of their fields.  Some goals are focused on increasing their means to increase income while others describe the amenities they could get with more money.

Confirming that our partners have materialistic aspirations was not surprising but revealed something important.  While artisans are well aware of the challenges, most families want to at least try to stay and improve their standard of living in their remote villages.  Recognizing this has significant implications for our work and forest conservation.  One is that we need to try and help our partners increase their income from sustainable enterprises even more than we had expected.  Their desire to make money is growing, and it may not matter much if the way they attempt to do so is illegal or damages the forest.

Bora children playing at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora children playing at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The stakes for success seem higher in another way we hadn’t considered before.  Families have often worked hard to help their children learn a professional trade so they can build a life outside the village, but it seems the trickle of entire families leaving the villages is increasing.  Adults want to get regular and higher paying work, and they want their children to attend higher quality grade schools.  This emigration threatens to create a downward spiral in local development because the regional government will close down secondary schools if their enrollment drops below a minimum number of students.  If the villages at the frontier of the forest continue to shrink, there will be fewer and fewer people with a vested interest in keeping the forest intact to support their low-impact lifestyles. This will leave the forests more vulnerable to predatory exploitation by outsiders.

The other types of lessons we learned from this first survey were that questions need to be asked in a way that matches peoples’ normal frames of reference.  We initially thought that since most people do not keep any records about their earnings or expenses, we would get the most accurate responses by asking people to provide monthly “averages” for certain sources of income or types of things they paid for.  It turned out that the artisans we spoke with had the best overall recall when asked about the previous six months of economic activity combined.

Bora artisan with daughters and woven bag in Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora artisan with daughters and woven bag in Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Our imprecise phrasing of one question greatly slanted its perceived meaning.  We expected that many families would say that a key long-term goal would be to provide a better education for their children.  A few did express this, but this response may have been low because our question unintentionally seemed to ask them to mention concrete objects they could buy like a TV or chain saw rather services they might need to pay for like school tuition.  We corrected these issues before carrying out a second round of interviews.

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo making chambira palm fiber bracelet. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo making chambira palm fiber bracelet. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

While artisan surveys provided thoughtful and insightful answers about their goals, the amounts of time, material and money they thought they would need to achieve these goals often seemed based on imprecise and unrealistic estimates and faulty basic math.  The message to us is clear.  Artisans need to continue mastering their craft, but we also need to help them better understand the quantitative aspects of managing trees, processing fibers, and selling crafts.  We have done studies that provide solid data about these issues.  Our next task is to teach the artisans how to derive and work with these numbers on their own.  This will be a critical step toward truly empowering them to improve their lives and safeguard the forests.

Ines – the laughing and feisty artisan from Brillo Nuevo – July 27, 2015

Ines lighting copal incense

Ines lighting copal incense. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

I first became aware of Ines during my second visit to the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo in 2009 because she was enthusiastic about everything.  When we first tried to make incense candles from copal resin, she immediately got her hands blackened with the burnt sticky stuff and suggested they might look nice in the half-shells of macambo fruit pods.  She pulled me aside, though, and said, “You know these are really pretty ugly.”  I said, “I know,” and she burst out laughing.

Ines and Graciela drawing snake patterns

Graciela and Ines drawing snake patterns for belts. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Ines is a quintessential artisan from the Peruvian Amazon.  She said, “I live by selling bags and hammocks made from chambira palm that I cultivate in my fields.”  While meeting with artisans in a Brillo Nuevo classroom to discuss weaving new products to expand their income, Ines jumped at the chance to go the blackboard to draw the patches and wavy lines of a cascabel (tropical rattlesnake) as a design for a woven snake-pattern belt.

Ines weaving belt with cats eating fish 800 px

Ines weaving cascabel pattern belt with cats. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Ines soon welcomed me into her home while making the prototype on her hand-made loom with her two cats munching on a little fish in front.  Ines’ voice stood out in the animated mélange of Spanish and Bora of artisans discussing their creations and her distinct laugh could mark her location more than a soccer field away.

Ines grating mishquipanga montage

Ines grating mishquipanga fruits to dye chambira fiber. Photos by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Over the past six years, we have shared many adventures, triumphs and challenges with Ines.  She showed us how she grew, collected, and prepared half a dozen plants used to dye chambira palm fiber various shades of yellow, orange, red and deep purple and then dyed my silvery hair black with roasted leaves from a huito tree.  She has proudly showed us new styles of bags and guitar strap designs that she invented and readily shared these with her fellow artisans in skill-sharing workshops.

Ines dying CP hair with huito 800 px

Ines dyeing Campbell’s hair with huito leaf mash. Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

Ines’ hard work made her the most prolific craft maker with CACE.  She once told me, “I really like working with your project because it has given me a chance to create new kinds of crafts and improve the quality of my weaving.  The extra income has allowed me to help my sons study at a better school.”

Amrit and Ines with certificate

CACE volunteer Amrit and Ines with certificate. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Giving Ines an award for being the top-selling artisan in her community, though, first generated more resentment than accolades from her peers.  One evening, she came to talk and began to cry. “My sisters and I love working with your project, but we are thinking of dropping out because people can be so mean.”

I soon met with other artisan leaders and families to hear their view of the situation.  They had said they wanted us to give certificates to artisans according to their sales and give small prizes as incentives for doing extra good work.  Did they want us to stop?  We wouldn’t continue the practice if it was going to stimulate jealousy and weaken rather than build their community.  One artisan Gisela said, “We really do like the certificates because they give us pride about our success.  The prizes are good as well, but don’t ask us to select any winners.”

Casilda Vasquez with TP028

Casilda with chambira hot pad. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Since that meeting, some things have gotten better, and we have had to face new challenges.  Over the past few years, providing some soda and snacks at the award ceremony, applauding and taking a picture with every winner has made this a fun and more mutually supportive event.  When we announced that Ines was the top-seller again, one artisan Casilda said, “I knew that was coming, but it’s OK, I’m going to keep making more crafts myself.”

I’ve also learned that while Ines has a big heart, she can also be a tough cookie.  During one recent artisan meeting, we were talking about ways to encourage artisans to plant more chambira palms when suddenly Ines and another artisan leader began yelling at each other.  Apparently our survey of chambira in their fields had reignited an old dispute about whose family had the rights to harvest plants in one small section of recovering forest.

Artisans playing crocodiles and frogs

Artisans playing “crocodiles and frog” during meeting at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The incident helped me realize that artisans’ periodic troubles cooperating may be rooted more in historical frictions in the community than personality clashes in the present.  We’ve been trying to bring people together in our project and navigate around hazards that appear like the tips of Amazon village icebergs.  I’m glad that we have at least won the trust of talented and caring and sometimes feisty artisans like Ines to help guide us.

Boost your support for Amazon conservation and communities

Give your support for Amazon conservation and communities a boost today with a donation to the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Donations made to CACE today after 9:00 am (EDT) through GlobalGiving at www.AmazonAlive.net will receive a 30% matching donation until matching funds run out.

If you live in Iquitos, Peru, please come meet CACE director Dr. Campbell Plowden and project manager Yully Rojas at the Dawn on the Amazon Café on Tuesday, March 24 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm.

See photos below of a recent CACE artisan workshop, armadillo ornament, hot pad and belt made by artisans from Brillo Nuevo and Puca Urquillo.

Bora artisan Rode R from Brillo Nuevo with a woven Shushupe snake model belt made in cooperation with CACE. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Rode R from Brillo Nuevo with a woven Shushupe snake model belt made in cooperation with CACE. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan training workshop sponsored by CACE at Puca Urquillo with one group of particpants thanking GlobalGiving for their support of the project Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan training workshop sponsored by CACE at Puca Urquillo with one group of particpants thanking GlobalGiving for their support of the project Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan Milda Q from Puca Urquillo Bora with her hot pad made from chambira palm fiber in cooperation with CACE. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan Milda Q from Puca Urquillo Bora with her hot pad made from chambira palm fiber in cooperation with CACE. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Ines C with her woven armadillo ornament.. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Ines C with her woven armadillo ornament.. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Woven armadillo ornaments made by Bora and Huitoto artisans with Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Woven armadillo ornaments made by Bora and Huitoto artisans with Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

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.

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.

Guisador (Curcuma longa) – the golden yellow dye plant

Curcuma longa is a herbaceous perennial plant in the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) whose rhizomes (roots) are used to dye fibers and foods yellow and to make a spice/medicine (turmeric). The plant originally came from India, but it is now widely used as well throughout the Amazon. Native and campesino artisans from Peru usually call this plant “guisador” and use it to transform white chambira palm fiber to a range of shades from bright yellow to deep mustard.

Below is a photo essay showing how our partner artisans from four communities plant, harvest, and process this versatile root to dye chambira and weave its fiber strands into beautiful handicrafts.

See photos of handicrafts made by Peruvian artisans that may be purchased from the Center for Amazon Community Ecology on our Facebook photo album page.

 

planting guisador root

Planting guisador root. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan planting guisador plant in communal dye plant garden at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan planting guisador plant in communal dye plant garden at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan with guisador in planter box made with help from CACE at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan with guisador in planter box made with help from CACE at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Guisador root and flower in artisan planter box at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Guisador root and flower in artisan planter box at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campesino artisan harvesting guisador roots at Jenaro Herrera. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campesino artisan harvesting guisador roots at Jenaro Herrera. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Guisador root in artisan hand. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Guisador root in artisan hand. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan from Jenaro Herrera shaving guisador root with a knife. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan from Jenaro Herrera shaving guisador root with a knife. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina artisan from Nueva Esperanza grating guisador root. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina artisan from Nueva Esperanza grating guisador root. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campesino artisans from Chino pounding guisador roots with stones. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campesino artisans from Chino pounding guisador roots with stones. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisans from Chino pounding guisador roots with stones. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisans from Chino pounding guisador roots with stones. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo cooking chambira fiber with grated guisador root. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo cooking chambira fiber with grated guisador root. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina artisan from Nueva Esperanza cooking chambira fiber with grated guisador root. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina artisan from Nueva Esperanza cooking chambira fiber with grated guisador root. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campesino artisans from Chino cooking chambira fiber with guisador root and other dye plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campesino artisans from Chino cooking chambira fiber with guisador root and other dye plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina artisan from Nueva Esperanza washing and draining chambira fiber dyed with guisador root. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina artisan from Nueva Esperanza washing and draining chambira fiber dyed with guisador root. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina artisan from Nueva Esperanza hanging up chambira fiber dyed with guisador root to dry. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina artisan from Nueva Esperanza hanging up chambira fiber dyed with guisador root to dry. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chambira fiber dyed with guisador root and other plants drying at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chambira fiber dyed with guisador root and other plants drying at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chambira fiber dyed with guisador root and other plants drying at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chambira fiber dyed with guisador root and other plants drying at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan and son weaving chambira fiber belts dyed with guisador root and other plants at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan and son weaving chambira fiber belts dyed with guisador root and other plants at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campesino artisan weaving chambira fiber basket dyed with guisador root and other plants at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campesino artisan weaving chambira fiber basket dyed with guisador root and other plants at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan and son with chambira fiber basket dyed with guisador root and other plants at Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan and son with chambira fiber basket dyed with guisador root and other plants at Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo with woven chambira fiber hot pad dyed with guisador root and other plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo with woven chambira fiber hot pad dyed with guisador root and other plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo with woven chambira fiber guitar strap dyed with guisador root and other plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo with woven chambira fiber guitar strap dyed with guisador root and other plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo with woven chambira fiber hammock dyed with guisador root and other plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo with woven chambira fiber hammock dyed with guisador root and other plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yagua artisan from San Jose de Piri with woven chambira fiber doll's hammock dyed with guisador root and other plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yagua artisan from San Jose de Piri with woven chambira fiber doll’s hammock dyed with guisador root and other plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina artisan from Nueva Esperanza weaving chambira fiber shoulder bag dyed with guisador root and other plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ocaina artisan from Nueva Esperanza weaving chambira fiber shoulder bag dyed with guisador root and other plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology