Tag Archives: Chino

Bringing artisans together and getting out of the way

Ampiyacu skill-sharing workshop. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Ampiyacu skill-sharing workshop. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

One of CACE’s most successful programs working with artisans in the Ampiyacu River region has been to organize skill-sharing workshops where five or six veteran artisans show other artisans how to make a new special kind of handicraft.  While these workshops have steadily increased the number of native artisans who know how to make CACE’s best-selling models of hot pads, belts, guitar straps, and Christmas tree ornaments, we and our partners recognize that they also needed to become better organized to fully use this growing capacity to make and sell more high-quality crafts.

We did done some leadership training workshops with the Field Museum in 2014, but progress in this area has been slow.  I had told the Ampiyacu native artisans about several groups of campesino artisans along the Tahuayo River that had successfully formed associations and a community enterprise to improve their craft sales, and they seemed enthusiastic about meeting them to learn from their experiences.

Chino artisan Sartia with chambira basket. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Chino artisan Sartia with chambira basket. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

While CACE has focused a lot of resources organizing workshops and other activities in the Ampiyacu, our relationship with the Tahuayo communities has been much simpler.  I have visited the village of Chino once or twice a year since 2008 to buy the beautiful chambira baskets they make primarily to sell to visitors from a nearby tourist lodge operated by Amazonia Expeditions (AE).  We have also worked with them to develop a colorful line of woven frog Christmas tree ornaments.

Exiles with new bathroom for Chino school. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Exiles with new bathroom for Chino school. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

As CACE has sold products made by the Chino artisans, we have regularly returned part of our profits to support local development needs. Unlike the Ampiyacu where discussions about the use of this social rebate have often been contentious, Chino village meetings have openly discussed all ideas presented, and quickly and amiably reached consensus about the best way to use the funds available.  These projects have included buying new desks and building a new bathroom for the school, buying medicines for the village pharmacy, and providing food for work parties to care for chambira palms used to make woven crafts.  When I asked Estelita, the president of the Chino artisan association whether I could bring along a few guests from the Ampiyacu on my next visit, she readily agreed.

Our two Ampiyacu artisans were Liz C., president of FECONA – the federation that represents the 15 native communities in the Ampiyacu watershed and Segundina, a savvy artisan chosen by 20 Bora artisans from Brillo Nuevo to represent them during this artisan exchange trip.  We left Iquitos early on a Saturday morning on a speed boat belonging to the Rainforest Conservation Fund (RCF) – an NGO partner that has been working to improve forest and human health in the Tahuayo region for many years.  Our drivers were RCF staffers Gerardo and Exiles who coordinate RCF community programs to reforest depleted populations of aguaje palm trees and train people to climb the trees with harnesses to collect their popular fruits rather than cut them down.

We bought some extra gas and water in the town of Tamshiyacu and passed the small lancha that takes 10 to 12 hours (instead of our four) to ferry local residents, bags of charcoal, sacks of aguaje and camu camu fruits and crates of fish from Tahuayo villages to market in Iquitos.  We briefly stopped once more at the village of Buena Vista where fellow American Matt (a student working with RCF) and I checked in with the police manning the official entry point to the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Regional Conservation Area.  We arrived in Chino in the early afternoon and were distressed to find that our host Estelita was laying sick in her hammock barely able to speak.  The other artisans assured us, however, that we were welcome.

Campbell inspecting chambira baskets in Chino. Photo by Matt VanderMolen/CACE

Campbell inspecting chambira baskets in Chino. Photo by Matt VanderMolen/CACE

After getting settled in the guest house formerly operated by RCF two minutes upriver, we returned to Chino to inspect the group of baskets that the Chino artisans had made to fill the CACE order.  In the past I had bought all of my baskets there at a “feria” – a fair where every artisan in the cooperative would place all of the crafts she had available for sale on a table in front of her.  This is the way that they also sell their products to tourists visiting from the AE lodge.  I had bought over 400 baskets with unique designs this way, but I had found that the styles and quality of baskets had changed a lot from visit to visit over the past eight years.  Sometimes for better; sometimes for worse.  In order to develop a reliable supply of consistent quality baskets, I had sent photos of 32 models of baskets that we have sold asking the artisans to make one to three more of these specific designs.

The artisans had readily complied with our request to make more medium and small baskets since our customers had continued to admire but had been buying fewer of the more expensive large ones.   I had also asked the artisans to make the baskets using the same colors as the models showed in the photos without using the seeds they used in the past to use to adorn the baskets since they might harbor insect pests.  The seeds of “ojo de vaca” (cow’s eye) had a large deep brown center with a black rim.  Huayruru seeds were naturally orange with a black patch in one corner of their oblong shape.  Rosario seeds were a medium-sized grey pearl, and achira seeds were small black spheres.  These seeds were readily available, cheap, and had distinct shapes, sizes and colors that provided beautiful accents to the woven chambira baskets.  As I began to inspect the new baskets, I immediately spotted a big problem.  Finding good substitutes for the seeds had proven more challenging than I thought.

Chambira basket with ojo de vaca, huayruru and rosario seeds. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Chambira basket with ojo de vaca, huayruru and rosario seeds. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Chambira basket with wooden beads. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Chambira basket with wooden beads. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Some artisans in the Tahuayo have gotten used to using wooden and other types of beads to finish their baskets for a separate export channel, so I didn’t think it would be a problem to do the same for our order.  The Chino artisans, however, had just made due with whatever beads they had on hand to complete the CACE order in three weeks.  I learned that these beads were not cheap and were difficult or impossible to buy in Iquitos.  Some of the beads the artisans used were beautiful matches; others led to horrible clashes of colors and poor fits in open spaces.

I was still feeling weak and sick from my second trip to the Ampiyacu so I welcomed Segundina’s help to figure out how to handle this challenge.  In this situation, some buyers simply say “this order is rejected because these products don’t meet our specifications.”  We have worked hard, however, to establish trust in our relationships with our artisan partners.  We acknowledge that while their job is to make quality crafts; CACE needs to recognize their reality which sometimes means admitting that we have asked them to do something that just wasn’t possible.  We all need to be flexible and figure out the best solution available.

Segundina giving pointers to Pilar about basket color and finish. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Segundina giving pointers to Pilar about basket color and finish. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

In this case, I was fortunately able to offer some useful resources because I had stopped in Lima on my first day in Peru.  After an exhaustive search of a market area focused on craft-related products, I had found one shop that sold a wide variety of painted wooden beads and huassai seeds (not a kind that hosts any insects).  They were out of several colors that I had wanted, but I had at least been able to bring a good assortment of medium-sized colored beads to Chino.

Segundina and I inspected all 70 baskets and placed them into one of three piles: acceptable, acceptable if the beads were changed, and not acceptable if the chambira weaving or color was too poor to fix.  Segundina asked Romelia, “Do you have any more of these large tagua beads?  They would nicely accent the orange ring in this basket.”  She asked Rosa, “Could you replace these pink beads with purple ones in these middle rows – they would go really well with the violet center of the basket.”  She patiently explained to Pilar, “Your weaving is good, but the intensity of the color needs to be a lot stronger.”  What amazed me and Segundina was that while she had come to Chino as an outsider to observe and learn, the Chino artisans readily recognized her as a fellow artisan with a keen eye and welcomed her suggestions for ways they could improve their work.

Flooded "chacra" (farm field) at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Flooded “chacra” (farm field) at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The Ampiyacu artisans soon got to see and hear how the Chino artisans have persisted through many tough times, particularly the ebb and flow of visiting tourists and river levels.  The flux in tourism produces alternating seasons with good income and almost no income from craft sales.  Extreme floods in these villages have sometimes killed most of their chambira palm trees and farm crops.   Some artisans have left the village so their families could seek more income or better education for their children in the city. The Chino artisans have survived simply because they have learned to trust each other, work together, and have the support of their whole community.

Romelia sewing in new beads to basket. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Romelia sewing in new beads to basket. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Estelita rallied from her hammock to share the history of the Chino artisans with their new friends from the Ampiyacu.  “Long ago we had a few women who had learned how to weave chambira in other places, but Dolly (co-owner of the AE lodge) inspired us to learn how to make baskets the tourists would like and to get organized.  We worked with the name “Huacamayo (macaw) Association” for a long-time, but when we decided to formally register our group, this name was taken, so we are now officially called, “Manos Amazonicos” (Amazon Hands).  In the beginning, some of our husbands seemed threatened by the idea of women working together and potentially making more money than them.  Fortunately, this has now completely changed.  The men in Chino recognize that selling crafts generates a very important source of income for the whole village.  Everyone also appreciates that selling crafts to CACE has helped our school and other things in our community.”

Milda from Puca Urquillo with woven hot pads. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Milda from Puca Urquillo with woven hot pads. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Later in the evening, I showed the Chino artisans pictures of the diverse crafts that the Ampiyacu artisans have been making with us.  Norma remarked, “Wow, those placemats are beautiful!  I bet making a belt so straight is not easy.”  Liz and Segundina nodded in agreement.  Madita said, “I’ve made a few bottle carriers before, but they haven’t sold so well.  Now I think I know how to make them better.  I’m sure the tourists who visit here will love them!”  After closely watching the Chino artisans make baskets all day, Segundina said, “When I go back to Brillo Nuevo, I’m going to try making a basket adapting the base of a hot pad.  I don’t need to copy the patterns here – I’ve got my own ideas.”

 

I had been reluctant to share images of one community’s unique crafts with artisans from another region for a long time because I had thought it was important to respect each community’s creativity.  I learned during this trip that while my desire to respect each group’s intellectual output was well-intentioned, trying to keep these groups a part was restricting their collective creative potential.

Chambira basket with etched bird calabash pod center. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Chambira basket with etched bird calabash pod center. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

This visit not only sparked ideas for ways that each group of artisans might improve their respective crafts but generated a proposal for a collaborative handicraft project.  In the past, a few Chino artisans have etched wildlife figures onto calabash pods that have been woven into the center of baskets.  They were great when done well, but many baskets which were beautifully woven seemed spoiled when their centers were adorned with mediocre carvings.

While committed weavers could improve their carving, they are unlikely to get as much practice refining this craft as the handful of Ampiyacu artisans who are now producing hundreds of gorgeous carved calabash pod ornaments with a range of Amazon birds, mammals, frogs and fish for CACE.  We will now ask these carvers to see if they would like to produce four to five inch wide carved pieces that Chino artisans can sew into some of their chambira baskets.

Estelita measuring chambira basket length. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Estelita measuring chambira basket length. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The next day, the Chino artisans stacked up their finished baskets on a table where Estelita measured each one to make sure its size and price were correctly recorded on the tag and in her ledger.  She told one artisan, “this basket is half a centimeter less than its proper length; you can’t get full price for it.  Please pay better attention to the standard sizes.”  Liz and Segundina were stunned to see how the Chino artisans had direct responsibility for quality control and agreed to consistent pricing among their members.  Segundina said, “My fellow artisans often criticize each other, but they find it hard to ask for and accept suggestions for ways to make their crafts better.  We have to figure out how to encourage and trust each other to improve our quality and hold each other accountable; this will help all of us.” Liz added, “When tourists come to my village, they often shop from house to house because some artisans try to undercut their prices to make a sale. We have to get on the same page so everyone gets a fair price for making the best crafts.”

Campbell with artisans in front of Chino "Escuela de artesanas." Photo by Matt VanderMolen/CACE

Campbell with artisans in front of Chino “Escuela de artesanas.” Photo by Matt VanderMolen/CACE

One highlight of the visit was visiting the new “Escuela de artesanas” – the artisan school under construction in Chino.  After major floods destroyed the last simple building the artisans used to sell their crafts to tourists, the artisans decided they needed a larger and stronger building where they could gather to dye their chambira with roots, fruits, leaves and bark and weave their crafts under one roof.  They could then demonstrate these traditional techniques to visiting tourists – giving them a more personal experience and incentive to buy the crafts offered for sale.

The ability to work together will also help the Chino artisans improve the consistency of their work by using the same batch of colored chambira to make multiple baskets with the same design.  The structure built with sturdy wooden beams, cement and rebar was progressing, but costs had surpassed donated funds available from Amazonia Expeditions.  I was glad that CACE was able to contribute the most recent batch of our social rebate funds from our sale of baskets and frog ornaments to help complete this worthy effort.  I was sorry that we were going to miss helping out in the big village work party set to happen the next day to get the walls and roof up.

Chino artisan Yermeth with woven frog ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Chino artisan Yermeth with woven frog ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

As we headed back to Iquitos at dawn on Monday, Segundina told me, “I can’t wait to get home to share everything that I’ve learned on this trip with my fellow artisans.  I didn’t believe you when you kept saying that the artisans at Chino cared so much about each other and cooperated so well.  Now, I know you were telling the truth.  These women are really inspiring, and we need to learn from them.”

Perhaps my best reward of this trip was seeing Segundina and Estelita hug and exchange phone numbers when they parted.  That instant confirmed that bringing these dynamic artisans together was the right thing to do.  CACE is now thinking about launching a region-wide school for artisan leadership to promote more of this kind of exchange.  We also just need to know when to get out of the way.

To support this project, please vist: www.AmazonAlive.net.

To find the village of Chino and the Ampiyacu native communities on a map, visit CACE Field Sites in Peru.

Blue headed parrot (double-image) at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Blue headed parrot (double-image) at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

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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.

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

Amazon Connections #8 Photos

Monitoring weevil trap on copal resin lump at Jenaro Herrera.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Monitoring weevil trap on copal resin lump at Jenaro Herrera. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Copal resin lump in sustainability study at Jenaro Herrera. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Copal resin lump in sustainability study at Jenaro Herrera. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Floracopeia banner.  Photo by Floracopeia

Floracopeia banner. Photo by Floracopeia Ecology

Heart Magic distiller. Photo by Heart Magic

Heart Magic distiller. Photo by Heart Magic

Building a planter box for guisador with Bora artisan at Brillo Nuevo.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Building a planter box for guisador with Bora artisan at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore and Felix drawing craft plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore and Felix drawing craft plants. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

School bathroom built with CACE social rebate funds in Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

School bathroom built with CACE social rebate funds in Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden with stethoscope donated to Jenaro Herrera health clinic. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden with stethoscope donated to Jenaro Herrera health clinic. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rainforest Ecoversity Center RECOVER near Pucallpa. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rainforest Ecoversity Center RECOVER near Pucallpa. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosewood seedling and RECOVER staff. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosewood seedling and RECOVER staff. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yermeth Torres with woven frog at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yermeth Torres with woven frog at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

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

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

Mishquipanga leaves and young fruits. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Mishquipanga leaves and young fruits. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

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

Rainbows of Chambira, Boots, People and Parrots

July 11, 2012

I had a bit of a false start getting to Chino. I had always gone there before in the speed boat belonging to the Rainforest Conservation Fund (RCF), but since it was occupied, I need to take a public lancha. Unlike the big ferries that carry up to 300 people and heavy cargo that are run by companies with a public office and phone number, some communities off the main rivers are lucky to be served by small “colectivos.” Yully accompanied me in a motor car that wove through the narrow streets of the Belen public market until we got to a small landing near the port. A water-taxi peque-peque took us to the boats bound for the Tahuayo River, but when we called out asking where the boat was going to Chino, the response was “there are none today, come back tomorrow.” Yully told me she’d heard that one of these boats had sunk here a few weeks ago. It was just coming into dock when a crowd of wholesale buyers swarmed on board to get first crack at the fish, charcoal and other forest produce the passengers were bringing from their settlements upriver. The surge of the extra human weight apparently tipped or outright swamped the small overladen vessel.

Later than evening I finally spoke to one of my artisan friends in Chino on the only public phone in the community. Norma said there was no lancha leaving the next day for Chino either, but I could take the colectivo bound for Esperanza – a community downriver from hers where her husband could pick me up in his peque-peque if I could pay for his gas.

Trusting to the fates, I returned to Belen the next morning and boarded the Guevara. I stripped off the mosquitero (mosquito netting), and strung my hammock across the beams in the middle of the lower deck. Swaying in comfort seemed preferable to sitting on one of the narrow wooden benches along the sides for the next seven hours. I put my duffle bag under me to give my bottom some clearance. Later arrivals had fewer choices as adjoining spaces were stacked with palettes of Inca Cola and other merchandise to stock little bodegas upriver.

Top deck of the lancha Guevara bound for the Tahuayo River.  Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Top deck of the lancha Guevara bound for the Tahuayo River. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

The trip proceeded slowly but tranquilly. I marked the location of a few larger settlements along the way for future reference with my GPS with names provided by a kind older man also going to Esperanza. I half-jogged up the hill during a half-hour break at Tamshiyacu to have some lunch at a three seater open-air restaurant. As usual, I asked the lady serving me to take off two-thirds of the mound of rice she’d piled on my plate and go easy on the noodles.

As the number of passengers thinned out by mid-afternoon, I learned that the fellow in the hammock next to me was the husband of the woman who was the President of Mi Esperanza – the little company that organizes the production and sale of woven chambira baskets to the U.S. with the help of the regional government agency PROCREL. Sales had been really slow for a year, but as the economy began to recover, the buyer had placed another large order. Artisans in four villages from the Tahuayo and three more from other areas had just made about 700 baskets that were now being packaged and readied for export. A cargo ship would take them from Iquitos through the Panama Canal to Houston, Texas where they would be transferred to a truck for delivery to San Diego. The gift shop in the Museum of Natural History there was apparently the biggest U.S. outlet for these beautiful crafts.

We arrived in Esperanza around 5:30 pm, and I was happy to see Norma’s husband Ezekiel waiting for me. I got in his 15 foot-long peque along with a family of four bound for a lodge just beyond Chino. It was a blessedly clear evening as we headed up the Tahuayo River. Our only stop on the way was the village of Buena Vista where I needed to get out and register with the local police – a requirement for all foreigners entering the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Regional Conservation Area. This formality is usually handled by a tour operator taking visitors to their “albergue” (ecotourism lodge). In the past trips, Gerardo from RCF had always been on hand to vouch for me. This time when I when I walked into the little police station and handed my passport to the officer on duty, he asked me instead for a copy of it. He showed me a book full of the photo pages of other foreigners and said I couldn’t go into the reserve without leaving them one of these to keep on file. I had a moment of panic since there was no photocopy machine within five hours of the place. I told him I had been visiting Chino for four years and had honestly never heard of this practice. He then asked me who my guide was, and I replied that I was on my own. My sincere explanation of why I was going to Chino and mentioning a dozen people waiting for me there, though, seemed to convince the officer I did not pose a threat to the communities in the reserve. He let me pass with the reminder to bring a copy of my passport next time.

I was expecting to go directly to the RCF for a quiet dinner but when we arrived in Chino just before 8 pm, a party was underway in the public meeting space – a round open air structure with a conical thatched roof and cement floor. The community was feting the presence of Jim Penn, President of RCF, his group of a dozen students from Grand Valley University (GVU) in Michigan where he teaches geography, and a few other guests from the Amazon Adventure Lodge located a short distance upriver. A three piece band including two drums and a flute were playing lively Peruvian folk tunes while Chino women coaxed visitors to dance. I greeted Jim and was immediately offered a glass of “masato,” a slightly alcoholic beverage made from homemade fermented yucca root by Jorge – one of the village officers and accomplished carver.

Jim and I made a plan for my quick visit and then migrated to a local pub with the students to enjoy a few beers. It was a welcome night out for them since they had spent the last two weeks doing an inventory of chambira palm trees in the community’s forest. This hardy group had suffered one casualty when one girl stumbled onto a fallen chambira trunk. Over the next two days, her comrades removed more than thirty sharp spines from her foot and legs. Buoyed with antibiotics and a tough spirit, she returned to the field three days later.

Collecting bark from ovos tree and applying mud to wound. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Collecting bark from ovos tree and applying mud to wound. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

I spent the next morning of four of the GVU students at Romelia’s house in Chino watching her and her neighbor Rosa dye chambira fiber with three different plants. Romelia’s husband Jorge first climbed up a huito tree in their backyard and tossed down a batch of its fruits. Romelia used her machete to scrape some bark from a cedro tree, but they were too dry to use. She and Rosa had better luck collecting pinkish shavings from an “ovos” tree. Afterward, she rubbed some mud on the wound to prevent termites from invading it. Oval scars on the trunk showed that she had been able to carefully harvest patches of bark for many years. Romelia said the ovos bark could be boiled to dye fiber or squeezed to release a liquid used to treat cuts and ulcers.

Chino artisans preparing guisador root dye. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Chino artisans preparing guisador root dye. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE


She then pulled up the last few roots of a surviving guisador plant. The prolonged flooding had killed the rest of these along with her cocona, pijuayo, and achiote plants. The guisador and cocona would recover in four to six months, but it would take three years or more before new achiote and pijuayo trees would grow back near her home. In the meantime, she would need to go to the higher forest to collect the leaves and fruits she needed to make green, red and orange dyes.

Grand Valley University student Katrina and Chino artisan grating huito fruit dye. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Grand Valley University student Katrina and Chino artisan grating huito fruit dye. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Rosa and Romelia then sliced, grated, and pounded the fruit, roots, and bark they had collected with some help from the GVU students. They put each batch in an aluminum pot and boiled them with a handful of chambira for five to fifteen minutes. The guisador turned its fiber a deep golden yellow, the ovos produced a dark red, and the huito turned its chambira black. Romelia added some fresh guisador to the water from the huito batch and boiled it with some fresh chambira to dye it a dark green.

Chambira dying at Chino with Grand Valley Univ. student observers. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Chambira dying at Chino with Grand Valley Univ. student observers. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

When each batch reached the proper shade, the women took it off the heat, washed it, and then laid the strands over a wooden post to dry in the shade. Laying them in the open sun could dull the color of the newly dyed fiber.

Washing and drying guisador dyed chambira at Chino. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Washing and drying guisador dyed chambira at Chino. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Rainbow of dyed chambira fibers. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Rainbow of dyed chambira fibers. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

When these fibers were ready, Romelia and Rosa each brought out samples of the other colors they had made with other plant dyes including achiote (orange), cumaca (brown), huacamayo caspi (pink), mishkipanga (purple), and huitillo (dark grey). It was a morning of earthly rainbows with diverse colors of chambira, skin tones, and feathers of Romelia’s parrots.

Green parrot at Chino with string. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Green parrot at Chino with string. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Multi-colored parrot at Chino. Photo by .C. Plowden/CACE

Multi-colored parrot at Chino. Photo by .C. Plowden/CACE

Grand Valley University students with Chino artisans Romelia and Rosa. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Grand Valley University students with Chino artisans Romelia and Rosa. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE


Ezekiel and Lilly measuring flood height in purma. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Ezekiel and Lilly measuring flood height in purma. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

After a quick stop at the RCF lodge to gear up, the whole student group and local materos went back to Chino to survey chambira palms for a few hours. I joined a small team with Lilly from GVU and Ezekiel (Norma’s husband who had driven me to Chino the day before) to record the number of leaves, position and condition of these spiny palms in a large area of purma (secondary forest) where many of the village artisans harvest the cogollos (leaf spears) to make their baskets and other crafts. Periodically my lead pair would also measure the height of a water mark on a tree in our survey area. The flooding didn’t seem to have killed adult chambira trees. Intensive harvesting in this area, though, hadn’t allowed much natural regeneration, and a number of the few young palms we found were dead or dying – apparent victims of the high water.

Amazon Forest Store hat next to jungle leaf. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Amazon Forest Store hat next to jungle leaf. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

I appreciated the chance to join this crew since it gave me ideas about ways to improve our own chambira surveys with the Ampiyacu native communities. I also got a kick out of seeing a climbing vine whose large leaves were similar to the Philodendron leaf on the Amazon Forest Store logo of the Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Rainforest Conservation Fund poster and rubber boots at RCF lodge. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Rainforest Conservation Fund poster and rubber boots at RCF lodge. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE


Chino artisan showing basket to Grand Valley University student. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Chino artisan showing basket to Grand Valley University student. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

My task for late afternoon was shopping for baskets and other crafts in Chino. Most of the members of the Huacamayo association prepared a “feria” and laid out their wares from their designated spots behind two long tables. I made one quick round to greet every artisan and missed seeing a few of the regulars who were occupied in their field or away from the village in Iquitos. I laid a little white tag in each item that I definitely wanted on the second round, and added a few more to my purchase list on a third time around. The whole student group then arrived to buy a few things for themselves (usually an inexpensive bracelet) or gift (usually a nice basket) to bring home to their parents.

Chino artisan Madita displaying a chambira basket. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Chino artisan Madita displaying a chambira basket. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

When the students were done perusing, I took a picture of every artisan (or sometimes their daughter) with the crafts I had bought from them. These shots give me a nice record of the evolution of the basket designs and the chance to offer people who buy the baskets a photo of the woman who made it in this little Amazon village.

Chino artisan showing huayruru and etched wingo necklace. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Chino artisan showing huayruru and etched wingo necklace. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

As the sun started going down, we went back into the “feria” building and gathered a table for a crash course in speaking English to tourists at a “feria” – an event that happens every week or two when Amazon Adventures brings a group staying at their albergue to visit Chino. I covered the basic greetings, phrases like “How much is that basket?, This basket costs……” and the numbers for the most common prices for their crafts. As expected, a few of the women were painfully shy and too embarrassed to voice our strange-sounding tongue in more than a whisper. Most gave it a valiant effort, and a few showed real potential for connecting with visitors who often spoke little or no Spanish. They all said they would like to practice these things more.

Grand Valley University students teaching English class at Chino. Photos by .C. Plowden/CACE

Grand Valley University students teaching English class at Chino. Photos by .C. Plowden/CACE

When my class ended, the GVU students were wrapping up a volleyball game outside. We then all went to the school where a few of them led a longer class in basic English with about fifteen kids and a few curious adults. They wrote lists of greetings, terms for family members and numbers on the blackboard. Their students dutifully copied them all into their notebooks and repeated them back to the guest teachers. The GVU students then spread around the room to encourage more direct speaking and listening practice with groups of two or three kids. This energetic group finally called it a night after two hours although they clearly wanted more sessions like this. They had all studied English from a little book, but so welcomed the chance to practice it with friendly native speakers.

Back at the RCF lodge, it was sort of a night at the movies. Someone had been a tasty batch of popcorn, but my talk about CACE’s work with copal resin and handicrafts was the main attraction. We didn’t have an LCD project on hand, but we managed to get all the students a little closer to a screen by showing it on two laptops spaced apart on the dining table.

I got a couple of hours of sleep on a pad in a one-person tent Jim set up for me in the living room and woke up at 3:30 am a few minutes before my watch alarm went off. I finished packing and brushed my teeth while the night time frogs were still peeping. Gerardo emerged half an hour later and took me to the Sanchez lancha docked next to Chino. I said a quick hi to Norma who was going to Iquitos with her daughter, strung my hammock from rafter to rafter and went back to sleep. I needed some rest after a busy day and a half in Chino.