Tag Archives: FECONA

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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Journey to the Ampiyacu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poster for Oroza Wood. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Poster for Oroza Wood. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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