Tag Archives: morpho butterfly

Butterfly ornaments and Dora’s family of artisans

Chambira Association of Jenaro Herrera - Dora, Hilda and Doilith. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chambira Association of Jenaro Herrera – Dora, Hilda and Doilith. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

In the summer of 2007, the Center for Amazon Community Ecology began its second summer of field work researching the ecology and sustainable harvest of copal resin at a research station on the outskirts of Jenaro Herrera – a town of 5,000 people reached by a 12-hour ferry ride up the Ucayali River from Iquitos.  On one trip to town, I met Dora and her “family” of artisans and bought an assortment of their shicras (shoulder bags that were loosely woven with chambira palm fiber) and seed jewelry to bring back to the U.S.  Their handicrafts were similar to ones made by many other artisans in the region so I asked them how they thought they might make their crafts more distinctive.

Miniature woven pot ornament made by mestizo artisan Dora Tangoa in cooperation with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Miniature woven pot ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Dora volunteered, “I could sew a satiny lining into a chambira bag – what about red?” Great, let’s try it!  My 17-year old daughter Marissa who was with me on that trip suggested the idea of making a chambira choker decorated with achira seeds.  Dora’s “aunt” Hilda said, “I could make that.”   We then walked out to their fields to watch them collect oblong-shaped pashaco seeds to accent some longer necklaces.  Several weeks later we got some well-made examples of the standard crafts and some examples of the new ones.

Our sales of earrings made by other artisans from Jenaro Herrera did well, but the new woven crafts made by Dora and her relatives hadn’t yet struck a chord.  After some Christmas tree ornaments made by artisans from the Ampiyacu region began to sell well, I brought the challenge to Dora and her group.  We brainstormed different ideas, and they decided to try making colorful miniature versions of the woven baskets and plates that were usually 8 to 12 inches across.  Doilith who was a younger relative that had recently joined the group made chambira stars with black and red seeds in the five points and center.

Artisan Rosa Mozombite from Jenaro Herrera with chambira insect ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan Rosa Mozombite from Jenaro Herrera with chambira insect ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

It was encouraging to see that people liked many of these ornaments, but the spark of success came the following summer when Dora modestly told me, “My daughter Rosa has woven some critters that I think you will like.”  It was a wonderful understatement.  Arriving at her house, I marveled at the first examples of a butterfly, bee and dragonfly that she had woven from chambira.  The normally shy teenager beamed when I asked her if I could take her picture displaying her creative efforts.

Over the next few years, we experimented with different colors, models and sizes of these unique insect ornaments.  It didn’t take long to figure out that people buying one for their Christmas tree or a gift much preferred ones with bright colors like yellow and orange to dark ones and generally liked small to medium sized-ones more than giants.  We gradually improved, but Dora and friends produced some batches that still mostly sit in boxes because I failed to understand that certain Spanish words for colors are different from their English equivalents and their meanings may vary from region to region.

Hilda weaving blue morpho butterfly ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chambira Association of Jenaro Herrera – Dora, Hilda and Doilith. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I appreciated that in spite of these glitches in communication, the Association of Chambira Artisans as they now called themselves worked very diligently to comply with any craft order and were always ready to discuss and try new ideas. They in turn appreciated that while CACE was their only regular craft buyer once or twice a year, these sales were making a difference in their lives. When I got to Jenaro Herrera in the summer of 2014, I noticed that Dora’s house was completely new.  She said, “thanks to making these ornaments, Eliazar and I were able to buy enough wood and palm thatch to put up new walls and a roof.”

While the Dora group will continue using their imagination to make new crafts, we are now trying to develop some chambira ornaments based on actual species of Amazon insects. They have made good-looking models of the blue morpho butterfly, scarlet peacock butterfly, (day-time flying) uranid moth, and the Amazon darner dragonfly.  Attempts to make a bright green orchid bee and yellow and red tailed “ronsapa” bee that are important pollinators and collectors of copal resin are still in progress.

Amazon butterflies and chambira ornaments. Ornament photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Amazon butterflies and chambira ornaments. Ornament photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Since Rosa left town, Doilith has become the master weaver of these new critters.  She said, “I love the challenge of trying to figure out how to make the details of these beautiful little animals that live in our forests.  Before we started making insects ornaments, I wasn’t really aware that they have six legs instead of four.  My goal now is to bring them to life as best as I can so people can have a better understanding of our art, culture, and nature in the Peruvian Amazon.  Making crafts is already helping my family meet its needs, and (placing her hand gently on her tummy) I’ve got another baby on the way.”

Artisan Doilith del Castillo from Jenaro Herrera with butterfly ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan Doilith del Castillo from Jenaro Herrera with butterfly ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dora and family examining insect photos to make ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Dora and family examining insect photos to make ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Amazon darner dragonfly and ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amazon darner dragonfly and ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Scarlet peacock butterfly (Anartia amathea) and chambira ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Scarlet peacock butterfly (Anartia amathea) and chambira ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Uranid moth and ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Uranid moth and ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Blue morpho butterfly ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Blue morpho butterfly ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

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Building a planter box for a dye plant and playing with mud – a day with Bora artisan Lucila Flores

By Campbell Plowden

Brillo Nuevo houses on stilts. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Brillo Nuevo houses on stilts. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Residents of the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo are used to the Yaguasyacu River flooding for a few months during the rainy season that coincides with the winter months in North America. Families who live in the lowest parts of the village build their house on stilts and are used to visiting each other in their canoes during such times. In the past two years, though, the Amazon River and all of its tributaries have raised higher and inundated villages along its banks for longer. There are various theories about the cause for these increases, but it is clear these severe floods have harshly impacted the lives of thousands of people.

Hermelinda Lopez planting guisador. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Hermelinda Lopez planting guisador. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

In Brillo Nuevo, these super floods have killed or stunted the growth of many of the plants that artisans grow in their backyard gardens to dye chambira plant fibers that are woven into hammocks, bags and other handicrafts – a prime source of income for many families. This summer CACE helped a group of artisans create a collective dye plant garden in a higher part of the village so some of the most common dye plants would continue to be available even if high floods return.

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

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

While some families make planter boxes to raise common medicinal and cooking herbs next to their homes, we wanted to see if it would be possible to also raise the dye plant “guisador” (Curcuma longa) in an elevated box as well. Guisador is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) whose rhizomes are periodically harvested and ground up to dye chambira (or sometimes food) a deep yellow. One of the artisans told us she had tried this before without good result, but we wanted to try again with a design we thought would give the herb enough room to thrive. Artisan Lucila Flores Flores volunteered to work with us to try.

Patched up saw at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Patched up saw at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Hilda Campos with post-hole digger. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Hilda Campos with post-hole digger. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

On a Friday morning, three people from CACE and two other artisans showed up at Lucila’s house to launch this low-budget experiment. Our local project coordinator Javier helped Lucila scavenge some old boards and posts from her yard. He then pulled out and straightened the old nails from these to reuse while CACE project manager Yully Rojas got a handful of others left over from construction of the community pharmacy.

The pair then marked up the lengths and widths of each piece which Javier cut to the desired dimensions with a saw held together with a wooden patch, nails and wire. Fellow artisans Hilda and Ines took turns using a post-hole digger borrowed from one of the men who had last used it to plant rosewood seedlings in February thanks to our NGO partner Camino Verde and its director (and CACE advisor) Robin van Loon.

Blue morpho butterfly at Jenaro Herrera. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Blue morpho butterfly at Jenaro Herrera. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Lucila Flores with butterfly net. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Lucila Flores with butterfly net. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Lucila Flores and CACE putting mud in planter box. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Lucila Flores and CACE putting mud in planter box. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Lucila Flores dying chambira with suelda con suelda and mud. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Lucila Flores dying chambira with suelda con suelda and mud. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

As the planter box took shape, a large blue-morpho butterfly made several passes through the yard. Lucila darted into her house and came back with a large net on a pole and waved it around numerous times, but she failed to capture the swooping blue beauty. In the past she had made some extra cash selling several kinds of butterflies to a buyer from Iquitos.

When the box was firmly attached to its sturdy posts about four feet off the ground, the team filled the inside with soil and mud. Lucila would plant little nubs of guisador root in it later with hopes of raising a regular crop of this essential dye plant.

When we passed by her house later in the afternoon, we saw Lucila swishing a batch of chambira fiber around in a small puddle of mud – this was the second stage of her dying it with a plant called “suelda con suelda.”

Suelda con suelda medicinal and dye plant. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Suelda con suelda medicinal and dye plant. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chambira dyed with suelda con suelda. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chambira dyed with suelda con suelda. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Suelda con suelda is a member of the plant family Loranthaceae – popularly known as the “mistletoe” family. It is a thin vine-like parasitic plant that not only winds around the leaves and branches of its host – it actually penetrates its woody tissue to draw off some of its host’s nutrients. This species is likely Phthirusa adunca, although this common name is also used to refer to its relative Phoradendron spp.

Some Bora families introduce the plant into their backyard citrus trees or least tolerate its presence so they can have it available as a source of medicine (used treating joint pain and other ailments), but they have to keep it under control or it can overwhelm its host and spread through bird dispersal of its seeds. While it is not a primary dye plant, some artisans use the leaves of suelda con suelda to dye chambira fiber a light greenish brown. If the dyed plant is then mixed with the right kind of mud, the color of the fiber turns almost black.

I look forward to seeing more crafts made by this talented artisan who is always smiling.

Bora artisan Lucila Flores making chambira fiber belt. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Lucila Flores making chambira fiber belt. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan and CACE team at planter box. Photo by Javier/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan and CACE team at planter box. Photo by Javier/Center for Amazon Community Ecology