Tag Archives: native artisan

Breakthroughs with three artisan communities – October 15, 2015

Raquel Lopez planting chambira seedling

Bora artisan planting chambira seedling in 2013. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We have had growing success helping artisans in the Ampiyacu develop and market innovative handicrafts, but our efforts to catalyze significant reforestation of chambira palms used to make woven crafts has been frustratingly slow.  While we have also promised to reinvest part of our craft sales in the US to support health, education and conservation needs in the communities, this social rebate program had unfortunately created more dissension than good works for several years.

Brillo Nuevo artisans receiving donated clothing. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora artisan planting chambira seedling in 2013. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

While mentally prepared to confront the same resistance, I decided to at least try a fresh approach while meeting with our artisan partners in Brillo Nuevo.  As they trickled in to our house at the far end of the village, they saw a written agenda posted on the wall.  Noting the ambitious list included numerous updates and serious topics, they favorably commented that it also included slots for receiving certificates, donated clothing, and lunch.

Artisans playing crocodiles and frogs 2

Caimans and frogs game with Brillo Nuevo artisans. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CAC

Since discussions of tough issues in previous meetings had sometimes produced more rancor than resolution, we also inserted a few cooperative games into the mix.  These were a balloon race which generated lots of laughs and an energetic round of caimans and frogs which featured artisans (as the frogs) holding on to each other on sheets of paper (representing tree stumps in a river) so the hungry caiman (the Amazon version of an alligator) wouldn’t get them when he woke up.

The results of the meeting included new agreements regarding craft pricing, quality control, a household survey, and a proposal for chambira reforestation.

Chambira planting group of artisans

Chambira “minga” with Brillo Nuevo artisans (2013) P

Three days later, the full community endorsed the reforestation plan.  Brillo Nuevo would use a large chunk of its CACE social rebate fund to provide a standard “basket” of food (rice, beans, oil, etc.) for up to 20 families who wished to organize work parties (“mingas”) to help plant or do extensive maintenance on chambira, assai palm, or medical plants in their forest fields.  Future rounds would allow more families to do the same.  They also decided to use part of the fund to buy some critical supplies and medicines for the village health post that were not provided by the government.

Sawing chambira stem

Cutting chambira leaf spear with pruning saw.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

When we headed back down the river to Puca Urquillo Huitoto, I was pleasantly surprised that their community meeting quickly agreed to also use their rebate fund to carry out 10 chambira work parties to replenish supplies of this vital plant for their artisans.  Another part of improving chambira management will be providing pruning saws that can be used to harvest leaf-spears without damaging adjoining stems as often happens when the task is done with a machete.

I was astounded when the leader of the Puca Urquillo Bora council handed me a 3 page proposal requesting our assistance to fund enrichment planting of chambira in 30 hectares of fallow forest fields.  Their decision was particularly surprising to me since they had rejected the offer of a researcher last year to measure the abundance of chambira palms in their fallow fields as we had done with artisans at Brillo Nuevo.

I have no illusions that these plans will be carried out without a hitch, but it was wonderful to feel this spiritual burst of affirmation to quench my growing wonder if some basic aspects of our work were seriously off-track.

******

CACE welcomes donations to this project through our page on GlobalGiving at: www.AmazonAlive.net

 

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

Ines lighting copal incense

Ines lighting copal incense. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

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

Ines and Graciela drawing snake patterns

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

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

Ines weaving belt with cats eating fish 800 px

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

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

Ines grating mishquipanga montage

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

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

Ines dying CP hair with huito 800 px

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

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

Amrit and Ines with certificate

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

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

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

Casilda Vasquez with TP028

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

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

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

Artisans playing crocodiles and frogs

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

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

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

Native Artisan and Forest Conservation Project on Global Giving

Bora artisan weaving Amazon guitar strap. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan weaving Amazon guitar strap. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


CACE MISSION
The Center for Amazon Community Ecology (CACE) was founded in 2006 to promote the understanding, conservation and sustainable development of human and other biological communities in the Amazon region. We conduct research on the ecology and sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and work with forest-based communities to sustainably manage and market value-added NTFPs as sustainable alternatives to economic activities that damage the forest. For the past six years, we have been studying the ecology, management and market potential of resins and other aromatic rainforest plants and worked with native and campesino communities to develop innovative designs and markets for plant-based handicrafts. We return part of the proceeds from our sale of crafts to our partner communities to support their basic needs in health, education and conservation.

CACE Global Giving Photo ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE Global Giving Photo ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

GLOBAL GIVING CAMPAIGN
Our work with native communities in the Ampiyacu River region of the northern Peruvian Amazon has been funded so far with grants from the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center, the Rufford Small Grant Foundation and donations from CACE supporters. We are participating in the Open Challenge of the Global Giving Foundation to expand our base of support for this project. We can earn a permanent spot on this grassroots funding platform by raising at least $5000 from at least 40 unique donors by December 31. Global Giving awards bonuses of $300 to $3000 for groups that exceed these minimum goals in various ways. Please visit Grow Amazon Artisan Income & Peru Rainforest Trees on Global Giving to view or donate to this project. See full CACE Ampiyacu Project Description. See a summary of project goals and activities below.

Bora women artisans with chambira palm leaves harvested for craft making. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora women artisans with chambira palm leaves harvested for craft making. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


SUMMARY
This project will enhance forest conservation in the Peruvian Amazon by promoting the sustainable harvest and marketing of value-added non-timber forest products (NTFPs) by indigenous communities near the 433,000 ha (1.07 million acre) Ampiyacu-Apayacu Regional Conservation Area. Our project team will work with five Bora, Huitoto, Ocaina and Yagua native communities in this high biodiversity region to: 1) survey and sustainably harvest wild plants used for making value-added products, 2) promote the planting of trees that yield important non-timber products, 3) produce essential oils from aromatic plants, 4) create innovative high-quality handicrafts from local plants with traditional weaving techniques, and 5) build artisan and community capacity to market these products as alternatives to economic activities that damage natural forests. In addition to working directly with artisan associations in the focal villages, the project will closely cooperate with the Federation of Native Communities of the Ampiyacu (FECONA), Camino Verde, the Instituto del Bien Comun, and other Peruvian institutions.

Mishkipanga fruits used as natural fiber dye. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Mishkipanga fruits used as natural fiber dye. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

PROJECT GOALS AND SITES
This project will catalyse forest conservation and community development in the 433,000 hectare Ampiyacu-Apayacu Regional Conservation Area in northern Peru by empowering native communities to sustainably harvest and market value-added non-timber forest products including essential oils and innovative fair-trade handicrafts as an alternative to destructive logging and cash-crop agriculture. This strategy treats rich biodiversity and traditions as assets to improve livelihoods so communities will have tangible incentives to safeguard the area’s 1,500 plant and 700 vertebrate species. The project will focus its efforts in five of the fourteen native communities in the region: Brillo Nuevo (Bora), and Nueva Esperanza (Ocaina) along the Yaguasyacu River and Puca Urquillo Bora, Puca Urquillo Huitoto, and San José de Piri (Yagua) along the Ampiyacu River.

Bora men measuring copal tree at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora men measuring copal tree at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

DEVELOPING ESSENTIAL OILS FROM AROMATIC TREES
This project will help build the capacity of native communities to assess the abundance, sustainable harvest and economic potential of copal and aromatic trees by combining their natural curiosity and traditional knowledge of forest plants and wildlife with new forest inventory and technical skills. It will work with native woodsmen to sustainably harvest parts of aromatic plants and distill them into fragrant essential oils. Marketing these oils would be one new way to generate income without imposing severe impact on the forest. The pilot phase of these activities is based in the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo on the Yaguasyacu River.

Bora leader and CACE Director Campbell Plwoden distilling copal resin. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora leader and CACE Director Campbell Plwoden distilling copal resin. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The CACE Project Manager, Local Project Coordinator, and a rotating team of native woodsmen will map the location of copal, moena and other aromatic trees and plants, collect samples of resin and leaves, and distil them to assess the quantity and quality of the essential oil extracted from them. This information also will be used to devise a management plan with the native communities and help the provincial government establish sustainable harvest guidelines for similar enterprises in the region.

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

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

CACE is collaborating with Camino Verde, an NGO based in southern Peru, to plant 1000 rosewood tree seedlings (now being raised at a nursery in Jenaro Herrera on the Ucayali River) in Brillo Nuevo in secondary forest plots (“purmas”) of five families. This reforestation project will have long-term benefits since residents will be able to begin harvesting leaves from these trees in three to four years and distil them into a fragrant and marketable essential oil. The offspring of these trees will then be shared with other community members to plant in their fields.

By the end of this phase of the project, a cadre of woodmen will know how to use basic forestry equipment (GPS, compass, climbing spikes, pole pruner, and hand pruner) to conduct a basic survey of forest resources, preserve specimens for identification, and sustainably harvest resin and leaves from forest trees. Essential oil samples will be chemically analysed and examined by fragrance company specialists to assess their commercial potential.

Bora artisans Gisela and Angelina with chambira fiber belts. ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisans Gisela and Angelina with chambira fiber belts. ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


EMPOWERING ARTISANS TO PRODUCE INNOVATIVE HANDICRAFTS
The handicraft component of this project will work with artisans from all five community partners in the project. Encouraging these artisans who are mostly women to develop new woven products incorporating snake patterns and native motifs has already begun to transform craft making in Brillo Nuevo village from an individual pursuit to a more collective endeavour. The process is infused with creativity, skill sharing, cultural richness, ecological concern, and pride that craft sales can help fund immediate community needs. We are seeking to strengthen newer relationships with Bora and Huitoto artisans from the twin-village of Puca Urquillo, Ocaina artisans from Nueva Esperanza, and Yagua artisans from San José de Piri. We have had preliminary meetings with the Yagua community of Santa Lucia de Pro to become part of this project in 2013.

Dog with Amazon dog collar and leash. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dog with Amazon dog collar and leash. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE works closely with our partner artisans to develop new products and models of handicrafts. We began by buying and trying to sell some of the crafts they were already making. Customers who liked these often suggested ideas for ways to improve these or make whole new products. We now aim to develop signature products or models with each partner community. In Brillo Nuevo, where we have been working the longest, artisans are refining designs for belts, net bags and hot pads (trivets), dog collars and leashes, and guitar straps woven with chambira palm fiber. See the special brochure about the Amazon Guitar Strap for the full story on this unique product for musicians. We are working with weavers in Nueva Esperanza to develop a line of coin purses and cell phone carriers.

Yagua artisan with doll hammock. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yagua artisan with doll hammock. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

In San José de Piri, Yagua women are making samples of a doll-sized woven hammock. Artisans from Puca Urquillo have made great progress developing diverse models of Christmas tree ornaments that double as hand rattles. Most are made from small calabash fruit pods – some are etched with wildlife figures, others are covered with colored chambira fber. The newest models are woven miniature jungle animals like armadillos.

Yully reviewing guitar straps with Bora artisan. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully reviewing guitar straps with Bora artisan. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

IMPROVING HANDICRAFT QUALITY
Our Project Manager visits our partner communities every month to place orders for the crafts. The village associations then divide these orders among their members according to their particular talents and enthusiasm. We encourage artisans to share their skills with each other informally and organize larger skill-sharing workshops within and between villages so the most accomplished artisans can demonstrate their techniques for making new and complicated products to their peers. When an artisan finishes a craft, the project manager inspects the item and gives the artisan detailed feedback on how to improve it if necessary. We are also encouraging each association to form its own quality committee so the artisans can approach a peer mentor for help and move toward full responsibility for the quality of crafts offered for sale.

Measuring chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Measuring chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

BUILDING A CRAFT MARKET BASED ON SUSTAINABLE PALM HARVEST
Most handicrafts made in the Ampiyacu region (and northern Peruvian Amazon) are woven from fibers of the chambira palm tree. Artisans harvest a spear of young leaves (a “cogollo”) from a palm that has grown naturally in one of their fallow agricultural fields (“purmas”) that is reverting to forest. There always used to be enough chambira for artisans to harvest in a casual way when the demand for crafts from these remote villages was low. As the demand for handicrafts grows, however, the communities need to harvest chambira with greater care and increase its abundance.

Bora artisans attaching pruning saw to pole to harvest chambira palm leaves. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisans attaching pruning saw to pole to harvest chambira palm leaves. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The CACE project will help the communities create a sustainable supply of chambira palm for craft making in several ways: 1) we are providing each pair of artisans (usually a mother and daughter or two sisters) a slender pruning saw to harvest a chambira “cogollo”. This will allow them to remove a spear without damaging the healthy leaves next to it that frequently occurs when harvesting chambira with a machete; 2) we are working with artisans to measure chambira abundance in their “purmas.” Results will show how many crafts they can make from their current stock; 3) we will support the creation of nurseries to grow chambira palm seedlings that can be transplanted into artisan “purmas”; 4) we will encourage artisans to leave some chambira trees unharvested so each plot will have at least one large tree to provide abundant seedlings and natural regeneration in the future.

English Beat leader Dave Wakeling with Amazon guitar strap and Bora artisan who made it. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

English Beat leader Dave Wakeling with Amazon guitar strap and Bora artisan who made it. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

COLLABORATING WITH ARTISANS TO EDUCATE THE PUBLIC AND CRAFT BUYERS
Native artisans from the Ampiyacu region have always had the opportunity to sell their crafts to shops that cater to tourists in the city of Iquitos. The reason this option has not been very attractive for most is that getting to the city is a long and costly trip for them, and the tourist markets are glutted with low-priced bags, hammocks, and jewellery made by hundreds of artisans. The CACE Handicraft project offers our partner native artisans a chance to sell their unique crafts to more lucrative markets in the U.S. and other countries. This effort will best succeed if potential customers feel connected to a craft and the people, plants and places that went into making it. We want them to understand how their purchase can help put an artisan’s child through school, build a pharmacy for the community, and bring back a species of tree that was almost wiped out.

Amazon Forest Store logo. © Center for Amazon Community Ecology
We will work closely with the artisans to record their accomplishments, challenges and dreams for themselves, their family, and community. These rich stories will be presented in long and short forms on handicraft tags, product brochures, the CACE blog, newsletter, website and the upcoming online Amazon Forest Store. To supplement photos taken by the Project Leader and Project Manager, we will train the Local Coordinator to use a camera and video to help document these processes during this project and beyond.

This project’s ultimate goal is not to make new products; it is to help forest-based communities realize that cultivating their imagination and cultural traditions, intimate knowledge of nature, and entrepreneurial skills can improve their standard of living without destroying their forest or relying on charity.

Brillo Nuevo community pharmacy built with CACE social rebate. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Brillo Nuevo community pharmacy built with CACE social rebate. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

GIVING BACK TO PARTNER COMMUNITIES: THE CACE SOCIAL CONTRACT
A “Fair Trade” product usually means the item was made by people paid a fair price for their labor in decent working conditions. A “green” star is sometimes added onto this to this label to indicate the product was made with minimal negative environmental impact. CACE aims to surpass these criteria by adding a third component to the social contract with our partner communities. We set aside 20% of the proceeds from crafts we sell made by artisans from their community into a “Social Rebate” fund. These funds are then used to support health, education or conservation needs in that community. With small communities like the native villages in the Ampiyacu region, CACE informs the whole community how much is in their account and then leaves it to this general assembly to decide how these funds will be used. In towns such as Jenaro Herrera, CACE consults with the head of the public health clinic and principal of the public school to use available craft rebate funds to support the most pressing local needs for health and education.

In the case of Brillo Nuevo, rebate funds have so far been used to buy some pruning saws for careful chambira palm harvest, and to buy medicines and materials to build a public pharmacy that is nearing completion.

See full CACE Ampiyacu Project Description.

New Yagua Crafts, a Monkey-Cat Alliance, and a Gecko in the Toilet

July 2, 2012

Map of native communities near the Ampiyacu-Apayacu Regional Conservation Area. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Map of native communities near the Ampiyacu-Apayacu Regional Conservation Area. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

While the rain and soccer had delayed our departure from Puca Urquillo by an hour or so, we still had enough time to make a quick stop at the village of Santa Lucia de Pro – the Yagua village immediately upriver from Pebas. Our visit was inspired by reports that this village had some very accomplished artisans. When we climbed up the bank, an informal soccer game was in progress on the cement court on top. Since this was an unanticipated visit, we asked a spectator if the President or other “autoridade” (town officer) was around. The woman dispatched her daughter to fetch the village “secretariat communal” (collective secretary)Iderio Rios. We explained we were interested in meeting the artisans and getting a sense of the range of crafts they made with an eye toward working with them more in the future. Rios responded positively to our request, put out the word, and within ten minutes about ten women artisans had laid out a bag of their crafts on hand on the sidewalk in front of the school.

Wingo masks and chambira bags at Santa Lucia de Pro. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Wingo masks and chambira bags at Santa Lucia de Pro. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Many women apologized that they didn’t have many things in stock, but the impromptu display showed an impressive range of wingo masks and chambira bags with unique designs, llanchama bark “muñecos” (dolls), seed bracelets and necklaces.

Yagua artisan at Santa Lucia del Pro. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Yagua artisan at Santa Lucia del Pro. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

The artisans said they had most of the dye plants they needed, but their purmas were devoid of chambira palms, so they generally bought cleaned fibers from Brillo Nuevo. Our visit confirmed that artisans here could become enthusiastic partners – both to give them another outlet for selling crafts and possibly to help them reestablish chambira in their own fields. Before doing anything, however, we would prepare a specific proposal and present it to their whole community for consideration.

Yully Rojas inspecting tapetes at San Jose de Piri. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Yully Rojas inspecting tapetes at San Jose de Piri. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

We stashed our bags in the hotel right next to the port in Pebas and walked up to San José de Piri, the Yagua community located on the far side of the town. While Yully had started making regular visits there almost a year ago, our progress developing marketable crafts there had been very slow. While this village’ proximity to Pebas arguably gave it easy access to sell its crafts to tourists passing through town, its artisans had not yet tapped this potential market. We went straight to the home of Mariela Ribera who had become Yully’s main contact for a small cadre of women interested in working with us. Three other women arrived and showed us their most recent attempts to make “tapetes” (woven hotpads). The woven coiled chambira looked simple, but it was proving hard to make well. The four samples that women took out of their small plastic bags each had a good element – it had clean white chambira, vibrant color, or was flat. Unfortunately each also had at least one major defect that made it unsellable – it was dirty, had dull color, or was warped. Yully offered her suggestions on how to deal with each of these problems, but we were left with a rather discouraging state of affairs. An earlier attempt to make an attractive doll had not been fruitful, but many months had gone by without the artisans producing anything that we could buy.

Yagua native artisan Mariela with toy chambira hammock. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Yagua native artisan Mariela with toy chambira hammock. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Wandering back into Mariela’s living room, I saw a new kind of craft tacked onto her wall. Artisans throughout the region make and often sell beautiful chambira hammocks. Since these items are so bulky, I didn’t think that we could bring these to the U.S. and market them in a cost-effective way. Mariela, however, had made two hammocks that were only two feet long. Since we were going to try selling some native-made dolls, perhaps there could be a market for hammocks for these or other kinds of dolls. The artisans readily agreed to make somewhat smaller models with three combinations of colors. Clearly it would be easier to develop a product using skills they already have rather than hoping they could master difficult new ones without an experienced teacher.

Mama cat, monkey and kittens. Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

Mama cat, monkey and kittens. Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

While I discussed design details for this mini-hammock with Mariela, Yully spotted another example of cross-cultural companionship under her table. Mariela’s cat was nursing a litter of kittens with a saddle-backed tamarin monkey lying cozily on top of her.

View through screen window from Pebas hotel.  Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

View through screen window from Pebas hotel. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Campbell in bathroom mirror at Pebas.  Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Campbell in bathroom mirror at Pebas. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Back at our hotel, I admired the view from my room and cleaned up for the first time in a few days by pouring buckets of cold water over my head from a barrel in the bathroom. I also got my first look in a mirror in over a week, but didn’t have a razor up to the task of shaving my itchy incipient beard.

Catfish in market & gecko in toilet in Pebas hotel. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Catfish in market & gecko in toilet in Pebas hotel. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Other glimpses of local wildlife around Pebas included a gecko in a disconnected toilet in the hotel’s storage area and catfish in the market that were so fresh they were still croaking.

Our trip back to Iquitos was slow but peaceful. There were no camarotes (cabins) available on the lancha (ferry), so Yully and I strung our hammocks side by side on the less crowded top deck. I had hoped to get some writing done on the way, but was reluctant to bring my computer out in the open and I couldn’t quite figure out anyway how to hold and type on my laptop while lying in a hammock. I was content to immerse myself in podcasts from National Public Radio that my wife had downloaded onto my MP3 player about six months before. Listening to Car Talk, This American Life, Science Friday and Freakonomics seemed a bit surreal cruising by miles of forests and towns where the topics discussed were irrelevant. Listening to Click and Clack humor and soothing intelligence of Diane Rehm and other NPR hosts, however, was a comforting and stimulating way to pass a day on the river.

My only live diversion on the 20 hour trip was a few conversations with a Haitian fellow I met brushing my teeth. I’m not certain about his story since we communicated with a mixture of poorly spoken or understood French, Spanish and English. What I pieced together is that he and two friends had left their impoverished country about four months ago in search of work. They had spent a few months in Ecuador, one month in Peru and had taken this boat downriver to try their luck in Brazil. They were turned back at the border, though, for lack of a visa. Their return to Peru, however, was not proceeding smoothly. He pointed to a Peruvian soldier in a hammock about fifteen feet away who would escort them to immigration authorities when they got to Iquitos. I gave him some of my bananas for breakfast and wished him well.