Tag Archives: Puca Urquillo

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

Listening to artisans in the Ampiyacu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

 

Boost your support for Amazon conservation and communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artisans of the Ampiyacu – CACE “music” video about native artisans in the Peruvian Amazon

Greetings friends. Please check out “Artisans of the Ampiyacu” below or on the AmazonEcology Channel on YouTube at: http://tinyurl.com/PeruArtisans. It tells the story in intimate images and music of the native artisans that the Center for Amazon Community Ecology works with in the Ampiyacu River basin of the Peruvian Amazon to develop and market innovative handicrafts. Thanks for checking it out and sharing it if you like it.

Casilda Vasquez - Bora native artisan from Brillo Nuevo with Amazon hot pad. Photo by Yully Rojas Reategui/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Casilda Vasquez – Bora native artisan from Brillo Nuevo with Amazon hot pad. Photo by Yully Rojas Reategui/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


The video shows how the Bora, Huitoto, Ocaina and Yagua artisans collect and process chambira palm fiber and transform it into beautiful earth tone belts, guitar straps and other woven crafts with dyes made from leaves, roots, fruits and bark. Artisans tell what making crafts means to them and their families and how CACE sales of their crafts also supports health, education and conservation in their communities. Viewers can learn how to support the CACE Ampiyacu Project on Global Giving at http://www.AmazonAlive.net.

In memory of two artisan partners

by Campbell Plowden

Alida Soria, Bora native artisan from Brillo Nuevo with daughter. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Alida Soria, Bora native artisan from Brillo Nuevo with daughter. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

One of the best parts of this work is getting to know people who live in small Amazon communities. They welcome us into their homes, feed us, let us play with their children, and photograph their daily lives to help others appreciate their culture and challenges.

The toughest part is realizing that some mothers and daughters who have sold us crafts succumb to the harsher conditions in these beautiful remote places. Two summers ago I was shocked to learn that Alida Soria, a young Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo, died along with her husband and young daughter when a tree fell during a sudden storm when they were camped by a river.

Carlina Davila, Huitoto artisan from Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Carlina Davila, Huitoto artisan from Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I just learned that Carlina Davila, a Huitoto artisan from Puca Urquillo who was the mother of seven children recently died from uterine cancer – an affliction that has taken six other women in the area in the recent years. Girls who are 15 years and under are now being vaccinated against HPV, but older women in the region are still quite vulnerable to these afflictions. These incidents strengthen my resolve to help improve the economic and health conditions in this region.