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Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon

by Center for Amazon Community Ecology
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Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon

I arrived in Peru on my most recent trip on Feb. 19, and things went more or less according to plan for the first month. We first revamped the layout of our new store in Iquitos with the creative guidance of Kieran, our newest CACE board member who is the director of the Ten Thousand Villages store in State College, PA. Over the following month, we held one full Basic level Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop, two Artisan Organization workshops, and an Artisan Facilitator workshop. We were stopped in our tracks when the Peruvian government announced it was going to shut down all flights and impose other travel restrictions to stem the spread of the corona virus in the country. I will return to this topic at the end of this report, but I would first like to share a story about the ways our work has made a big difference to one of our artisan partners, her husband and others in her community.

Berta and her husband Brito attended the first Basic AVP workshop that we held in the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo in the fall of 2018 and also participated in the Advanced level and Training for Facilitators workshops in 2019. Following AVP tradition, they chose the positive adjective names Berta Bondadosa (Generous Bertha) and Brito Bueno (Good Brito) for themselves. When we began the cycle again this February, we invited both of them to join us as apprentice facilitators in the Basic workshop in Brillo Nuevo. They did really well and appreciated the chance to increase their confidence leading exercises and cooperative games and exchanging affirmations and constructive feedback with their fellow teammates.

Berta commented on her experience with AVP so far. “My earlier life was very violent. I was a very bitter woman, and I had no compassion. I had no patience with anyone, not even my husband. I didn’t want him to tell me anything because I was ready to burst, and we quickly started to fight. I am so thankful this program came into my life because now I feel very calm. I can walk through the village happy, smiling, and laughing arm in arm with my husband because the life I was leading has ended.”

“As a facilitator, I’ve learned to be patient with my friends and anyone who approaches me. I feel confident and try to treat people with understanding and consideration for their feelings. This growth hasn’t been easy, but I now have a strong sense of how I can reach out to others and help them. I know we can learn to live peacefully with our family, neighbors, and people from other communities.”

On the morning we left Brillo Nuevo, we met with the artisans to discuss several topics including the Artisan Facilitator workshop we were hosting the following week in Nauta. We described how we were building our team of artisans who were talented, had a strong desire to share their skills and build the self-esteem of their fellow artisans. After an animated conversation in Bora, the group unanimously chose Berta to represent them at this gathering and an artisan organization workshop that would follow. One artisan candidly remarked, “Berta used to quarrel al lot with her husband and others. She has dramatically changed in the past year.  She is now kind and patient.”

At the Artisan Facilitator workshop held at the Tambo Minga center in Nauta, Berta joined her peers from five other villages who spent three days making two types of bird ornaments (the goldfinch and cardinal) with chambira palm fiber. Beyond learning to make these crafts, Berta took her turn as an apprentice artisan facilitator one morning where she went from artisan to artisan to check on their progress.

Berta commented, “In this workshop I learned how to approach someone, talk with them, and teach them whatever I could. I got over my fear of saying, “I don’t know how to do this, can you show me?” because I had confidence in myself and respect for everyone else in our group.

Berta and others at this workshop learned that being a good artisan facilitator didn't mean being the most skilled artisan in the room. It meant being comfortable sharing what you knew, confident about asking questions, and sincerely affirming others for their efforts.

The Artisan Organization workshop followed immediately afterward in the same location with more artisans attending from communities in the Marañon River area. Berta was the only person from Brillo Nuevo at this gathering. During the first day of workshop, the artisans practiced describing the goals and leadership roles in an artisan association and standards for harvesting and planting chambira palm trees. The second day focused on ways their groups could better sell their crafts to tourists and wholesale buyers. The latter part included describing products for a catalogue and a short class on speaking to buyers in English.

Berta was enthusiastic about this gathering as well. “This workshop impacted me a lot because the artisans in my community have just begun to get organized.  It will be very important for us to set our short and long-term goals. I wish all of them could have been there because I liked it very much. We can now challenge ourselves to ask: “Why can’t we sell more of our products?” We will get to the point when our assoication is properly registered, organized and we know how to use marketing techniques. We still have a lot to learn, so it’s important we learn together. I hope CACE does a workshop like this in Brillo Nuevo very soon.”

On my second swing through the Ampiyacu this trip, we helped our fellow non-profit Camino Verde deliver over 5,000 tree seedlings to 47 families in Brillo Nuevo and Ancon Colonia. More on this in our next report.  The day before we left Brillo Nuevo, we met again with the artisans to discuss some new product ideas.

While waiting for the full group to arrive, I asked Berta to share a few highlights from the two workshops she recently attended in Nauta. There were only five women in the big meeting room when she began. I only got an inkling of whatever topic she was discussing when she sprinkled in Spanish words that didn't have equivalent expressions in Bora, but the impact of her animated manner was clear. She was very emotional discussing the kinship she felt with artisans from diverse communities at the Artisan Facilitator workshop and hoped that their group could develop this same level of mutual support and trust. By the time she wrapped up expressing how much it meant to her to work with others and plan for the future at the organization workshop, fifteen more artisans had joined us on the benches. A group this size normally had five conversations going on at once, but no one said a word until Berta had finished her compelling stories. Thieir silence and attentive listening almost moved me to tears since it reflected a depth of respect from her peers I had never seen expressed to any other artisan before. It seemed like they genuinely connected with her vision of a positve future for their artisan group if they could work together.

On a more somber note, we have also faced many challenges related to health this trip.  While I was out of commission for a few days with a typical traveler's bug, all four of our CACE team members in Iquitos had a family member that was hit with Dengue fever in the past month.  This mosquito borne illness that can cause high fever, severe head and body aches and more has been raging through the Iquitos area this rainy season.  On top of this regional affliction, the corona virus recently made it to Peru.

We had just finished the first day of an AVP workshop we were doing in the village of San José de Piri near the town of Pebas when we learned that the government was going to impose travel restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19. Two hours later I got on a ferry boat bound for Iquitos and spent the night in a hammock next to an artisan friend from Brillo Nuevo and her family. I arrived in the city the next morning with a plan to catch an afternoon flight to Lima and then connect with a flight back to the US the next morning. I didn’t take the flight to Lima, though, because the government cancelled all flights going in and out of the country after midnight. I will now stay at the CACE house in Iquitos until the quarantine is lifted or I am somehow able to get on one of the special evacuation flights being organized by the US Embassy in Lima to bring American citizens home.

While I do wish to get home, I feel secure in our house here for the time being and have access to all of the basics needed to stay here as long as I need to. I can work on my computer and do some tasks with our team. I don’t doubt that travel restrictions are needed to reduce the spread of the virus, but I am concerned that this situation is severely stressing our partners in the field and manyc others in the region. It was eerie to venture to the normally crowded main plaza a few days ago (in search of a way to recharge my cell phone to retain internet access) and only find a handful of military police on guard with machine guns and one man with a cart selling popsickles. The latter man exemplifies how hard these times are for people who only survive on the little income they make on a day to day basis. In the case of our artisan partners, they are also being shut out of any way to make money until the quarantine is lifted. The tourism trade is of course paralyzed for now and will no doubt take some time to recover even after the travel restrictions are relaxed. Our store in Iquitos is closed, and it seems likely that at least some of the music festivals we attend in the summer to sell our partners’ crafts will be cancelled.  We will, therefore, need to find other ways to compensate for this lost income.  

We can only be optimistic that things will get back to “normal” at some point, so we are starting to plan an ambitious schedule of workshops for the next 12 months to continue to help our artisan partners learn to make new types of crafts, plant more trees, form strong associations and create more harmonious communities. Berta has shown us that all of these things are possible. 

Many thanks for your support that makes our project possible.  Any donation (up to $50) that is made to our organization by this coming Friday (March 29) will receive a 100% match from GlobalGiving.  

Best wishes and please stay safe.

Campbell Plowden
Executive Director
Berta "Bondadosa"
Berta "Bondadosa"
Berta and others play "Armadillos & Holes" at AVP
Berta and others play "Armadillos & Holes" at AVP
Brito and friends play "Armadillos & Holes" at AVP
Brito and friends play "Armadillos & Holes" at AVP
Affirmation poster for Berta "Bondadosa" at AVP
Affirmation poster for Berta "Bondadosa" at AVP
Berta and Rosita at Artisan Facilitator workshop
Berta and Rosita at Artisan Facilitator workshop
Ketty and Berta at Artisan Facilitator workshop
Ketty and Berta at Artisan Facilitator workshop
Mirian making cardinal bird ornament at Nauta
Mirian making cardinal bird ornament at Nauta
Chambira palm fiber goldfinches made by artisans
Chambira palm fiber goldfinches made by artisans
Estelita and Deisa at Artisan Facilitator workshop
Estelita and Deisa at Artisan Facilitator workshop
Artisan Deisa with woven goldfinch and cardinal
Artisan Deisa with woven goldfinch and cardinal
Artisan Yoli from Amazonas with chambira basket
Artisan Yoli from Amazonas with chambira basket
San Francisco artisans discuss association goals
San Francisco artisans discuss association goals
Artisans describe multi-colored basket for catalog
Artisans describe multi-colored basket for catalog
Ball toss game at Artisan Organization workshop
Ball toss game at Artisan Organization workshop
Gisela and Antonio practice "Namaste" closing
Gisela and Antonio practice "Namaste" closing

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Traveling on rivers in the Amazon region is an exercise in patience. You need patience to wait for enough passengers to fill up a motor boat before it will leave. You need patience to travel in another boat for many hours in the sun and the rain to reach your destination.

This time our travels took us to two native Maijuna communities called along the Napo River to offer an initial round of Artisan Training workshops. These sessions were led by Edson and Pablo, two of our most experienced artisan facilitators, who came a long way from their village of San Francisco on the Marañon River to share their talents making bird ornaments with chambira palm fiber.

CACE had visited Sucusari, Nueva Vida and its close neighbor Puerto Huaman several times in the past to survey nearby forests for copal resin.  We had also bought baskets from artisans in a few communities, but these initial efforts didn't take off. We hoped this new initiative would provide a concrete way to work with these communities with our long-term partner Michael G. and his non-profit group OnePlanet that has successfully developed stingless bee projects with these groups.

Each of these artisan training workshops lasted three days in which the participants learned to weave two different kinds of birds. This time the featured birds were the ornate hawk eagle, blue and gold macaw, white-throated toucan, and the Amazon kingfisher. Pablo and Edson once again showed their skill and patience to teach other artisans in a way that no one felt left behind making this new type of craft – birds that seem to come alive.

That’s just what the participants had hoped for. Everest, the head of the Sucusari community, thought this was a very timely and important workshop for his village. He said, “We’ve had all kinds of workshops in our village, but never one like this. This is the first time that someone taught us to weave birds. We were nervous at first because it seemed so hard, but by the end, we learned it was possible. I’m sure that the men and women artisans in the community are proud of what they’ve made, and we very much appreciate that you came to show us.”

Loida, the woman who is the president of the artisan association in the more distant village of Nueva Vida commented, “It’s become harder and harder to sell handicrafts – perhaps because tourists don’t come here and it’s complicated to bring them to the city where there are many other artisans. It’s so important for us to learn to make new kinds of crafts so we have a better chance of competing with other sellers. Seeing these beautiful finished birds gives me confidence we can do this. I only hope that we can have more of these types of workshops in the future so our artisans can keep learning and improving.”

Traveling along the smaller rivers of the Amazon is an experience that requires patience and it offers so much gratitude. It includes gratitude for the way people share and receive every minute, gratitude for peoples’ effort and results, and appreciation for the sincerity of the hugs you receive when you say goodbye.

A CACE eagle has now landed in Maijuna land, and we hope it will find it a productive place to build a nest.

Maijuna artisan from Nueva Vida with kingfisher
Maijuna artisan from Nueva Vida with kingfisher
Maijuna artisans at workshop in Sucusari
Maijuna artisans at workshop in Sucusari
Maijuna artisan with ornate hawk eagle ornament
Maijuna artisan with ornate hawk eagle ornament
Maijuna artisan group at Sucusari workshop
Maijuna artisan group at Sucusari workshop
Maijuna artisan mother at Nueva Vida workshop
Maijuna artisan mother at Nueva Vida workshop
Loida - Artisan group leader at Nueva Vida
Loida - Artisan group leader at Nueva Vida
Edson teaching Maijuna artisan to make a macaw
Edson teaching Maijuna artisan to make a macaw
Maijuna artisan making body for bird ornament
Maijuna artisan making body for bird ornament

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My most recent trip to Peru was one of the most special I have experienced since I started CACE in 2006. We have made a lot of progress helping hundreds of artisans to improve the diversity and quality of handicrafts they make and sell, but this past September and October I took part in a beautiful coming together of artisan hearts and hands.

We had a tough time earlier this year when a few expert artisans who were leading our woven bird making workshops demanded a lot more money, complained about long travels to other villages, and finally backed out of their commitment to teach several workshops two weeks before they were due to start. Their action led us to convene a special workshop where we brought together a group of talented artisans from the Marañon River area who said they were interested in improving their craft making and teaching their fellow artisans.

Our goal of building an artisan teacher core with people who were excited about sharing their knowledge coincided with our development of an Alternatives to Violence Project program with several of our partner communities in the region. We first carried out a series of Basic and Advanced level AVP workshops for artisans and others from six communities between Sept. 2018 and April 2019. This fall, we carried out four more artisan training workshops and three more AVP workshops that included two workshops to train facilitators from our partner villages. I would like to share most of the letter that some of the graduates wrote to several groups that co-sponsored this program.

“Dear Friends,

We are writing to thank you for your support of the Alternatives to Violence Project being developed in Loreto, Peru in cooperation with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. This program has given us new ways to think about our lives and improve relationships in our families and communities. The most recent Training for Facilitators workshop has given us courage to express our thoughts and feelings in front of a group and the confidence to be leaders who can listen, act and support each other. We have come together from six different native and campesino communities to taste the joy and spiritual power of making plans and decisions together.

Your support has allowed us to bring experienced facilitators from Bolivia and southern Peru to introduce the AVP program in Loreto. Our group of new facilitators now feels ready to bring this program to the next level. We first want to create opportunities to practice and strengthen our skills and then begin organizing full workshops to share AVP ideals and techniques with other adults and young people in our communities. We are confident that they will benefit from learning how to better value themselves, affirm the good in others, approach differences in constructive ways, and instill a greater sense of trust, respect, and cooperation with each other.

Thank you once again from all of us who have come from Amazonas (Cocama), Brillo Nuevo (Bora), El Chino, Puca Urquillo Bora, Puca Urquillo Huitoto, and San Francisco.

Sincerely,

Jacmen, Estelita, Elisa, Exiles, Edwin, Francisca, Heriberto, Kleiber, Liz, Marilu, Mirian, and Zoraida"

 

The result of integrating the AVP workshops into our program was that our artisan teachers Edson, Pablo and Doilith brought a whole new level of attention to the artisans in the artisan training workshops after completing their training as AVP facilitators. As they approached a workshop participant, they tried to take four steps: 1) explain with their words, 2) show with their hands, 3) observe with their eyes, and 4) give specific and constructive feedback. We then added a fifth step – affirmation. The thousands of photos I took during these workshops showed the intense concentration of the artisans and the teachers, countless examples of the teachers using subtle hand motions to show how another artisan how to make a particular knot or bend a wire, comfortable displays of mutual affection, frequent laughter and comradery, and thumbs up to artisans showing their mastery of a new skill. Several types of comments we often heard during the workshop and read in written evaluations were:

“This workshop has given me so much pride in being an artisan.”

“I never thought I would be able to make such a complicated bird ornament like this.”

“The teachers were SO patient. Thank you CACE for bringing them to us.”

While we still need to focus on helping artisans learn the finer points for improving their crafts, we realized our teacher team could only accomplish this if they behaved in humble and supportive ways that also built artisans’ self-esteem, confidence and joy of creating together. In order to avoid becoming overly dependent on this new trio of teachers we had had before, we invited one to two of the other artisans who had attended the artisan teacher workshop to join us as apprentice teachers in the training workshops in October. Paquita, Mirian and Deisa blended very well into this team as they easily shared their skills and enthusiasm with the participants.

At the end of the last two workshops, we adopted the AVP tradition of doing a full team debriefing with the teachers and CACE support staff. After discussing general opinions about the workshop and participants, each person shared some thoughts about what they did well as well as areas they could improve. The next round gave people a chance to share affirmations for other members of the team and any suggestions for improving. These debriefing sessions that each lasted over two hours were constructive, enlightening and emotional. By the end of each session, every person sitting at the table had cried at least once. Comments included expressions of deep gratitude for being invited to join and help build this mutually supportive group (often for the first time in their life), the joy and strength of empowering others, and appreciations for the unique gifts of other members of the team. We decided to use the AVP term “facilitator” for the leaders of training workshops in the future since it better conveyed our sense of the proper role of a leader in these sessions than the term “teacher.” In Peru, this term often means someone who acts from a position of superior knowledge, directs a group with an authoritarian style, and criticizes students who don’t do as they say.

In the coming months we plan to hold mini-AVP sessions so our group of newly trained facilitators can further practice their skills before taking part in full workshop teams. We also plan to organize several sessions just for the artisan training facilitators so they can develop new models of crafts together, practice and improve their craft teaching and facilitation techniques, and strengthen their relationships with their fellow artisan facilitators. It’s exciting to be part of this dynamic process.

Thank you very much for your support for our program with best wishes for the holidays and New Year.

Small group discussion in AVP workshop
Small group discussion in AVP workshop
Human knot "light and lively" in AVP workshop
Human knot "light and lively" in AVP workshop
Affirmation thumbs exercise in AVP workshop
Affirmation thumbs exercise in AVP workshop
Graduates from AVP Training for Facilitators
Graduates from AVP Training for Facilitators
Pablo and Edson - artisan facilitators
Pablo and Edson - artisan facilitators
Pablo showing Berta photo to make bird ornament
Pablo showing Berta photo to make bird ornament
Edson and his artisan wife with two birds
Edson and his artisan wife with two birds
Doilith showing Romelia to make woven butterfly
Doilith showing Romelia to make woven butterfly
Paquita weaving basket in spare time
Paquita weaving basket in spare time
Artisan making ornate hawk eagle ornament
Artisan making ornate hawk eagle ornament
Mirian with 4 generations of artisans
Mirian with 4 generations of artisans
Rings of monarch and morpho butterfly ornaments
Rings of monarch and morpho butterfly ornaments
harpy eagle ornament
harpy eagle ornament

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Edson is a young artisan from the campesino community of San Francisco on the banks of the Marañon River. This 30-year-old father learned through observation and practice how to make beautiful crafts. His specialty is making little birds.

 

This talent is what led Edson to agree to be a teacher in several skill-sharing workshops being organized by CACE in our partner communities in the northern Peruvian Amazon. These workshops are always led by experienced artisans showing their fellow artisans how to make new kinds of handicrafts.

 

The first time Edson taught in a CACE artisan training workshop was this past August in Nauta – a town two hours from the city of Iquitos. Participants included artisans from his home village of San Francisco and others from the nearby Cocama village called Amazonas. Edson showed both his ability as an artisan and more importantly his patience and dedication to help each participant learn how to make and finish the craft they were working on.

 

Later that month, Edson joined the adventure of teaching in the Ampiyacu basin which has numerous indigenous communities with Bora, Huitoto and Yagua native residents. The first stop was the Bora community of Nuevo Peru which needed a five-hour trip in a peque-peque (dugout canoe with a small motor) open to the harsh summer sun in the Peruvian jungle. 

The workshop in Nuevo Peru had 25 participants who attended eight-hour sessions for three successive days. The next one held in the community of Huitotos del Estiron had 23 participants from the host village and other communities in the area.

The models that were taught in the workshops were some magnificent birds from the Peruvian Amazon including a few types of eagles, hawks, macaws, toucans, owls, and parrots. Another teacher Doilith who is from the town of Jenaro Herrera on the Ucayali River shared her special talent for making different types of butterflies. Each participant got to choose two models to learn during the three-day workshop. The common result was that each participant was very proud to see their finished crafts.

On the way back to Iquitos, Edson shared his thoughts about being a teacher in the Ampiyacu: “This was the first time that I have taught in communities away from my home, and it was a very positive experience. I was a little afraid that it would be difficult to teach them, but I quickly saw that people are very kind and completely willing to learn. They are fellow artisans who understand the value of the chambira palm and the work it requires. They understand the importance of a craft and how it helps in the economy of the family. I liked teaching, I loved meeting so many people, but above all it makes me feel very good when I think of all the people who learned to make new crafts ”.

Edson and other veteran artisans are a vital part of CACE’s goal of helping artisans from the Peruvian Amazon to improve their skills and livelihoods. This task is a key to our mission of supporting the well-being of Amazonian communities and the conservation of their forests.

Edson teaching artisan at Chino workshop
Edson teaching artisan at Chino workshop
Pablo teaching artisan at Chino workshop
Pablo teaching artisan at Chino workshop
Artisan Liria with 2 birds at Chino workshop
Artisan Liria with 2 birds at Chino workshop
woven barbet ornament at Chino workshop
woven barbet ornament at Chino workshop
Artisan with woven butterflies at Estiron workshop
Artisan with woven butterflies at Estiron workshop
Artisan at Estiron workshop with parrot and toucan
Artisan at Estiron workshop with parrot and toucan
Artisans at Nuevo Peru workshop with birds
Artisans at Nuevo Peru workshop with birds

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In Greek mythology the Amazons were a people formed and governed entirely by women warriors. Some say the largest river in the world bears that name in honor of these great warriors. Amazonas is also small community on the the Marañón River, a tributary of the Amazon River, which gives it a connection to the power embodied in the origin of the mighty river’s name. Amazonas welcomed us earlier this month to empower a group of artisans who are passionate as warriors to share their craft-making skills with each other.

The Center For Amazon Community Ecology (CACE) has hosted skill-sharing workshops in our partner communities in the northern Peruvian Amazon for the past ten years so artisans can learn how to make new kinds of crafts. Women artisans in the Ampiyacu region showed other women how to weave different products like belts and guitar straps, and a few men taught other artisans how to carve wildlife designs onto calabash tree pods. When we started working with the communities in the Marañon River area a few years ago, we found that while many artisans made a variety of animal figures, a few people from one family made the most detailed birds. So following our earlier practice, we contracted them to be teachers in workshops to show other artisans how to weave these popular ornaments.

This arrangement worked pretty well for a while, but this spring we reached an impasse. After first asking for more money, this select group finally said they did not want to teach anymore. They could make more money making and selling crafts at home and didn't want to spend the time traveling to teach others. They were also upset that tourist shops in the city were now buying bird ornaments from other artisans – not just from them. So while we understand that artisans may not wish to share their skills with others they view as their competitors, we still believe that all artisans will ultimately benefit if they can collectively make crafts with high quality and consistency to sell their work to wholesale buyers as well as occasional tourists.

We now plan to build a new cadre of artisans who are highly skilled and are enthusiastic about sharing their talents with other artisans. Our first step was organizing a special workshop in Amazonas in early June for artisans who want to improve their craft-making and becoming artisan teachers.

We left the city of Iquitos early morning by car and traveled on the one road out of the city to the town of Nauta. From there, we rode for a half-hour in a peque-peque (motor canoe) down the Marañón River to the community. We were warmly greeted as always by the artisan leader "Panchita" who invited us to stay in her home for the two-day workshop. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and pillar of her family. While she is also a very accomplished artisan, she remains humble and often expresses how she is still learning. This humility motivated her to participate in this workshop. Read more about Panchita in our report Second Chance to Become a Great Artisan. 

The other women artisans who joined the workshop were Deysa, María, and Miriam. The only man who came was "Pablito," a talented artisan who had been a teacher at an earlier CACE workshop. While the group was small, they were ready and excited to participate. They joked and caught up with each other over breakfast. We then gave them their challenge for the first day - everyone should make the best toucan they could by the end of the afternoon. This was similar to an exercise we did in our last workshop to promote cooperation between artisans (see our report: Building a Better Toucan).  This time, however, they would make replicas of this iconic rainforest bird with chambira instead of construction paper. The group enthusiastically accepted the challenge and began to transform threads of palm fiber into art.

The artisans often laughed while working, but it did not diminish their concentration. Their hands moved with mastery, and it seemed like their fingers danced with each other as the artisans observed, commented and corrected what they need to fix.  My CACE colleague Yully and I felt wonderful when we saw these veteran artisans from two communities teaching, learning and sharing with each other without any prompting. When Pablito explained how he makes the toucan beak, the others paid close attention. Panchita shared an idea for how to make the feet, and the group incorporated this detail into their birds. While looking carefully at the photo of the toucan, Miriam noted how the patch around the bird’s eye had a particular shape and blue color, and the group welcomed her observation to make their toucans more like the actual bird. While these artisans might have tried to show off their individual skills in a sort of live competition to earn a teacher job, they all treated it as a rich opportunity to improve their skills by sharing with each other.

After a break for lunch, they quickly resumed their work. Their birds took shape as the body, beak, tail, and wings came together. Deysa paused to stretch her legs, and Maria took a break to breastfeed her baby. They soon got back to their task, however, and wove and wove until one by one they finished their birds which seemed to have come alive. When the day ended, we are all happy the first objective was completed.

For the second day we proposed that the artisans make a blue and gold macaw, and they accepted the challenge with the same positive spirit. The process was similar to the previous one with more jokes, laughter and positive atmosphere. The extent of their cooperation, however, was even greater than the first day. They weaved at their own pace, with focus, respect for work, and in tune with the rhythm of life in the jungle. As time passed, pieces of wire and colored chambira scattered on the ground came together to shape one of the most beautiful birds of the Amazon.

In the afternoon, a small group of tourists unexpectedly arrived at the village. The community mobilized to receive them, and our group took the lead. The visitors wanted to learn about craft making so the artisans took advantage of this opportunity to show them how they were making birds and other kinds of handicrafts made with chambira including baskets and other kinds of woven ornaments. The guests laughed, took pictures and felt very welcome. It was a great example of the simplicity and hospitality of people who feel part of the Amazon rainforest.

As the afternoon wanted, each artisan put the final touches on their macaw.  We asked the group how they felt about these two days sharing and learning from each other. Panchita said, “I found it very useful because my technique got better.” Pablito commented, “It’s very valuable to weave while others can watch and make suggestions about my work.” María said, “This is the first time I’ve partipated in a workshop like this and want to do it again.” Deysa agreed and added, “I’ve learned a lot more about how to add special touches to my crafts.” Miriam concluded, “I’m very proud of my birds, but I have a lot more to learn.”

We finished the workshop with more laughing and joking. I very much appreciated that warmth and joy are abundant with our friends whose bodies and souls are enriched by their lives with the river and forest. We take our leave for the city with promises to return soon and optimism that we have the budding core of a group of artisans who are happy together, anxious to learn, and enthusiastic about sharing their skills and passion with other artisans.

Panchita with large woven egret
Panchita with large woven egret
Artisan making macaw at artisan teacher workshop
Artisan making macaw at artisan teacher workshop
Toucan ornament made with chambira palm fiber
Toucan ornament made with chambira palm fiber
Pablito teaching at workshop in Puca Urquillo
Pablito teaching at workshop in Puca Urquillo
Blue and gold macaws at teacher workshop
Blue and gold macaws at teacher workshop
Blue and gold macaw eating aguaje fruit
Blue and gold macaw eating aguaje fruit
Artisans at teacher workshop
Artisans at teacher workshop

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Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Location: State College, Pennsylvania - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @Amazon Ecology
Project Leader:
Campbell Plowden
Dr.
Lemoyne, Pennsylvania United States
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