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Chambira: Connections to Our Head, Hearts, and Hands

Authored by Tulio Davila and Campbell Plowden, Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Casilda - Bora native artisan with chambira hotpad

We organized two workshops last month with artisans and others from the native village villages of Brillo Nuevo, Puca Urquillo Bora and Puca Urquillo Huitoto in the Ampiyacu River area to use art and respectful communication as ways to address problems and solutions related to their lives in the forest.

“This is a workshop somewhat different from what we are used to doing,” explained my colleague Yully before the 30 attendees of the ART AND CONSERVATION OF THE FOREST WORKSHOP in Brillo Nuevo. Yully continued: "In the next two days we will explore different issues that surround indigenous identity, as well as some problems that may arise in the community, forest and when working with crafts." The attendees listen attentively wondering what will come.

We began the workshop by asking the artisans to mention some problems they had either in the community or working with crafts. Gisela adjusted her mask to speak. She is the president of her artisan group and immediately felt led to share that one big problem she has faced is the theft of chambira by other members of her community. She posed the question out loud why someone might steal chambira from their neighbor’s field. One person called out, "They have no chambira of their own to harvest.” Someone else said, "They don't want to plant new trees in their fields," We wrote down all responses on large pieces of paper taped to the walls without comment. Moises raised another problem related to chambira - the sale of raw fiber by the kilo to occasional buyers or even trading chambira in bulk for used clothes. This issue is new to us. Apparently some outsiders come to the village to sell used clothes or trade them for meat or more recently for chambira. We recorded all comments on the papers without discussing solutions. It was time to create art.

We gave everyone some paper, cardboard, pencils, colors and modeling clay with the open invitation for them to use these materials to portray their ideal forest field. The participants, gathered in small groups, let their imaginations fly and began to draw (and shape) their vision of this idea considering the problems mentioned. Incredible scenes begin to appear with many chambira trees growing around artisans harvesting all kinds of plants in the forest or next to the river. When their creations were done, the participants seem satisfied and were eager to explain what they did.

Before unleashing this sharing, though, we moved on to the next create task.

We invited the artisans to make their own mandalas. "Mandala? What is that?" Some people who attended our Alternatives to Violence Project workshops were familiar with this concept of concentric circles of phrases used to present the core concepts of respect for self and others. We now explained we wished them to create a mandala to display the essence of what their indigenous and communal identity meant to them. They could show a personal conflict if they wished such as a time they had felt like a victim of racism or other form of discrimination. We give them paper and left them to draw or use their chambira to weave anything they wanted. Once again they embraced the chance to apply their imagination and make more art.

When they finished, each participant had a chance to present their initial creations. Each person was greeted with enthusiastic applause. The second round focused on the mandalas. They were incredible in their beauty, diversity and depth of feeling. They included bags, trivets, and dream catchers. Each artisan in turn explained what their indigenous identity meant to them. Rode said, “The forest is extremely important to me as an indigenous woman.” Pointing to her design on the wall, she said, “My Bora identity is important to me. These symbols mean life and forest. Without the forest we could not work, and we could not eat.

Yully and I continued to marvel at each successive presentation.

Chambira mandala with yellow center at Brillo Nuevo

The final activity of the workshop was the World Café when we returned to the problems identified in the morning. This time, though, we asked people to discuss them again with the goal of generating ideas for how to solve these problems in the community. Participants gathered around an imaginary table (as if they were in a café) to brainstorm practical solutions and write them down on big sheets with paper with colored markers. Yully and I sat down and listened. Dalila who is an artisan and dedicated mother said, "We must identify who is stealing chambira, why they do it and try to help them get their own supply. If they persist in committing this offence, we need to tell the president of the community so they can apply the penalties we have in the community for people who don’t respect our agreements.”

We had been aware of many problems surrounding chambira for some years. It was really good to feel that this workshop finally gave us and our partners the opportunity to discuss these sensitive issues in a way that could bring people together to find solutions instead of just complaining about and fomenting bad feelings. Amazon Ecology is committed to continue supporting our partners to tap their creativity, their culture and their deep connection to the nature around them to create sustainable livelihoods, conserve the forest and build healthy resilient communities.

Community reviewing mandalas in Brillo Nuevo


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