Taguas in Panama
PANAMA. As another craft fair approaches at Atlapa at the end of May where Panamanian artisans congregate to sell their wares I look fo...
PANAMA. As another craft fair approaches at Atlapa at the end of May where Panamanian artisans congregate to sell their wares I look forward to increasing my ever expanding tagua collection, which presently stands at eighteen. My collection mostly depicts the vast range of frogs which reside in Panama and Costa Rica. Their vivid colors are amazing however most live examples are exceedingly rare, poisonous and furthermore due to the destruction of their habitats becoming endangered.
Depending on the artisan indicates how much one has to pay. You will find that most of those sold in the large commercial shops are carved by apprentices and are somewhat crude as they learn their skills over many years. Being a bit of a perfectionist I only buy the detailed specimens which may have taken the artisan a week to carve and paint just one!
So what exactly is a tagua? It is a seed which comes from an endangered palm tree that only grows in the tropical rainforests of the South American pacific coasts. This palm tree grows up to a height of 20-30 feet. The seed which is generated can vary in sizes from a cherry to a grapefruit but the average is walnut size.
The ivory nut has a close density and is very hard , in fact even harder than ivory. When ripe the nuts fall to the ground naturally. This takes about two years so no harvesting is required. However, certain animals also like these nuts so the Indian tribes who create these magnificent works of art have to be vigilant to ensure they are the first to collect them.
In Panama the sale of tagua products provide additional income for the forest people such as the Wounaan and the Embera tribes who predominantly reside in the Darien forest but, are unable to continue solely with their tribal life because of the construction of the Pan American Highway. The carvings normally depict animals from their native homeland.
The positive aspect of the tagua nut is that just one tree produces enough ivory to equal that of a female elephant trunk, meaning by choosing tagua, innocent endangered animals are spared. Because of this, today we see the tagua nut again becoming very popular as more and more people are fighting to protect endangered species used for ivory. The only downfall is that these nuts, grow only in the rainforests of Panama, Ecuador, and a few other places around the world.
The other benefit of using the tagua nut from Panama is that the rainforest is being protected as a sustainable income for the people. By growing these trees and keeping them harvested, forests are not degrading into poor quality land. That means the rainforest can remain a beautiful part of our world while the local tribesmen have income that helps when caring for their families.
Because the tagua nut is hard and resistant, while still being beautiful, it is considered a prized possession, often used in the making of precious jewelry. Other things the tagua nut is used for include chess set pieces, figurines, key chains, buttons, and much more.
Prior to plastic buttons being introduced in the United States, approximately 20 percent were actually made from the tagua nut. These buttons, along with the other type of tagua carvings are often called vegetable ivory because of their color and texture.
So by steadily building my tagua collection I am also supporting the native tribes of my new homeland.
Even though my wife may disagree I think it is an excellent justification to continue collecting these magnificent pieces of art.