Naya Nayon, an Ecuador-based NGO, counters poverty and deforestation by creating new jobs that depend on conservation and responsible forest management. To accomplish this goal, the company works with 23 local artisans to create figurines, jewelry and ornaments from tagua nuts. These nuts grow year-round in Ecuador and can be harvested without detriment to the rainforest. Naya Nayon gives its artisans all the training, tools and materials they need to work from home, and then manages work distribution from the organizations main office to make sure orders are fairly distributed.
Naya Nayon's artisans work in home-based workshops throughout the country. Within each workshop, which is usually attached to an artisan's home, one artisan serves as the leader/manager and hires family members and friends to help produce products. New artisans begin by sanding and polishing figurines made by the more experienced artisans, and then gradually progress into the more complicated aspects of the craft, such as detailing, burning/coloring, and finally shaping the crude form of the nut. As demand and production increases, more artisans are invited to join the workshop. When the workshop grows to about 8 people, an experienced worker leaves to form a new workshop and train new artisans, and the cycle of learning continues.
Despite their humble backgrounds, many of Naya Nayon's artisans are highly educated with university degrees in engineering, law, business, and medicine. Unfortunately, Ecuador's shaky economy means jobs are scarce, even for highly-qualified professionals. Thankfully, Tagua nut carving has emerged as a sustainable alternative and is often the primary source of income for an artisan's family.
Sustainable harvested tagua nuts are sliced into discs and dyed rich colors and strung together to create this classic bracelet. Tagua is the seed of an endangered species of palm trees that grow in the tropical rain forests of South America. When ripe tagua seeds fall to the ground and are sun-dried for 4-8 weeks, they become extremely hard and are ready to be carved and dyed.
Tagua is referred to as "botanical ivory" due to its resemblance to elephant ivory and ability to be carved in the same manner. Crafting tagua into jewelry not only provides income to artisans at Naya Nayon in Ecuador, it also provides incentives to protect and preserve the rain forests.
Tagua, also known as vegetable ivory, is a seed from an endangered palm tree that is found in tropical rainforests located along the Pacific coast of South America. Apart from being a renewable and natural resource, tagua shares many similar traits as elephant ivory, hence its name vegetable ivory. Colombia is second only to Ecuador in the production and exporting of tagua nuts.
These seeds grow in pods called cabezas, when ripe, these cabezas fall to the ground. The pure cellulose, milky substance inside is edible in liquid or semi-liquid (jello-like) form by both people and animals. It is high in protein and sold in fruit-stands along roadsides.The nuts are collected and sundried for 4-8 weeks before being processed. The circular grain of the tagua seeds makes it denser and more resilient than animal ivory, and an ideal medium for creating beautiful pieces of jewelry and other unique items.
The steps involved in processing a tagua nut include, cutting, polishing, carving and dyeing. The sundried nuts are cut / sliced into shapes as required for the jewelry. Any cracks or voids in the nut are filled with white glue. Then the tagua pieces are sanded and polished with a high-grit buffing compound. Holes are drilled into the surface to enable stringing for necklaces and bracelets.
Tagua can be dyed in various ways. The natural shades of rich browns and yellow are achieved by boiling/burning the nut in hot oil. The length of boiling time determines the depth of the hue. Fermenting unpeeled tagua in the rain is another alternative to achieving brown hues in nut. Colored Tagua is achieved by boiling the nut in water that contains either plant-based or commercial dyes.
Dependence on the tagua harvest encourages local artisans to protect and conserve the rain forest. In some indigenous cultures each member of a clan would be given a tagua nut to wear around their neck, believing that the wearer of the nut would be protected by the love of his family and friends.