Right down the road from us is an enterprise that helps many local people, provides a legal alternative to animal ivory, and lets visitors select from a wide variety of high quality products. The company is ProPueblo, and a major portion of their offerings include the Taqua Nut.
The tagua nut or vegetable ivory nut comes from a palm like tree called Phytelephas Macrocarpa Palmae or Phytelephas Equatorialis. The tree grows to a height of 20 to 40 feet tall in several tropical rain-forest regions in South America including Southern Panama, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. The tagua nut averages the size of a small hen's egg. Here they are in their raw form arriving at the San Antonio compound...
These happy young men smiled for the photo, as they sorted nuts by size and shape...
Chemically the tagua nut is pure cellulose and before the nut matures has a milky sweet liquid in the center with a jelly like consistency. In fact, the tagua nuts are sold at the market to eat. The tagua nuts grow in large pods called a cabeza. The cazeba takes a number of years to grow and ripen. When the cabeza ripens, it falls to the ground.
The tagua nuts are gathered and dried for a number of weeks after which they become very hard.
The color of the tagua nut is an ivory amber color and looks and has the texture of ivory, hence the name vegetable ivory. In fact, the cellular structure of the tagua nut is similar to ivory but is more dense and resilient. The tagua nut is also softer than ivory and has a void in the center.
Crafters and carvers have known about the vegetable ivory tagua nut for years, and they are so much like ivory that unscrupulous sources pass off the carvings as animal ivory. Some leave a small part of the shell on the tagua nut carving in order to easily identify it as vegetable ivory.
Tagua nuts have been used by carvers in the making of jewelry, dice, chess pieces and dominoes, cane handles, pipes, mah-jongg tiles and scrimshaw.
The tagua nut also easily absorbs dyes so can be colored as well.
From the late 1800's until the early 1900's around 20% of all buttons made in the U.S. were made from the tagua nut. Tagua nuts and products made up 5 million dollars of Ecuador's exports. With the development of synthetic materials like plastic the tagua nut industry was doomed.
Recently the tagua nut has been making a comeback because of the near extinction of animal ivory and the present ban on animal ivory imports. Unlike animal ivory, which required killing an animal and created an illegal and dangerous trade and cruelly decimated large populations of animals, the vegetable ivory tagua nut is a natural, renewable and sustainable resource, harvested from the floor of the rainforest. It also provides livelihood for thousands living in these regions.
Many carvers are located in Southwest Ecuador near the Pacific coast. Most of the carvers are originally from the Northwest coast.
ProPueblo was founded in 1992, by the Swiss HOLCIM group, as a private non-profit organization working with the Ecuadorian coastal communities on the western slopes of the Chongon Colonche mountain range.
Pro Pueblo focuses on raising living standards, improving basic infrastructure, job training, employment and international marketing of high quality Ecuadorian artisan products. Promoting new sources of income for poor families in these small communities reduces pressure on the environment, diminishes migration to cities and foreign countries, and helps preserve the cultural and ecological heritage of the region.
After having established the beekeeping network and an organic agriculture project, ProPueblo introduced the handicrafts program. The first products were recycled paper and rudimentary tagua nut carvings. Tagua, also known as vegetable ivory, is harvested from the palm species Phytelephas macrocarpa or P. aequatorialis. Figurines, jewelry and other decorative items are carved out of the tagua nut.
Ongoing training and motivation programs at ProPueblo’s San Antonio workshop and retail facility attract new artisans and different types of craft activities . ProPueblo works exclusively with skilled and responsible artisans that deliver high quality products in a timely manner.
The sales store is located two towns south of Montanita, about one mile south of Cadeate. Look for the ProPueblo signs turn right, and go about 200 meters. Turn left into the compound. You are at the right place! The store is hidden in a series of hedges which also contain a nice garden of local plants. Just ask anyone if the store is open.
Here are Rox and Coquita taking a break outside, as our guests stock up on goodies for friends back home.
So folks, next time you are driving south from Montanita, turn in, buy some stuff, save a majestic animal, help the indigenous people of Ecuador, and take care of family and friends who asked you to "bring something back for them"--not bad for a day's work!!!