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article imagePhoto Essay: 'Vegetable ivory' carved by ethnic Wounaan of Panama Special

By Igor I. Solar     Sep 16, 2013 in Entertainment
Panama City - Tagua, also known as vegetable ivory, is the seed of a palm that grows in tropical rainforests. The Wounaan indigenous people of the region of Darién, Panama, use these nuts to create beautiful figures of animals of the forest.
Ivory-nut palms belonging to the genus Phytelephas grow along the banks of tropical Central and South American rivers from Panama and Colombia to Ecuador and Peru. The species known as Phytelephas macrocarpa is native to the Eastern region of the Central-American isthmus. The white, dried material inside the seeds of ivory-nut palms is very hard and dense. It can be carved, and polished like the ivory from elephant tusks.
A tagua nut from the palm tree known as Phytelephas macrocarpa and carving tools used by Wounaan peo...
A tagua nut from the palm tree known as Phytelephas macrocarpa and carving tools used by Wounaan people to create miniature jungle animals. The white, dried material inside the seed is very hard and dense. It can be carved, and polished like the ivory from elephant tusks.
Wounaan Indians living in the rainforests of the Darién Province of eastern Panama, near the border with Colombia, work the tagua seeds to create beautiful handicrafts. Although the main economic activities of the Wounaan are agriculture, fishing and hunting, they have also developed the carving of vegetable ivory creating beautiful miniature figures of animals common in their natural environment, such as colorful frogs, iguanas, and wild cats.
Green iguana carved in vegetable ivory or tagua seed from a palm tree that grows in tropical rainfor...
Green iguana carved in vegetable ivory or tagua seed from a palm tree that grows in tropical rainforests of Central and South America. This piece measures about 6 centimetres.
Red-headed frog carved on a tagua nut  also known as  vegetable ivory  by the Wounaan people of Dari...
Red-headed frog carved on a tagua nut, also known as "vegetable ivory" by the Wounaan people of Darién Province, Panamá. Size of this miniature frog is about 4.5 cm.
The carving of animal figures from vegetable ivory palm seeds is done mainly by men. The production of a figure with many details can take several weeks. Wounaan women, apart from their household activities also make fine handicrafts, especially pottery, baskets and mats.
Green and yellow iguanas made by Wounaan indians of Darién Province  Panamá. The piece carved from...
Green and yellow iguanas made by Wounaan indians of Darién Province, Panamá. The piece carved from a tagua nut measures about 5 centimetres.
Wild jungle cat carved in a tagua nut (vegetable ivory) by Wounaan indigenous people of Darién Prov...
Wild jungle cat carved in a tagua nut (vegetable ivory) by Wounaan indigenous people of Darién Province, Panamá. The miniature feline measures about 5 cm.
The Wounaan vegetable ivory crafts are usually available in public markets and around tourist attractions in major cities in Panama and, due to their delicate design, beauty and durability, are much admired and highly priced.
More about Tagua nut, vegetable ivory, Wounaan people, Darien Panama, Phytelephas
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