This Alligator tagua figurine has been hand carved in Ecuador from tagua nuts, a renewable rain forest seed known as vegetable ivory for its likeness to real animal ivory, but with animal and habitat-friendly properties. All colors are achieved using natural techniques, such as boiling, fermentation, burning and inlay, that enhance but don't completely cover the nut's organic beauty. Similar to animal ivory, this figurine will gently antique or darken over time.
We encourage you to help save rain forests by considering a tagua nut purchase from One World Projects. Please read our extended description below for more information on how tagua nut carvings are made, and how they have helped save thousands of acres of rain forest and wildlife habitat.
Handmade in Ecuador and fair trade imported.
Ecuador, the smallest of South America's countries, owes its unique biodiversity to its geographical setting and climate; a hybrid area of Pacific Coast beaches, sweltering rainforests, the UNESCO-protected Galapagos Islands and the snow-capped volcanoes of the Andean highlands. Sadly pollution, deforestation and global warming have threatened one of the World's most diverse ecosystems.
Fortunately, the collection and harvesting of tagua nut, a rainforest nut known as vegetable ivory for its likeness to animal ivory, has emerged as a viable alternative for villagers who once depended on logging, wildlife trafficking and other unsustainable activities to earn a living. Tagua's smooth, hard texture offers artisans an ideal medium for carving jewelry, boxes and other figurines, and helps keep animal ivory on real animals where it belongs. Harvesting tagua also encourages locals to depend on the rainforest for their livelihoods, which motivates them to better protect and conserve this part of the Amazon, thereby saving thousands of acres of trees, plants and wildlife habitat. With the near extinction of animal ivory, tagua has become a highly valued commodity by artisans and consumers alike.
Tagua nuts are actually seeds that grow in pods called cabezas from the tagua nut palm tree. Villagers are paid to collect the cabezas, which ripen and fall naturally onto the rainforest floor, and then harvest the seeds for artisans who will transform them into beautiful beads, jewelry, figurines and other works of art.
There are five steps involved in creating a tagua nut figurine: shaping, detailing, sanding, polishing and drying. Shaping is achieved using a circular sand paper with a very coarse grit. The piece is detailed with a Dremel tool and various bits and sanded with a fine sand paper. Next, the figurine is polished with a buffing cloth and a light polishing compound, and finally placed beneath paper or a towel to dry under a heat lamp for 24 hours. This is similar to incubating a chicken egg - not too hot, just nice and warm - and ensures the carvings won't crack later.
Tagua is colored in many ways:
1. Boiling. Artisans achieve rich yellows and browns by boiling; this process essentially burns the tagua. The length of boiling time determines the color.
2. Inlay. Artisans inlay their carvings with the brown skin of the tagua nut, which is first ground into a fine powder, then mixed with super glue and reapplied to the carving's recesses.
3. Fermentation. Fermented tagua is yellow to chocolate in color and produced when unpeeled tagua is left in the rain to ferment. This rots the shell and discolors the tagua nut inside.
4. Burning. Sometimes burning, particularly in jewelry, is accomplished with a wood burning tool. This turns the tagua black and allows the artisan to etch designs into the tagua.
5. Dying. Many of our tagua nut beads are dyed. The tagua is placed in boiling water with the dye and the nut soaks in the color. Many of these colors are achieved through the use of natural plant-based dyes.
Some artisans also paint or stain their pieces, but we feel these techniques detract from the overall piece by covering up the tagua's natural beauty. As such, all of our colors are achieved using one of the methods mentioned above. It's also important to note that, like animal ivory, most tagua will darken or antique over time, although the rate of discoloration seems related to the nut's moisture content. For example, tagua carvings that haven't been through the final drying phase yellow more rapidly than completely dried pieces, while exposure to sunlight speeds up discoloration.