The nut from the tag plant is known as 'vegetable ivory' because of its creamy white look, virtually indistinguishable to the ivory taken from elephant tusks. The tagua 'ivory nut' is used in jewellery, beads, buttons and lots of handicrafts created throughout Ecuador, employing approximately 50,000 people. Resembling the best ivory in texture and color, it's only marginally softer.
At the Otavalo market and indeed throughout Ecuador, you can get all sorts of decorative items made with this substance: little decorative critters, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, rings, buttons, back scratchers, pendants, Christmas decorations and beads. Jewelry made from tagua is a favorite with women throughout the world. And contemporary designers are incorporating tagua beads to the production of pure jewelry
and stylish clothing.
In Ecuador the Tagua palm grows in Carchi, Esmeraldas, Manabi, Guayas and El Oro provinces. Following that, the plant supplies three nut harvests annually. The pods drop to the ground when they're ripe and are dried and gathered from four to eight months, and the seeds are removed.
The tagua nuts, or seeds, vary in size from that of a little olive to as big as an orange, but the average size is about that of a walnut, either two inches (or 5 cm) long. The size of this nut limits the size of the articles that can be crafted from them. Hence many artisans combine several tagua nuts to make a larger slice. To obtain a marbled look, the skin is partly peeled and subsequently polished. For the creamy white ivory shade, the skins are removed entirely before polishing. Other colors are accessed by using natural dyes extracted from flowers, fruits, leaves, roots, and seeds. Using generators, tagua nuts are chopped and cut into various shapes, and then have holes drilled into them depending on the end goal and design.
The tagua nut has a long history. In the late nineteenth century until the end of World War II, a tagua nut industry flourished on three continents. Called corozzo or corozo in Europe, the tagua nut was used to create fine buttons to the clothing industry, some even being used on United States Army uniforms. Many of the best 'ivory' items of the Victorian age, such as jewellery, dice, dominoes, chess pieces and cane covers were created from carved tagua. Umbrella handles, piano keys, pipes, and items with the fine art of scrimshaw were also produced in this time period. The invention of synthetic plastics stopped the widespread prevalence of tags. High quality items were more frequently made from animal ivory, taken from elephants, walruses and whales. Now vegetable dye is staging a comeback since most ivory bearing animals have been hunted to near extinction and are currently on the endangered species list.
Nowadays many men and women are enlightened about the need to defend the environment and ensure the survival of endangered species. Much like the ivory from elephants, tagua is completely natural. But no animals are destroyed in harvesting this renewable source. Tagua products offer income for those residing within the Amazon rain forest and are harvested without any harm to the tree. In reality, one tagua palm tree generates the exact same quantity of 'ivory' per year since that obtained form the devastation of a female elephant. And also the tagua palm tree will still continue to produce 'vegetable ivory' for year after year since the nuts that fall into the ground are harvested and processed.
Tagua bracelets, necklaces and back scratchers are offered for sale at our online store. We live and operate in Otavalo, Ecuador, home to the biggest craft market in South America and send Ecuador Crafts direct worldwide.
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