Tagua (”tah-gwa”) nut, also called ‘ivory nut’, ‘vegetable ivory’ or ‘Corozo’ is the dried seedpod of the Tagua Palm tree (Phytelephas aequatorialis), which grows in tropical cloud forests of Ecuador. For nature lovers, this handcrafts combine natural vegetable ivory and fine craftsmanship to create a realistic figurine. The polished base demonstrates the original form, color and texture of the nut.
During Victorian times, tagua was used to manufacture decorated thimbles, dice and jewelry. Before plastic buttons became popular, tagua was the main material used in the button industry. The tagua trade to Europe was totally controlled from the 1850’s to the late 1800’s by “The German House of Tagua. Sailboats would call on the townships along the coast where the tagua was brought out to the ships by large wooden canoes. The tagua was brought to port of Manta from which the export took place. During many years the origin of the tagua was a well-kept secret and European consumers were made to believe that it came from Africa. Ecuador is the world's only exporter of tagua disks used to produce buttons, mainly in Italy. Manta remains the export center.
The carving of figurines or other objects is complex and time consuming and high quality carvings require from the artisan many years of experience and practice.
Groups of artisans, mostly family members, distribute the different phases of the work amongst the members in accordance with the skill level or specialization that the figurine requires. This very intensive labor activity provides many people, from harvest to final product, with jobs thus contributing to the preservation of nature and reduction of the use of animal ivory. Check Our Gallery for larger photographs.