Even before the arrival of Europeans on the American continent, the Kishwa populations (one of the most important ethnic groups in South America, of which the women of the cooperative with whom we work are part), already exploited the tagua. by drinking it (when the seed is not yet ripe, it is in the form of a sweet dairy product), or by sculpting it to make small statuettes or jewellery.
In the middle of the 19th century, it is possible to find the first traces of export of the seed to Germany. The Germans are indeed the first to exploit the interesting properties of the seed: its lightness and ease to work. It is then used to make buttons (which until now were made of animal ivory, mother-of-pearl or wood) or small decorative items, even white piano keys.
First jealously exploited by German manufacturers, who also hide its origin to limit competition, the tagua trade will skyrocket internationally at the beginning of the 20th century, mainly following the creation of the Panama Canal in 1914, facilitating exports from South America.
Unfortunately, this boom will be short-lived: World War II will have a negative impact on the export of the seed, its main importers being European (mainly Germany and Italy). But it was really the boom in plastic after the war (cheaper and more malleable) that quickly made this material obsolete and caused the collapse of its trade.
Once intensely exploited, the palm tree now grows wild. Only a few farming families living on the edge of the Amazon rainforest are still involved today in harvesting the seed for almost exclusively local productions (animal sculptures for tourist markets).