April 11, 2010

Indigenous store in Brazil

Store Review:  GaleriAmazônica in Manaus, Brazil

By Seth KugelIt’s one of those only-in-the-Amazon tourist dilemmas: you want to bring home a 12-foot blowgun, but don’t know how to tell the genuine article from tourist schlock. And how do you know if a fair share of your money will get to the indigenous group that made it? Or if the tortoise shells used for adornment were responsibly obtained?

GaleriAmazônica, which opened in 2008 in Manaus, tries to relieve travelers and collectors of such worries. The organizations that teamed up to run the store—a respected Brazilian nonprofit organization called the Instituto Socioambiental and a community association of the Waimiri-Atroari indigenous group—promise the real thing, responsibly produced by properly remunerated artisans.

The whitewashed shop, across the plaza from the splendid Teatro Amazonas, looks more like a gallery or museum gift shop than a typical souvenir shop. Its items are displayed sparely and elegantly and labeled with information about which indigenous group or Amazonian community produced them from what materials, and even which gender did the work.

Expect surprises. Men weave the no-two-are-the-same patterned baskets used by the women of the Waimiri-Atroari tribe. (They start at around 50 reais, or $28 at 1.77 reais to the dollar.) Multicolored hammocks come from the Tikuna tribe and start at 142.90 reais; attractive colorful mats from the Baré people woven from stalks of arumã are around 165 reais; and an extravagant shell necklace from a Xingu tribe goes for 702.90.

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