Traditional knowledge and techniques associated with Pasto Varnish mopa-mopa of Putumayo and Nariño


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Inscribed in 2020 (15.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

© Pablo Trejo/Ministry of Culture of Columbia, 2019

The traditional knowledge and techniques associated with Pasto Varnish mopa-mopa of Putumayo and Nariño encompass three traditional trades: harvesting, woodwork and decorative varnishing. The practice involves harvesting the buds of the mopa-mopa tree in the jungles of Putumayo, the wood processing carried out by carpenters, lathe operators and carvers in the Department of Nariño, and decorating objects with varnish made from the resin obtained from the mopa-mopa. Harvesting the mopa-mopa requires knowledge of the forest trails, climbing trees, the timing and exact size of the buds to be harvested, delicately harvesting without damaging the plants, finding water and preserving food, and so on. Practitioners and bearers transmit the related knowledge through orality, observation and experimentation, mainly within the family circle. The techniques associated with mopa-mopa harvesting, wood processing and varnish decoration are a source of identity for the communities concerned and Pasto Varnish has allowed practitioners to be self-employed, linked by guilds and family-owned trade structures. Currently, however, there are only ten harvesters, nine wood masters and thirty-six varnish masters. The practice is threatened by various factors, notably development and globalization processes creating more profitable alternatives for youngsters, the scarcity of mopa-mopa and woods due to deforestation and climate change, the difficulty of accessing the harvesting sites, and the conditions of the home workshops in which practitioners work.