The History of TraderBrock Part 3 - Tagua Mystic

Tagua…what’s that? I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard folks say that. As a word tagua doesn’t do much for anyone. But as vegetable ivory it can do a great deal for those who appreciate art. Tagua is a nut that grows on a palm near the equator around the world. I have bought tagua carvings from Ecuador to the South Pacific. Africa is a big producer and so is Panama. It was in Panama where I first became acquainted with tagua.

I had been involved with Panamanian art for several years when tagua entered my life. I knew about it but was wary. I really didn’t think there would be much of a market for the carvings. Frankly, most of them were simple and a little crude. I bought a few but really didn’t get excited about their marketability. Then one day I went to the Balboa post office to meet some basket artists. We sat on the steps and haggled a bit. I heard the stories about the trip in from the Darien and in the end I bought all their baskets. But during the process I noticed an older fellow watching us. After the women left he approached me and shyly asked if I bought tagua carvings. Well, what do you say? Curiosity always gets the best of me so I said let’s take a look. This fellow had twelve of the most beautiful carvings I have ever seen. They were pure white carvings that had been highly polished and then dipped in a purple natural dye. Probably a dye concoction his wife or daughter had cooked up for basket fiber. The dye had taken so well the carvings looked like amethyst, a transparent violet color. Tagua is like wood too, with rings in the grain. These rings were clearly apparent adding to the beauty of the carvings. I was smitten.

 Since then I have been an active trader of tagua. I buy and sell hundreds of pieces every year and probably have an inventory of several thousand carvings. We supply others with carvings at wholesale prices so they can play the game too. We also give access to to the local tagua artists in Panama so they can sell directly around the world. Today we trade tools, inks and polish to the carvers as well. I smile when I think back to that day on the steps of the Balboa post office fifteen years ago.

 Leonard “Traderbrock” Brockman  


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