Amazon Women’s Series

Indigenous artist Valdelia Wapichana makes art with banana tree residues

March, 2023 – “I carry my father's leadership in my blood, as well as my mother's strength as a defender of our territory. Everything is alive, and comes from our ancestors. I try to pass this teaching on to my children,” says Valdelia Cadete Tenente, a Wapichana Indigenous artist.

Valdelia is a mother of five. She lives in the Araçá Indigenous Land, in the state of Roraima, where she works with banana tree residues, transforming material that would otherwise be discarded into art.

Based on an artisanal technique of recycling banana tree fibers removed from the trunks, Valdelia produces paper that can be used for drawings and paintings, and for making diaries, notebooks, and sustainable bags. She has trained more than 80 other women living in Roraima Indigenous communities to work with this material. Previously, she trained the "Bem-Viver” project participants, which promotes the well-being of Indigenous peoples in the state of Roraima 

The Bem-Viver project supports the implementation of the National Policy for Land and Environmental Management of Indigenous Lands (PNGATI), it is run by the Roraima Indigenous Council (CIR) together with Brazil's International Education Institute (IEB) and Nature and Culture International (NCI), with support from USAID/Brazil (more information here). 

How did you get the idea of turning banana fiber into paper?
Valdelia – After a banana bunch is harvested, its tree naturally dies, and that material becomes waste. I had access to some traditional knowledge passed down by my ancestors, and so I developed my own technique to make paper. In addition to promoting sustainable production and reducing waste, it helps to preserve the environment and strengthens our connection with nature.

How does this connection take place?
Valdelia – In addition to using paper to produce bags and diaries, we also make Wapichana paintings and graphics. With these drawings, we preserve the history and memory of our ancestors, passing on our traditional knowledge to younger generations.

What do these drawings represent to you?
Valdelia – Drawings tell stories. Recently, other artists and I made a mandala to represent our connection and our joint work. I'm currently pursuing a master's degree in Literature, where I research language and writing through Indigenous drawings. Many such drawings represent rituals and have symbolic meanings. 

Indigenous drawings represent rituals and have symbolic meanings

Do you also teach other women?
Valdelia - I have delivered several workshops to our communities. So we are learning together. It is a way for them to earn an income and share knowledge. When I was a child, we did many things collectively. My mother was a defender of our territory and a leader in our community. I carry that in my blood.

Series – Throughout 2023, the PCAB newsletter will share stories of women's struggles and success, as told by women themselves. They include Indigenous and riverine women who work and contribute to the development of their traditional communities, and who live in protected areas of the Amazon rainforest with all its ecological diversity. 

Learn more about the banana fiber crafts produced by Valdelia here.