Armonía’s educational program empowers the Moxeño native communities to protect the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaws by promoting the use of alternative feathers for the traditional Moxeño headdresses used in the machetero ritual dances. Since 2010, Armonía and Moxeño communities have saved over 6000 Macaw individuals of four macaw species and engaged thousands of local youth in the conservation of other Bolivian species while promoting their indigenous culture.
As the Blue-throated Macaw population was pushed to the verge of extinction by the illegal pet trade and massive habitat loss, the once hunter-gatherer Moxeño people joined the conservation effort for the protection of this Critically Endangered species. Furthermore, alternative feathers are made of organic materials with minimal ecological impact.
Traditionally, headdresses used for ritual dances were decorated with the two central tail feathers of four species of macaws including the endemic Blue-throated Macaw.
Each headdress is made of an average of 30 feathers, that means that one headdress of artificial feathers saves at least 15 macaws.
– explained Gustavo Sánchez Avila – Armonía’s conservation program coordinator for the Blue-throated Macaw in Trinidad.
In 2010 with the support of Loro Parque Fundación and Parrots International, Armonía launched its educational campaign to promote the use of alternative feathers amongst the macheteros. Through further support by National Geographic’s Conservation Trust, Loro Parque Fundación and Parrots International workshops were held at local schools, having a significant impact on the involvement of local youth in conservation.
Nothing shows that positive impact better, than sheer numbers. At the major cultural event of Bolivia’s Beni department – the Chope Piesta – where macheteros perform traditional dances, headdresses with alternative feather today outnumber natural ones nearly five to one.
Well before Spanish colonization, the Llanos of Moxos – or Moxos Plains – were inhabited by the native Moxeño tribes, who considered themselves the guardians of nature and its creatures. Today called macheteros, the Moxeño dancers display impressive headdresses as they solemnly bow and swing to the rhythm of the pífano flute, paichichi rattles and bongos.
The Moxeño danced to praise the jaguar, birds and the rising sun, which painted the savannahs in a thousand colours and inspired their colourful headdresses. Since the arrival of the Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century, the indigenous heritage of the Moxeños has managed to coexist with Christian faith, integrating the new symbolism brought to them by the newcomers.
Our culture lives on, it was enriched by the new faith and new traditions, but the Moxeño essence of the machetero´s dance never changed throughout the centuries.
-said Gumercindo Molina Temo – chief of the Indigenous Council of Santísima Trinidad and key collaborator of Armonía for the artificial feather program.
Headdresses with alternative feathers are also sold as souvenirs for to tourists, and the macheteros are regularly invited to perform at public and private events. Armonía´s alternative feather program not only protects the Critically Endangered and endemic Blue-throated Macaw, but also empowers local communities, craftsmen and women to preserve their native culture and provides them with much needed additional income.
We obtained excellent results in the schools that we involved, but the Moxos Plains are huge, and our activities require more resources in order to reach out to distant communities.
– said Jesús Chavez Barrios, Armonía’s education expert for the alternative feather program.
Armonía has been able to conduct alternative feather training workshops in the largest Moxeño towns, but the killing of macaws for headdresses continues in more rural areas.
Please consider supporting Armonía to organize additional training workshops in 2017 to save the lives of many more macaws.
We thank our international partners and individual donors for the achievements of the Alternative feathers for headdresses/ Blue-throated Macaw program – we cannot save the species or empower our people without your generous support. Thank you.
Check out our photo gallery on Alternative Feathers at Flickr
Check out our photo gallery on Blue-throated Macaw program at Flickr
Read about the Blue-throated Macaw program
Critically Endangered macaw chicks fly the nest boxes
Read about the Barba Azul Nature Reserve
Read about the Blue-throated Macaw program
Find out how to visit the Barba Azul Nature Reserve