Today’s article isn’t my usual travel blog post. Creating a Maluwana is an experience of ancient traditions. We can travel around the world and count countries, but in the end what I love the most about travel is to learn and understand other cultures. So I really hope you’ll enjoy the read and please let me know If you want to read more posts like this one in the comments.
Back in 2018 I had the chance to participate to a workshop to create my Maluwana, also known as roof circle. Coming from the traditions of the Indigenous Wayana, the Maluwana is a circular section of wood. It’s situated on the centre of Tukusipan which is a community hut, usually in the centre of Wayana’s villages. The Maluwana represents originally the mythical monsters which were killed during the genesis of Wayana people, the crested caterpillars. Nowadays more symbols have been added, always representing animals of the forest.
The legend narrates that a man who was hunting, got lost in the forest. After wandering for a while he heard music coming deeper in the forest. The notes led him to a village inhabited by spirits. Those spirits taught him the art of Maluwana and of building the Tukusipan, so that he could share his knowledge with his village and protect his people from the evil spirits.
Although we don’t have a specific period, historians affirm that the genesis of Maluwana goes back to when the Wayana started working commonly with metal tools such as chisels, etc.. That was around the 19th century. Also the first testimonies date back to that period. At first Maluwana were made with natural pigments, but in the mid 20th century the industrial painting became more popular. Today smaller versions of the Maluwana have become very popular as a decoration object.
The workshop : create your Maluwana
Ti’Wan Couchili is the first Teko woman sculptor working on wood. Her workshop will teach you the ancient techniques of crafting Malwana, and you’ll get to leave with your amazing creation! Let’s see step by step the creation of Maluwana.
What you’ll need : ruler, cutter (or a chisel may be best), compass, pencil and rubber.
Starting from the circular section
The wood section comes from Kapok trees. Once It’s cut the whole piece is painted with a black protective layer and its borders are covered with clay. From that step on the creation of the Maluwana is fully in your hands. First you start by creating the external patterns. Those decorations are often triangular shapes that recall a boa constrictors tail. Once you draw them with your pencil, Ti’Wan will guide you to choose the animals.
Choosing the animals for your Maluwana
When It comes to choose the animals you have only an “obligation”, to draw the two giant crested caterpillars that protect from the evil spirits. The choice of the other animals and the number you want to represent is very personal. I chose the river spirit, the jaguar, a turtle, the toucan and an anteater.
Once you chose your animals you can start to draw them. Ti’Wan created carton shaped figurines that will help you draw the borders. Then you create smaller shapes in your animals so that you can colour them in different sections. Last step before colouring, with your cutter or chisel, you’ll redraw all your lines. This way the colours that are liquid won’t pour onto other sections. This was probably the most tiring part of the workshop, my hands were in pain after carving all the lines!
Colouring your work of art
You’re now ready for your next and final step: the colouring. What I loved the most about the workshop was being able to paint my Maluwana with the ancient technique. Ti’Wan prepares many different jars containing all the colours she obtained by picking the pigments from the riverside or the forest. Then diluted with some water you’ll be able to spread it on the different sections of your Maluwana. If you’re a perfectionist this part may be veeery long, as it happened to me.
The workshop lasts two days. Launch is included and Ti’Wan is an excellent cook. Unfortunately the workshop isn’t opened for now. But If you’re willing to buy the original Maluwana you can visit the GADEPAM, French Guiana’s crafters shop in Cayenne.
Wanna know more about French Guiana? Find more Amazonian adventures here. And don’t forget to pin this in your decor board on Pinterest!