Nobody knows exactly how the tradition of making toys from Miriti palm branches began, but there isn’t a person from the state of Pará that hasn’t played with or at least heard of these feather-light toys. (For those of you that don’t know, Miriti is a palm tree common in flooded areas of the Amazon. The wood for the toys comes from branches that extend from the top of the trunk to the leaves.)
Traditionally, Miriti toys are sold at the Cirio de Nazare, the largest religious gathering in the Americas that takes place on the second Sunday of October every year in Belém, Pará. The toys sold at this event are made by approximately 70 artisans from the small town of Abaetetuba, 30 miles from Belém. Each artisan turns a space in his or her house into a workshop where he or she organizes tables, paints, sand paper, sharp carving knives, and steel threads taken from bike tires that are used to cut the miriti lengthwise. Then they call on their friends and family members to sit for hours maintaining the tradition of their region.
Raw Miriti wood is cut in May and dried in the sun for a month. Then toy production for the Cirio de Nazare starts in June. The last days before the Cirio are reserved for wrapping and packing each of the 15,000 toys into large trucks where they will be transported to Sé Square in Belém. It’s in this square that the artisans and their families set up toy stands, taking turns working and sleeping for four straight days. On the fifth day, the day when more than 2 million people are in the streets of Belém, the artisans take down their stands and put whatever toys remain to be sold on “Girândolas”—portable masts. Then they enter the droves of people with their Girândolas hoping to sell the rest of their goods on this last, hectic day of the event. The team of Project BIRA not only accompanied the selling of the toys at the Cirio, but also their construction in Abaetetuba. We recorded more than 20 hours of video and took more than 400 photos on this theme alone...trying to capture an array of scenes and interviews with artisans, children, and enthusiasts of the toys.