A Little Light at the Tunnel’s End

Every decently-made object, from a house to a lamp post to a bridge, spoon or egg cup, is not just a piece of ‘stuff’ but a physical embodiment of human energy, testimony to the magical ability of our species to take raw materials and turn them into things of use, value and beauty.
Kevin McCloud

The Mayans believed that the Jicaro tree grew out of the liberation of the people. They worshiped it as sacred. No wonder, because with a variety of products of the Jicaro, it is possible to feed people and cattle and fuel industry and cars. The tree is striking and unusual. Year-round, it is adorned with lime green oval or round balls, that appear in the least expected places. It is not considered a fruit, but a swelling of the tree’s woody parts.

IMG_3638This hardy tree has been forced to adapt to the harshest environments, thus it thrives in our extended dry season because of its strong, deep roots. Jicaro trees have been described as the vegetable version of goats. They are both strong and resistant, need very little to grow robust, and thrive in places that would be nearly impossible for most species to survive. They are a “tree” and an “animal” for the poor. For with the number of industrial and commercial uses of the Jicaro tree, the impoverished farmers are beginning to see a little light at the end of the tunnel.


I  chased our neighbor’s egg-eating dog out of our property, when I noticed huge Jicaro balls in our neighbor’s field. “I think I see potential for a lamp shade,” I thought to myself. I found several dried Jicaro balls, carried them across the barbed wire fence, and got to work. First, I sanded the Jicaro, then cut it in half. Packed tightly inside was an ant colony… a tasty treat for our chickens.

IMG_1180Then, I used my Dremel to punch holes in star patterns.
IMG_1181I stained the lamp shade, then used gold, silver, and copper-colored paints to embellish the stars. I added a few whirling comets, too.
IMG_1197I strung some beads in the holes at the bottom of the shade. Finally, I sprayed a protective layer of transparent varnish over the shade. Voila!
IMG_1199Next, I’m making a hanging lamp with Pre-Columbian patterns. A perfect testimony to the magical ability of our species to take raw materials and turn them into things of beauty. There’s always more room for a little light at the tunnel’s end.

17 thoughts on “A Little Light at the Tunnel’s End

  1. Hi Debbie. Love the initiative, I have been playing and working with Jicaros these days. are you still making lamp shades? Also do you know of any other info on how the jicaro grew out off the liberation of the people by the mayans? Thank you

  2. Hi Debbie, I loved reading about your use of the jicaro to make lamps! And your information about the tree was very intriguing as well. I work in Granada, Nicaragua, for the Jicaro Project (thejicaroproject.blogspot.com), which supports Granada Young Life clubs through the production of jicaro housewares and jewelry. I was actually wondering if we could attach a link of your post to our site: https://retirenicaragua.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/a-little-light-at-the-tunnels-end/.

    We thought it would be interesting to our readers to see what others are doing with jicaros in Nicaragua, and to share your explanation of the jicaro tree. Thank you!

  3. Beautiful! That would go great with my Nica pottery collection 🙂
    I am going to add that art project to my to do list for the next time we get to visit you and Don in Nica. #1 is still pottery hunting in the lake.

    • Beauty, if you come to Ometepe Island to present a workshop for your pilot program, I’ll make you a super-duper lampshade. 🙂 It is a very strong gourd. I planted bottle neck gourds one year, but their shells are too weak and fragile to cut and drill. The Jicaros are perfect for carving, wood burning, and cutting. The insides are nutritious food for cattle. Locals don’t eat them, but I’ve watched workers slice open the green balls with their machetes and throw the parts to the cows.

  4. Oh I just love what you did, Debbie. At first I thought it was a gourd, but I guess it is gourd like. Your design is perfect and the hanging baubles add to it. I am behind in reading your previous blogs. I like to savor them and now that company is gone, I can do that. Keep that light shining. 🙂

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