Colombian artist Susana Mejía is fascinated by colour. Through her long-term research project Color Amazonia, she aims to preserve local knowledge about natural pigments from the Amazon. She collaborated with anthropologists, botanists, filmmakers and artists to document the plants used by indigenous Huitoto and Tikuna communities to investigate 11 different dye plants and their recipes from the Amazon region. Together, they aim to prevent traditional knowledge about natural fibres dyeing from disappearing.
Since its inception, Color Amazonia has committed to the preservation of the environment and vindication of indigenous knowledge, while delving into the ancient relationship between humans and nature through ethnobotanical and transdisciplinary research. It fosters a collective reflection on the urgency of preserving the World's most important if not last ecological reserve, both, biologically and culturally speaking. So, it stands for a shift of paradigm, at all levels, to embrace the idea of sustainability.
Scientific name: Fridericia chica
Common names: Chivaviri, crajirú, cudio, curi, hojita de teñir, om.
Part of the plant used for pigment: Leaf
Liana that can reach up to fifteen meters in length. The stem is green, as are the leaves, which are oval and elongated. It has tubular flowers, purple to reddish in colour, which are grouped in clusters at the end of the plant. The elongated and flat fruits resemble a bean pod.
Geographic Distribution and Natural History
It is native to the Amazon basin. It grows mainly in tropical rainforests in Central and South America. Its distribution ranges from Mexico and the Antilles to northern Argentina, encompassing Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil. After collecting it in the Orinoco basin, in Venezuela, it was described for the first time in 1808 as Bignonia chica by the French botanist Aimé Bonpland, famous for the expedition to America that he undertook together with the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1868 it was reclassified as Arrabidaea chica, and in 2014, after an exhaustive reclassification of the Bignoniaceae family, was renamed Fridericia chica. In the Orinoco it is known as chica and in the Amazon region they call it pariri; it is also known as crajirú or carajuru in Brazil, cudi or cudio in Colombia, and puca punga in Peru.
Since pre-Hispanic times it has been widely cultivated in the tropics by various Amerindian cultures and used both to dye vegetable fibres and as body paint for ritual use. Some indigenous groups in the Brazilian Amazon also use it to protect the skin from the sun and as an insect repellent. Since it contains bioactive compounds such as anthocyanins, flavonoids, alkaloids, tannins, and phenolic acid, its leaves have been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years. Today it is considered by the Brazilian health authorities to be one of the most important medicinal plants from the Amazon region. It has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant, disinfectant, healing, antifungal and antibacterial properties. Due to its high iron content, it is also an effective aid against anemia. It is further used to treat bleeding, urinary tract infections, inflammation of the uterus and ovaries, skin damage such as wounds and herpes, biliary colic, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, osteoarthritis, syphilis, diabetes, leukemia and hepatitis. In the Amazon, the Tikuna and Makuna people prepare an infusion of the leaves to perform eye washes and treat conjunctivitis, especially in children. Studies are currently underway to use it as a therapeutic agent against breast cancer. Although only animal testing has been carried out so far, its potential to reduce tumours is very promising. Furthermore, the combination of the plant extract and chemotherapy appears to positively influence treatment, reducing the effective dose of chemotherapy required and reducing some of its adverse effects. Fridericia chica is also known as an aphrodisiac. Finally, thanks to its colourful and showy flowers, it is also used as an ornamental plant.
Cudi produces a brownish-red colour when its leaves are macerated. It is a very versatile plant, which produces a high-yielding ink that adheres well on all materials used as surfaces: paper, fique (natural fibre) and cotton. The process requires exposure to heat in order for the colour to be properly fixed on the supports.