IIn a remote mountainside above the ruins of a pre-classic Mayan civilization, a place with limited electricity and running water, a bamboo business flourishes with the help of the Internet.
Since the Facebook page Mabú, furniture and crafts was created five years ago, it has gained almost 1,000 likes and followers from Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the United States.
For more than 14 years, in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle, Vitelio Humberto De León Noriega and his family have produced beds, candle holders, sofas, tables, chairs, lamps, and many other bamboo items, which are showcased on their Facebook page.
Vitelio and his oldest son, Abdiel Humberto De León Canastuj, decided to use Facebook not only because of its popularity, but because it's a free way to advertise, sell and find new customers.
“To be honest, this medium is one of the most affordable,” Abdiel said. “Maybe what's expensive is the photo editing ... in regards to the (Internet) signal, we don’t have that many issues and it’s easy to access.”
Thanks to the page, Vitelio and his son have been able to show their work to people in countries they never imagined they could reach. Even though they haven’t done any business outside of Guatemala, because of how expensive shipping is, they have been able to promote their events and sales every time they are in the capital.
They are optimistic about the future and thankful about the past.
“Everything we have accomplished in all these years has been done with the help of God and my dad’s faith in bamboo,” Abdiel said. “We value bamboo a lot because we believe that God provides it to us.”
Photos by Mariah Carrillo and Andrés Martinez
Standing in the middle of the plantation is better than dreaming or meditating. Like giant-leaved needles, the bamboo poles emerge from the ground in big batches—dozens of them in one single spot blocking the sunlight from hitting the ground.
The bamboo towers over everything, capable of making anyone feel like a needle in a haystack. The air is stuffy. Small pieces of dust roam in the air like snowflakes. Like a choir of angels, the crickets serenade the peacefulness of the plantation, the air blowing as if it was whispering. The sound of slow running water coming from the creek is almost hypnotizing. Pale, dry, fallen bamboo leaves coat the ground, creating a tropical jungle-feeling pattern.
The bamboo comes in different sizes, color and thickness, each with its unique characteristics, some of better quality and resistance than others.
Like many residents of Chocolá, Vitelio also worked in the coffee industry. He planted and harvested coffee in that same land where the bamboo is now, but in 1992, his life changed.
He came across a flyer from the Instituto Técnico de Capacitación y Producción (INTECAP)— an institution that certifies people on various occupations at a low cost and short time—that had information about free bamboo workshops. At that time, he did not know much about bamboo; he thought it was just another useless plant.
Thanks to the free five-month training, Vitelio learned the diversity of bamboo, its income producing and that there was a big market for it. After his discovery, his passion for bamboo quickly unfolded.
But it wasn’t until 2000 that he opened up his own business.
At first, it wasn’t all easy. Having to adapt to a new work style was hard for him. Coffee only harvests about once a year whereas the bamboo reproduces and grows all year long.
One of Vitelio’s greatest issues when starting his own business was not having sufficient funds to purchase equipment. In order for him to produce a variety of bamboo items, he needed tools.
He managed to get a loan—which he paid off in about a year thanks to his hard work—to purchase all the equipment he needed, but with that, another issue came up. Most tools are not produced in Guatemala and are hard to find, so he had to go to the Misión Técnica Agrícola de Taiwán to order them. The “Chinese Mission,” as Vitelio called it, was responsible for introducing bamboo to Guatemala and for training INTECAP.