Guardian Figurines, Wounaan Cocobolo Carving


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A beautiful pair of guardian figurines carved out of Cocobolo wood, Elongated male and female figures are stylized by UNESCO recognized artist Selerino Cheucarama. He took the vision of the traditional home guardians and elongated their shapes in an almost African influenced style.

Both male and female figures show a traditional hair style, and are held in a Cocobolo carved stand to hold them upright. Graceful tall statues in a richly knotted wood. This piece shows many of the natural elements of the carver, from notches on the side of the base to the natural colors of the wood. 8″ W x 44″ H

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Carvings are created using the darker reddish-brown heart of the wood. The sapwood is a creamy yellow, not often used in carvings except for a small section sometimes on the outer layer of the carving.

Cocobolo is a dense rosewood, prized for its weight and beautiful lines. It is one of the main creative endeavors of many Wounaan men, who carve various animals first with a hatchet, and add finishes by hand sanding and applying a gloss to the completed piece. Each creation is unique, hand made by a single artisan, and may have markings on the outside of the piece as evidence of a handmade piece of art.

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SKU: SPM-2452 Category:


Cocobolo is a tropical hardwood from Central America. Only the heartwood is used: this is typically orange or reddish-brown in color, often with a figuring of darker irregular traces weaving through the wood. The sapwood (not often used) is a creamy yellow, with a sharp boundary with the heartwood. The heartwood is known to change color after being cut, lending to its appeal.

Standing up well to repeated handling and exposure to water, a common use is in gun grips and knife handles. It is very hard, fine textured and dense, but is easily machined, although due to the abundance of natural oils, the wood tends to clog abrasives and fine-toothed saw blades, like other very hard, very dense tropical woods. Due to its density and hardness, even a large block of the cut wood will produce a clear musical tone if struck. Cocobolo can be polished to a lustrous, glassy finish.

Vegetal Dye Sources

Lianas Vine

A woody climbing plant that hangs from trees, especially in tropical rainforests. It is used to make both a pink color and a cream color, depending on which part of the vine that is used.


Saffron makes many colors, including a rich green. Also used to make green are soliman (a seed-like potatoe) and earth.

Cocobolo Wood

Cocobolo is a prized rosewood, used for decorative carvings, knife handles and more. Many carvers leave behind wood shavings that are used as a chocolate colored dye.

Trumpet Vine

Flowers are used to create brilliant colors depending on the time in bloom. Vibrant red and colorful hues or rich, darker hues depending on the lifecycle of the plant.

We work with many weavers, apx 50-75 Wounaan and a dozen Embera weavers. Here we spotlight some of the artists.

Selerino Cheucarama, Award Winning Carver

Selerino Cheucarama, Wounaan, began to mimic his father’s skilled hand movements in 1971, as the patient older man pressed chisels into various tropical woods, as well as carved “vegetable ivory” from the inside of the large nut called tagua, to produce desirable crafts to support his family.  At age 6 Selerino delighted his father for having completed—with fingers still intact—his first carving.

Those early years in the Darién village of Arusa gave Selerino time to hone his touch and sharpen his aesthetic eye on easily-worked “Zorro” wood. He carved both representational and stylized figures of mammals, reptiles and birds popular with the tourists who passed through Panamá’s Canal Zone.  But it took another eleven years to create his first “real sculpture,” Selerino recalls.

The dense, rich reddish exotic rosewood with penetratingly deep, dark veins that the Wounaan of the Darién Province of Panamá call cocobolo—a hallmark of most Selerino sculptures—has been difficult to find in the Darién for many years, he explains, for it has been desired by many cultures, including foreign timber companies, whose wholesale clear-cutting has made inroads into much of the sacred Darién Rainforest.  Increasingly environmentally aware Wounaan leaders encourage not only reforesting, but also cautious harvesting of remaining rare woods.  Selerino makes regularly forays into the surrounding rainforest to locate “downed” cocobolo—sometimes stumps protruding from the river or washed up on its banks, or remains of trunks hidden beneath a tangle of jungle growth.  Green cocobolo isn’t used.

The size and shape of the raw material for his carvings speak to him about what is to emerge from the wood.   Whenever possible Selerino strives to craft a small sculpture from a single piece of cocobolo.  Piecing is virtually always required when carving his collectible, tall, stylized los guardienes, anthropomorphic “guardians of the doorway.”

Known to collectors and Panamá City gallery owners as “the first truly fine tagua carver,” Selerino is also credited as the first such artisan to risk pursuing carving as a full-time occupation. Sculpting is important to Selerino, he explains, because it “speaks of the Wounaan culture.”  Of the four-footed spirit beings that emerge after chiseling, sanding and polishing tagua nuts, his favorites are the jaguars—magically adorned in spotted, yellow-ochre coats.

In 1984, he demonstrated his carving techniques and exhibited at the Museum of Natural History in New York City.  He has also been selected for exhibitions and workshops in Havana, Cuba, Cuenca, Ecuador, and Isla de Tenerita, Spain.  Perhaps his most celebrated sculpture is the Cilla de un borracho cacique, “Chair of the Cacique,” now installed in the permanent collection of the Museo de la Naturaleza, Panamá City, which has also acquired a pair of los guardienes, as well as a beautiful, twin-cavern cocobolo bowl flanked by two facing prone tagua-nut jaguars.

In addition to parenting three daughters, Selerino teaches his son to carve, along with several brothers who eagerly learn what they can from the artist in the hopes that they can begin to earn living wages for their families and pass along the art form to their children.


At Rainforest Baskets our very small team brings beautiful handmade woven art to your space, and empowers indigenous weavers to create a better future for themselves and their families.

Wounaan Master Weavers

Passing down traditions through generations

Months & Years to Create

View upcoming pieces in construction

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