John Waymire is an American who has figured out how to make a living from dugout canoes. Waymire runs BioBio.com, a site offering "Ethnographic crafts and tools from the Amazon Rainforest for zoos, museums, and collectors." Prominent among those crafts and tools are dugout canoes and paddles (along with blowguns, baskets, masks, clothing, and decorative items).
As John describes it: "Over the years I've done a lot of traveling. During one journey I found myself in Iquitos, Peru, on the Amazon River. Near Iquitos I purchased two dugout canoe paddles and took them back to the States. My friend, who has an antique store, was taken with these paddles and wished he could have more.
"The next year I returned to Iquitos, and had a crate made and filled it with paddles for my friend and others. I had some space left over so I packed a small canoe -- right for a small kid. My friend purchased all these pieces and that motivated me to try to sell more canoes and to return to Iquitos."
John now travels to Peru regularly, buying canoes and other items on the rivers and in the villages near Iquitos. His clients – mainly museums and zoos -- prefer authentic, contemporary artifacts to those made for the export or tourist trades. He therefore looks for canoes "that have been well-used and often repaired with whatever the fisherman could find -- sometimes even modern materials like nails and tin."
John also avoids buying antiques and items that are built in traditional ways but no longer in use in the culture, concentrating instead on items that accurately reflect the present-day culture from which they come. In an attempt to deal fairly within the local economy without changing its nature, he limits his buying to a very few items in any one place, so as to avoid giving local people an incentive to abandon their existing economic activity (farming or fishing, for example) in favor of manufacturing "authentic" goods for sale. His admirable statement of buying ethics appears here.
"Most of these canoes are not associated with a tribe," he says. "They're made by riberenos, people who make their livelihood along the river, but have moved from tribal villages generations ago. Around Iquitos there are, however, a few villages of Yaguas and Bora people who are trying to maintain their cultural identity. I have purchased canoes from these indigenous people and hope to continue in the future."
In addition to museums and zoos, John also sells to a few private individuals. Most of these are serious collectors, but he says that a couple of private buyers use their dugout canoes on the water, including "one lady [who] paddles hers to work."