Wooden toys, tradition that resists



The tranquility is marked to the rhythm of the hammer blows that hit pieces of wood to join them with sharp nails again and again. This is how life sounds in Cieneguilla, a town belonging to Santiago Tenango, known as the cradle of wooden toys, whose tradition resists at the foot of the road.

La Cieneguilla is the home of Melquiades López Leyva, who has 23 of his 48 years dedicated to the development of toys, pieces that with their skill come to life in the workshop that armed with sheets in front of the house he shares with his wife and four children.

The elaboration of toys began in Santiago Tenango in an effort to avoid migration to the United States and other entities in the country. It was in 1997 when Asunción Nochixtlán’s acquaintances shared with Melquiades and other men of the community the idea of making these pieces of wood.

Before dedicating himself to carving the material, Melquiades worked in the masonry as an assistant, but the salary was not enough to support his family. As he did not finish elementary school and never learned to read and write well, the man saw in toys an opportunity to get ahead.

The idea was joined by 50 families from Cieneguilla and other towns, such as Carbonera and El Correo. Like Melquiades, his neighbors had little knowledge in carpentry; however, they were determined to learn the trade and to appropriate it.

The arrival of this work became a “lifeline” for La Cieneguilla, a small community of 216 inhabitants – of which 6% are illiterate and 2.7% are indigenous – and where work is scarce, so that of the older population 12 years less than half (45.3%) is occupied, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi).


It took Melquiades about four years to perfect their skills with woodworking tools. He is currently able to make a stick horse in 10 minutes, but he explains that other pieces, such as redilla trucks, take up to a whole day.

A decade ago all the work was manual, now no longer. Despite this, he confesses that there is no better way to join the pieces of a toy than using rustic nails and the strength of his arms to hit with the hammer. The craftsman dominates the craft to the extent that he can cut dozens of identical pieces without using molds, then assemble them and form the figures.

Being up to date with the models is not the only thing that worries these men who live on wood. Toy makers in the community and neighboring towns are interested in the environment, so their products are made with wood plagued or left over from regular logging, which takes place weekly in the forest surrounding the demarcations.

“The branches that fall by old, or those that break off when it rains or by the sun, are what we occupy to make the toys,” he says. Even the Commissariat of Communal Assets provides producers or sellers with pieces of wood that could be useful.


With the passage of time, the toys that are born in the workshops of La Cieneguilla became the main source of sustenance of the community. In the workshop of Melquiades, for example, the work has also been joined by his four children and his wife. They are the ones who take care of everything from cutting wood, to painting the trucks, which takes place in the patio of their home.

Melquiades recalls that years ago, before the construction of the Oaxaca-Cuacnopalan superhighway, the toys were sold as handicrafts to travelers who came and went from the capital, and who passed through these communities.

With the construction of the fast track, which did not contemplate them in their outline, these toy communities were hidden behind the hills and the visits of people in transit were fewer and fewer. What followed were low sales that gradually reduced the economy of the manufacturers.

So far, says Melquiades, no government programs have been implemented to boost the activity.

Since they were isolated, the artisan’s traditional toy business is not going well. Although on occasions, festivities such as weddings and baptisms encourage special commissions, sales -says the owner of the workshop- have dropped considerably since 2006, when visits by neighboring states to the Oaxacan capital decreased due to the teachers’ movement.

Looking for opportunities, the families dedicated to the elaboration of wooden toys set up stalls near the superhighway, where the pieces they make are displayed on improvised tables that directly on stones or on the slopes of the hill. Only some, like Melquiades, have set up small shops.

In his position, where the roadside offers toys from 50 to 900 pesos, he points out that December is one of the best selling seasons. Some special models on request, such as trucks the size of a child, can cost up to 3 thousand pesos, but when it rains they must lower the prices to not stop producing.

Although the community struggles to sell its products, manufacturers admit that fewer and fewer children are asking for a wooden toy for Christmas or Three Kings Day, since they prefer one that uses batteries or works automatically.

This is repeated even in La Cieneguilla and other neighboring towns, since it says that by knowing the manufacturers, the children have access to the toys and do not take the value that their preparation requires.

Even, Melquiades explains that many buyers are adults who buy them for them, so they also make other traditional toys, such as spinning wheels and bearings. The nostalgia, says the toy maker, is the only ally so that the trade does not end.

Source: El Sol

The Mazatlan Post