The word copal comes from the Nahuatl word copalli. The sap of the tree is used for incense and the wood used to produce the Alebrijes, whimsical wood carvings. Copal has also been used for chewing, gluing, purifying meat, varnishing, and as a medicine for various ailments.
is the dried resin of the copal tree. The incense is somewhat smoky when burned and has sort of a pine scent.|
The incense has been widely used since prehispanic times. It is burned year round in Mexican churches and is especially popular in the homes during the Day of the Dead celebrations.
The sample shown in the photo is a 1.5" long piece of the higher grade copal. We purchased it at the Benito Juárez Market in Oaxaca, Oaxaca. The lower grade, also available at the market, is black in color.
is soft when green and is the wood used to produce the Alebrijes, whimsical wood carvings.|
The wood is carved when it is still green to take advantage of its softness. After carving, the pieces are placed in the sun to dry as in the photo at right. After drying, the wood becomes hard but also cracks. The cracks are filled in and then the pieces are painted in bright colors.
See also San Martin Tilcajete, the village where many of the artisans work.