Monday, June 17, 2013

Indigenous People of Costa Rica


As I mentioned, we visited some of the indigenous people of Costa Rica. Previous groups have had to hike about 45 minutes, across a river and through mud to get to their school. However, a couple of years ago, there was a big landslide from the winter rains that washed it all away. They rebuilt in a different location, so it’s even further away from what we can access by vehicle.

We met them at a pavilion. Their group was mostly women, ranging in ages from a teenager to a matriarch of sorts who was a grandmother of at least one of the teenagers, as well as a few younger children—the youngest was probably 18 months or so. Not all of the Cabecares speak Spanish—they still speak their language that has been around for over 3000 years (I hope I’m getting these facts correct). The humanitarian foundation that we are volunteering with tomorrow has helped teach them how to market their skills to improve their livelihood. Their young are learning to read and write—the cabecar language has been just a spoken language for years. The women were mostly shy (as was I) and when they spoke, they didn’t speak loud. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand enough of the translation to really get the gist of what they were saying other than they are very appreciative of Gail (who runs the foundation) for not just bringing them supplies and such, but teaching them how to use them and how to make their living and educate their children. Some of the teachers at their school now are locals, but still others travel from elsewhere. What I did comprehend was this: they walked an average of 3 hours to meet us and hoped to finish by 11 so they could begin their walks home before the inevitable rain came. Their tall rubber boots were indicative of the terrain they likely had to traverse to meet us. Some of them expressed their extreme appreciation that their children are learning to read and write. We also found out they typically marry around ages 18 – early 20s. I will learn more about them after our meeting with Gail tomorrow.

Several of them did demonstrations on how they make things from the trees and plants in their community. The first was a sort of palm leaf. If you pull away the spiky edges, you can then separate the leaf into pieces by pulling the “front” from the “back.” The piece you pull off is then rubbed vigorously between your hands to roll it up. This becomes a sort of thread to make jewelry from. It is surprisingly sturdy.

Another demonstration involved a large piece of bark from the “mastate” tree. That is a Spanish name and I am guessing at the spelling, hence the quotes. I will have to look into this further when I return. Anyhow, the bark has to be cut from the tree three days before the full moon or else it won’t be the correct texture and will break when using it. They take the bark and using a sharp knife, separate the hard outer part from the softer inner part. This takes too people and a bit of muscle! The softer inner part you are left with is then pounded with a hard piece of wood to soften it. This takes hours to do the complete piece of bark. When completed, you are left with a soft, malleable item that can be used to make various necessary items—baby slings were mentioned specifically. For the demonstration, we each were given a small piece of the substance to dye using dye they make from items in their environment. I tried to write Pura Vida on mine, but it didn’t work out too well. We were then given the opportunity to buy items they had made. I bought a parrot made out of the above substance, a toucan mobile, and a necklace for the eq. of $8.

Upon reflecting on our short visit with these people, I was left wanting more—more knowledge about how they live their lives, how their lives have been transformed through the foundation, what their typical day is like. As they become more acclimated to technology and modern conveniences, are they losing any of their culture? Some of them did have cell phones, which has to help communication with the foundation and the “outside world,” but has technology brought any negative consequences? How long has it been since Gail began helping them, and what are the outcomes related to work and/or education since then? And due to my field of interest, what about those born with any kind of disability? How does their community help them? I was reminded of how I once wanted to be an anthropologist (I think this was between circus acrobat and ethologist—a zoologist who studies animal behavior) after reading a book about Margaret Mead and how she spent a lot of time in Samoa, doing ethnographic research on the people and their culture. Other cultures are just fascinating! 

Their meeting place

Demonstration on using  palm leaves to make thread

Demonstration on separating the bark

Aaron y Mackenzie got to try

Cabecar girl

Items used for natural dyes

The result of the bark separating and softening--cut into pieces for us to use

My thread and Pura Vida "tag" that I will attach to my back pack once I get home

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