Monthly Archives: November 2016

Yorkín: Present Day

This is the fourth post of a series of blogs describing the Bribrí people of Talamanca, Costa Rica. I have been living in the community of Yorkín conducting research since June of 2015. Yorkín is a community of around 270 people situated on the border with Panama which has experienced rapid culture change due to increased contact with outside influences and technologies brought about as the result of initiating ecotourism in the community. My research examines how these changes are influencing health.

The current political structure in Talamanca involves local juntas comprised of varying numbers of locally elected officers. There seems to be one for everything – the community at large, health services, sports, and other organizations including Stibrawpa. The members are elected every two years. Only clan members may run for office or vote in the local elections. People are usually not elected for consecutive terms. A person may run for local office once he or she reaches 15 years of age. In addition to the local system, there is also a larger system which is enveloped by the national government and Talamanca has representatives in the Costa Rican government. There is also a locally elected representative, aditibri, in Talamanca who oversees relationships with the national government. The community juntas are in charge of taking care of local issues but for serious crimes they refer the matter to the aditibri who in turn refers the matter to the Costa Rican authorities.

Per my ethnographic research, the Bribrí subsistence pattern and diet has not changed much from the time of Gabb. Locals own small fincas in which they raise such crops as banana and plantain, cacao, pejibaye, yucca, and to a lesser degree rice, beans, and maize. wp_20161120_011Chickens and other poultry are the most common form of livestock and can be seen everywhere in Yorkín. Swine are less common and cattle, and goats are even less frequently seen. There are no other livestock either large or small. Inhabitants supplement the food that they can raise for the most part with black beans and short grain white rice, which are both very affordable in the area. As in the time of Gabb, the diet is still very starch heavy, and the influx of sugar and “junk food” has created an obesity problem among some of the inhabitants. Many in Yorkín subsist on what they can produce in their fincas, on their livestock, and on payments they receive from the government. This is one of the reasons ecotourism plays such a big role in the community; some locals estimate it brings in as much as 70 percent of the income.

Almost all Bribrí currently speak Spanish. I’ve been told that there are a few elders in the more remote areas who speak only Bribrí. As little as 150 years ago, however, anybody who spoke Spanish was considered a person to be avoided and ostracized. Since that time, possibly as the result of Spanish teachers in the newly formed elementary schools, Spanish quickly took over as the dominant language. Children were punished if they spoke Bribrí in the classroom and parents were threatened if they spoke Bribrí at home. This has changed and currently teachers in Talamanca must be of Bribrí heritage. Bribrí language is again being taught in the elementary schools, and its use varies among local areas and families. It is unclear whether the Bribrí language will continue to be used robustly among the population. Many people suggest that it is important to learn and use the indigenous language, while others suggest that it is more important to learn a second language such as English.67-17%20bri%20bri%20language%20sign One example of families continuing to use the language is my friend Anna who speaks to her mother, husband, and children in Bribrí, while also conversing in Spanish with others. One of my other friends knows only a smattering of Bribrí and only speaks in Spanish.

The village of Yorkín has a population of between 250-280 persons. It is accessible only by either a two and one half hour walk or a twenty-minute boat ride from the tiny hamlet of Bambu. There are no public utilities in the community. Most of the houses have a solar panel and battery for lights, radios, and charging cell phones. There are also a few generators in the community. Almost all the cooking is done over wood. There is a kindergarten, elementary school, and a high school. Each of these serves approximately thirty students. The Bribrí language is now being taught in the schools, and teachers must be of Bribrí descent. In the past this was not the case; as mentioned above, Spanish teachers would hit the children with sticks when they spoke Bribrí and parents were threatened with sanctions from the church if they spoke Bribrí in the home. With the current generation learning the Bribrí language, there is hope that it will not be one of the languages which are being lost throughout the world at an alarming rate.

In 1992, three individuals convinced the community to try their hand at ecotourism and founded Stibrawpa, the first of the two ecotourism projects in the community. Presently, in Yorkín there are two ecotourism programs, three family-owned pulperías, a two-table restaurant which has just opened, and several fincas. However, the big players in the area are the ecotourism projects; which some residents suggest provide 70 percent of the community’s income. These projects were developed and are managed entirely by local groups. The organizers state that these projects seek to help the community return to their original way of being and living while also finding new opportunities and sources of income for their community. Many of the men work as boat captains, tour guides, and construction workers for the ecotourism projects. The women coordinate group activities and tours, cook meals for visitors, and give demonstrations on the processing of cacao. Young boys and girls are taught how to be guides and perform other duties, during which time they learn about their own cultural history, native plants, cacao production, and their native language. wp_20140802_010Many people involved in ecotourism conclude that it has contributed to improving the quality of life and health within the village. The co-founders of Stibrawpa claim that since beginning the project, there have been fewer respiratory and skin ailments resulting from plantation work and less mental distress, in their words depresión, resulting from men being gone from the village for long periods to work in the plantations.

Instead of, or in addition to, working in tourism, many individuals in and around Yorkín also own small fincas. In the fincas they grow a variety of crops including; banana, plantain, pejibayes, and cacao. Organic cacao is produced and sold to a cooperative in the town of Bribrí.wp_20161120_010 Talamanca accounts for 52 percent of the plantain, 6 percent of the commercial banana production, and 90 percent of the organic banana production in Costa Rica. Plantain has historically been an important subsistence crop among the Bribrí and has been grown as a commercial export crop since the 1980s. In many Bribrí communities, traditional cultivation of basic grains, organic cacao production, and traditional fallows have been replaced by monoculture plantain production. Legislation regulating the use of pesticides and fertilizers are absent in the indigenous Bribrí territories. Work in plantations has decreased in Yorkín due to the rise of other modes of livelihood.

A new development in Yorkín (brought about because of the need for those involved in tourism to improve communication as well as an increase in income) in the past decade is that community members have begun to use cell phones. These enable individuals to access the internet (when there is a strong enough phone signal) by using data on their phones. Because the younger generation has “grown-up” with the internet, they are much more active on social media and are more frequent visitors to various pop culture web-sights from Costa Rica, Panama, and the rest of Latin America. Most adolescents and some young adults use Whatsapp to connect and socialize with friends. Music videos are also very popular and young people are exposed to the latest clothing fashions and grooming styles.

It is still common for a young man to live for a period in the house of the girl’s parents. It is also common that the houses get passed down through the women. However, this is not always the case. I am currently living in a house that is owned by one of the sons of Augustina and Roberto on their traditional property. Rights to live here were passed down through Augustina, but it seems the son owns the house – not his wife. The ownership of fincas, the small horticultural plots, seem to be passed down from the men and the women. I will discuss the inheritance of clan rights briefly below. It is common today, as it was during the time of Gabb’s travels, that the union only lasts as long as it serves both parties. Either man or woman may leave at any time.

Displays of affection are rare, sometimes you can see high school students holding hands, but public kissing is virtually unknown. This was also observed by Gabb in 1875 (pg.496), who writes “This agreeable custom seems to be entirely unknown. I’ve never seen one person among them kiss another, not even a mother her child.” I asked one of my Bribrí friends about this and he said they do kiss, just not in public. I also have it on good authority that the young people kiss, “They watch hip-hop videos, so they know about kissing.” Many people refer to their significant others as “novia/novio, campañera/campañero, or la señora/el señor”- my friend Noe calls Anna “mi campañera.” I do not think I have ever heard someone refer to their significant other as “my wife/my husband”. In regards to family size, it was common among the older generation to have eight children. Obviously, family size was growing since the late 1800s when the entire population in Talamanca was as low as 1,500 individuals. The latest census (2011) puts the population in the Talamancan indigenous territory at 8,000. Young people in their twenties are having fewer children; many say they only want two or three. Family planning services are available in Bambu at the clinic and in Yorkín when the doctors make their bi-weekly visits. I have been told that condom use is not a popular method. Most women travel to the hospital in Limon to give birth—quite a change from mere generations ago when a woman gave birth alone in a hut and cut the umbilical cord with a bamboo knife.

The Bribrí are separated by matrilineal clans. The clan members are considered “Dueños” (owners) of various plants, birds, insects, geographical features, and other entities that inhabit the Bribrí spiritual and physical worlds. One of my friends is a member of the Kolkiwak clan, who are the Dueños of the bocones, vicious little biting flies that continue to make my skin erupt in blisters which itch horribly. I have suggested that she ask them to quit biting me, but she replies that they have to eat. As mentioned above, persons of the same clan are forbidden to marry. I’ve been told that currently the offspring of a Bribrí woman and a non-Bribrí man inherit the rights of the mother and her clan. However, the offspring of a Bribrí man who marries a non-Bribrí woman lose both their communal rights and their clan. There do seem to be variations in this reasoning however – I know of two young men who are the offspring of a Bribrí woman and a non-Bribrí man who can own fincas, but they are not allowed to run for local political office or vote for said officers, but I was told that they “have a voice.” One day while drinking chicha, one of the elders of the community refused to drink chicha out of the cup that had just been used by one of these two young men.

Residents living on the Talamancan reserve keep up with news on radios and televisions, have electric (often solar) powered lights. They use chainsaws and other power equipment, some have outboard motors for their dugout canoes (also some have cars, motorcycles, and scooters in the communities accessible by roads). Most use cell phones and many desire computers. They send their children (who like brand-name clothing) to school, drink beer, dance to popular music, visit doctors who practice western medicine, and attend Christian churches (Catholic, Evangelical, and Adventist). However, they also know the bird calls in the forest, display an extensive knowledge of local flora and their uses, construct bows and arrows from pejibaye and cane, drink homemade chicha, go to the awa (traditional healer), keep their mothers’ surnames, know which clan they belong to and who they can marry, and believe that Sibö made them the center of the universe and instructed them to care for it. jala-piedraThere is a festival held every year in the town of Amubri in which a group of men use vines to tie a large boulder to a framework of stout branches and carry the boulder from the forest to the town square led by the women. This ritual reflects the instructions of Sibö to the Bribrí to take care of the planet. The boulder symbolizes the earth which is carried by the men, but led by the women who are the keepers of the clan names, family names, and serve an important role in governance.

 

 

Talamanca History

This is the third post of a series of blogs describing the Bribrí people of Talamanca, Costa Rica. I have been living in the community of Yorkín conducting research since June of 2015. Yorkín is a community of around 270 people situated on the border with Panama which has experienced rapid culture change due to increased contact with outside influences and technologies brought about as the result of initiating ecotourism in the community. My research examines how these changes are influencing health.

In 1502 Columbus landed at the area of present day Limón during his third voyage, describing it as the costa rica– “rich coast.” His arrival sparked centuries of turbulent relationships between colonizers and the indigenous inhabitants of Costa Rica at large and the Bribrí in Talamanca specifically. The earliest accounts, such as that made by Juan Vasquez de Coronado, states that in the area the women worked alongside the men, even bearing arms and going to war. Coronado also described the land as being heavily populated and fertile, with an abundance of crops such as cotton, cacao, corn, and native fruits and plants.

In 1693, a war began with the Miskito Indians, whose traditional land was on the Caribbean coast in present day northern Costa Rica and southern Nicaragua. The incursion of the Miskitos was fueled and supported by colonial powers who provided them with armaments. The Miskitos served as guides for the English, French, and Dutch, who were waging war against the Spaniards. The Miskitos then directed their attention to the Bribrí, who they began capturing and making into slaves. In a strange twist of fate, the Bribrí ended up allying with their Spanish oppressors against the Miskitos. The Miskito Indians then adopted a system of monarchy similar to those of the colonial powers, which the Bribrí also later adopted. It is hypothesized that this system was adopted perhaps to be better organized for warfare and resistance. The Miskitos made slaves of and exacted tribute from the Bribrí up until the early 1800s. This century long period of war culminated in 1827 when the Miskitos left and the Bribrí won another war against the Naso.

In 1881, the Catholic Church finally saw fit to address the shortcomings in its dealings with the indigenous inhabitants of Talamanca. The Church mandated a new program of kinder, gentler relationships with the natives under the new leadership of Father Bernardo Thiel. thielFinally, after 300 years, the Catholic missions begin to take hold. Today, inhabitants of Talamanca for the most part describe themselves as Catholic, whether they practice the religion or not. Most others do not adhere to the Christian faith, but there is a smattering of Evangelicals and Adventists.

In 1858, American John Lyon was appointed governor of Talamanca, ushering in a period of the Costa Rican government collaborating, at least to a small degree, with the local inhabitants in the governance of Talamanca. In 1871, Governor Lyon appointed the first political leader among the Bribrí recognized by the Costa Rican government; his name was Chirimo. During my ethnographic data collection, I often heard the story of Antonio Saldana. In 1880 Saldana was appointed leader of the Bribrí. saldanaHe is often referred to as the Last King of the Bribrí. Saldana agitated for increased rights from the Costa Rican government for his people. Minor Keith introduced commercial bananas to the area and the United Fruit Company moved in at the beginning of the 1900s. Bananas would prove to be an important food source and cash crop for the Bribrí. Saldana spoke out against the incursion of the United Fruit Company into the Talamancan Valley in which Bribrí were forcibly removed from traditional lands. He died in 1929 under mysterious circumstances, and many believe he was killed by interests representing the United Fruit Company. Others suggest it was most likely due to political infighting.

Geologist William Gabb traveled throughout Talamanca in 1873 and later published his accounts in the document entitled On the Indian tribes and languages of Costa Rica. His accounts are sometimes described as racist, often describing the Bribrí as lazy, unintelligent, and undisciplined. However, he later married a Bribrí woman, lived in the area for several years, and the last name Gabb is common in Talamanca. 220px-william_more_gabbThe Bribrí did not begin using last names until the 1950s. This was due to the urging of the Costa Rican government, which began a system of issuing national ID cards. The second half of the 20th century was characterized by an increased reliance on capitalism and an increase of contact with the larger Costa Rican, Panamanian, and global world in general, bringing about rapid culture change.

The Bribrí and their closest relatives, the Cabecar, belong to the Chibchan language group and in the past shared common leaders and a cohesive political entity until geographic features contributed to their isolation, effectively splitting the groups around 300 years ago. Legend has it that the god Sibö created both the Bribrí and the Cabecar, but they were split into two tribes by a great river.

The Bribrí for the most part live in the Talamanca Indigenous Reserve, which was set aside in 1977 by the Costa Rican government. It is located within La Amistad Biosphere Reserve in the southeast corner of the Limón province of Costa Rica. The area is characterized by mountainous rainforest. The Talamancan Range tops out at 3583 meters. The Skuy River forms the southern boundary of the community of Yorkín, flows into Rio Yorkín which forms the border with Panama. The Rio Yorkín flows into the Telire, and on to the Rio Sixaola in the valley of Talamanca. It empties into the Caribbean Sea south of Manzanillo, Costa Rica, in Panama. These river systems are important, not only for transportation of people and supplies, but they also provide an important protein-based food source for inhabitants of the area. According to the 2011 Costa Rican census, there are close to 13,000 indigenous people living on reserves in the country with close to 8,000 living on the Bribrí Talamanca Reserve.1

 

Talamanca: Early History

This is the second post of a series of blogs describing the Bribrí people of Talamanca, Costa Rica. I have been living in the community of Yorkín conducting research since June of 2015. Yorkín is a community of around 270 people situated on the border with Panama which has experienced rapid culture change due to increased contact with outside influences and technologies brought about as the result of initiating ecotourism in the community. My research examines how these changes are influencing health. 

The Bribrí share commonalities with the major cultural centers in Mesoamerica, the Andes, and the Amazon. However, they also have their own unique history and lifeways- starting with a version of their creation myth. This version is adapted from the many occasions I documented it during ethnographic data collection. The story relates how Sibö (the Bribrí creator) made the first indigenous people from seeds of corn. He brought the seeds from a place called SuLa’kaska, which means the “Place of Destiny.” At the time the earth was only rock, and Sibö knew he had to create soil to plant his corn seeds. On another planet, there lived a tapir family. Sibö asked a bat to fly to that place and suck the blood of a little girl tapir. The bat did as he was told and, when he returned to the earth, he defecated on the rocks. A few days later the first trees began to sprout from that place. Sibö realized that his experiment to make soil was working, so he sent the bat again to suck the blood of the little girl tapir. The bat returned and again defecated upon the rocks and grew more trees. Sibö then made more soil from the flesh and blood of the little girl tapir. Sibö then planted corn seeds of all different colors to create the indigenous people of the earth; this is why indigenous people have different skin colors and tones. sibuSibö brought the seeds to the earth during the nighttime; that is why the awapa (healers) chant and do their curing ceremonies at night. He named the people dtsö, which means corn seeds. One of Sibö’s relatives, Plekeköl (the king of the leaf-cutter ants) created the white people of the earth, which he named síkua. The Bribrí belong to Sibö; he is their owner, they are his things, not his relatives.

According to the DNA and archaeological evidence, the ancestors of the Bribrí settled in Talamanca and the Isthmus of Panama rapidly after the initial arrival of humans to the Americas. In Pre-Columbian Man in Costa Rica Doris Stone provides an overview of the known archaeology of the Atlantic watershed in Costa Rica. The earliest findings include a possible Paleo-Indian occupation at a multi-component site called Turrialba, in which was found three fluted, Clovis-like points, as well as a fishtail point, scrapers, knife like blades, and axes. Later, beginning in the first century BC, there is evidence of simple habitations consisting of earth and stone house foundations, graves marked by stone circles, monochrome ceramics, jade axe-heads, and rimmed grinding stones. Also at many of these sites are petroglyphs on boulders consisting of spirals, stylized human and zoomorphic figures, sunrays, and circles. Many rocks are incised with canals that could have carried off blood from animal or human sacrifices. Small coca containers, clay mixing spoons, and an abundance of nasal snuffers, suggesting Pre-Columbian drug use were found.doris-stone

There is also evidence of a stratified, complex society which was in existence in the mountains of Talamanca. The Rivas Site, located in Western Talamanca north of the town of San Isidro, is described as a ceremonial and trade center. It contained elite burials nearby that held gold artifacts and fancy polychrome pottery, some originating from areas south in Panama and east on the other side of the Talamancan Range. In addition, the site contained monumental architecture and petroglyphs. The oldest radiocarbon date obtained from the site is 3,380 years before present. This puts the possible initial construction of Rivas soon after the earliest known dates of maize cultivation in the area. Maize cultivation began in the area roughly 5,000 years ago. Arford and Horn obtained a radiocarbon date of 4,760 years before present on charcoal found within an interval of maize pollen from Laguna Martinez, Costa Rica. large open mouthed bowls as much as a meter in diameter were also found at Rivas; perhaps these were made for the consumption of the fermented corn beverage, chicha, in ceremonial contexts. Rivas was apparently abandoned at the time of the conquistadors’ arrival. This was most likely due to disease as there is no evidence of battles or other types of struggle.

Ubiquitous among archaeological remains in the Atlantic watershed are figurines portraying victorious warriors that bear decapitated heads of their enemies, suggesting a head-trophy cult. Bribrí people have told me the Teribes (Naso) took trophy heads during their war in the 1800’s, while Teribe people say that it was the Bribrí. trophy-headAnother common representation is of the beak-bird god, found on grinding stones, effigy vessels, and jade ornaments. Doris Stone suggests the beak bird reflects a Pre-Columbian pro-creation myth that a long beaked bird made an opening between the groins of sexless creatures and created females. Also common are effigies representing shamans, who still hold a respected position among the Bribrí and are called sukia.

Columbus made his first landing in Costa Rica at present day Limon in 1502 and the first European contacts in the Talamanca area occurred in 1529. The inhabitants were living in communal dwellings that sometimes held several hundred individuals. Family groups of twelve to twenty were more common. These structures were built on a stone platform, often on top of a hill, one house to a clan. Often these structures were some distance from neighboring communal houses. Also, characteristic of these communities were cobblestoned walkways connecting the house mounds. The inhabitants’ mode of livelihood was based on hunting, fishing, and tuber and peach palm agriculture supplemented by other fruits, especially cacao. Maize was only a minor crop because of the difficulties in cultivating it in areas of excessive rainfall. There are also reports of ceremonial or prayer houses, one of which supposedly held a great quantity of gold, pearls, and other objects. It was sacked by the conquistadors which led to the “Rebellion of Talamanca” and the destruction of the conquistador village of Santiago de Talamanca.rebellion

With the arrival of the conquistadors, this stratified complex society was virtually destroyed. “Shock and loss of cultural identity befell the conquered and defeated. The proud pre-Columbian lineages disintegrated into a humdrum population striving to maintain the bare essentials of life itself” (Stone 1977:217). This destruction was a common theme in the New World after the arrival of Europeans. As mentioned above, the combined effects of new diseases and war with the new arrivals combined to, by some estimates, reduce the native populations by as much as 95 percent in the first century after the conquistadors landed, and it can be suggested that this same pattern played out in Talamanca. This ethnocide has proven to have lasting effects on New World indigenous populations. There are current examples of these peoples reclaiming cultural pride and heritage, as in Yorkín, but only the future will tell how they will navigate change in the 21st century.

 

Talamanca: Early Cultural Influences

This is the first post of a series of blogs describing the Bribrí people of Talamanca, Costa Rica. I have been living in the community of Yorkín conducting research since June of 2015. Yorkín is a community of around 270 people situated on the border with Panama which has experienced rapid culture change due to increased contact with outside influences and technologies brought about as the result of initiating ecotourism in the community. My research examines how these changes are influencing health. 

The indigenous populations of Latin America share biological and cultural commonalities due to shared genetics and the influence of major population hubs, such as the Mesoamerican cultural centers and the Andean and Amazonian cultures in South America. As with these population centers, the biological and cultural effects of the devastating contact with Europeans and centuries of European colonialization on the Bribrí of Talamanca and other dispersed indigenous groups of Latin America cannot be understated. In addition to commonalities, the individual cultural groups in Latin America also exhibit particularities owing to their unique geographical locations and histories.

I will start in eastern Siberia with the origins of the haplogroup A2, of which the Bribrí belong. Haplogroup A2 originated 50,000 to 30,000 years ago in eastern Siberia and has its highest frequencies among the indigenous groups of North and South America. The current age estimate for haplogroup A2 in the American continent is from 15,000–19,000 years ago; the Bribrí were among the first colonizers in Latin America. The initial number of colonizers was small, indicated by the fact that New World indigenous biochemistry is very homogeneous. Nine out of ten indigenous inhabitants have an “O” blood type and have fewer human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) than European populations, making them susceptible to new diseases. This would prove to be catastrophic to the New World inhabitants.migration

First contact with Europeans in the 1500s in the Western Hemisphere brought about immense cultural and environmental changes. There has been much debate concerning the pre-colonial population of the Americas, but the current scientific argument is leaning towards an extensively populated hemisphere that many researchers suggest experienced as much as a 95 percent population loss in the first 130 years after contact. New archaeological data are providing evidence of large cultural centers in the Amazon where none were thought to previously exist. First-hand accounts of the conquistadors are also being re-examined. Many of these provide details of densely populated areas which when revisited, sometimes only a few years later, were uninhabited. Where did all these people go? It is suggested that European diseases such as smallpox, measles, the flu, and malaria had devastating effects on the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas who had no biological resistance to these new pathogens.

In 1542 Bartolome de Las Casas wrote about how densely populated the Americas were and estimated that his countrymen had killed 40 million inhabitants in the first fifty years after Columbus’ arrival. In Mexico, Borah and Cook estimated that the population of the Azteca realm fell from 25.2 million in 1518 to 700,000 in 1623, a 97 percent drop. Not only were native populations catastrophically reduced by disease, the resulting years of slavery, indentured servitude, and environmental devastation resulting from the practices of the colonial powers has had a lasting and detrimental effect on indigenous populations. As discussed in more detail below, there is also evidence in Talamanca, home of the Bribrí, of a major population center abandoned immediately after the conquistadors’ arrival. The Bribrí then initiated subsequent periods of uprisings and outright war resulting from displacement and slavery at the hands of the conquistadors, the Catholic Church, and much later, the United Fruit Company.bartolome-de-las-casas

Pre-Columbian Costa Rica has been characterized as the meeting place of influences arriving from the Andes and Mesoamerica. This view of the region as a frontier zone is evident in the Talamancan area of Costa Rica, where, at the time of Spanish contact, indigenous groups were found near cultures with distinctively South American traits. Prior to the arrival of the conquistadors, southern Costa Rica was part of a larger cultural world that shared ideological beliefs, subsistence practices, and technological skills (including gold metallurgy) with regions to the north and south.

One of the major contributions of the people of Mesoamerica, which included the Olmec, Azteca, and Maya, was the development of agricultural crops. Maize was created from a seed plant, teosinte, to which it bears no resemblance (a feat unmatched in the Old World), but the inhabitants also cultivated tomatoes, squash, and beans, among others. With the expansive cultivation of these crops Mesoamerican societies had succeeded in securing their food supply. This enabled them to explore writing, astronomy, and mathematics, which included the concept and use of “zero.” They developed the governmental infrastructures required for the organization of labor and redistribution of goods and services.

Maize made its way south all the way to the Andes and passed through Talamanca and other communities on the way. Maize was never adopted as a major food source in Talamanca, possibly owing to the extensive rainfall in the area, but became an important crop used to make the fermented drink chicha. This was (and still is) consumed along with cacao (originally imported from the south) in rituals. It is interesting to note that, in the Maya creation myth, Popul Vuh created humans from maize, a cosmology shared by the Bribrí whose god Sibö also created the indigenous peoples of the world from maize seeds, illustrating more evidence of cultural commonalities with Mesoamerica. sukiaEven with the difficulties of extensive agriculture in the rainforest (due to poor soil and torrential rainfall), the people of Talamanca were secure enough to produce and support an elite class of rulers and shamans. Archaeological remains at the Rivas Site suggest a large residential and ritual complex with a hierarchal structure.

From the Andes, influence came from the Wari, Chimor, Moche, and Inka (the Quechua spelling), as well as the peoples of Amazonia. The major food crop in the Andes was and is the potato. The many varieties of potato never caught on in lower elevations of the rainforest, including Talamanca, due to the high temperatures and persistent rainfall. However, coca, cacao, and tobacco played important roles in shamanistic and other ritual activities. Cacao is still cultivated extensively in Talamanca and other areas of Costa Rica, and tobacco is an oft used narcotic in shamanic activities. As in Mesoamerica, the civilizations in the Andes also supported an elite class that studied astronomy, mathematics, and invented quipus (knotted strings also found in Talamanca), which supposedly were used for record keeping. Along with trade, which brought crops to Talamanca and other dispersed indigenous areas, ideas about government and astronomy/mathematics undoubtedly came along as well.

Talamanca consists of mountainous rainforest, and the possible influences from the Amazon cannot be overlooked. Current research suggests that far from being a sparsely inhabited backwater, the Amazon was a flourishing area with large population centers up to the time of the conquistadors’ arrival. Michael Heckenberger states archaeological evidence as well as initial accounts of the conquistadors, suggesting extensive villages along the river-ways of the Amazon Basin, which were subsequently decimated immediately afterwards due to the introduction of European diseases. This pattern also appears to exist in Talamanca with the abandonment of the Rivas Site at the time of European contact. Also in common with the peoples of the Amazon and other rainforest areas, a horticultural practice that is still used in Talamanca consists of a method of clearing the undergrowth in a garden plot with hand tools and leaving the waste to rot, creating more space and better soil for tree and root crops. Research suggests that destructive slash and burn methods, common in the Amazon, were only adopted after the introduction of steel tools, and is a method still not used in Talamanca.talamanca-pop

As mentioned above, the combined effects of new diseases and war with the new arrivals combined to, by some estimates, reduce the native populations by as much as 95 percent in the first century after the conquistadors landed, and it can be suggested that this same pattern played out in Talamanca. This ethnocide has proven to have lasting effects on New World indigenous populations. There are current examples of these peoples reclaiming cultural pride and heritage, as in Yorkín, but only the future will tell how they will navigate change in the 21st century.