Category Archives: Bribri

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.

Papalomoyo: The Mark of the Bribrí

While I was in Peru I noticed a bite on my left forearm that wasn’t getting better. That would’ve been the last week of April. I wasn’t really too concerned about it; it wasn’t getting any better but it wasn’t getting any worse either. When I got back to Yorkín, 12 May, it quickly began to grow and look nasty and when I showed it to a friend she said I could rub the leaves of a tree on it and if it turned green it was papalomoyo. I’m not sure if it turned green or not, but the next day more people said it was definitely papalomoyo. In the two weeks that followed I tried various natural remedies suggested by members of the community. One friend suggested red fingernail polish, another put white latex from a succulent plant on it, and yet another also put a white latex substance from a tree on it. Although each of these treatments were derived from different sources, I figured it had something to do with sealing the wound and possibly smothering the microbes (protozoan parasites) which were eating away at the flesh. However, these people offered no insights into why the treatment would work. I also tried two different plants; pajilla and gavilina, which were suggested by two different friends. To round out the list I also tried putting garlic and later, lime, on the wound. It was also suggested by two people that I capture lightning and thunder in my hand and put it on the wound (which I did do, more than once). I never got around to the camphor cure that was suggested. None of these treatments seemed to have any impact on the steady worsening of the ulcer. Papalomoyo (papalotl= butterfly and moyotl= mosquito) is so common in Yorkín that the locals refer to the scar that is left over as the “mark of the Bribrí” or the “mark of Talamanca”. Several people have commented that now I am a Bribrí. The locals perceive papalomoyo as occurring through natural (as opposed to supernatural) causation. It is recognized that the ulcer is caused by parasites transmitted by the bite of a particular type of mosquito. However, at least one of the treatments, thunder and lightning, was seemingly oriented to the supernatural.WP_20160605_003

Although I had already looked up papalomoyo on Wikipedia, I next endeavored to find a scientific article through the UA library databases on papalomoyo and its treatment. The scientific name for papalomoyo, which it is known as locally here, is leishmaniasis. It is basically protozoan parasites eating away at the flesh, entering the bloodstream, and eventually damaging the spleen and liver. Various types of sand fleas and mosquitos act as the vector including female phlebotomine sandflies and in America and Costa Rica a mosquito known as Lutzomyia or “Aliblanco”. The visible symptoms of leishmaniasis are skin sores which erupt weeks to months after the person is bitten. The parasite enters the bloodstream, creating the need for systemic rather than local treatments to avoid long-term infection. In Costa Rica, incidence averages per one hundred thousand inhabitants according to Canton from 2005-2007 were: Turrialba 124.5; Guácimo 126.3; Matina 222.5; Talamanca (where I live) 1179.4; Osa 124.1; Coto Brus 159.7

From Wikipedia:

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is the most common form, which causes an open sore at the bite sites, which heals in a few months to a year and half, leaving an unpleasant-looking scar. Diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis produces widespread skin lesions which resemble leprosy, and may not heal on its own.

  • Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis causes both skin and mucosal ulcers with damage primarily of the nose and mouth.
  • Visceral leishmaniasis or kala-azar (‘black fever’) is the most serious form, and is potentially fatal if untreated. Other consequences, which can occur a few months to years after infection, include fever, damage to the spleen and liver, and anemia.

Leishmaniasis is considered one of the classic causes of a markedly enlarged (and therefore palpable) spleen; the organ, which is not normally felt during examination of the abdomen, may even become larger than the liver in severe cases.

Leishmaniasis occurs in 88 tropical and subtropical countries. The settings in which leishmaniasis is found range from rainforests in Central and South America to deserts in western Asia and the Middle East. It affects as many as 12 million people worldwide, with 1.5–2.0 million new cases each year. The visceral form of leishmaniasis has an estimated incidence of 500,000 new cases. As of 2010, it caused about 52,000 deaths, down from 87,000 in 1990.

Marguerite Higgins, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, died in early 1966 from leishmaniasis contracted while on an assignment the previous year.

Magazine photographer Joel Sartore was diagnosed with the disease after a skin lesion failed to heal following a photo shoot in the Bolivian wilderness. Following intensive IV treatment similar to chemotherapy, his infection resolved.

While filming the latest series of Extreme Dreams in Peru, UK television presenter Ben Fogle caught the disease. He was left bedridden for three weeks on his return home. Fogle was treated at London’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases. 

Treatment usually consists of the administration of some kind of antiparasitic compound, including antimonials, which are considered the first line of treatment for all forms of leishmaniasis. These are usually effective in patients with one or multiple lesions but should be administered with care. Toxicity includes headaches, fainting, muscle and joint pain, EKG changes, and seizures. However, one study investigated the clinical response to treatment of cutaneous leishmaniasis with glucantime and found that fifteen patients (34.9%) were clinically unresponsive to glucantime 6 weeks after initiation of treatment while the remaining 28 patients (65.1%) responded to treatment. This is a pretty significant level of unresponsiveness to the glucantime treatment (lucky me) and suggests the need for research into new treatment regimens, perhaps combining antimonials with topical-plant based medicines (2011). Glucantime Efficacy in The Treatment of Zoonotic Cutaneous Leishmaniasis. Pourmohammadi, Motazedian, Handjani, Hatam, Habibi, and Sarkari (2011). Southeast Asian Journal Tropical Medicine Public Health 42(3):502-8

The next morning, I was helping my friend roof his new addition at his house with zuita palm when he mentioned that a doctor was going to be at the clinic in Yorkín that day and that I should go to have my papalomoyo looked at.WP_20160617_002 I figured maybe it was time to go to visit the doctor even though I was apprehensive about the cost, the ulcer being pretty ugly at this point. I walked down to the clinic and asked the doctor if he would see me. There was some discussion about whether he could or not with the woman who was doing the bookkeeping; the issue being me not having insurance in Costa Rica. After some haggling it was finally decided that they would see me and my name was put on the list. I finally got into the clinic at around two in the afternoon and first saw the nurse who weighed me, measured me, and took my blood pressure. After another half hour I got into see the doctor. He stated that it was actually two bites (this was confirmed by my nurse after looking at photos I had taken- again, lucky me); two infection sites that later converged into one ulcer. WP_20160611_001He prescribed injections of glucantime, 5mL at a time injected into the butt cheek once a day. He suggested not using any more natural remedies and seemed somewhat disdainful of the local treatments. He also diagnosed a fungal infection in the same arm and prescribed a topical ointment for it. He told me I could pick up my medications at the clinic in Bambu and that after my treatment was over they would bill me; at which time I could choose whether or not to pay as he admitted they are not very efficient in collecting money because usually all their services are for free. We’ll see about that.

A couple of days later I was able to get a boat ride down the river to Bambu. The man at the pharmacy window spoke a little English and actually told me to take two injections a day- one in each butt cheek and that it wasn’t really effective to inject any into the site of the wound as people in the community suggest- because the parasite is systemic, entering the bloodstream. He also alluded to the fact that it would be very painful. At first he didn’t want to give me the medication to take with me but said I would have to come to Bambu every day to receive my injections. I told them this was in no way possible, as I do not have a boat and there is no way I could spend five hours a day walking the round-trip from Yorkín to Bambu with the additional time waiting at the clinic. I also told him there is a registered nurse in the community who could administer the injections. After a lengthy discussion he finally agreed to give me my first round of injections to take with me but he would not give me anymore. Next I had to go see the nurse to receive the syringes and needles. I left the clinic with a large box of syringes, needles and medication; ate tamales prepared by local women most Fridays in Bambu, packed two for the road, bought some groceries (including Snickers) at the pulpería, and started the two hour walk home.

When I got back to Yorkín I asked a friend if he would be willing to give me my first round of injections that evening. He admitted that he had been drinking chicha and suggested I call either of two people who were both certified to give injections, one being a registered nurse. I of course chose the female of the two who was also the registered nurse (I was later told that Bribrí normally choose the oldest person, so I once again broke cultural norms). A couple phone calls later and she was asked if she could deliver the injections. I texted her and asked when I should come to her house. She replied “No, Greg, at your house.” Ok. The reason for this would become clear later. She showed up that evening around 4:30 and expertly prepared the two syringes; set them aside, and cleaned out the wound. I asked her if I should stand up and lean over the desk so she could have access to my two butt cheeks. “No Greg, on your bed. You will not want to move for a while.” “Really?” “Yes, it is very painful.” Great. Now, I already have a tremendous fear of needles and this statement put my stress factor over the top. So I grabbed my laptop and started playing the Dark Star medley from the Grateful Dead show at the Capitol Theater in 1970 hoping it would relax me. WP_20160620_003I pulled down my pants a little bit, my nurse asked me if I was ready, and told me to take a deep breath. The needle went in smoothly and she began injecting the 5mL into my upper left butt cheek. Surprisingly, it really wasn’t very painful. She had a gentle and deft touch. After a minute or two of relaxing she asked if I was ready for the second injection. She then told me to take another deep breath and injected the needle- this time when she began pushing the serum into my butt there was tremendous throbbing pain, it was all I could do to not flinch. It seemed forever before the needle was empty and she removed it gently from my butt cheek. She pulled my pants up and made a quick exit, saying that she would return at the same time tomorrow. It was probably two hours before I had the wherewithal to get up and walk to the kitchen for dinner which I ate standing up.

The next day everybody was interested in my injections and offered various opinions on treatments. It seems as if everybody has a different idea on treatment but there is limited consensus on dietary taboos which include beans, pork, beef, fat, sugar, and eggs. I consulted the literature on this and there is no information regarding these types of foods as contra-indicators for papalomoyo or its treatment; the literature did state however that a high-protein diet was important. I also asked the doctor about this and he said the diet had no bearing whatsoever on treatment efficacy (however, both my nurse and a different doctor would later suggest limiting fats and dairy). In reflection, it seems that the dietary taboos are all things which they already do not eat much of, except sugar, suggesting to me that their ideas on dietary restrictions stem from already existing food taboos. In the literature I also read that papalomoyo often heals on its own; to me this explains the various treatment ideas and the lack of consensus. People would put on the wound some kind of substance or adhere to a certain diet and the papalomoyo would eventually heal, the treatment could have had much, little, or no effect- as the papalomoyo can simply heal on its own. I also heard stories from people who said they received injections while using another type of treatment, either diet or plant-based. Invariably these people suggested that it was the natural remedy and not the injections that caused the wound to heal.

The next day my nurse returned to my house and suggested that she only administer one injection of 5mL for the day; I was more than happy to go along with her idea. I once again found the injection quite painful and was quite sore afterwards. The soreness last throughout the night and through the next day; my butt cheeks were still sore when I received the next injection.

On 6/14/2016 she made a paste of the glucantime and sulphur to put topically on the ulcer. I put the paste on after receiving my 7th injection (again, very painful). I have also been experiencing severe headache, muscle and joint pain; all side effects of the glucantime.


Yesterday’s treatment was brutal. I had been feeling feverish for about three days and the day before yesterday a really bad infection sprung up at the wound site. That night my nurse cleaned out the wound really well before I got my injection. She used a cotton swab with the cotton removed from one end and sterile gauze wrapped around it, meticulously picking at the dead and rotting flesh. WP_20160619_007Yesterday the infection was just as bad if not worse, and she spent a long time digging out the infection and rotting flesh. She then cut the tip off of a plantain and squeezed the juice from the peel into the wound; it burned like hell. She said the juice contains an antibiotic compound. She is proving to be much more than solely a nurse; she is really a curandera; attending to my illness experience holistically. After her work on the wound site I received my 10th injection in the butt, which is now very sensitive and sore- so each injection just gets more and more painful. It is Sunday, and I plan on seeing the doctor when he comes to Yorkín on Tuesday. If the infection is still bad, I assume I’ll have to go to Bambu to get antibiotics.


Well, last night I received my 12th injection. My curandera again cleaned out the wound and dribbled some of the antimonial medicine into it. WP_20160619_009She said it is looking better. Still looks horrible to me. Yesterday I pretty much spent the entire day sleeping or just laying around; I have had a nauseated stomach and do not feel like eating; still have somewhat of a fever. This morning, even though my stomach still wasn’t feeling well, I forced myself to walk down to Ida’s and have some breakfast.

Today (Tuesday, 6/21/16), I spent much of the morning waiting at the clinic with mostly women to see the doctor on his bi-weekly visit to Yorkín. It was a pleasant surprise that the doctor was able to speak English and he gave me a thorough checkup. I had lost 8 pounds since I first started receiving the injections two weeks ago, and this was concerning to him. In addition to more antimonial injections (20), he prescribed Tylenol for the pain, electrolytes for dehydration, and something for my stomach. He, echoing my nurse’s advice, suggested to keep the consumption of fats and dairy products to a minimum.

On Friday I caught a ride in a canoe down to Bambu and walked to the clinic where I received my medications (even though I was told last time that I couldn’t take them home). After consuming two tamales and purchasing two to take with me from the ladies who prepare them most Fridays in Bambu, I walked the two hours home. As the week went on, the injections got more painful as my behind was becoming more and more sensitive. On Sunday, my nurse had a bit of trouble getting the needle into my flesh, possibly the result of a bad needle – this was the 20th.


The last three injections have proved to be incredibly painful. I spent yesterday pretty much just laying around and not doing anything. I cannot even sit for very long to write, and it is even painful to lay in the hammock for very long reading, and the nausea continues. Last night my nurse said it looked as if the parasites at the wound site were dead. We talked a little bit about ending the injections. Earlier that day, one of the men in the community told me about how after his 20th injection he chose to quit getting any more, only to have the papalomoyo return and him having to receive 40 more injections before it was finally healed. I did not want to experience this type of scenario – when the injections are done, I want them to be done. We decided, because I need to leave the community to go to Panama for three days to renew my visa, that we would continue the injections through Sunday night (we actually decided to stop after Friday), and while I was away Monday through Friday I would apply the medication topically onto the ulcer twice a day. “This is the law Greg.” Okay, I would do anything she asked of me at this point, and seeing an end to, or even a brief respite from, the injections filled me with relief. Not only has she been cleaning my wound and expertly administering the injections every evening, she has also attended to my emotional health and other physical needs. Every night she brings me some sort of food – fresh-baked bread, cacao jelly, fried fish, coconuts. She also gave me a book used by the Adventists in the community, and often we discuss religious concepts. She came back to Yorkín after earning her nursing degree and working in San Jose to take care of her mother and revitalize the family finca. She takes care of three young boys on her own and performs all the farming duties; harvesting and hauling bananas and cacao, chopping brush, taking care of chickens, hauling wood for cooking, etc., etc. She came to my house every day to clean the wound, talk, lift my spirits, and give me my injections- she asked for nothing in return. As for my treatment, I do not know what I would have done without her.

It is now several days later; I am in Panama for three days. I came with stuff to clean my ulcer every day and antimonial medicine with syringes and needles to apply topically- and strict instructions to take care of it twice a day, “la ley Greg.” OK. It is now Thursday, the 7th– my last injection was Friday- finally, I am not nauseous and my butt is not sore. It was a fitting last injection. I had gone to a friend’s house for lunch and afterwards visited some other friends who were taking the day off and playing Dominoes. I sat down to play- soon the chicha (bLok in Bribrí, pronounced brlo) came out. After some drinks we began playing guitar, accompanied by more chicha. After what seemed like a short interval to me (chicha has a way of making the time fly) another friend showed up and said “Greg, are you getting your injection?” “Si” “Well you are late.” Oh fuck, I gathered my belongings and made a hasty retreat to my casita. I have no idea how I navigated the path with my bags and a guitar slung over my shoulder (chicha has a way of clouding the memory) and when I got to my place the nurse was waiting on the path for me. These next couple points I can neither deny nor confirm- due to the chicha; however, my curandera asked me upon my arrival “Don Gregorio, are you drunk?” “No” “Don Gregorio, la verdad.” “Si, estoy boracho.” I was not supposed to be drinking alcohol on my medication, oh well. I vaguely remember the injection hurting like crazy (this was number 26) and I was told that after the needle was removed I yelled loud enough to alert the entire community. The next day I was thrilled when she said there would be no more injections for now and we would re-evaluate after I got back from Panama.WP_20160707_001 Now, the ulcer looks better and I am somewhat hopeful that the injections are behind me. Tomorrow I make the long trip back to Yorkín and will see what she says- hopefully all that will be left is to see what kind of cool scar it will leave me with- “The mark of the Bribrí”.

End note: My curandera says it is looking healed; I only need to apply the antimonial topically for 3 days- then use cacao butter (which she made) to help prevent scarring. WP_20160711_003

The Origin of Sibö

Sibö (the Bribrí god) 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 in order 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 more trees grew. 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. Sibö brought the seeds to the earth during the nighttime; that is why the awapa 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. Bribrí creation story

Perego and colleagues obtained DNA samples from people living in Panama including Bribrí from Bocas del Toro and Chiriquí. They found that the Amerindians located in the area of the Isthmus of Panama contain some of the oldest DNA groups in the Americas (Perego et al. 2012), suggesting that the modern-day populations are related to some of the first people to populate the Americas.

“Considering the most recently accepted age estimate for haplogroup A2 in the American continent as a whole at 15–19 ka ago and as a proxy for the time of expansion of Paleo-Indians into the Americas, it can be suggested that the initial settlement of Panama occurred fairly rapidly after the initial colonization of the American continent. These data fully support the hypothesis that the Pacific coast was the major entry point and diffusion route for the earliest human settlers. Moreover, the antiquity and high frequency of subclade A2af provides evidence of the existing mitochondrial DNA legacy between modern Panamanians and America’s first inhabitants” (Perego et al. 2012:7).

This suggests that the arrival of the ancestors of the Bribrí occurred fairly rapidly after the initial arrival of humans to the Americas. We also know that maize (corn) cultivation did not begin in the area until roughly 5,000 years ago. For example, Arford and Horn obtained a radiocarbon date of 4760 years before present of charcoal within an interval of maize pollen from Laguna Martinez, Costa Rica (2004). We also have evidence of a stratified, complex society in existence soon after this in the Talamancan area of Costa Rica where most Bribrí currently reside. The Rivas Site, located in Western Talamanca north of the town of San Isidro, is described as a ceremonial and trade center, due the existence of elite burials nearby which contain 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 to monumental architecture and petroglyphs (Quilter and Vargas 1995). 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. The presence of large open mouthed bowls as much as a meter in diameter was also found at Rivas; perhaps these were made for the consumption of the fermented corn beverage, chicha, in ceremonial contexts.

So, thinking about the Bribrí creation story and taking into account the archaeological data presented in Arford and Horn and Quilter and Vargas, I was wondering, “How can you explain that Sibö created the Bribrí from maize seeds when the ancestors of the Bribrí were in the area fully 5,000 years before maize?” I have two opposing hypotheses: first, the creation story developed over time soon after a group of migrants traveling from Beringia by way of the Pacific coast settled in Talamanca. To account for the conundrum of the time lag in the arrival of maize I suggest that initially the story stated that Sibö used a different seed, perhaps cacao, to create his people. The story was then transformed as maize became a more important part of the culture 5,000 years later. This change over time of “myths” is common. For example in the Creek Narrative, The Orphan and the Origin of Corn, the use of the word “corn” initially increases over time and then dramatically decreases (Swanton 1929). My second hypothesis is that the current Bribrí creation story only became popular after the beginning of maize cultivation, perhaps signaling the coalescing of hunter gatherer groups into a small scale agricultural society based on the mundane and ritual production and consumption of maize. Could Sibö have been an actual person, perhaps a shaman, who brought corn to the area or was instrumental in its introduction as a crop?

I am a firm believer in the idea that “myths” originate from actual happenings or describe actual people (or the cultural beliefs concerning them). My undergrad professor, Dr. Buys, and I would often discuss the possibility that many of the different “gods” found in cultures throughout the world (my Odin included) were actual shamans who over time were described not as exceptional leaders who brought something essential to the people, but rather as supernatural beings-gods. This is one of the reasons I pursued graduate degrees in anthropology instead of psychology; the unique combination of biology (DNA analysis), archaeology (material remains), and cultural anthropology (studying living peoples) offers the researcher a multitude of tools to address some of these (to me) fascinating puzzles concerning human history and cultural evolution.

Arford, Martin R. and Sally P. Horn (2004) Pollen Evidence of the Earliest Maize Agriculture in Costa Rica. Journal of Latin American Geography 3(1)108-115.

Perego, Ugo A., Hovirag Lancioni, Maribel Tribaldos, Norman Angerhofer, Jayne E. Ekins, Anna Olivieri, Scott R. Woodward, Juan Miguel Pascale, Richard Cooke, Jorge Motta, and Alessandro Achilli  (2012) Decrypting the Mitochondrial Gene Pool of Modern Panamanians. Plos One 7(6):1-10.

Quilter, Jeffrey and Aida Blanco Vargas (1995) Monumental Architecture and Social Organization at the Rivas Site, Costa Rica. Journal of Field Archaeology 22:203-221.

Swanton, John (1929) Three Versions of the Creek Narrative, “The Orphan and the Origin of Corn.” In Myths and Tales of the Southeastern Indians. Washington D.C.: Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 88:10-17.







Dispatches From the Field #4

Sibö (the Bribrí god) 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 in order 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 more trees grew. 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. Sibö brought the seeds to the earth during the nighttime; that is why the awapa 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 síkwa. The Bribrí belong to Sibö; he is their owner, they are his things, not his relatives. – Bribrí creation storysibu_sembrando_a_su_pueblo_by_gorgoncult

On October 15, I walked the one hour along the Yorkín River to get to Shuabb, crossing the Brís and Shuabb rivers which were both low and easily forded in Chaco sandals. I was passed by two guys from Yorkín who were going by horseback. Everybody else went by lancha (the motorized, dugout canoes used by the some of the residents of Yorkín, others use long poles to power their canoes up and down the river). The small community was hosting a Dia de la Cultura. I got there and took a seat in front of a makeshift stage on a low bench set upon cinder blocks. In a few moments a trio of young girls performed a corn ceremony (see video on Facebook) celebrating the creation of the Bribrí from corn seeds sown by their creator, Sibö. After the presentation, I was offered a calabash bowl of pejibaye juice. I noticed I was the first person served, perhaps this was because I was one of only two síkwapa ( white people, pa makes the word plural) in attendance.

Next, a group of elementary school students from Yorkín performed a traditional Costa Rican dance from the province of Guanacaste. The bright colors of their outfits were in stark contrast to the subdued earth tones usually worn by the inhabitants of Talamanca. It also struck me that this traditional Costa Rican dance came right after the traditional Bribrí ceremony, illustrating the syncretism of cultures that has been occurring for some time among the Bribrí. Please see videos on my Facebook page.

Soon after I finished my bowl of pejibaye juice, I was offered another calabash bowl full of hot rice and milk. Again, the Peace Corps volunteer and I were the first ones served. As I drank my hot rice and milk, I watched two other dances featuring high school girls performing modern dances much like you would see at an American high school. Most of the community members of Shuabb and Yorkín do not own televisions (there are only three in Yorkín) but they have phones, and they are up to date on the latest music and dance from Costa Rica and Panama.

Following these performances by the elementary and high school students, a large rope was then brought out into the Plaza and women began lining up on either side of the rope grabbing hold. “By God” I thought to myself “they’re gonna do a tug-of-war!” They did “the best two out of three” with the side that the Peace Corps volunteer was on losing both times. I teased her that she wasn’t putting up a good show for us síkwapa. It was next the men’s turn and I ran to get a position as the anchor at the end of the rope. In elementary school, I was always one of the biggest guys and was therefore always the anchor in good old tug-of-war, and here in Talamanca I am usually one of the two or three biggest guys around. There were about 12 per side, everybody digging in their heels and gripping the rope furiously. The officiator counted to three and we began pulling with all our might. I began sweating and slipping in the wet grass and mud. After what seemed like several minutes our side won, pulling the other team completely over with an exuberant final pull. We lined up again and once more defeated our opponents. I was sweaty and muddy and instinctively held up my hand to receive high-fives. Obviously the high-five has not made a comeback in Talamanca, as I was left hanging by everybody. Instead, I proceeded to slap the backs of my teammates. We were all smiling and breathing heavily. I sat back down and received a calabash bowl of banana horchata, again being served first.

The young people were playing volleyball and soccer while the teenagers danced to Panamanian hip-hop. I was beginning to feel like I really needed something to eat and was in the mood for some chicha (the alcoholic fermented corn beverage they drink in Talamanca). It was just then that I was given a banana leaf bowl filled with rice, palmito, chicken, and a boiled banana. There was still no chicha to be seen. I then saw the organizers start to pull out the Bribrí traditional bow and arrows. Two of the young ecotourism guides from Yorkín walked to where they were setting up. They attached 4” x 4” paper targets to strings and tied them to a branch of a tree about 50 paces away. While I was watching, I didn’t see anybody pierce the paper target, but several people hit it and even more were right next to it. I got two great photographs of the two young guides from Yorkín with their bows. WP_20151015_010I didn’t even think about participating in this event, as I didn’t want to make a fool of myself – the bowstring is so hard to pull that I have a difficult time holding the arrow in place with my arthritic fingers. I can manage it, but I can’t get anywhere near my target.

I noticed a few people beginning to leave the festival, and there being no promise of chicha on the horizon, I decided to say my goodbyes and head down the trail back to Yorkín. I took my time, and relished the views of the distant mountains and the Yorkín River Valley; a rare opportunity as most of the trails lead deep into the rain forest where sweeping views are at a premium until you get up rather high. I had the opportunity to reflect on this day and the blending of cultural influences that I witnessed. Tim Plowman, one of Richard Schultes’ students who worked in the Amazon basin as an ethnobotanist once said, “When you’ve lived in complete isolation, how can you understand what it means to lose a culture? It’s not until it is almost gone and when people become educated that they realize what’s being lost. By then the attractions of the new way are overpowering, and the only people who want the old ways are the ones who never lived it.” I would say that people don’t “lose a culture,” but rather lose aspects of culture. Indeed, cultural anthropologists often include the statement that cultures change in their description of it. It is a delicate balance that many of the Bribrí inhabitants of the Talamancan area are navigating; honoring and preserving their traditional culture while embracing and incorporating aspects of the modern world at-large, all while making it uniquely their own. Time will only tell how this balancing act will play out. (And I never did get any chicha that day L).



Dispatches From the Field #3

It was a Friday afternoon and we were putting the finishing touches on the new office building we were constructing for the community. We were listening to the local Talamancan radio station, which was broadcasting on site in Amubri where there was a festival going on. I discovered that the next day there would be an activity called “Jala de Piedra” which involves a bunch of men carrying a big rock somewhere, some kind of Bribrí ritual. I also discovered there is a cantina in Amubri which serves cold beer. Technically, there is no alcohol sold on the reserve but there are two cantinas which existed before the law and they were grandfathered in. I decided, hell yeah, I gotta see this.

The journey to Amubri first involves the 2 to 2 ½ hour walk from Yorkín to Bambu, crossing the Telire River in a canoe to get to Bambu. From there you catch a bus further up the Telire River and again cross in a canoe to get to the other side were another bus picks you up and takes you to Amubri. The festival appeared much like any other, booths set up where people sold crafts and others sold food and chicha (a fermented corn drink, kinda like a batch of homebrew that has been contaminated). After getting some food and milling around for a bit, I noticed people beginning to walk down the road outside of town. I followed. I found out they were going to be starting the Jala de Piedra. The ritual begins with the men tying a big round boulder onto hand cut beams with vines. The contraption is set up in a somewhat rectangular fashion with the beams extending outward so people can grab onto them. The men then tied a long vine leading out from the front of the boulder and its frame. A group of women grabbed onto the vine and the men hoisted the contraption up on their shoulders, accompanied by a bunch of hooting and hollering. The women led the men out of the forest and onto the road leading into town. There were about 15 men supporting the boulder and perhaps as many women leading the way with the vine. When the women decided that the men were tired they would stop, the men would set the boulder down, and the men would take a drink of chicha. After everyone had their drink there would again be a bunch of hooting and hollering and the men would again lift the boulder with the women leading the way down the road. There was a group of people surrounding the men and women as they made their way down the road, taking pictures and videos and trying not to get trampled. After about four stops, in which the men drank chicha, they made it to the Plaza and set the boulder down on the grass. Then an elderly man and two young adults sang a Bribrí ritual song while drumming on tambores. Bribrí ritual songs are interesting in that they contain words that are not part of the Bribrí language. I talked to a few people and none of them knew exactly what the translation was. I was however able to ascertain basically what the ritual meant. The round boulder symbolizes the earth that Sibö made so that he could plant corn kernels in the soil and grow the indigenous people of the world. Sibö instructed the Bribrí to take care of the world. This is why the men carry the boulder symbolizing the world on their shoulders with the women leading the way. This ritual exemplifies the Bribrí kinship pattern in which traditionally the family name is passed down through the women and new husbands go to the homes of their new wives to live. A Bribrí woman can marry an outsider man and he and their children will be considered Bribrí and retain all the clan rights. However, if a Bribrí man marries an outsider woman the same is not true. It also illustrates how the Bribrí have traditionally conceptualized their relationship with the planet; being chosen by Sibö to carry the burden of protecting and caring for all of the natural resources that Sibö created here on earth. Later, I was able to contemplate and discuss this Bribrí ritual with some locals over cold Pilsens in the cantina.

See related videos on my Facebook page


Dispatches From the Field #2

“Que tipo de carne es este?” “tepezcuintle.” I was sitting in the typical house on stilts made with hand hewn lumber somewhere in the Skuy River basin. We had walked for five hours, following the river, ascending and descending steep, muddy slopes. I’d come with one of the families from Yorkín and a Peace Corps volunteer to visit the husband’s parents. I had been told that this was a two hour walk, and I thought “easy, I’ll just bring one water bottle and two packets of Emergenc-C, one for the trip up and one for the trip back the next day.” I did not bring any food because I knew I would be offered food when I arrived at the family’s house in two hours. The trip turned out to be more than I expected in terms of length and elevation gain. I had sweat out so much fluid that, even though I was able to refill my Nalgene in the river and in the many feeder streams entering it (straight, no filter), I was not able to replace all the salts and minerals I was losing and by the end of the journey I was beginning to cramp up in my calves and thighs. I had already consumed my one Emergen-C and had run across no bananas on the way.WP_20150905_007 When we made it to the house, I went down to the stream to wash up and put on some clean clothes. Upon entering the house, I was offered a cup of coffee and a bowl with two pieces of fried dough and a portion of dark, smoky/salty dried meat. The meat was strong; and what would usually be too salty for my liking, but it was exactly what my body was craving and I tore into it ravenously. It was only after I was almost finished that I thought to ask what exactly it was that we were eating. From the descriptions of numerous people I was able to discern that they were talking about a large rodent-type creature, and indeed, according to Wikipedia,

Cuniculus paca is a large rodent found in tropical and sub-tropical America, from East-Central Mexico to Northern Argentina.imagesI3R1OPM0 Introduced to Cuba, Bahamas, Jamaica and Hispaniola. It is called paca in most of its range, but tepezcuintle in most of Mexico and Central America. “Tepezcuintle” is of Nahuatl origin, meaning mountain dog: tepetl = mountain; itzquintli = dog. The lowland paca is mostly nocturnal and solitary and does not vocalize very much. It lives in forested habitats near water, preferably smaller rivers, and digs simple burrows about six and a half feet below the surface, usually with more than one exit. The lowland paca is a good swimmer and usually heads for the water to escape danger. It also is an incredible climber and it searches for fruit in the trees. Its diet includes leaves, stems, roots, seeds, and fruit, especially avocados, mangos and zapotes.

After our meal, the matriarch took me into the kitchen and showed me the head of the creature which had been soaking in water to get it to begin to soften and break down so that it could be fed to the dogs. She grabbed the head with one hand pulling from the top set of teeth and the other pulling down on the bottom row, the jaws tore apart with a crack, revealing the skull and brains. The Peace Corps volunteer murmured in English, “I didn’t need to see that.” I commented in Spanish that the brains I had eaten in the past were delicious, and the matriarch commented that these were good too, but the dogs also needed to eat.

The matriarch and patriarch of this house were not from one of the indigenous groups in the area, but were rather from Chiriquí, in Panama. They had built the house by hand, hauling everything they needed on foot from where the canoes land in Yorkín. The lumber was hand hewn on-site. They lived there by themselves, with one indigenous ranch hand who lived in his own hut on the property. 25 years ago they started with six head of cattle and now had around 70. The land looked well cared for, not overgrazed, and the cattle all looked strong and healthy. There seemed to be some argument about whether or not the house was outside of La Amistad Park and whether or not it was in Panama. I took GPS coordinates so I will be able to confirm this later. After finishing my meal, I walked around the property a little bit and saw two pigs, a few goats, a couple horses, the cattle, fruit trees, and some unrecognizable vegetable plants spaced sporadically about the grounds. WP_20150906_001From the edge of a clearing at a high point on the property I could look down into the Skuy River basin; a small stream on my left cutting through the side of the hill and the Skuy River on the right side of the valley crashing down through the verdant emerald foliage. It was beautiful.

I slept that night on a foam pad in the living room with a sheet of fabric pulled over me and still in my clothing. It got pretty cold that night. I didn’t sleep much, the floor was cold and hard, and there was a baby murmuring off-and-on in the next room throughout the night. Having lived alone for most of my adult life, even small noises in the night bring me to alertness. In the morning I had more coffee, fried dough, and more smoked rodent, and later a drink made with fresh cow’s milk and plantain (I could’ve done without the plantain, the thought of fresh milk got me very excited, I had not had any since arriving in Yorkín, as there is no refrigeration, and no goats or cows in Yorkín). It began raining really hard so we delayed our return, everybody slightly worried about the rising stream crossings, but remaining stoic, as if talking about the rain would make it rain more. Indeed, soon it stopped raining and we headed down the mountain. For the return trip, I had thrown a few bananas in my day pack for trail food along the way. Even though my old football knees hurt like hell whenever I have to descend, the return trip was easier, only took us four hours, and I avoided cramping by munching on my bananas throughout the day. Along the way I saw a few toucans, an armadillo, and a big ass rodent. Later that evening, after a shower and a change of clothes, I went to the house of the family with whom I had made the journey, to have dinner. On their wall was a poster of anthropomorphic bears building snowmen. untitledI told the woman that when I was a child and there was a new batch of fresh snow that had just the right amount of moisture, we would also build snowmen. She looked at me like she had no idea why somebody would do such a thing and asked me the same. I told her because it was fun and got us out of our mother’s hair and outside of the house on a cold winter day. She again stated that this just didn’t make any sense; and why would people do such a thing

“The people for whom the term cultural relativism was invented have rejected it” Levi-Strauss.


Dispatches From the Field #1

The journey to the village of Yorkín begins at 6:30 in the morning when you catch the bus in Puerto Viejo, the rambunctious little beach town with an international flair where the smell of ganja flows freely through the air. This area of Costa Rica, the Talamancan coast, was originally settled by Caribbeans from the island nations and also from workers traveling north by boat after working on the Panama Canal. It wasn’t until much later that people from the rest of Costa Rica arrived to the area. However, both these groups were preceded by the indigenous populations who have some of the oldest mitochondrial DNA in the Americas. It is about an hour bus ride from Puerto Viejo to the municipal capital of the Talamancan Indigenous Reserve, appropriately named Bribrí. WP_20140731_001At the bus stop there is a small restaurant (closed on Sundays) a small tienda, and panaderia where you can get a cup of coffee, pastries, or a baguette. From Bribrí you take a rickety yellow school bus over a bumpy road to the little hamlet of Bambu, which has a smattering of small houses and an even smaller tienda. From Bambu, you walk down to the river where you are met by a member of the community of Yorkín who captains a motorized dugout canoe (the canoes have only had motors for about 10 years when Estibrawpa, the ecotourism project, had saved enough money to buy them, making the trip up the river much faster. Now it is only about 40 minutes).WP_20140731_003

From the riverbank it is about a 10 minute (often) muddy slog to the area of the village in which most of the ecotourism activities occur. I was thrilled when they showed me the casita in which I would be living; one bedroom with a bathroom and a veranda where I hung a hammock which was given to me by a man I had befriended on my previous visit, which was made by a friend of his out of nylon cord which seems indestructible in the jungle environment.WP_20150808_008


I was told that for the first week I would be helping with a construction project, building a new office near the river. The leader of the job is a 70-year-old patriarch who climbs around the construction site like someone half his age. He told me he spent two years studying construction in school somewhere in the Talamancan area. It is amazing the work that they can do with only simple tools; hammers, nails, squares, hand saws, and a plumb bob. They use no scaffolding and climb around on three by fours like Romanian gymnasts. I spend my day much in the same way as I’ve spent on other construction sites; fetching tools, cutting boards to size, and basically guessing what needs to be done next. Like any worksite, conversations and banter occur constantly. It is during these times that I’m able to learn much about the community. For example, the job boss is 70 years old, has 10 children, and 30 grandchildren. He had his last child when he was about 48 years old. I find this fascinating in that if you consider most of the residents of Yorkín have around eight children, and the entire population of the village is between 200 and 250 persons, this man alone is responsible for a very large proportion of the entire community. I can’t wait to do a kinship diagram of his family.

Saturday I was given a day off and decided spend my day fishing in the Telire River which forms one of the boundaries of the village. I was able to catch two small fish, somewhat similar to trout, but I was looking for something bigger and returned them both to the river. After showing pictures on my phone to several members of the community I discovered the fish are named “Lissa” and are considered very good to eat. WP_20150808_003I have been befriended by a group of young kids who follow me everywhere and we are all going fishing together next week. I remember reading something by Malinowski (or was it Pritchard?) In which he said his first solid contacts in the community were the children, from whom he learned the language and some of the basics of the culture. I find myself having the same experience, the children are constantly teaching me words, laughing heartily at my pronunciation, and telling me about their families and their lives.WP_20150808_006

When there are tourists in the community I often help out in the kitchen and eat with the other workers. When there are no tourists in the community I’m usually invited over to somebody’s house for meals. The usual fare is black beans and rice, with local vegetables and fruits, accompanied at times by chicken raised in the village. I drink the water (from upstream in the Telire) straight from the tap (a 1” pvc pipe with an on/off valve), and my stomach and digestion is healthier than it’s been in perhaps years. For a couple of days, there was a tourist here from Germany who did not speak any Spanish but spoke English pretty well. Having no other English speakers in the community at the time, I helped translate for him. I see my work at the construction site and in the kitchen, as well as my time spent with the children and in peoples’ houses as the purest form of participant observation. I am a firm believer in this first step in the research process. By spending time with the community, learning their customs and language, I have been earning their trust and acceptance. After building trust, people will feel more comfortable discussing more formal topics with me in more formal interview–type settings. Only later will I even attempt to have somebody fill out a survey instrument.

With all of the international visitors, the young people here are exposed to people from many different cultures. I know one 23-year-old guide who speaks fluent Spanish, fluent Bribrí, is pretty darn good with English, and knows phrases in both French and German. Although it is very rare for Bribrí to leave their home areas and live elsewhere, a few of the young people in the village are showing interest in life in other places and are constantly asking me about life in the United States, they seem to be particularly interested in how much money a guide can make and how much things cost. It will be interesting to see how many of these young men and women end up leaving the village and visiting other places or beginning lives elsewhere.

So far in my limited experience, I find the members of Yorkín not shy, but some of the older people a little timid around Europeans. They are constantly making jokes (of which I am often the brunt of, one day on the construction site they called me “plumb bob” all day) but I was told by one member of the community that in the past they often had wars with their neighbors and fought off the Spanish invaders with their long-bows and arrows. I find myself quickly adapting to the rhythm of this lifestyle. There is no TV, I only hear music (either from a local radio station or one in Panama or downloaded onto people’s phones, which just like in the U.S. the children seem to master immediately and are better at using than the older people) while working in the kitchen. The sun goes down between around 6:30 and I go to bed soon afterwards and wake up soon after the sun comes up around 5 o’clock in the morning. WP_20140731_010My body still has not adjusted to the heat and humidity or the bugs. I work hard, play hard, and rest hard, all with members of the community – even when I’m resting in my hammock people stop by constantly to have conversations with me. I’m so busy that I do not have time to think much about the amenities I am missing or folks back home (sorry). I believe that if I continue to work hard and engage with the community I will continue to be accepted and people will feel more and more comfortable talking to me about even sensitive subjects.

Thursday, 8/20/15, 9:00 pm, Yorkín, Costa Rica

I am lying in my hammaka listening to a live recording of the Grateful Dead in Egypt, 1978, which I downloaded onto my computer before the trip. It is one of Bear’s recordings, sounding like it was recorded in a multimillion dollar studio yesterday when actually it was recorded on analog tape 40 years ago. The music is accompanied by the sound of crickets, cicadas, and a multitude of other insects adding their voices. I enjoy falling asleep in my hammaka where I can rock back and forth and catch any breezes that might be coming through. I move from the veranda into my room; leaving the door open and grabbing my machete and water bottle. I crawl underneath the mosquito netting and into my too short bed. Around 5:00 I wake up to the sound of a multitude of birds and roosters crowing. I lay in bed for a while listening to the symphony. I then rouse myself and walk to my shower which is a 1 inch PVC pipe with an on-off valve set above a broken tile and cement floor. The cold water is refreshing (it comes from the Telire River upstream, it is the same water I drink) and it feels good to have the evening sweat rinsed from my body. I use no soap, as good soap is a precious commodity around here.

I throw on a pair of long nylon pants, a pair of socks, a cutoff tank top, and my bug suit top made out of mosquito netting. I slip into my Chaco’s because it is not too muddy outside and walk to the kitchen area just down the trail for my Casita. I greet the kitchen ladies and two of the guides that are eating an early breakfast, getting ready to work with clients all day. I walk back to the kitchen area where the cooking is done over an open fire placed upon a contraption of wood and cement in which logs are fed into one end and metal pots boil away over an iron grate. I grab a plastic cup which sits next to the pot which contains the morning’s coffee and a ceramic mug and pour coffee for myself. One of the kitchen ladies hands me a bowl containing Gallo Pinto (which is fried leftover rice and beans), a hard-boiled egg, and some fried plantains. I reach into the cupboard/storage area for a small bottle of Lazano Tabasco sauce. I sit down next to the guides and shake on what seems to me an appropriate amount of Tabasco sauce, but everybody teases me for eating like a Mexican.

After breakfast, I return to my Casita and throw on my Carhartts and a long sleeved nylon shirt. I throw my bag which contains my passport, money, phone (which has no service, but which I use for other things), and field journal into my day pack along with my hammer, tape measure, zip square, and tennis shoes. I tie together the two rice bags filled with nails and sling them over my shoulder. I slip into my rubber boots, tucking my pants legs inside, and head down the trail to the construction site which lays next to the river. We are building an office for the local representative to the Costa Rican police which service the Talamancan reserve. I passed by the house of an older couple who are trying to start a little two table restaurant just up the hill from the river. The woman is very nice and often invites me in for coffee. She has the best coffee that I’ve had so far, no sugar and strong. Her husband and has a small farm (finca) not far from the village where he raises cacao and banana.WP_20150807_001

I arrive before anyone else and sit down on the edge of the river, watching the birds as they busily conduct their morning chores. From here I can see the river and the other bank which is Panama. I open my journal and begin to write. Soon the other workers will arrive and I will be busy for the next eight or nine hours. But for now I enjoy the tranquility and the privacy of this moment. I am not often alone here, and it feels good to sit and think, and take notes in my journal. “Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.”

Saturday, 8/22/15, midday, somewhere above Shuab, Costa Rica.

I am sitting on an old stump, into which a simple bench has been carved, across from one of the older guides who works for Estibrawpa. The stump is worn smooth, with a lustrous polish, from being used for what seems like hundreds of years. We had just finished harvesting pejibaye (a small fruit which kind of looks like an apricot and tastes like a squash) and palmito (which is the heart of a palm tree). We had walked for over three hours to get to his small farm (finca) which lies on the steep mountainside in the hills above Shuab, a small community about two hours downriver from Yorkín. Upon arriving at the finca we searched in the high treetops for a good bunch of pejibaye. When we found a good bunch the guide chopped down the tree with just a few solid strokes of his machete. We had to scramble down a ravine to get to the fruits which we placed into a large rice bag. Next we stopped at a palm tree which had been knocked down by the falling pejibaye. The guide cut away the outer layers of the trunk and removed a 3 foot section of the heart. He gave the heart to me to carry back up the hill while he slung the bag of pejibaye over his shoulder. Reaching the crest of the hill we saw a banana tree with some yellow bananas on it. You don’t see yellow bananas around here very often, as the indigenous people prefer to eat them while they are still green. I pointed them out and my guide asked me if I would like one. “Si, mucho!” He grabbed five of them and I put them in my day pack. After a few minutes, we arrived at the stump/benches and each ate a banana while talking. He told me this finca was passed down to him from his grandfather and to him from his grandfather. So far, it seems that most of the fincas are passed down through the men and the houses are passed down through the women. I am not sure if this holds true in all families throughout the area.WP_20150822_004

Earlier, we had headed upstream from Shuab, crossing the Shuab River five times. We followed a barely discernible trail to his mother’s house. We kicked off our boots, climbed up the stairs, and his mother greeted me warmly and invited me to sit in this giant hand carved wooden rocking chair. I was immediately given coffee and some fried bread. We talked briefly and then descended the stairs, slipped into our boots and headed up an extremely steep muddy trail to the finca. As we were sitting on the benches enjoying our bananas, I reflected on how exhausted I was, how much fluids I’d lost due to sweat, and how far I still had to go to return to Yorkín. I drank about a half a quart of water and we headed down the trail. Upon returning to his mother’s house we dropped off a portion of the pejibayes. We then returned to Shuab, washing out our boots and socks at the final river crossing. We arrived at his house outside of Shuab and I was invited inside for a bowl of rice, beans, and (I think) beef neck. We talked for a while about his family and he showed me the animal guide he had received when he went to guiding school in Limon. He enjoyed hearing about animals that were common to both this tropical rain forest and Colorado and I was amazed at how many different types of animals are in the rainforest that I’d never heard of or seen. He then poured out a large portion of the pejibayes into a large aluminum bowl, and told me the rest were for Estibrawpa. He told me he would be returning to Yorkín later and asked if I wanted to walk with him or walk alone. I told him I would have no problem walking alone and offered to take the bag of pejibayes to Estibrawpa. It was a long hot walk back, but upon arriving I was greeted warmly by the ladies in the kitchen when I deposited the pejibayes and the palmito. I returned to my Casita and stood under the shower for about 10 minutes, bringing my body temperature down and refreshing my spirit. I then lay in my hammaka for a well-deserved rest. WP_20150822_008

I’d like to give a few words of thanks to everybody who has helped me get down here, the Maxwell Grant from the University of Alabama, and my friends and family who have offered support in this endeavor. Come visit! That is all for now, I will post again in a month or two.