ethnobiology 2001 - Organization for Tropical Studies

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ethnobiology 2001 - Organization for Tropical Studies
Organization for Tropical Studies
Undergraduate Studies Abroad Programme
ETHNOBIOLOGY 2001
Results of the Ethnobiology 2001 course in Costa Rica
July 15 to August 14, 2001
A preface, if I may?
Why? Why am I doing this? Disrupting my yearly routine to go into the hardships of
leading a bunch of youngsters in this Ethnobiological quest? It is the second time this query
pops into my head, always after the fact. Overall, it was not so difficult, I tell myself. Overall, it
was a tolerable bunch of persons who did well, after all. I mean, nobody drowned, nobody had
critical Montezuma runs; they did well. Then, why?
I do this because it gives me a lot of pleasure to show my country to others. I relish the
idea of having people observe things in a different light. It is also a pleasure to show them that
"otherness" has no meaning whatsoever because we are what the environment tells us to be as we
curb the environment to our needs since the cave age.
These "young potatoes" went through a metamorphosis before my very own eyes. From
endless complaints for lack of sleep and this and that, they got to the point that I went to sleep
without a care in the world if THEY slept at all. I know many did not for many a night… Too
many hours in the classroom, they said. Later, it was too many hours in the muddy fields, for
crying out loud! At the end, there were not enough hours of anything. We all had a splendid
time together, I think. They certainly enriched my life to no end and underlined a purpose for
being here.
To them who left, perhaps feeling more like young adults than "kids abroad for the
summer" as they did still the day after arrival, I say thank you very much. If their view of the
tropical world has changed a bit and maybe even given them some ideas to redirect some of their
interests, you can count on me for whatever it is, no matter how crazy it may seem to you now.
Hey, porcupines, Ethnobiology is a crazy business, to say the least.
To my wonderful crew of TAs, my heartfelt thanks! It is difficult enough to put up with
me, not to mention the kids!
So, after a paltry 6,695 person hours, these are the results of your endeavors. And I am
not counting those hours it took you to collectively read the 7,172 pages of books to review and
write about with some sense (that is 398 pages per head!), nor do I take into account the
Abominable Reader which is a delight for the senses, nor the adventitious literature you had to
lift things from to adorn your reports… Oh my, how did we squander our time!
This shows what you are capable of if given the opportunity and the milieu to relax in
paradise and have such a holiday of the mind. I shall look forward to know about each and all of
you, my rutabagas, while you travel through the wondrous phenomenon, Life.
LDG
Las Cruces, 25th August 2001
INDEX
In memoriam Richard Evans Schultes……………………..........…………...…i
Course faculty.....................................................................................................ii
Course participants.............................................................................................iii
Course itinerary and purported programme........................................................v
The Ethnobiology 2001 Reader.......................................................................viii
The supplementary workshops
Ethnic rhythms and dances.................................................................xiii
Mythology and Contemporary Latin American Literature.................xix
Map of Costa Rica and sites visited...............................................................xxiii
The Rapid Ethnobiological Assessments (REAs) of Communities Visited
The Guaymi....................................................................................................1-86
Zancudo......................................................................................................87-107
The Brunka...............................................................................................108-189
The Bribri.................................................................................................190-233
The Maleku..............................................................................................234-270
The Individual Research Projects
Bromberg, Keryn
¿Si no cuidas la Tierra, quien te cuidara? Conservation methods and reactions
to a changing environment of four Central American indigenous communities
271
Brownlee, Kristina
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow: Traditions of the past and issues of today
293
Edmonds, Sadiqa & Elizabeth Moye
Shades of blackness: a look at Afro-Caribbean culture in Costa Rica through
the eyes of Afro-Americans
305
Folse, Henri
Techniques in quantitative ethnobotany and the useful plants of Las Cruces
Biological Station, Costa Rica
321
Hart, Rachel & Emily Loggins
Animals and Spirits. The Master of the Animal Concept
341
Huang, Richard & Heather Baker
Healing from the Forest: an ethnobotanical and chemical view of some Guaymi
medicical plants
355
Kieves, Nicola
When anthropologists see, the gods are there
365
Kim, Paul
A look at funerary rituals of the BriBri
373
Ruiz, Monica L.
The ultimate guide to medicinal plants for pregnancy and childbirth
383
Teich, Alice Sarah
Reception of contraceptives and other aspects of family planning among some
indigenous peoples in Costa Rica
389
Tschannen-Moran, Bryn
The language of health
395
Venkatesan, Aruna
Who owns Nature? The bioprospection of inigenous knowledge and potential
solutions for protecting Traditional Resources Rights (TRR)
407
Willets, Elizabeth
Cultural interaction of researchers and communities in Costa Rica
427
Williams, Katherine
Biological Corridors and indigenous population: can conservation and
indigenous interests be reconciled?
439
Zellie, Heidi
The threads that bind: An ethnobiological assessment of indigenous art
451
The Book Reviews by the students
Baker on Ventocilla et al. Plants and animals in the life of the Kuna
Bromberg on Taussing's Shamanism, colonialism and the wild man
Brownlee on Forte's Entheogens and the future of religion
Edmonds on Voek's Sacred leaves of Candomble
Folse on Levi-Strauss' Totemism
Hart on Fernandez-Olmos' Sacred possessions: vodou, santeria, etc.
Huang on Pinkson's Flowers of Wiricuta, huichol shamanism
Kieves on McKenna's Food of the Gods
Kim on Fadiman's The spirit catches you and you fall down
Loggins on Krech's The ecological indian
Moye on Davis' One River: explorations in the Amazon
Ruiz on Keeler's Secrets of the Kuna Earthmother
Teich on Levi-Strauss' The savage mind
Tschannen-Moran on Davis' Passage of darkness
Venkatesan on Wasson et al. Perspone's quest
465
469
473
477
481
487
491
497
499
503
509
513
517
521
525
Willetts on Ripinkski-Naxon's The nature of shamanism
Williams on Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado
Zellie on Anderson's Peyote: the divine cactus
529
531
534
Glosses on Las Alturas
(or how freed spirits can soar in the Coton Heights of Coto Brus)
539
That is it. There is no more.
In memoriam
The Ethnobiology 2001 Course dedicates this volume to the
memory of
Richard Evans Schultes
(1915-2001)
Whose exemplary life and dedication to Ethnobiology
has inspired us all
FACULTY
Luis D. Gómez
Organization for Tropical Studies, National Academy of Sciences Costa Rica,
International Society of Ethnobiology
Rebecca M. Lutzy
Dept. of Biology, Brown University
Gabriela Demergasso
Undergraduate Summer Abroad Program, OTS
José Gonzázlez R.
Botany, Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, INBio, Costa Rica
Henry L. Gómez Arango
Independent Associate Faculty
STUDENT BODY
Mrs. Heather Baker, Phytotherapy
University of Missouri
[email protected]
Ms. Keryn Bromberg, Environmental Sciences
Tufts University
[email protected]
Ms. Kristina Brownlee, Anthropology
University of Montana
[email protected]
Ms. Sadiqa Edmonds, Biochemistry, Medicine
Spelman College
[email protected]
Mr. Henri Folse, Applied Mathematics
Harvard University
[email protected]
Ms. Rachel Hart, Veterinary Medicine
University of Tennessee
[email protected]
Mr. Richard Huang, Medicine
Duke University
[email protected]
Ms. Nicola Kieves, Biology, Environmental Studies
Middlebury College
[email protected]
Mr. Paul Kim, Medicine
Cornell University
[email protected]
Ms. Emily Loggins, Biochemistry
University of Tennessee
[email protected]
Ms. Elizabeth Moye, Medicine
University of Pennsylvania
[email protected]
Ms. Monica L. Ruiz, Microbiology
University of Maryland
[email protected]
Ms. Alice Teich, Environmental Studies
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
[email protected]
Ms. Bryn Tschannen-Moran, Medicine
Duke University
[email protected]
Ms. Aruna Venkatesan, Medicine
Duke University
[email protected]
Ms. Elizabeth Willetts, Ethnobiology, Ethnomedicine
University of Pennsylvania
[email protected]
Ms. Kathryn Williams, Environmental Studies
Tufts University
[email protected]
Ms. Heidi Zellie, Ethnoecology
Pennsylvania State University
[email protected]
COURSE
ITINERARY
DAY #
1
DATE
SCHEDULE
COMMENTS
Sunday, 15 July OTS CRO. Introduction, general info.,
Dr. Jorge Leon. Lunch-Casa de Chinda
Afternoon free after packing field gear.
2
Mon., 16 July
Visit to Mercado Central in am, UCR 2-6
Dr. Michael Snarskis, Archaeology of
Costa Rica
3
Tues., 17 July
AM visit to Museo National, Snarskis as
guide. 1PM UCR, Dr. Abelardo Brenes on
Shamanism; Dr. Marcos Guevara on Costa
Rican Indigenous Ethnias; Jose M.
Rodriguez on Conservation in CR.
4
Wed., 18 July
AM trip to HerbArk with Herve Thomas.
1PM to Clodomiro Picado, Dr. Brno Lomote
snake toxins; 4:30 UCR Center for Natural
Products, Dr. Gerardo Mora
5
Thur., 19 July
7AM Departure for Las Cruces. Day stop at
Cerro de la Muerte for paramo vegetation and
oakforest. Arrive at LC around 6PM.
6
Fri., 20 July
8AM orientation walk with Luis D. Gomez,
Station Director. PM General topics, field
boxes, book reviews, individual projects.
Evening: First session ethnic rhythms
and dance
7
8
Sat., 21 July
Sun., 22 July
Dr. Adolfo Contenla (UCR), 1-intro to
Our Kuna informant, Guillermo Archibold arrives.
Linguitics, 2-Articulative Phonetics,
Guaymi informants Maria Bejarano and
3-Phonology Part 1
Alejandro Palacios arrive.
4-Historical phonology, 5-the use of practical
alphabets in field recordings. 2PM-First written
evaluation. 3PM-informal meeting with
informants.
9
Mon., 23 July
Preparation of botanical specimens. First
batch of plant families. Jose Gonzalez (INBio)
and Rodolfo Quiros (OTS). PM- Rebecca
Lutzy on ethnological questionnaires. Videos.
10
Tues., 24 July
7:30AM Transect in forest with Jose and
REQUEST BOX LUNCH FOR TOMORROW!
Rodolfo. PM preparation of field
questionnaires. Videos.
11
Wed., 25 July
AM-Group 1 departs for Abrojos, Group 2
Maria leads group to Coto Brus, Alejandro leads
departs for Coto Brus Reservations. Back by
group to Abrojos
5PM. Roundtable with visiting faculty.
12
Thur., 26 July
Trip to Brunka and Cabecar Reservations.
Two groups of 10 and 9, one TA per group
Expected at LC by 5PM. Videos. Preparation
of reports.
13
Fri., 27 July
8-10 AM, 5 plant families. 10-12 Presentation
REQUEST BOX LUNCH FOR TOMORROW!
of reports from Brunka and Cabecar cultures.
PM-reports from Guaymi reservations.
Evening lecture: Receptors theory by
Dr. Todd Capson
14
Sat., 28 July
LC Forest Reserve hike with Jose & Rodolfo.
REQUEST BOX LUNCH FOR TOMORROW!
Evening meal at Liliana's Pizza.
15
Sun., 29 July
7:30AM-Depart for Zancudo Beach. Return
Swimming pool, lovely beach-BUT RIP TIDES ALERT!
to LC by 5PM.
Pack for Las Alturas: no hot showers, rainy and
cold. REQUEST BOX LUNCH FOR TOMORROW!
16
Mon., 30 July
17
Tues., 31 July
8AM departure for Las Alturas Field Station.
Costa Rican Natural History for next 3 days.
Ethnoorinthology by Dr. Gilberto Barrantes.
Evening: Bats with Bernal Rodriguez.
Vampire stories later!
18
Wed., 1 Aug
Individual exploration until noon.
PM-group discussion
19
Thur., 2 Aug
Depart Las Alturas for Las Cruces at 10AM
Lunch in LC.
Pack your stuff. WE WILL NOT RETURN TO LC!
20
Fri., 3 Aug
7:30AM Depart for Finca Tres Hermanas.
Tres Hermanas has great forest, fauna, and flora.
Conservation & sustainability by Mr. John
Also surfing, kayaking, fishing and snorkeling!
Tresemer. Evening presentation of book
reviews.
21
Sat., 4 Aug
7-11 morning for sea, hiking. Afternoon
presentation of book reviews.
22
Sun., 5 Aug
9-10 Second written evaluation. 10:30AM
depart for Hotel Amistad, San Jose.
Lunch on the road; dinner on your own (see
TA for money).
23
Mon., 6 Aug
Spanish at 7AM. Visit to Bougainvillea Ethnopharmacological Garden at Bristol. Introduce
Eng. Rafael A. Ocamo & TRAMIL project.
Henry's workshop at end of day.
24
Tues., 7 Aug
AM-KekoLdi BriBri reservation with Sr. Rafael
Four groups of 4 each. Sadiqa and Liz on their
Ocampo; Iguana Farm presented by Juanita
own quest, afro-caribbean community.
Sanchez. PM-Afro-Caribbean community.
Prepare reports.
25
Wed., 8 Aug
7AM depart for La Selva via Matina for Afro-
REQUEST BOX LUNCH FOR TOMORROW!
Caribbean Plant Garden. Arrive LS mid-noon.
Lecture by Dr. Robert Matlock, Director.
26
Thur., 9 Aug
Forest walk with Orlando & colleagues, ALAS
Lunch on the road.
project; visit to MUSA Women's co-op.
Matlock on research.
27
Fri., 10 Aug
Depart LS for Lago Coter. Palenque Margarita
Lago Coter (aka Cote) is sacred to the Maleku.
with Eustaquio Castro as Maleku informants.
28
Sat., 11 Aug
At Coter Lake hotel. Visit to Maleku in forest.
Presentation of individual projects & poster
session.
29
Sun., 12 Aug
30
Mon., 13 Aug
More individual projects and
final oral evaluation.
7AM depart for San Jose. Grades.
Time permitting, short visit to Sarchi wood carving
Roundtable evaluation of course.
shops. Retrieve passports and tickets from Kattia.
Farewell Dinner.
Last opportunity for purchases.
THE ABOMINABLE
READER
Title
Page
International Society of Ethnobiology. 1998. Code of Ethics……………………1
Agrawal, A. 1995. Dismantling the Divide Between Indigenous and
Scientific Knowledge………………………………………………………………5
Barrett, B. 1994. Medicinal plants of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast. Economic
Botany 48 (1): 8-20………………………………………………………………..33
Begossi, A. 1996. Use of ecological methods in Ethnobotany: diversity indices.
Economic Botany 50 (3): 280-289………………………………………………...47
Bohrer, V. Summer 1986. Guideposts in Ethnobotany. Journal of Ethnobiology
6 (1): 27-43…………………………………………………………………………57
Brush, S. 1993. Indigenous Knowledge of biological resources and intellectual
property right: the role of anthropology. American Anthropologist 95 (3): 653671………………………………………………………………………………….75
Bye, R.A. 1979. Incipient Domestication of Mustards inNOrthwest Mexico. The
Kiva 44: 237-256…………………………………………………………………...95
Chazdon, R.L., and F.G. Coe. 1999. Ethnobotany of Woody Species in Secondgrowth, Old-growth, and Selectively logged forests of northeastern Costa Rica.
Conservation Biology 13: 1312-1322……………………………………………..107
Cheek, F.E., S. Newell, and M. Joffe. 1970. Deceptions in the Illicit Drug
Market. Science 167:1276………………………………………………………...116
Conklin, B.A. , and L.R. Graham. 1995. The Shifting Middle Ground: Amazonian
Indians and Eco-politics. American Anthropologist 97 (4): 695-710…………….117
Dumbacher, J.P., B.M. Beehler, T.F. Spande, H.M. Garraffo, and J.W. Daly.
1992. Homobatrachotoxin in the Genus Pitohui: Chemical Defense in Birds?
1993. Science 258: 799-801………………………………………………………133
Eliade, M. 1964. General Considerations. Recruiting methods. Shamanism and
Mystical Vocation. Pages 3-32 in Shamanism. Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy,
Bolligen Series Edition. Volume 76. Princeton, 610 p…………………………..137
Ford, R. 1978. Ethnobotany: Historical Diversity and Synthesis. Anthropological
Papers, Museum of Anthropology, U Michigan 67: 33-49……………………….153
Godoy, R., R. Lobowski, and A. Markandya. 1993. A method for the economic
valuation of non-timber tropical forest products.
Economic Botany 47 (3): 220-233………………………………………………171
Gollin, M.A. 1993a. The convention on biological diversity and intellectual
property rights. Pages 289-301 in W. Reid, editor. Biodiversity prospecting: Using
genetic resources for sustainable development. World Resources Institute
Washington………………………………………………………………………185
Gollin, M. Sept. 1999. New rules for natural products research. Nature
Biotechnology 17: 921-922………………………………………………………199
---. 1993b. An intellectual property rights framework for biodiversity prospecting.
Pages 159-197 in W. Reid, editor. Biodiversity prospecting: Using genetic resources
for sustainable development. World Resources Institute, Washington…………...201
Hall, P., and K. Bawa. 1993. Methods to assess the impact of extraction of nontimber tropical products on plant populations. Economic
Botany 47 (3): 234-247……………………………………………………………241
Heiser, C.B. 1984. The Ethnobotany of the Neotropical Solanaceae. Pages 48-52 in
G.T. Prance and J.A. Kallunki, editors. Ethnobotany in the Neotropics. Volume 1.
The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, Ny…………………………………..…255
Hersh-Martinez, P. 1995. Commercialization of wild medicinal plants from
Southwest Puebla, Mexico. Economic Botany 49 (2): 197-206………………….259
Kalweit, H. 1988a. Too much think about white man, no more can find dream.
Pages 253-255 in Dreamtime and Inner Space. Shambala, 297 p………………..269
Kalweit, H. 1988b. When the anthropologists arrive, the gods leave the island.
Pages 235-250 in Dreamtime and Inner Space. Shambala, 297 p………………..271
Lentz, D., M. Reyna de Aguilar, R. Villacorta, and H. Marini. 1996. Trachtpogon
Plumosus (Poaceae, Andropogonaeae): Ancient thatch and more from the Ceren
Site, El Salvador. Economic Botany 50 (1): 108-114…………………………….281
Majnep, I.S., and R. Bulmer. 1977. Birds of my Kalam Country. Excepts from
Book, Auckland University Press…………………………………………………289
McNeill, W. 1991. American food crops in the Old World. Pages 43-69 in H. Viola
and C. Margolis, editors. Seeds of change: a quincentennial commemoration.
Smithsonian Institution……………………………………………………………295
Muthchnick, P., and B. McCarthy. 1997. An ethnobotanical analysis of the tree
spefcies common to the tropical moist forests of the Peten, Guatemala. Economic
Botany 51 (2): 158-183……………………………………………………………311
Myers, C.W., and J.W. Daly. 1983. Dart-Poison frogs. Scientific American
248:120-133……………………………………………………………………….337
Phillips, O., and A. Gentry. 1993a. The useful plants of Tambopata, Peru: I.
Statistical hypotheses tests with a new quantitative technique. Economic Botany
47 (1): 15-32……………………………………………………………………….347
---. 1993b. The useful plants of Tambopata, Peru: II. Additional hypothesis testing
in quantitative ethnobotany. Economic Botany 47 (1): 33-43……………………365
Plowman, T. 1984. The ethnobotany of coc (Erythroxylum spp., Erythroxylaceae).
Pages 62-111 in G.T. Prance and J.A. Kallunki, editors. Ethnobotany in the
Neotropics. Volume 1. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, Ny…………...377
Sherman, P.W. and J. Billing. 1999. Darwinian gastronomy. Bioscience………..403
Smith, C.M. 1997. Jung’s Theory of the Soul. Pages 101-143 in Jung and
Shamanism. Paulist Press, 274 p………………………………………………….415
Stauss, E. 1988. New nonopioid painkiller shows promise in animal tests. Science
279: 32-33………………………………………………………………………….439
Stoffle, R.W., D.B. Halmo, M.J. Evans, and J.E. Olmsted. 1990. Calculating the
cultural significance of American Indian plants: Paiute and Shoshone ethnobotany at
Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Ameican Anthropologist 92: 416-432………………..441
Tyler, V.E. 1996. Natural products and medicine: an overview. Pages 3-10 in M.
Balick et al., editors. Medicinal resources of the tropical forest. Columbia, NY…459
Westmacott, R. 1992a. Expressions of values, ideals, and beliefs. Pages 87-100 in
R. Westmacott, editor. African-American Gardens and Yards, 1st Edition.
University of Tennessee, Knoxville……………………………………………….469
---. 1992b. Practices. Pages 82-86 in R. Westmacott, editor. African-American
Gardens and Yards, 1st Edition. University of Tennessee, Knoxville…………….471
---. 1992c. A search for identity in African-American Gardens. Pages 101-113 R.
Westmacott, editor. African-American Gardens and Yards, 1st Edition. University
of Tennessee, Knoxville…………………………………………………………...478
Wickens, G. 1990. What is economic botany? Economic Botany 44 (1):12-23…485
Nature. 1999. ICSU seeks………………………………………………………..502
RAFI 2000. “Stop biopracy in Mexico” ………………………………………….503
Fact sheet from Maya ICGB. 2000……………………………………………….513
The Supplementary
WORKSHOPS
Ethnic Rhythms and Dances
By
Henry L. Gómez A.
&
Indigenous Mythology and Contemporary
Latin American Literature
By
Gabriela Demergasso
La Danza Etnica
FRAGMENTOS DE UNA ENSEÑANZA DESCONOCIDA
HENRY L. GÓMEZ A.
PROGRAMA
1. INTRODUCCIÓN: RESEÑA BREVE
SOBRE EL TALLER
2. CALENTAMIENTO POR MEDIO DE LO
CORPÓREO Y RITMOS COMPUESTOS
POR TAMBOR
3. COLOMBIA: PROYECCIÓN ÉTNICA
ATLÁNTICA Y PACIFICA
4. BRASIL: PROYECCIÓN ÉTNICA BRASILERA
MAMBO Y ZAMBIA
5. LATINOAMÉRICA: SALSA
6. RITUAL NEGROIDE DE CUMBIA
NOCTURNA
7. CONFERENCIA DE LAS REGIONES
ÉTNICAS BRASILERAS PROYECCIÓN DE
VIDEO
8. IMPROVISACIÓN DE RITMOS ETNICOS
CULTURA LATINOAMERICANA – ETNIA, CULTURA Y MOVIMIENTO
TALLER FRAGMENTOS SE UNA ENSEÑANZA DESCONOCIDA
En Latinoamérica la diversidad étnica ha ervido como medio de información, que
mantiene y transmite la vida cotidiana de sus oficios y quehaceres en tiempos de
vigilia y ocio.
Hay diferentes étnics y recintos comunitarios en esta parte de la América,
indígenas, nativos, mestizos, negros, europeos habitantes de Latinoamérica. De
acuerdo a su ubicación geográfica manejan sus propias expresiones de
movimiento y folklor.
En este trabajo enfatizaremos varias zonas de Colombia, Brasil, y una historia
breve de los diferentes grupos étnicos de Latinoamérica.
De los grupos étnicos Colombianos existen cuatro zonas que son:
1. Zona Cultural Andina: (central) Movimientos influenciados por la cultura
Europea
2. Zona Cultural Caribe Atlántico: Procedencia Africana
3. Zona Cultural Pacífica: Procedencia Africana
4. Zona Cultural de la Orinoquía o Llanos Orientales: Procedencia del viejo
continente
Solamente enfocaré los movimientos étnicos de la Región Atlántica y Pacífica.
Zona Atlántica: Cumbia, mapalé, garabato, buyerengue, gaita
Zona Pacífica: Currulao, bunde
Estas zonas Atlántica y Pacífica ha marcado muchísimo dentro de la cultura
Colombiana, y es uno de los movimientos étnicos junto con el folklor ruso más
enriquecedor del planeta.
Para la proyección de este taller, se llevará la música etnica autóctona de cada
región y su movimiento nativo grabado especialmente con grupos étnicoa
latinoamericanos, para el trabajo de etnobiología en Costa Rica.
En Colombia existen cuatro tipos de instrumentos musicales representativos de
diferentes étnias.
1. Membrafonos: Por medio del golpe o membrana, tambores: tambor alegre
llamador tambor hembra.
2. Aerófonos: Sonido del aire, kenas, flautas traversas, caña de millo.
3. Cordófonos: Sonido de cuerda tiple, guitarra, lira.
4. Idiófonos: Que producen el sonido por medio del sacudir o choque, maracas,
platillos, claves.
FRAGMENTOS DE UNA ENSEÑANZA DESCONOCIDA
“Cada raza, cada época, cada nación, cada país, cada clase, cada profesión,
posee un número definido de posturas y de movimientos que le son propios.
Los movimientos y las posturas, o actitudes, siendo los más permanente e
inmutable que hay en el hombre, controlan su forma de pensamiento, así como
su forma de sentimiento. Pero el hombre ni siquiera hace uso de todas sus
posturas y de todos sus movimientos que le son posibles. Cada uno adopta
cierto número de ellos conforme a su individualidad. De modo que el repertorio
de posturas y de movimiento de cada individuo es muy limitado.
“El carácter de los movimientos y actitudes de cada época, de cada raza, y de
cada clase, esta indisolublemente ligado a formas definidas de pensar y de
sentir. El hombre es incapaz de cambiar la forma de sus pensamientos y
sentimientos, mientras no haya cambiado su repertorio de posturas y
movimientos.
“Las formas de pensamiento y sentimiento se pueden llamar, las posturas y los
movimientos del pensamiento y del sentimiento y cada uno tiene un número
determinado de ellos. Todas las posturas motrices intelectuales y emocionales
estan ligadas entre sí.
“El análisis y el estudio coordinados de nuestros pensamientos y sentimientos
por un lado, y de nuestras funciones motrices por el otro muestran que cada uno
de nuestros movimientos voluntarios o involuntarios es un pasar inconciente de
una postura a otra, ambas igualmente mecánicas.
“Es una ilusión creer que nuestros movimientos son voluntarios, todos nuestros
movimientos son automáticos. Y nuestros pensamientos, nuestros sentimientos
también lo son. El automatismo de nuestros pensamientos y de nuestros
sentimientos corresponde de manera precisa al automatismo de nuestros
movimientos. El uno se puede cambiar sin el otro. De manera que si la atención
del hombre concentra, digamos en la transformación de sus pensamientos
automáticos, los movimientos y actitudes habituales intervendrán enseguida en
el nuevo curso del pensamiento, al imponerle las antiguas asociaciones
rutinarias. Pero hay que comprender que para movilizar una fuerza de voluntad
suficiente para mantener a un hombre en una postura desacostumbrada, la
orden o el mandato desde afuera: STOP, es indispensable. El hombre no puede
darse a si mismo la orden de stop. Su voluntad no obedecerá esta orden como
lo he dicho, la razón es que la combinación de sus posturas habituales,
intelectuales, emocionales y motrices es más fuerte que la voluntad del hombre.
La orden de stop, dirigida sobre las actitudes motrices y viniendo de afuera,
ocupa el lugar de las posturas del pensamiento y del sentimiento. Estas
posturas y sus efectos son abolidos por así decirlo por la orden stop. Y en este
caso, las actitudes motrices obedecen a la voluntad.”
P.D. OUSPENSKY
BRASIL: De la zona brasilera y de la selva amazónica se enfatizará en los ritmos de
mambo y zamba. Y se proyectará un video de todas las regiones étnicas Brasileras.
Salsa: Esta proyección de movimiento es muy importante dentro de la vida cotidiana
latinoamericana. Se enfatizará en su parte sonora de movimiento y de estructuras que
se utilizan a nivel social (La Danza). Se proyectará dicho ritmo de salsa con los
compositores más representativos a nivel mundial.
COLOMBIA Y SUS ETNIAS
Zona Atlántica:
CUMBIA: El nombre es apócope de cumbiamba, este término debe tener relación con
la voz antillana “cumbancha” que en Cuba significa jolgorio o parranda, ambas se
derivan de la voz negra “cumbe” baile negro de la guinea continental Española o de
“kumba” palabra que según el antropólogo Fernando Ortiz, significa hacer ruido.
Gerneralmente se confunde cumbia con cumbiamba pero enla práctica son dos cosas
diferentes, ya que cumbiamba se refiere al festival o al lugar donde se baila no solo
cumbia; si no otros ritmos como bullerengue, mapalé, porro, etc; también se le llama
cumbiamba a las comparsas que bailan cumbia en los carnavales de Barranquilla, en
el magdalena, se la dice así a la reunión de bailadores de cumbia, en tanto que
cumbia es la tonada musical y coreográfica, aire típico dominante en todo el litoral
Atlántico.
MAPALÉ: Tonada y danza de ritmo binario con canto y palmoteo para el
acompañamiento al parecer traido por los negros bozales del golfo de guinea, este
ritmo se arraigó en Colombia, sobre todo en la costa norte que lo asimiló y le dio su
característica peculiar.
Con el nombre de mapalé también se conoce un pez y un tambor de dos parches; son
movimientos de parejas sueltas, sin coreografía definida, sus movimientos son
frenéticos y eróticos con base en saltos, caidas, contorsiones, espasmos, zarandeos,
arrastradas, fugas y enfrentamiento entre hombres y mujeres.
GARABATO: Danza o comparsa que tiene como personaje prinicpal la muerte. Es
una especie de danza macabra de la época medieval, en la que se dramatiza la lucha
entre la vida y la muerte.
BULLERENGUE: Los esclavos traidos de Africa en la época de la colonia no olvidaron
los rituales de su tierra natal, por lo tanto, cada vez que tenían oportunidad lo ponían
en prática, por lo general clandestinamente, porque la mayoría de sus amos no les
permitían cultivar sus ancestros culturales. Cuando se crearon los palenques los
negros tuvieron oportunidad de compartir muchas costumbres propios del Africa. Fue
allí donde se originaron muchas de las supervivencias actuales, entre ellas el
bullerengue del cual se dice que en palenque bolivar era y es, un baile de iniciación a
la pubertad, aunque también se dan bullerengues para acontecimientos fúnebres
llamados “Lumbalú”. Los tambores, el palmoteo y los cantos con voz prima y
respondedoras, ponen descubierto sus raices Africanas.
Zona Pacífica:
CURRULAO: La palabra currulao tiene una dudosa etimología y sobre lo cual se han
planteado varias hipótesis, se dice que este nombre obedece al del tambor tradicional
de una sola membrana llamado conuno o cununo, que es de uso obligado en la
ejecución rítmica de este aire; esta palabra nace de la voz quechua “cununúnnun”
(onomatopeya del trueno, según Leonardo Tascón). Proceso de corruptela idiomática
de la voz conuno se derivó del adjetivo “cununado” o “cununao” y de esta salió la
palabra currulao.
Dentro de la proyección del taller sería importante un rito nocturno el cual se realizaba
en la época esclavista y feudal (música, tambor y danza; velas para mujeres; hombres
danzan en círculo).
BRASIL: Mambo y Zamba
Ritmos alegres de carnaval y de fiesta en el cual hay una conjunción de ritmos
indígenas amazónicas y de gran alegría para todos los grupos étnicos; se maneja
muchísimo el movimiento fino y grueso de una forma erótica y sensual. Para esta
proyección se manejará la música del compositor Pérez Prado.
CENTROAMERICA:
Como area influenciada por las culturas indígenas del norte de America del Sur y con
la aposición de novedades introducidas por los esclavos negros del Caribe
prinipalmente, la música y movimiento de esta región americana son sincreticos. No
hay tradición conservada de ritmos o instrumentos indígenas excepto en algunos
bailes rituales o de grupo en algunos pueblos, por ejemplo, en los guaymi que son
mayoritariamente panameños.
Quedan exceptuados los ritmos de caracter religioso como Santeria, el Vodu haitiano,
el Candomble de Brasil y similares, que se han mantenido por su caracter liturgico si
no por sus aspectos puramente musicales o coreogáficos.
Es en la música popular que se manifiestas las diversas influencias autoctonas e
importadas pero, lamentablemente, con la invasion de los ritmos “modernos” de
Norteamerica y Europa, la percepción de las raices locales es cada vez más debil y
sutil.
TALLER
Literatura Etnica y Latinoamericana Contemporánea:
Un modo de acceder a las culturas
Ethnobiología 2001, OET
Gabriela Demergasso
Introducción
En todas las sociedades el hombre, sujeto creador, a generado historias a partir de
las cosas fundamentales de su entorno, de la gente que lo rodea, de la tierra que trabaja, de
sus alegrías y penas, de lo que alienta sus miedos y esperanzas, sus creencias y mitos.
América Latina, síntesis de culturas, conforma una simbiosis de elementos que se
manifiestan en las distintas expresiones artísticas de sus pueblos. Europa y Africa se
encontraron con esta tierra mezclándose, concertando un prodigioso crisol de
civilzaciones, un lugar de sincretismos y transculturaciones, conformando el Nuevo
Mundo.
Enfrentar la literatura latinoamericana significa, entonces, reconocer signos de
nuestro devenir histórico, además de rescatar y dignificar la tradición indígena y popular
de textos que proporcionan valiosas pruebas de calidad poética, del juego de la
imaginación fundiéndose en las costumbres cotidianas, en la naturaleza, en las creencias.
Cada país, cada región, cada población, ha logrado expresiones culturales repletas de una
riqueza específica, muchas de ellas propias de los pueblos indígenas y tantas otras que se
generaron a partir de la mixtura de esas culturas conlos colonizadores e inmigrantes.
La intención de este taller es lograr la interpretación de distintas formas de
expresión de la lengua española en los países latinoamericanos, como una vía para acceder
a sus culturas, desde las bases de nuestros narradores indígenas (a través de trabajos de
traducción de sus lenguas nativas al castellano) hasta los escritores contemoráneos. De
esta manera, se acercarán a la comprensión de partes de nuestra historia, de nuestras
leyendas, de nuestras costumbres, obteniendo una visión global de las diferencias y
similitudes culturales de América Latina.
Objectivos
Se leerán cuentos, relatos, narraciones y leyendas en español, comenzando con
ideas simples y avanzando hacia usos más complejos del lenguaje. Se generará un espacio
para la discusión, análisis y comprensión de los textos, manejando prioritariamente el
español, con el objecto de:
-
interpretar textos en español
-
practicar el lenguaje
-
comprender las distintas formas de expresión del español
-
identificar relaciones y diferencias entre distintas culturas indígenas centroamericanas
-
reconocer momentos históricos, criterios políticos, situaciones cotidianas y actitudes a
través de la lectura de escritores latinoamericanos contemporáneos
Bibliografía
-Literatura Contemporánea
Benedetti, Mario. 2000. Antología poética. Ed, Sudamericana, 243 pp.
(Uruguay)
Benedetti, Mario. 1955. Corazonada. En: 16 cuentos latinoamericanos. Coedición
Latinoamericana. 199-203. (Uruguay)
Barzuna, Guillermo (ed). Canción hispanoamericana: literatura y folclore. Ed.
Nueva Década. 90 pp.
Cerruto, Oscar. 1958. El círculo. En: 16 cuentos latinoamericanos. Coedición
Latinoamericana. 47-54. (Bolivia)
Cortázar, Julio. 1985. Casa tomada. En: Julio Cortázar, cuentos (Antología).
Hyspamérica Ed. 11-16. (Argentina)
Del Risco Bermúdez, René. 1968. Ahora que vuelvo Ton. En: 16 cuentos
latinoamericanos. Coedición Latinoamericana. 185-193. (República Dominicana)
Debravo, Jorge. 1998. Nosotros los hombres. Ed. Costa Rica. 108 pp. (Costa
Rica)
Debravo, Jorge. 1998. Antología mayor. Ed. Costa Rica. 161 pp (Costa Rica)
Duncan, Quince. 1981. Una cancíon en la madrugada. Ed. Costa Rica. 81 pp
(Costa Rica)
Eguez, Iván. 1981. Conciencia breve. En: 16 cuentos latinoaericanos. Coedición
Latinoamericana. 47-54. (Ecuador)
Esquivel, Laura. 1994. Como agua para chocolate. Ed. Narrativa Mondadori
173pp. (México)
Galeano, Eduardo. 1997. El libro de los abrazos. Siglo Ventiuno Ed. 265 pp.
(Uruguay)
García Márquez, Gabriel. 1992. La luz es como el agua. En: Doce cuentos
peregrinos. Ed. Oveja Negra. 193-197. (Colombia)
Guillén, Nicolás. 1984. Sóngoro cosongo. Motivos de son. West Indies Ltd. Ed.
Losada. 118 pp. (Cuba)
Guillén, Nicolás. 1997. Poemas de amor y música de cámara. Ed. Andrés Bello.
148 pp.
Mastretta, Angeles. 1998. Mujeres de ojos grandes. Ed.
Neruda, Pablo. 1982. Canto general II. Ed. Losada. 208 pp.
Paz, Senel. 1980. Como un escolar sencillo. En; 16 cuentos latinoamericanos.
Coedición Latinoamericana. 91-98. (Cuba)
Quiroga, Horacio. 1988. Los cuentos de mis hijos. Ed. Alfaguara. 96 pp.
(Argentina)
Ramírez, Sergio. El centerfielder. En: : 16 cuentos latinoaericanos. Coedición
Latinoamericana. 146-153. (Nicaragua)
Soto, Rodrigo. 1985. Uno en la llovizna. En: : 16 cuentos latinoaericanos.
Coedición Latinoamericana. 78-86. (Costa Rica)
-Literatura Etnia
Carías, C., H. Leyva, R. Martínez Miralda, E. Ordoñez S. y J. Travieso. 1989.
Tradición oral de indígena Yamaranguila. Ed. Guaymuras. 208 pp. (Honduras)
Chichimuch, Rogativa con cuentos de maíz y jade. Ed. Saqil Tzij. 26 pp .
(Guatemala)
COOPA-IETSAY. 1997. Narraciones Ngabes: revitilización de la cultura
tradicional. Ed. IETSAY. 114pp. (Costa Rica-Panamá)
ESEDIR. 1992. Tzijonkan 2: lo que ha sido contando… Ed. ESEDIR. 76
pp.
(Guatemala)
ESEDIR. 1993. Tzijonkan: lo que ha sido contando… Ed. ESEDIR. 63PP.
(Guatemala)
Ferreto, Adela. 1985. La creación de la tierra y otras. Historias del buen Sibú y de
los BriBri. Ed. Universidad Esraral a Distancia. 71pp. (Costa Rica)
IETSAY. 2000. Narraciones Malekus. Ed. IETSAY. 88pp. (Costa Rica)
Kungiler, Iguaniginape (compilador). 1997. Yar Burba, Anmar Buba: Espíritu de
tierra, Nuestro Espíritu. Ed. Congreso General de la Cultura Kuna. 116pp. (Panamá)
Leis, Raúl. 1992. Machí, un kuna en la ciudad. Ed. Ceaspa. 205 pp. (Panamá)
Margery Peña, Enrique y Fransisco Rodríguez Atencio. 1993. Narraciones
Bocotas (Dialecto de Chiriquí). Ed. Univ. Costa Rica. 106pp. (Costa Rica)
Quesada, Miguel. 1996. Narraciones Boruncas. Ed. Univ. Costa Rica. 227 pp.
(Costa Rica)
Quesada, Miguel. 1998. Tradiciones Huetares. Ed. EUNA. 186 pp. (Costa Rica)
Wagua, Aiban. 2000. En defensa de la vida y la armonía. Ed. Instituto
Investigaciones Koshun Kalu. 229pp. (Panamá)
GUAYMI Indigenous Reservations:
~Coto Brus
~Venkatesan, Willetts, Zellie, pp.1-10
~Baker, Folse, Tschannen-Moran, pp.11-19
~Bromberg, Kieves, Williams, pp.20-29
~Venkatesan, Willetts, Zellie, Baker, Folse, TschannenMoran, Bromberg, Kieves, Williams, pp.30-41
~Abrojos-Montezuma
~Moye, Ruiz, Teich, pp.42-51
~Brownlee, Kim, Loggins, pp. 52-63
~Edmonds, Hart, Huang, pp.64-72
~Moye, Ruiz, Teich, Brownlee, Kim, Loggins, Edmonds, Hart,
Huang, pp. 73-86
1
A Traditional People in a Modern Era:
An Ethnobiological Study of the Guaymi of Coto Brus
Venkatesan, A.1, Willetts, E. 2, Zellie, H. 3
1
Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, DukeUniversity, 2Dept. of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, 3Dept. of
Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Pennsylvania State University
Abstract: Interviewing two families of Guaymi origin afforded us the opportunity to
view how different lifestyles can be on one reservation. While one interviewee was a
knowledgeable healer and informant, the others had just finished their days work as
farmers, under the authority of a native Costa Rican. Their worldviews differed as did
their educational background, proving the stark contrast of life on a reservation. We
received information above and beyond what we were initially set to ask from the first
interview, along with a woman from the city who was cooking in his kitchen, and received
very few direct answers from the second, who were not well versed in Spanish.
Key words: Coto Brus, Guaymi, Costa Rica, Ethnobiology, Westernization
Introduction
The Guaymi people are an indigenous people in southern Costa Rica and Western Panama of
population around 3000, as recorded by the Registro Civil (Civil Registry) (IETSAY p.9). Historians
believe that the Guaymi are an ethnic branch of the Mayan culture. A member of the Chibchan language
group, the Guaymi live in various reservations in the area, including Conte Burica, Osa, Abrojo
Montezuma, and Coto Brus (IETSAY p.10). We were chosen to visit the Coto Brus reservation in the
Chiriqui Province of Costa Rica, located at 83°05’W, 8°48’N (IGNCR CR2CM-9, 1988), population
1500, to better understand their intimate relationship with their surroundings, which cannot be completed
by reading books or watching videos about the Guaymi. It is essential in an ethnobiological study to
formulate our own perspective through personal contact with the natives.
Materials and Methods
A standardized questionnaire prepared beforehand included general questions in five different
categories: Medicine, Plant and Animal Names, Food, Conservation, and Everyday Life. Themed
questions particular to each group were also formulated. Our group focused on Westernization, the
2
effects of the encroaching industrialization and development on indigenous societies. A voice-activated
recorder, Golfito map (IGNCR CR2CM-9, 1988), notebook and pen, Emmons’ (1997) Neotropical
Rainforest Mammals , and Stiles and Skutch’s (1989) A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica were used in the
ethnological assessment. These results are given in Tables 1 and 2.
Jose González, a Costa Rican botanist, and Guillermo Archibold, a Kuna native to Panama,
accompanied us on our interviews. We then randomly chose two households, making sure beforehand
that they were indigenous Guaymi. Mr. Gonzalez introduced us to the indigenous people, explaining that
we are students studying ethnobiology, and Mr. Archibold assisted in translation with the second
household.
During the interviews we used the questionnaires as a guide in our conversations. Before
beginning the interview we explained to the household what we were doing and why, as to obtain
informed consent in accordance with the Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics (International Society of
Ethnobiology 1998). We took notes and tape-recorded the first interview with informed consent. We
were not limited to speaking with the head of the households. We took the liberty to converse with the
children, women, and pets of the home.
Results
We found the reservation to be along one main road, with sparsely visible houses, but the
physical organization of the community extended back from the road, and initial houses. The land
appeared to receive much rain and one of the taxis needed to be pushed out of the mud upon leaving.
People seen walking were wearing both store bought clothing and shoes as the women most often wore
indigenous, colorful dresses that consisted of store bought material with hand− or material−sewn
stitching. Abundant flora included Tiquisque (Xanthosoma spp.), bananas (Musa cu), and coffee (Coffea
arabica). Barbed wire was commonly used to form gates and fences, but gates were not locked from the
road, nor were there locks on the doors of houses.
3
The first residence was clearly a homestead, with an outdoor cooking area, chickens, dogs, pigs,
hanging laundry, and hammocks. Several members of the family were present, and attending to ‘daily
life’ activities. This residence had two sections, one containing a sink and cooking hearth that had a roof
but no walls, and a second section that had walls and was more contained. Two adult females, three boys
(one of them was 3.5 years old) and a girl (5 years), a baby, and an adult male were present. The male,
Informant 1, presented himself as the man of the house. His age was questionable, as he told us he was
eighty, but neither looked that old, nor seemed to logically be the father of the many children present. He
mentioned that eleven people live in his residence, and that he had lived there for 22 years after coming
from Panama. It was not clear where or who his wife was as Guaymi are known to practice polygamy.
After mentioning another residence nearby, it was implied that the family slept at a different location and
only remained at the visited location during the day.
Informant 1 said that his oldest son was attending University in Cartago and was a music major.
The eldest son present was wearing a school uniform, but that day was a national holiday. The adult
females did not approach us, and continued with tending the baby and preparing food. Some items of note
present in the house were eyeglasses, a sewing machine, and a radio. A homemade crib, a large pile of
homemade clothing, and a makeshift hearth on an elevated area or table were present. Only the father was
wearing footwear, plastic sandals. This family spoke in Spanish, although Informant 1 ‘claimed’ that he
spoke poor Spanish. Heidi, one of the interviewers, was able to speak with a woman who was cooking in
the kitchen, Informant 2, who moved to the reservation from the city. She will not return because she is
so comfortable here, due to the community environment, all the sharing and general countryside
atmosphere. She remarked that she was very content to be the only wife of her husband. In a whispered
tone, she expressed that we came to a very special place and that there was a lot of medicine here. She
proceeded to show Heidi carved bark which was used to flush the toxins from the kidneys and a plant that
purified the blood; she was irresolute in revealing the names of these medicinals. The general
environment of the interview was pleasant, albeit undertaken under the constant cloud of smoke arising
from the cooking hearth; Informant 1 did not seem to take notice, but Informant 2 laughed about how it
4
burned her eyes. She offered Heidi pejivalles (Maranthes panamensis) and chicha de yuca (Manihot
esculenta), which she then offered to the other interviewers.
Informants 3 and 4 were two workers that we encountered at a non-residential building. Their
ages were unknown, but they appeared to be about 18 and 30 respectively and they were a son and his
father. Jose conversed with them for a few minutes before we began our interview. Apparently, they were
two Panamanians who came here five years ago from Chiriqui and to work for a Costa Rican, who was
also present. The Costa Rican was very friendly and sociable but distinctly remained out of our interview
and conversed with Jose. The building did not appear domestic, no animals were around, the yard was
unkempt and had only one walkway. It appeared that the two workers had just come from a path leading
to the rear of the house. They indicated that they were just heading home. A coffee field was located
across the street. We were not invited inside, and found our own seats on logs and rocks, and one of us
stood for the interview. Informant 3 sat in the doorway while Informant 4 remained standing behind.
Their clothes were dirty and well worn. They both spoke Spanish, but not well. Informant 3 commented,
as we had to repeatedly ask him the questions, that he could not hear us well.
The first family seemed mildly reserved at first to our interview. But as the interview progressed,
and we made it clear we were students and not publishing scientists, Informant 1 became visually more at
ease. At first he was standing while we sat, but then after about 15 minutes he continued talking, sitting
amongst us. He revealed that many others had come in the past to ask questions or seek answers from the
community, but it was not understood if he was indicating his personal experience or not. He explained
that he would not reveal all his knowledge to us, and directly would not discuss the specific use of plants
since in the past his knowledge has been misused for monetary purposes. He indicated that he did not
approve of these sorts of investigations, but did not mind the people who came solely to learn about the
culture, such as students. We wanted to make this clear, and asked him if he had any questions for us. He
emphasized the fact that many ticos (Costa Ricans) and natives were intermarrying, but it was not evident
to what end he mentioned this. Twice, he also mentioned the fact that Catholicism and another
denomination are in conflict, but it was not understood if this was within the community, Costa Rica, or
5
the world in general. Moreover, he was very interested that success in the United States is solely based on
money. He emphasized that he sweat for all that he needed and Americans spend millions of dollars ´to
fly to the stars.´ He wanted us to verify that U.S. citizens are greatly concerned with money, as he stated
this in an accusatory voice. We replied that our culture thought that one day people may be able to live
there, and just because we can, we do.
Westernization seemed to play a role in the material culture as well. Other than the items we
could see around the house such as the plastic sandals, glasses, sewing machine, and some clothing,
Informant 1 rattled off a number of items the house consistently bought: salt, machetes, bread, rice
(Paspalidium geminatum), sugar, dulce, watches, shoes, coffee (Coffea arabica), matches, and a radio to
listen to the news. Some community members have a television. Methods of obtaining these items
included a bus ride or a walk to San Vito.
Informant 1 spoke of the contamination of the water these days because of people throwing
garbage in the rivers, and that the rivers were ‘veneno río,’ meaning poisoned river. He also mentioned
that there are problems with large-scale agriculture because smaller farms are unable to sell any of their
crops at a competitive price.
Upon asking him about his own culture and the Guaymi language we learned that Guaymi was
his first language. His children knew or were learning it at home, as they only learn Spanish in school
because the teachers think Guaymi is not important.
. We presented the wildlife books, with which the children were very fascinated, as Informant 1
obliged to give us the names in Guaymi. He knew a fair number of the 48 species of mammals and birds
we asked (see Table 1 and 2 respectively); and in some cases he indicated he knew the general family
name, but that the names specific to color or other characteristics is what he did not know. For some of
the species he would give extra information, such as that the Cura or Jaguar, only lived in the mountains.
We were not able to exactly discern his role in the community, or what kind of work he did. We
draw the conclusions that he was an important figure by his mannerisms, intelligence of worldly things,
and the attitude of Informant 2 towards the medicine contained in the house. As for the community
6
organization, Informant 1 mentioned a basic political structure, a minister of health (whose job for
example, includes mandating that animals be contained in each family plot to prevent the spread of
disease), and religion as being the three most important things.
When talking about medicine, Informant 1 said that the family only used the remedies in nature,
and that he could not understand why people would go very far to hospitals and not do the same because
natural cures are better. The obvious edibles present were corn (Zea mays), pejiballes (Maranthes
panamensis), and plantains (Musa sp.). At the end of the interview Informant 1 gave Guillermo an ear of
corn from one of the large bags as a gift to plant in his Kuna community, a very special gift.
The second interview did not add much material. The answers that we received were hesitantly
believed. It appeared that Informants 3 and 4 were very uncertain as to our purpose and the atmosphere
was very uncomfortable. We attempted to ask simple questions about the environment in hopes of making
them at ease, but every response was either a restatement of the question or a nod with little to no eye
contact. Informant 3 did most of the talking and Informant 4 was mostly silent, laughing occasionally. We
often had to repeat the question, no matter how simple, only to receive a reply indicating they did not
understand. Some of their replies also did not make sense. When we asked about medicine, Informant 3
answered that he did not know much. When we asked if many people or tourists came through the
community, he said no. He also said that it does not rain much in the reservation and that today he had to
go and wash the coffee plants, but as it is understood coffee is harvested in November. We did not
attempt to ask them the names of the plants and animals in Guaymi.
The most interesting comparison between the two interviews is that all three interviewees were
originally from Panama. It was not evidently clear what the differences in economic status were between
Informants 1, 2, and 3. We felt as though the family environment made the interview much smoother for
the first family.
The difference in openness between the two interviews reveals something about the nature of the
people of the Coto Brus community. Obviously, both households had some reserve towards us. This is
perhaps indicative of past incidences or maybe general opinions towards foreigners or U.S. citizens.
7
The influence of outside culture is evident, but not overwhelmingly so. The community seems to
be very agriculturally based, and it does not appear that anyone would travel outside the community to
work. There existed one small general tienda at the entrance to the community, but no other visible shops.
The paved main road was located at least 15 minutes away from the tienda, and it was in very rugged
condition. There was no indication that the community was doing anything to prevent or encourage
modernization on any level.
Conclusion
Our perceptions of the Guaymi culture are very one sided because we received most of our
information from one interviewee, and we can not place much reliance on that data. It is difficult to draw
conclusions about the community in general because of this, but the information obtained gives many
suggestions of the way of life in the Coto Brus reservation. It does appear that westernization is present
materially, while the physical presence of foreigners seems to have a marginal effect on the way of life.
However, it seems that there is a sizable Panamanian Guaymi population in this reservation. It is
interesting to consider if this migration may be related or secluded to the Guaymi reservation.
8
Table 1. Data collected from Mammalia Faunal Questionnaire
Plate
Picture Number Scientific Name
Common English Name
1
8 Chironectes minimus
Water oppossum
11 Didelphis marsupialis
Common oppossum
12 Didelphis virginiana
Virginia oppossum
2
9 Marmosa robinsoni
Mouse oppossum
4
2 Bradypus tridactylus
3-toed sloth
5 Choloepus hoffmanni
2-toed sloth
6 Tamandua tetradactyla
Tamandua
8 Myrmecophaga tridactyla Giant anteater
5
6 Trachops cirrhosus
Fringe-lipped bat
6
1 Glossophaga soricina
Common long-tongue bat
5 Artibeus jamaicensis
Large fruit-eating bat
10
6 Saguinus geoffroyi
Geoffroy's tamarin
11
6 Saimiri oerstedii
C. American squirrel monkey
9 Cebus capucinus
Capuchin monkey
13
5 Allouatta palliata
Howler monkey
14 3a
Ateles geoffroyii
Spider monkey
15
4 Nasua narica
Coati
6 Procyon lotor
Racoon
8 Speothos venaticus
Bush dog
16
1 Mustela frenata
Weasel
3 Galictis vittata
Grison
4 Conepatuis semistriatus Skunk
5 Eira barbara
Tayra
17
6 Panthera onca
Jaguar
Spanish Name
Zorro de agua
Zarigüeya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedos
Perezoso de dos dedos
Oso colmenero
Oso caballo
Murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
Tamarín, Marmoseta
Mona ardilla
Cairara, Machin blanco
Mono congo
Mono colorado
Pizote solo
Mapache
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Grisón
Gato cañero
Tolomuco
Tigre/Jaguar
Guaymi Name
Sula: toogay
Kulda
Kulda
Sula
Coo
Coo
Misuli
Misulicree
Nibida
Nibida
Nibida
Hourin
Droa
Droa
Hourintai en
Hourintai en
Moovia con sen
Moovia con sen
Moovia con sen
Not native
Not native
Not native
Not native
Cora
9
Table 2. Data collected from Bird Faunal
Questionnaire
Plate
Picture Number Scientific Name
5
6 Ardeas herodias
9 Egretta caerulea
10 Egretta tula
16 Tigrisoma lineatum
6
1 Butorides striatus
13 Aramides cajanea
18 Jacana spinosa
7
3 Podilymbus podiceps
11
12 Calidris mauri
12
3 Crax rubra
4 Penelope pururascens
5 Chamaepetes unicolor
6 Tinamus major
13
3 Cathartes aurea
5 Sarcorramphus papa
15
8 Herpetotheres cachinans
9a
Milvago chimachima
17
9 Harpia harpyja
18
5 Columba nigrirostris
7 Columa talpacoti
19
1 Ara macao
3 Amazona farinosa
14 Brotogeris jugularis
20
9 Tyto alba
21
7 Piaya cayana
17 Caprimulgus vociferus
27 1b
Ceryle alcion
16 Pteroglossus frantzii
Common English Name
Blue Heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) Heron
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacana
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Crested guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing Falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pigeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn Owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red billed aracari
Spanish Name
Garzón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta Nivosa
Garza-tigre Cuellinud
Garcilla estriada
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacana centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón Grande
Pava Crestada
Pava Negra
Tinamu
Zopilote
Zopilote Rey
Guaco
Caracara
Aguilarpía
Paloma Piquicorta
Tortolita Rojiza
Guacamayo Rojo
Lore verde
Pariquito Barbinaranja
Lechuza Ratonera
Cuco Ardilla
Chotocabras Norteño
Martin Pescador Norteño
Tucanillo Piquinaranijado
Guaymi Name
Noogwa crigday
Noogwa crigday
Noogwa crigday
Noogwa crigday
Noogwa crigday
Constrey
Constrey
Pato
Agoodyee
Erigui
Gwanay
Ooru
Monsoloro
Hooden
Mu
Mu
Mu
Mu
Udu
Udu
Roga
Ore
Durin
Igu
Tey gian
Tobora
Charrora
Binsi keala
10
Acknowledgements
Thanks to the Coto Brus Guaymi community for their hospitality.
Thanks to Francisco Rodriguez Atencio, Benito, and Esteban for their valuable insights.
Thanks to Jose González and Guillermo Archibold for their assistance in the field.
Much appreciation to Luis Diego Gómez and Rebecca Lutzy for their guidance.
References
Emmons, Louise H. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. Chicago. Plates 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 13, 14,
15, 16, 17. 307 p.
IETSAY. 1997. Narraciones Ngäbes: Revitalización de la Cultura Tradicional. pp. 9-10.
IGNCR. 1988. Golfito. CR2CM-9. 1:200,000.
International Society of Ethnobiology. 1998. International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) Code of Ethics.
Stiles, G. F. and Skutch, A. F. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Comstock Publishing. Plates 5,
6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, and 19. 511 p.
11
The Guaymí of Coto Brus, A Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment
1
Bryn Tschannen-Moran1, H. Baker2 and Henri Folse3
Dept. of Biology, Duke Univ. 2 Dept. of Biology, Univ. of Missouri
3
Dept. of Applied Math, Harvard Univ.
Abstract: We interviewed two members of the Coto Brus Guaymí community to
obtain a more accurate understanding of their culture and their relationships with
the ambient flora and fauna. Through two interviews and observations of the
households, we found a dichotomy within the community between a traditional
viewpoint and a progressive one. Guaymí (2), an elderly man with a traditional
viewpoint viewed clearing the forest as a means of progress, considered herbal
medicine as the only safe form, and owned modest possessions. Guaymí (1), a
man of 50, had a household with several modern amenities, was open to allopathic
medicine, and viewed deforestation as an environmental threat. The conflicting
views may be the result of western influence on the Guaymí culture.
Key Words: Guaymí, Costa Rica, Ethnobiology, Coto Brus, indigenous
Introduction:
The Guaymí are an indigenous people residing with reservation status in the
province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica (IGNCR CR2CM-8). Those now living in Costa Rica
are descendents of Guaymí slaves who were moved from Panama by Spaniards beginning
in 1514 (Stewart 1963). Historically, they hunted and utilized agriculture for food
production. Hammocks and low benches furnished their traditional houses. In addition to
these products, the Guaymí were adept at the production of artisan crafts and
metalworking. Personal adornment such as jewelry, precious stones and gold were
indications of status in ancient culture. Traditional dress included cotton dress for women
and cotton cloaks with gold plaques for men (Stewart 1963). Their extensive history has
shaped the life of modern Guaymís.
At approximately 10:00 am on July 25, 2001, we arrived at the village of Coto
Brus, a Guaymí reservation. Our objective was to conduct ethnobiological research on
their social structure, their daily life, their use of medicine, and the environment through
informal interviews with members of the community. The weather in Coto Brus on the
12
day of our visit was hot and humid with intermittent rain. Río Limón, a tributary of the
Coto Brus River (IGNCR 1988) traversed the town with bridges of varying sizes made of
wood and supported by metal cables. The Guaymí people were initially wary our
presence within their community, but were willing to answer questions and speak of their
community with increasing ease throughout the conversations.
Materials and Methods:
Materials included a microcassette tape recorder, field notebooks, cameras and
rain gear. In addition, we used A guide to the birds of Costa Rica (1989), Neotropical
rainforest mammals (1997), and Guía de aves de Costa Rica (1998) in obtaining folk
taxonomy information. We also used map CR2CM-8 in obtaining geographical
information (IGNCR 1988). Finally, we used a previously prepared standardized
questionnaire to guide our interviews.
With an indigenous Guaymí informant as our guide we entered the community on
foot. He led us to the houses of indigenous members of the society and gave us an initial
introduction in the native “dialect” of Guaymí. Despite the introduction, we were in all
cases prohibited from taping the conversations, and therefore resorted to note taking in
our documentation of the information. We followed the standardized group questionnaire
as well as observation of the property to obtain information regarding daily life, social
structure, the environment and medicine. We also obtained information regarding general
knowledge of Guaymí names of birds and animals based on the recognition of animal and
bird drawings in the aforementioned books.
Results:
13
Our observations gave us information about the agriculture and life of members of
the community. Crops observed varied between tiquisque (Xanthosoma sp.), corn (Zea
Mays), rice (Poaceae sp.), bananas (Musa sp.), and coffee (Coffea arabiga). We saw
several men on horseback with tools in hand, presumably going to work on farms; others
were spraying their fields with pesticides. Houses in the reservation area were made of
slabs of hand-chopped wood, in contrast to the houses immediately preceding the
reservation, which were constructed of stucco. Those both on and preceding the
reservation were roofed with tin. We conducted interviews in two households. The first
seemed to be more affluent than the second, as evidenced by the fact that the first had
running water, electricity, a television, and a typewriter, as well as books, a calculator,
and compact discs. A 50-year-old man, Guaymí (1), lived with his wife, daughter and
granddaughter. The second, in comparison, had fewer clothes and was nearly barren
inside, with the exception of six elevated beds and a cooking tool made of wood, possibly
used for grains. The only book we saw was a Bible translated into the Guaymí language.
The property had 20 people separated between two houses. A nearly 70 year old
grandfather, Guaymí (2), lived there with his wife, four children, and 14 grandchildren.
The property sat 100 yards from the river.
Daily life:
Both houses had separate kitchen buildings. The first had continuously running
water in the kitchen as well as a fire pit for smoking food outside. Guaymí (1) said that
the house was built from wood collected off the mountain and cut with an axe. The first
household also had a door with a lock, whereas the second did not have a door. The
second house had a smaller kitchen area with more big pots, presumably to feed the 20
14
people living in the area. Guaymí (2) brought water from the river to drink. Both houses
grew comparable foods for their personal consumption on their farms. Our Guaymí guide
told us that both men worked on larger farms in addition to their own. Animals kept by
the first household included chickens for eating and dogs as pets. The second had the
same with the addition of a horse. While the women wore traditional cotton dress, the
men wore modern clothes.
Folk Taxonomy:
Both informants showed considerable knowledge of indigenous names. Guaymí
(1) was more able to identify the animals than Guaymí (2), but only initially. According
to Alejandro, Guaymí (2) was very frightened by us and was trembling as he started the
exercise. For this reason, he was unable to identify the birds at the beginning and was
more able to do so as he relaxed over the course of the exercise. Also, he greatly
improved suddenly and became comparable to Guaymí (1) when his grandson brought
him his reading glasses, which happened at plate 13. The results are summarized in Table
1 and included in full in the Appendix.
Table 1
Guaymí 1
# mammals asked
# mammals identified
% mammals identified
# birds asked
# birds identified
% birds identified
Guaymí 2
24
17
70.8
28
22
78.6
24
17
70.8
28
13
46.4
Environment:
Both men indicated that the mountains had been cleared significantly over their
lives. Guaymí (1) was displeased with these changes and informed us that the river level
had gone down as a result of the clearing of the mountain. He claimed that it began with
15
Guaymí people but that “white” people had also come in and cleared the land. To combat
the problem, he told us that the community occasionally organized a vigilance to protect
the borders of the reservation. Guaymí (2), on the other hand, seemed to equate clearing
the land with progress and was pleased to tell us that clearing of the mountain was
occurring to afford more space for farms.
Social Structure:
Both men indicated that there were organizations that helped to run the Guaymí
community. They indicated that there were presidents of the organizations, but did not
indicate that there was a president for the total community. They claimed that these
leadership organizations helped people with work, everyday life, and with protection of
their culture. Guaymí (1) also indicated that there was an organization that worked with
people outside of the reservation for improvement of the Guaymí, maintaining positive
relations with outside groups.
Medicine:
Guaymí (1) accepts allopathic medicine in addition to herbal medicine.
Depending on the illness, he goes either to the hospital or to a botanical healer, or lets the
disease run its course. Guaymí (2), on the other hand, goes to the mountain to find herbs
to remedy his illness. He claimed knowledge of the plants used for healing. Both men
stated that the illnesses found most in the community were influenza, fever, diarrhea, and
vomiting. They both use herbs to cure these sicknesses, but Guaymí (1) mentioned that he
might also go to a clinic. After an illness, Guaymí (2) eats rice and bananas to prevent
further illness. Similarly, when asked about preventing illness in children, both Guaymí
(2) and our guide claimed that disease could be prevented solely with plants and without
16
the chemicals and vaccines of modern medicine. Guaymí (1), on the other hand, indicated
that they gave the children vaccinations. However, he added that they fed a young child
rice and millet (Surgam bicolor) so they would grow strong and avoid illness.
Discussion:
Overall, the daily lives of the two men are similar. Both eat similar food that they
grow for themselves while working on large farms for money. This reliance on
agriculture holds true to their traditional culture. Both knew of the social leadership, but
did not seem particularly interested. Apparently, it did not pertain to their daily existence.
Guaymí (1) showed a slightly greater awareness for relations with non-indigenous culture
by the fact that he mentioned an organization that worked with people outside of the
reservation.
We also noticed a dichotomy between the views of the two men. We conjecture
that this may be because Guaymí (1) was younger, wealthier (as evidenced by his running
water and electricity), and more educated (as evidenced by the books and calculator). He
was clearly more assimilated into modern society. On the other hand, Guaymí (2) still
lives a more traditional existence without electricity, running water or locks. His views
on medicine and conservation reflected this traditional lifestyle.
The two men evidenced very different views on deforestation of the mountains.
While Guaymí (1) saw clearing the land as negative and understood the relationship
between deforestation and lower water levels, Guaymí (2) held the more traditional view
that clearing the land represents progress. This suggests that an environmental conscience
is the result of modernization and education. In addition, Guaymí (1)’s openness to
allopathic medicine indicated that a larger degree of assimilation to Western culture.
17
This comparison reveals insights into how modernization affects the Guaymí.
While it has thus far had little effect on their occupations and daily lives, it has changed
their views on medicine, the environment and the way in which they relate to the natural
world.
Acknowledgements
Thanks to Alejandro Palacios, a Coto Brus healer who was our guide on the reservation,
and to Ignacio and Luís. Thanks also to Luís Diego Gómez and Rebecca Lutzy for their
generous assistance and valuable information.
References:
Emmons, L.H. 1997. Neotropical rainforest mammals. Chicago. 307 p.
Gomez, L.D., Capson, T., and J. Gonzalez. 2000. Ethnobiology July-August 2000.
Organization for Tropical Studies Undergraduate Summer Abroad Program.
146 p.
IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca. Mapa CR2CM-8. San José. 1:200.000.
International Society of Ethnobiology. 1998. Code of Ethics. Ethnobiology 2001 reader.
516 p. pp. 1-4.
Lothrop, S.K. 1963. pp. 253-6 in J.H. Steward (ed.) Handbook of South American
Indians. Vol. IV. Cooper Square. 609 p.
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1989. A Guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Comstock. 511 p.
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1998. Guía de aves de Costa Rica. Instituto Nacional de
Biodiversidad. Costa Rica. 580 p.
18
Appendix 1 - Mammals
Plate
1
1
1
2
4
4
4
4
5
6
6
10
11
11
13
14
15
15
15
16
16
16
16
17
#
Scientific Name
8 Chironectes minimus
11 Didelphis marsupialis
12 Didelphis virginiana
9 Marmosa robinsoni
2 Bradypus tridactylus
5 Choloepus hoffmanni
6 Tamandua tetradactyla
8 Myrmecophaga tridactyla
6 Trachops cirrhosus
1 Glossophaga soricina
5 Astibeus jamaicensis
6 Saguinus geoffroyi
6 Saimiri oerstedii
7 Cebus capucinus
5 Allouatta palliata
3a Ateles geoffroyii
4 Nasua narica
6 Procyon lotor
8 Speothos venaticus
1 Mustela frenata
3 Galictis vittata
4 Conepatuis semistriatus
5 Eira barbara
6 Panthera onca
Common Name (Eng)
water oppossum
common appossum
virginia oppossum
mouse oppossum
3-toed sloth
2-toed sloth
Tamandua
giant anteater
fringe-lipped bat
com. Long tongue bat
large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C.A. Squirrel Monkey
Capuchin Monkey
Howler Monkey
Spider Monkey
Coati
Racoon
Bush dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Jaguar
Common Name (Esp)
zorro de agua
zarigüeya
zorro
marmota
parezosa de tres dedes
parezosa de dos dedes
oso calmenero
oso cabano
murcielago
murcielago
murcielago
tamarín,marmoseta
mono ardilla
cairara, machin blanco
mono congo
mono colorado
pizote solo
Mapache
perro de monte
Comadreja
Grisón
gato coñero
Tolomuco
tigre, jaguar
Guaymí 1
kudo ñute
kudo ñute
kudo ñute
sula
kü
kü
minsuli
men
nibita
nibita
nibita kri
x
droaba
munchi
juri
munchi
sut
x
x
x
x
x
x
kora
Guaymí 2
kurdo
Kurdo
Kurdo
X
Kü
Kü
Unsali
Unsali
Nibita
Nibita
nibita
x
drua
drua
kuring
x
sudo
x
x
nü
x
kuguale
x
ora
19
Appendix 2 – Birds
Plate # Scientific Name
5 6 Ardeas herodias
9 Egretta caerulea
10 Egretta tula
16 Tigrisoma lineatum
6 1 Butorides striatus
13 Aramides cajanea
18 Jacana spinosa
7 3 Podilymbus podiceps
11 12 Calidris mauri
12 3 Crax rubra
4 Penelope purpurascens
5 Chamaepetes unicolor
6 Tinamus major
13 3 Cathartes aurea
5 Sarcorramphus papa
Common Name (Eng)
Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Snowy (Cattle) Heron
Tiger Heron
Green-backed Heron
Wood Rail
Northern Jacana
Pied-billed Grebe
Western Sandpiper
Great Curassow
Crested Guan
Black Guan
Great Tinamou
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
Common Name (Esp)
garzón azulado
garceta azul
garceta nivosa
garza-tigre
garcilla estriada
rascón cuelligrio
jacana centroamericana
zambullidor piquipinto
correlimos occidental
pauón grande
para crestada
paua negra
Tinamu
Zapilote
zapilote rey
Guaimi 1
x
x
chulube
krigide
x
kosring
x
patiko
x
irigwi
kuleng
x
mosolor
huding
Huding
mwi
15 8 Herpetotheres cachinans Laughing Falcon
Guaco
mägo
9a Milvago chimachima
Caracara
Caracara
mun
17 9 Harpia harpyja
Harpy Eagle
Aguilarpia
kwi mwi
18 5 Columba nigrirostris
Shot-billed pidgeon
palmoa piquicorta
üte
7 Columba talpacoti
Ruddy Ground Dove
tortolita rojiza
üte
19 1 Ara macao
Scarlet Macaw
guacamayo rojo
seroga
3 Amazona farinosa
Mealy Parrot
loro verde
ore
14 Brotogeris jugularis
Orange-chinned Parakeet pariquito barbinaranja
ore kiare
20 9 Tyto alba
Barn Owl
lechuza ratonera
uglu
21 7 Piaya cayana
Squirrel Cuckoo
cuco ardilla
chidignon
17 Caprimulgus vociferus
Whip-poor-will
chotacabras norteño
tobra
27 1b Ceryle alcion
Kingfisher
martin pescador norteño chororo
16 Pteroglossus frantzii
Red-billed Aracari
tucancillo
bisi
piquianaranjado
Guiami 2
x
x
chulube
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
huding
mägo
no
no
üte
üte
roga
ore
during
gü
tiging
tobra
sigle
kuere
20
Field Observations and Analysis from a Visit to the Coto Brus Guaymi Reservation
25 July 2001
Bromberg, K1., Kieves, N2., K. Williams3
1
Dept. of Biology, Tufts Univ., 2Dept. of Enviromental Studies and Dept. of Biology,
Middlebury College, 3Dept. of Environmental Studies, Tufts Univ.
Abstract: Our visit to the Guaymi community of the Coto Brus Guaymi Indian Reservation allowed
us to observe various aspects of the Guaymi culture. The Guaymi are one of Costa Rica’s indigenous
peoples. We conducted interviews in three households, primarily with middle-aged women; all three
stayed at home and maintained their households while their husbands worked outside the home.
Although many in the community expressed an interest in protecting natural resources, the people we
interviewed seemed more concerned with providing for their families and advancing the community.
We found the Guaymi population at Coto Brus to have a strong cultural identity, but there was also
some evidence of a common desire for modernization.
Keywords: Ethnobiology, Costa Rica, Puntarenas, Coto Brus, Guaymi, indigenous society
Introduction:
The Guaymi people originated in Panama and moved northward as the Spaniards
conquered the region in the early 17th century. Recent studies suggest that the Guaymi inhabited
a savanna ecosystem at this time. When the Spanish arrived, the Guaymi people retreated to
more remote areas in the region. Because of such retreats, it is likely that today’s Guaymi people
are descendants of several indigenous peoples that fled European conquests during this time
period (Steward, 1963a). The Guaymi language is a Chibchan dialect of the Pacific Isthmian
group (Steward, 1963b).
Our study site was the Coto Brus Guaymi Indian Reservation [Reserva Indígena Guaymi
de Coto Brus], located in southwestern Costa Rica in the Province of Puntarenas, thirty minutes
west of San Vito at 83°05’W, 8°47’N and at an elevation of approximately 700m (IGNCR,
1988). The reservation may be reached through travel on a poorly leveled gravel road running
through the mountains. Many houses are not accessible by car and must be approached on foot
or horseback on the small trails that traverse the land. Most of these houses are isolated, and the
reservation as a whole is noticeably decentralized. Family homes consist of a single room with
an outdoor kitchen and sitting area surrounded by fields. Much of the area was farmed, with
21
such crops as mangoes (Mangifera indica), rice (Oryza sativa), yucca (Manihot utilissima), and
coffee (Coffea arabica); numerous small creeks and rivers lined the terrain, crossed by small
wooden bridges.
The purpose of our study was to gain an understanding of aspects of the Guaymi culture
through interviews with inhabitants of the reservation. In addition, we wanted to practice
methodologies of field ethnobiology.
Methods and Materials:
When we visited Coto Brus, we brought a handheld taperecorder and tapes, cameras,
notebooks and writing instruments, and copies of Stiles and Skutch's A guide to the birds of
costa rica (1989) and Emmons and Feer's Neotropical rainforest mammals: a field guide (1997).
To locate the latitude and longitude, as well as elevation of Coto Brus, we used IGNCR
topographical map CR2CM-9 of the Golfito region.
On 25 July 2001, we visited the Guaymi Reservation between 900 and 1400 hours. We
were accompanied by one of the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) Introduction to Field
Ethnobiology course’s teaching assistants, Rebecca Lutzy, and an informant from the
community, Maria Bejarano. Bejarano, a local artisan, has ties to our funding organization,
OTS. Once in the community, she led us to the homes of several Guaymi people with whom she
was acquainted.
At each encounter with other community members, Bejarano spoke to them in the native
language, presumably to inform them of our identities and the purpose for our visit. After this
initial contact we introduced ourselves as students from the United States studying in Costa Rica
and obtained informed consent to conduct an interview regarding the culture of the Guaymi
people. In each case the interviewee was asked if the conversation could be recorded with a
22
handheld tape recorder, in accordance with the Society of Ethnobiology’s code of ethics (Gómez,
2001). A series of topical questions were then asked, covering such subjects as medicine, plants
and animals, food, conservation, and everyday life. To gain some understanding of how much
knowledge people have about their native language and their surrounding natural environment,
each interviewee was asked to provide the Guaymi name of pre-selected bird and mammal
species. The interviewee was shown color illustrations of the species’ from the two field guides.
Three households were visited during the duration of our study. Informant 1 and her
husband were 25 and approximately 30 years old respectively. The second household we visited
belonged to the mother of Informant 1; Informant 2 was 42 years old, and at certain points in the
interview, her sons also participated. The third interviewee, Informant 3, was approximately 3540.
Results and Discussion:
In all three interviews, the interviewee did not consent to be recorded; for this reason,
none of the interviews were taped. Informant 1 did state that she would allow us to record the
interview if we compensated her monetarily which we declined. All three women were initially
reluctant to speak to us and appeared reserved. It seemed that they would have refused to be
interviewed had Bejarano not been present. When the interviewees appeared uncomfortable or
required clarification of a question they turned to Bejarano and spoke to her in Guaymi. We felt
that this detracted from our abilities to gain a rapport with the interviewee, and thus we had some
difficulty focusing the conversation and obtaining information. Results are condensed in Tables
1 and 2.
Informant 1 and Informant 3 were not fluent in Spanish, and all three women were
accustomed to speaking a mix of primarily Guaymi and Spanish, as can be seen by their mixed
23
knowledge of Spanish and Guaymi names for animals (Table 1). Informant 1 named 85.7% of
the birds and mammals she recognized in Guaymi and Informant 2, with the aid of her sons, gave
100% in Guaymi. They seemed ill at ease using Spanish alone.
Informant 1 and Informant 3 were particularly introverted during the interviews; in
contrast, Informant 1’s husband and the male relatives of Informant 2 were outspoken and
outgoing. Their Spanish was noticeably more fluent than that of the women, with the exception
of Informant 2, who was fluent in the language due to her unique early education; she told us that
as well as being exposed to the language in the local school, she had learned Spanish from a
white woman she lived with for two years as a child. Informant 2, despite her fluency, was
initially reluctant to talk, and we were unable to determine whether the women’s reservations
were due to the language barrier or to gender roles within the community.
The presence of gender roles in the community was indicated in several ways. Informant
1, Informant 2 and Informant 3 could converse knowledgeably on cooking (which all three
identified as a constant activity), foods, their domesticated animals, traditional Guaymi crafts,
and the children they cared for. However, all three women told us that they had not seen as
much of the land as men who work outside the home. Informant 1’s husband works in a local
governmental organization, Informant 2’s husband is a hunter and small-scale farmer, and
Informant 3 also gave the impression that her husband is a farmer. All three women claimed that
the that men of the household would be more able to identify the birds and animals; this claim
appeared to be substantiated during the Informant 2 interview, in which she frequently turned to
her grown sons for help with identifications. Our observation that all three women wore
traditional dress, while their men wore western-style clothing, further confirmed our impression
of a homemaking, traditionally defined female role in Guaymi culture.
24
We found another indication of the submissive female role in the family at Informant 2’s
household when we took photographs of her and her family. When Informant 2’s husband
arrived, she slunk into a side room; from her body language we concluded that this was to avoid
being caught by her husband posing for a photograph without his permission. However, she
snuck back into the photo session with no apparent confrontation with her husband, while he
asked us to take his picture in several poses.
The Guaymi way of life, as seen in the houses we visited, appeared remarkably
dissociated from the westernized, modern surrounding culture. All food is grown locally
including, rice, beans, corn, yuca, banana, and pejibaye. Chicken, roosters, and pig are kept near
homes and are a food source. None of the houses that we visited had running water or
electricity; the road which led to the houses of Informant 1 and her mother Informant 2 was built
in 1999, and Informant 3’s house is not located on a road. According to Informant 1’s husband,
Guaymi houses are built through a collaborative effort of community members rather than by
professional carpenters. Velacio, the husband of Informant 1, spoke of the importance of
progress (“progreso”). He works for the Asociación de Desarrollo de los Guaymis (the Guaymi
Development Association) that is responsible for the construction of roads and houses: “los
movimientos de la comunidad”. According to Informant 2, the organization also serves as a
conduit between the Guaymi people and the Costa Rican government.
These ideas of progress seemed to be strangely detached from the interviewees’ views on
conservation. None had heard of the Costa Rican National Park system, with the possible
exception of Informant 3, who seemed to show some vague recognition. Yet both Informant 1
and Informant 2 were had a fair amount of knowledge of their immediate natural environment:
Informant 1 knew 70% of birds and mammals shown and Informant 2 could name 86.5% (Tables
25
1 and 2). Although they did not have western views on conservation, all interviewees stated
unequivocally that it is important to preserve and protect the land. Velacio said that the Guaymi
had been conserving the land around the reservation for over 2000 years, and that more should
be protected; we did observe that much of the land was still wild, extensive areas had been
converted to agricultural uses. He also spoke of water pollution (“echan veneno al río”, they
poison the river) and the resulting decline in fish populations, with negative implications for the
community. He said that if society does not conserve the land, it will all turn to desert, and that
they must let depleted areas grow back. Additionally, he spoke of a reciprocal relationship with
the environment. “¿Si no cuidas a la tierra, quién te va a cuidar?”.
Informant 2, in an apparent contrast, seemed to actually connect conservation with
progress, rather than see the two as opposite poles, as is more common in western ideas of
conservation. At the same time, her views and Velacio’s were not in complete disagreement.
The preservation of pure, untouched land did not appear to be a priority for the Guaymi as they
tried to improve their quality of life; but they did strongly believe in the importance of protecting
the land from abuse and keeping it healthy as they continued in their “progress.”
Conclusions:
From our limited interactions with Guaymi people, it seems as though the Guaymis of the
Coto Brus Reservation lead a lifestyle that is a sometimes contradictory mix of a hunter-gatherer
orientation, common agricultural practices, and artisanship. There is a distinct division of labor
by gender, with women tending their houses and families while men leave the house to find
provisions for the household.
Informant 1 and Informant 2 mentioned that their lifestyle did not always provide them
with all that they required; they had painted fingernails, and yet lived in houses without running
26
water. Desires for more money and modern amenities reflected an infiltration of the outside
world into the community; though the Guaymi population at Coto Brus Reservation seemed to
have retained many cultural values, they have also integrated some outside concepts. It is
important, however, to note that the conclusions drawn in this report are the results of brief
exposure to a very small number of Guaymi households. A sample of such limited size and
duration makes it difficult to collect conclusive evidence about the lives and culture of the
community as a whole.
Acknowledgements:
We would like to thank the Coto Brus Guaymi community and particularly Felicia
Aramontacio, Herminia Araujo Carmarena, and Martina Gonzales Méndez for their cooperation
and patience. In addition, we would like to express our gratitude to Maria Bejarano for her
support for helping us make the right connections during our study. Lastly we would like to
thank Rebecca Lutzy and Maria Bejarano for their guidance.
27
Works Cited:
Emmons, L., and F. Feer. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide, Second
Edition. Chicago. 307 p.
Gómez, L.D. 2001. Ethnobiology 2001 Reader. Organizaton for Tropical Studies. 516
p. pp. 1-4.
IGNCR. 1970. Mapa CR2CM-9. Golfito. 1:200.000.
Stiles, F.G., and A.F. Skutch. Plates by D. Gardner. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica.
Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York. 511 p.
Steward, J.H. 1963a (ed). Handbook of South American Indians vol IV. pp. 231-251.
Cooper Square. 609 p.
Steward, J.H. 1963b (ed). Handbook of South American Indians vol VI. pp. 52-87.
Cooper Square. 715 p.
28
Table 1. Names of Bird Species: Latin, English,
Spanish, Guaymi
BIRDS
Scientific Name
Ardeas herodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
Aramides cajanea
Jacana spinosa
Podilymbus podiceps
Calidris mauri
Crax rubra
Penelope purpurascens
Chamaepetes unicolor
Tinamus major
Cathartes aurea
Sarcorramphus papa
Herpetotheres cachinans
Milvago chimachima
Harpia harpyja
Columba nigrirostris
Columba talpacoti
Ara macao
Amazona farinosa
Brotogeris jugularis
Tyto alba
Piaya cayana
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Pteroglossus frantzii
English Name
Blue heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) egret
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacana
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Crested guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pidgeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red-billed aracari
Spanish Name
Garazón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta thula
Garza-tigre cuellinuda
Garcilla verde
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacana centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamú grande
Zopilote cabecirrogo
Zopilote rey
Guaco
Caracara cabecigualdo
Aguila arpía
Paloma piquicorta
Tortolita rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro verde
Periquito barbinaranja
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotacabras gritón o Ruidoso
Martín pescador collarejo
Tucancillo piquianaranijado
Informant 1
Truyo (Sp.)
Truyo (Sp.)
Garca (Sp.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
Bato (G.)
(did not know)
Irigui (G.)
Irigui colenya (G.)
Colenya [female] (G.)
(did not know)
Hude (G.)
Hude (G.)
Magwai (G.)
Informant 2
Cholibo (G.)
Cholibo (G.)
Cholibo (G.)
Cholibo (G.)
Coserai (G.)
Coserai (G.)
Coserai (G.)
Bato (G.)
Udu (G.)
Colenya (G.)
Colenya (G.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
Hudeng (G.)
El Rey hudeng (G.)
Gwai (G.)
Gabilang (G.)
Mu (G.)
Korabdu (G.)
Korabdu udukia (G.)
Ora (G.)
Orachikia (G.)
Orachikia (G.)
Uglu (G.)
Tiginje (G.)
Tobra (G.)
Chorroro (G.)
Bisi (G.)
29
Table 2. Names of Mammal Species: Latin, English,
Spanish, Guaymi
MAMMALS
Scientific Name
Chironectes minimus
Didelphis marsupialis
Didelphis virginiana
Marmosa robinsoni
Bradypus tridactylus
Choloepus hoffmanni
Tamandua tetradactyla
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Trachops cirrhosus
Glossophaga soricina
Artibeus jamaicensis
Saguinus geoffroyi
Saimiri oerstedii
Cebus capucinus
Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
Nasua narica
Procyon lotor
Speothos venaticus
Mustela frenata
Galictis vittata
Conepatuis semistriatus
Eira barbara
Panthera onca
English Name
Water oppossum
Common oppossum
Virginia oppossum
Mouse oppossum
Three-toed sloth
Two-toed sloth
Tamandua
Giant anteater
Fringe-lipped bat
Common long-tongue bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
Central American squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Coati
Racoon
Bush dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Jaguar
Spanish Name
Zorro de agua
Zarigúeya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedos
Perezoso de dos dedos
Oso colmenero
Oso caballo
Murcielago
Murcielago
Murcielago
Tamarín, Marmoseta
Mono ardilla
Cairara, Machin blanco
Mono congo
Mono colorado
Pizote solo
Mapache
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Grisón
Gato cañero
Tulomaco
Tigre/jaguar
Informant 1
Kangua (Sp.)
Tugwes (G.)
Kueda (G.)
Sula (G.)
Ku (G.)
Ku (G.)
Misuli (G.)
Misuli (G.)
Nivita (G.)
Nivita (G.)
Nivita (G.)
(did not know)
Monchi (G.)
Monchi (G.)
Huri (G.)
Huri (G.)
Mugwa (G.)
Mugwa (G.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
Guara (G.)
Informant 2
Zorro (Sp.)
Kodong (G.)
Kosebe (G.)
Tugyue (G.)
Ku (G.)
Ku (G.)
Misuli (G.)
(did not know)
Nivita (G.)
Nivita (G.)
Nivita (G.)
(did not know)
Monchi (G.)
Druo (G.)
Huri (G.)
Monchi (G.)
Mubwagre (G.)
Mubwagre (G.)
(did not know)
Nugre (G.)
(did not know)
Gogwa (G.)
(did not know)
Kura (G.)
Table 1. The names of birds and mammals were selected from Stiles and Skutch's A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica and Emmons and Feer's Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A
Field Guide. Color illustrations of each species was shown to the interviewee and they were asked for the Guaymi name. If they could not provide the species' name in Guaymi, they
were asked to provide the species' name in Spanish. The presence of "(did not know)" signifies that the interviewee was not familiar with the bird or mammal. A blank cell indicates
that the interviewee was not asked for the name of that species. In many cases, when the interviewee responded that she did not know the species, she claimed that the species did
not live in the area. The column "Guaymi Response A" corresponds to responses provided by Alamanacio, and the column "Guaymi Response B" corresponds to responses given by
Carmanera. Mendez was unable to provide any responses due to vision problems.
30
Traditional Dress, Traditional Medicine:
An Ethnobiological Study of the Guaymi of Coto Brus
Tschannen-Moran, B. 1, Bromberg, K. 2, Venkatesan, A. 3, Zellie, H. 4,
Kieves, N. 5, Williams, K.6, Baker, H. 7, Willetts, E. 8, H. Folse9
Dept. of Biology, Duke University, 2 Dept. of Biology, Tufts University, 3Dept. of Biomedical
Engineering, Duke University, 4Dept. of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, 5Dept.
of Biology , Dept.’s of Environmental Studies and Biology, Middlebury College, 6Dept. of Biology, Tufts
University, 7Dept. of Biology, University of Missouri, 8Dept. of Biology, University of Pennsylvania,
9
Dept.of Applied Math, Harvard University
1
Abstract: We visited the Guaymi community at Coto Brus, Puntarenas,
Costa Rica to perform a Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment (REA).
Through a standard questionnaire and observations, we obtained
information regarding Guaymi culture from seven households. Topics
included daily life, environment, folk taxonomy, social structure, and
medicine. Although many of our informants had similar household
structures and daily life patterns, they had different opinions on the
status of the environment and what types of medicines are most
effective. We found the community of Guaymi at Coto Brus to have
maintained much of its traditional, indigenous culture, while exhibiting a
noticeable degree of westernization.
Keywords: Guaymi, Coto Brus, Costa Rica, ethnobiology, indigenous,
Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment (REA)
Introduction:
The Guaymi people originated in the Talamanca range of Central America.
Recent studies suggest that the Guaymi inhabited a savanna ecosystem at the time of
Spanish invasion in the 17th century. When the Spanish arrived, the Guaymi people
retreated to more remote areas in the region. Because of such retreats, it is likely that
today’s Guaymi people are descendants of several indigenous peoples that fled European
conquests during this time period (Johnson, 1963 (2)). The Guaymi language is a
Chibchan dialect of the Pacific Isthmian group (Mason, 1963).
Our study site was the Reserva Indigena Guaymi de Coto Brus (Coto Brus
Guaymi Indian Reservation), located in southwestern Costa Rica, thirty minutes west of
San Vito at 83°05’W, 8°47’N (IGNCR CR2CM-9). The reservation may be reached
30
31
through travel on a poorly leveled gravel road running through the mountains. Many
houses are not accessible by car and must be approached on foot or horseback on the
small trails that cover the land. Most of these houses are isolated, and the reservation as
a whole is noticeably decentralized: there is no obvious “center of town” where people
may gather. Family homes consist of a single room with an outdoor kitchen and sitting
area surrounded by fields. Much of the area was farmed, with such crops as mangoes
(Mangifera indica), rice (Oryza sativa), yuca (Manihot esculenta), and coffee (Coffea
arabiga); numerous small creeks and rivers lined the terrain, crossed by small wooden
bridges.
The purpose of our study was to gain an understanding of aspects of the Guaymi
culture through interviews with inhabitants of the reservation. In addition, we wanted to
practice methodologies of field ethnobiology.
Materials and Methods:
Materials included a microcassette tape recorder, field notebooks, and cameras.
In addition, we used A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica (1988) and Neotropical
Rainforest Mammals (1997) to obtain folk taxonomy information and to discern the
extent of knowledge of their native language. A standarized questionnaire prepared
beforehand included general questions in five categories: medicine, plant and animal
names, food, conservation, and daily life. Themed questions particular to each group
were also formulated. For geographic information to locate the Coto Brus reservation,
we utilized IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca CR2CM-9.
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32
After this initial contact we introduced ourselves as students from the United
States studying in Costa Rica and obtained informed consent to conduct an interview
regarding the culture of the Guaymi people as suggested by the Society for
Ethnobiology’s Code of Ethics (1988). In each case the interviewee was asked if the
conversation could be recorded with a handheld tape recorder.
We were accompanied by one of the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS)
Introduction to Field Ethnobiology course’s teaching assistants or native Guaymi with
whom we had already established contact through OTS. We then randomly chose two to
three native households to interview.
Results:
Our observations gave us information about the agriculture and life of members of
the community. The agriculture observed varied between the previously mentioned
vegetation and corn (Zea mays), pejibaye (Bactris gasipaes), pineapple (Ananas
comosus), banana and plantain (Musa spp.). We saw several men on horseback with
tools in hand, presumably going to work on farms, others were spraying their fields and
roadsides with pesticides. The houses in the reservation area were made of slabs of
hand-chopped wood, in contrast to the houses immediately preceding the reservation,
which were constructed of stucco. The houses both on and preceding reservation were
roofed with tin.
We conducted seven interviews. Guaymi (1) was a 50-year-old farmer who lived
with his wife, daughter and granddaughter. He had modern views and was fairly
affluent, as evidenced by his large number of material possessions. Guaymi (2) was a
32
33
nearly 70-year-old grandfather and farmer, who lived in a household of 20 people, spread
between two houses. He had traditional views and was initially frightened by the
presence of foreigners. Guaymi (3) was an 80-year-old informant and medicinal healer
who lived in a household of 11. He was intelligent, worldly, and interested in Western
culture. Guaymi (4), originally from Panama, was approximately 30 years old and
worked on a farm owned by a Costa Rican. His Spanish was poor, and he was unable to
satisfactorily answer many of our questions. We were not invited to enter his house.
Guaymi (5) was a 25-year-old artisan woman, living with her husband and young
children. She spoke very little Spanish and relied on one of our Guaymi guides to relay
her simple answers to most of our questions. Her mother, Guaymi (6) was 42 years old
and lived in a large, three-generational household, where she was the matriarch. She
made traditional Guaymi crafts and continued with her work during the interview, paying
us minimal attention. Guaymi (7) was between 35 and 40 years old and lived in a house
with her husband and their two young children. She spoke Spanish poorly, had bad
vision, and was hesitant to speak with us; for these reasons, the interview was not very
conclusive. We feel this sample of subjects was representative of the Guaymi
community at Coto Brus.
Daily life:
All houses visited had kitchen areas separated from the main house. Two of six
households had running water in the kitchen. Members of the remaining four
households carried water from the river to their homes in buckets. In all houses, cooking
was done over a wood-burning hearth stove or fire pit. Houses were built from natural
materials, except the roofs, which were tin. Many houses owned small farms, and many
33
34
men in the households we visited worked as farmers. The Guaymi diet consisted largely
of locally grown crops and meat. Common household animals included horses, pigs,
cats, dogs, geese, and chickens. Other foods and household items were bought outside
the community, such as sugar, salt, matches, machetes, shoes, coffee, bread, watches,
radios, and metals.
Many women in the community, including some of our informants, worked as
artisans, producing paintings on hammered tree bark and hand-knit bags from pita, a
material extracted from the fibers of a plant. Dyes and paints were both made from
naturally occurring plant pigments. Some informants made their own clothing utilizing
sewing machines, while others shopped outside the community for both western-style and
traditional Guaymi clothing. Many women were seen dressed in the traditional colorful,
ankle-length, Guaymi-style dresses. In contrast, men dressed in western-style pants and
shirt. Generally, women remained inside the house all day, cooking, caring for children,
washing clothes, and making crafts. Men generally left the house to work as farmers,
hunters, and other community-based professions.
Folk Taxonomy:
Both informants showed considerable knowledge of indigenous names. Guaymi
(1) was able to identify the animals more than Guaymi (2), but only initially. According
to Alejandro, Guaymi (2) was very frightened by us and was trembling as he started the
folk taxonomy exercise. For this reason, supposedly, he was unable to identify the birds
at the beginning of the exercise and was more able to do so as he relaxed over the course
of the exercise. When asking him the animals on Plate 13, he greatly improved suddenly
and had comparable knowledge to Guaymi (1) when his grandson brought him his
34
35
reading glasses. The results are summarized in Table 1 and included in full in the
Appendix.
Environment:
Many indicated that the surrounding forests had been cleared significantly over
their lives. Guaymi (1) informed us that the river level had gone down as a result of this
clearing. He claimed that this destruction had begun with Guaymi people but that the
“white” people had also come in and cleared the land. Guaymi (3) and (5) told us that the
closest river had been poisoned by trash which people dumped there. To combat these
problems, Guaymi (1) told us that the community occasionally organizes a vigilance to
protect the borders of the reservation. Three other informants, (2),(5), and (6), on the
other hand, equated clearing the land with progress of the people and were proud to
announce this advancement of the community. All interviewed informants did not know
of the Costa Rican National Parks system, and did not hold the general western opinion
of conservation that land should be protected from the abuses of people.
Social Structure:
Five of seven interviewees indicated that there are organizations that helped to run
the Guaymi community. They remarked that there are presidents of the organizations,
but did not indicate a president for the Guaymi community. These leadership
organizations help people with work, everyday life, and with protection of their culture.
La Associación Desarollo de los Guaymi (The Association for the Development of the
Guaymi), mentioned by Guaymi (1), (5), and (6), manages the construction of houses and
roads in the community. Guaymi (3) mentioned a minister of health in the community
whose job, for example, includes mandating that animals be contained in each family plot
35
36
to prevent the spread of disease. He also noted that religion serves as a social structure
within the community. Guaymi (4) commented that different denominations of
Christianity are practiced in the community. Guaymi (1) also indicated that there is an
organization that worked with people outside of the reservation, maintaining positive
relations with outside groups.
Medicine:
Illnesses found most in the community are influenza, fever, diarrhea, and
vomiting. For health care, Guaymi (1) accepts allopathic medicine in addition to herbal
medicine. Depending on the illness, he either goes to the hospital, goes to a botanical
healer, or lets the disease run its course. Guaymi (2), on the other hand, goes to the
mountains to find herbs to remedy his illness. He claimed knowledge of the plants used
for healing. Similarly, Guaymi (3) said that the family only uses the remedies in nature;
he could not understand why people would go very far and not do the same because
natural cures are better. Natural remedies were visible in the kitchen of Guaymi (3), but
he was hesitant to discuss their specific nature due to previous exploitations of his
medicinal knowledge. After an illness, Guaymi (2) eats rice and bananas to prevent
further illness. Similarly, when asked about preventing illness in children, one Guaymi
guide and Guaymi (2) claimed that disease can be prevented solely with plants and
without the chemicals and vaccines of modern medicine. Guaymi (1), on the other hand,
indicated that they gave the children vaccinations. However, he added that they fed a
young child rice and millet (Sorghum bicolor) so they would grow strong and avoid
illness.
36
37
Guaymi (5), (6), and (7) admitted to using herbal medicine occasionally but
mostly depend on allopathic medicine supplied by the clinic and the hospital. However,
we suspect that their admission to the occasional use of herbal medicine may have been
influenced by our Guaymi guide, who was the spouse of the local healer. In conclusion,
herbal medicines are used to treat many diseases in the Guaymi community, but health
care is occasionally supplemented or replaced by allopathic methods.
Conclusion:
The Guaymi community was homogenous in appearance and daily life patterns.
The influence of outside culture is evident, but not overwhelmingly so. While
modernization has thus far had little effect on their occupations and daily lives, it has
changed their views on medicine, the environment, and the way in which they relate to
the natural world. As proof that they are maintaining their culture, Guaymi language is
the vernacular language within the reservation and traditional dress in women is still
observed. On the other hand, the presence of modern amenities in several homes as well
as an increased reliance on allopathic medicine suggest that westernization is occurring
within the Guaymi reservation. Despite some degree of modernization, however, the
Guaymi community of Coto Brus is still rich with indigenous knowledge and tradition.
37
38
Table 1. Names of Bird Species: Latin, English, Spanish, Guaymi
Scientific Name
English Name
Spanish Name
Informant 1
Informant 2
Informant 3
Ardeas herodias
Blue heron
Garazón azulado
x
X
Noogwa crigday
Egretta caerulea
Little blue heron
Garceta azul
x
X
Noogwa crigday
Egretta tula
Snowy (Cattle) egret
Garceta thula
Chulube
Chulube
Noogwa crigday
Tigrisoma lineatum
Tiger heron
Garza-tigre cuellinuda
Krigide
X
Noogwa crigday
Butorides striatus
Green-backed heron
Garcilla verde
x
X
Noogwa crigday
Aramides cajanea
Wood rail
Rascón cuelligrís
Kosring
X
Constrey
Jacana spinosa
Northern jacana
Jacana centroamericana
x
X
Constrey
Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebe
Zambullidor piquipinto
Patiko
X
Pato
Calidris mauri
Western sandpiper
Correlimos occidental
x
X
Agoodyee
Crax rubra
Great curassow
Pavón grande
Irigwi
X
Erigui
Penelope purpurascens
Crested guan
Pava crestada
Kuleng
X
Gwanay
Chamaepetes unicolor
Black guan
Pava negra
x
X
Ooru
Tinamus major
Great tinamou
Tinamú grande
Mosolor
X
Monsoloro
Cathartes aurea
Turkey vulture
Zopilote cabecirrogo
Huding
X
Hooden
Sarcorramphus papa
King vulture
Zopilote rey
Huding mwi
Huding
Mu
Herpetotheres cachinans
Laughing falcon
Guaco
Mägo
Mägo
Mu
Milvago chimachima
Caracara
Caracara cabecigualdo
Mun
No
Mu
Harpia harpyja
Harpy eagle
Aguila arpía
Kwi mwi
No
Mu
Columba nigrirostris
Shot-billed pidgeon
Paloma piquicorta
üte
Üte
Udu
Columba talpacoti
Ruddy ground dove
Tortolita rojiza
üte
Üte
Udu
Ara macao
Scarlet macaw
Guacamayo rojo
Seroga
Roga
Roga
Amazona farinosa
Mealy parrot
Loro verde
Ore
Oe
Ore
Brotogeris jugularis
Orange-chinned parakeet
Periquito barbinaranja
Ore kiare
During
Durin
Tyto alba
Barn owl
Lechuza ratonera
Uglu
Gü
Igu
Piaya cayana
Squirrel cuckoo
Cuco ardilla
Chidignon
Tiging
Tey gian
Caprimulgus vociferus
Whip-poor-will
Chotacabras gritón o Ruidoso
Tobra
Tobra
Tobora
Ceryle alcion
Kingfisher
Martín pescador collarejo
Chororo
Sigle
Charrora
Pteroglossus frantzii
Red-billed aracari
Tucancillo piquianaranijado
Bisi
Kuere
Binsi keala
38
39
Scientific Name
English Name
Spanish Name
Informant 5
Informant 6
Ardeas herodias
Blue heron
Garazón azulado
Truyo (Sp.)
Cholibo
Egretta caerulea
Little blue heron
Garceta azul
Truyo (Sp.)
Cholibo
Egretta tula
Snowy (Cattle) egret
Garceta thula
Garca (Sp.)
Cholibo
Tigrisoma lineatum
Tiger heron
Garza-tigre cuellinuda
x
Cholibo
Butorides striatus
Green-backed heron
Garcilla verde
x
Coserai
Aramides cajanea
Wood rail
Rascón cuelligrís
x
Coserai
Jacana spinosa
Northern jacana
Jacana centroamericana
x
Coserai
Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebe
Zambullidor piquipinto
Bato
Bato
Calidris mauri
Western sandpiper
Correlimos occidental
x
Udu
Crax rubra
Great curassow
Pavón grande
Irigui
Colenya
Penelope purpurascens
Crested guan
Pava crestada
Irigui colenya
Colenya
Chamaepetes unicolor
Black guan
Pava negra
Colenya [female]
X
Tinamus major
Great tinamou
Tinamú grande
x
X
Cathartes aurea
Turkey vulture
Zopilote cabecirrogo
Hude
Hudeng
Sarcorramphus papa
King vulture
Zopilote rey
Hude
El Rey hudeng
Herpetotheres cachinans
Laughing falcon
Guaco
Magwai
Gwai
Milvago chimachima
Caracara
Caracara cabecigualdo
Harpia harpyja
Harpy eagle
Aguila arpía
Mu
Columba nigrirostris
Shot-billed pidgeon
Paloma piquicorta
Korabdu
Columba talpacoti
Ruddy ground dove
Tortolita rojiza
Korabdu udukia
Ara macao
Scarlet macaw
Guacamayo rojo
Ora
Amazona farinosa
Mealy parrot
Loro verde
Orachikia
Brotogeris jugularis
Orange-chinned parakeet
Periquito barbinaranja
Orachikia
Tyto alba
Barn owl
Lechuza ratonera
Uglu
Piaya cayana
Squirrel cuckoo
Cuco ardilla
Tiginje
Caprimulgus vociferus
Whip-poor-will
Chotacabras gritón o Ruidoso
Tobra
Ceryle alcion
Kingfisher
Martín pescador collarejo
Chorroro
Pteroglossus frantzii
Red-billed aracari
Tucancillo piquianaranijado
Bisi
Gabilang
Table 1. The names of birds were selected from Stiles and Skutch's A guide to the Birds of costa rica. Color illustrations
of each species was shown to the interviewee and they were asked for the Guaymi name. If they could not provide the
species' name in Guaymi, they were asked to provide the species' name in Spanish. The presence of "x" signifies that the
informant was not familiar with the bird. A blank cell indicates that the informant was not asked for the name of that
species. In many cases, when the interviewee responded that they did not know the species, they claimed that the
species did not live in the area. Informant 4 was not questioned about any speices' name.Informant 7 was unable to
provide any responses due to vision problems.
39
40
Table 2. Names of Mammal Species: Latin,
English, Spanish, Guaymi
Scientific Name
English Name
Spanish Name
Informant 1
Informant 2
Informant 3
Informant 5
Informant 6
Chironectes minimus
Water oppossum
Zorro de agua
Kudo ñute
Kurdo
Sula: toogay
Kangua (Sp.)
Zorro (Sp.)
Didelphis marsupialis
Common oppossum
Zarigúeya
Kudo ñute
Kurdo
Kulda
Tugwes
Kodong
Didelphis virginiana
Virginia oppossum
Zorra
Kudo ñute
Kurdo
Kulda
Kueda
Kosebe
Marmosa robinsoni
Mouse oppossum
Marinota
Sula
x
Sula
Sula
Tugyue
Bradypus tridactylus
Three-toed sloth
Perezoso de tres dedos
Kü
Kü
Coo
Ku
Ku
Choloepus hoffmanni
Two-toed sloth
Perezoso de dos dedos
Kü
Kü
Coo
Ku
Ku
Tamandua tetradactyla
Tamandua
Oso colmenero
Minsuli
Unsali
Misuli
Misuli
Misuli
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Giant anteater
Oso caballo
Men
Unsali
Misulicree
Misuli
x
Trachops cirrhosus
Fringe-lipped bat
Murcielago
Nibita
Sudo
Nibida
Nivita
Nivita
Glossophaga soricina
Common long-tongue bat
Murcielago
Nbita
Nibita
Nibida
Nivita
Nivita
Artibeus jamaicensis
Large fruit-eating bat
Murcielago
Nibita kri
Nibita
Nibida
Nivita
Nivita
Saguinus geoffroyi
Geoffroy's tamarin
Tamarín, Marmoseta
x
x
Hourin
x
x
Saimiri oerstedii
Central American squirrel monkey
Mono ardilla
Droaba
Drua
Droa
Monchi
Monchi
Cebus capucinus
Capuchin monkey
Cairara, Machin blanco
Munchi
Drua
Droa
Monchi
Druo
Allouatta palliata
Howler monkey
Mono congo
Juri
Kuring
Hourintai en
Huri
Huri
Ateles geoffroyii
Spider monkey
Mono colorado
Munchi
x
Hourintai en
Huri
Monchi
Nasua narica
Coati
Pizote solo
Sut
Sudo
Moovia con sen
Mugwa
Mubwagre
Procyon lotor
Racoon
Mapache
x
x
Moovia con sen
Mugwa
Mubwagre
Speothos venaticus
Bush dog
Perro de monte
x
x
Moovia con sen
x
x
Mustela frenata
Weasel
Comadreja
x
Nü
x
x
Nugre
Galictis vittata
Grison
Grisón
x
x
x
x
x
Conepatuis semistriatus
Skunk
Gato cañero
x
Kuguale
x
x
Gogwa
Eira barbara
Tayra
Tulomaco
x
x
x
x
x
Panthera onca
Jaguar
Tigre/jaguar
Kora
Ora
Cora
Guara
Kura
Table 2. The names of mammals were selected from Emmons and Feer's 4 (1997). Color illustrations of each species was shown to the informant and they were asked for the
Guaymi name. If they could not provide the species' name in Guaymi, they were asked to provide the species' name in Spanish. The presence of "x" signifies that the interviewee was
not familiar with the animal. In many cases, when the informant responded that they did not know the species, they claimed that the species did not live in the area. No responses are
shown for Informant 4 as he was not questioned about any species. No responses are shown for Inforant 7 as she had poor eyesight and was therefore not questioned.
41
Acknowledgements
Thanks to the Guaymi community for their general hospitality. Thanks especially to
Alejandro Palacios and Maria Bejerano, our native Guaymi guides, for introducing us to their
community. Thanks also to Jóse González, Guillermo Archibold, Rebecca Lutzy and Luís Diego
Gómez for their generous assistance and valuable information. Additional gratitude to Ignacio,
Luís, Felicia, Valentín, Francisco, Hermiña, Martina, Liliana, Estéban and Benito for the
willingness to share their time and knowledge.
References:
Emmons, L.H. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. The University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, IL. 307 p.
Gomez, L.D., T. Capson and J. Gonzalez. 2000. Ethnobiology July-August. Organization for
Tropical Studies Undergraduate Summer Abroad Program. 146 p.
IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca. Mapa CR2CM-8. San José. 1:200.000.
International Society of Ethnobiology. 1998. Code of Ethics. Ethnobiology reader. pp 14.
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Cornell University
Press. Ithaca, NY. 511 p.
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1998. Guía de Aves de Costa Rica. Traducido por Loreta
Roselli. Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad. Costa Rica. 580 p.
42
Guaymi Uninterrupted: An ethnobiological assessment of a thriving
indigenous community
Teich, A.1, Ruiz, M.2, E. Moye.3
1
Dept. of Environmental Studies, Univ. of North Carolina, 2 Dept. of Microbiology, Univ. of Maryland at College Park,
3
Dept. of Biology, Univ. of Pennsylvania.
Abstract
We summarize and analyze the results of a survey given in the Guaymi Reservation at Abrojos.
The intentions of the survey were to find out about the Guaymi culture and knowledge.
Specifically, the questions asked dealt with family structure, daily life, community, health care,
and the local environment of the Guaymi people. We have discovered through our investigation
that the Guaymi are largely an agriculturally based community, bilingual in both Guaymi and
Spanish.
Keywords: Abrojos, Guaymi, San Vito, Montezuma, Comte, Ethnobiology, Costa Rica
Introduction
The Guaymi people are originally from Panama, but some large groups migrated
to Costa Rica at the turn of the 20th century. They are now located in the three
reservations: Coto Brus, Abrojos-Montezuma, and Conte. Comprising approximately
one thousand people (M. Bejerano, pers. comm.), the Abrojos Guaymi Reservation is
located at the top of a twisted mountain range about an hour from San Vito, ( 8° 37’ M.
82° 55’W). As ethnobiologists, we were interested in interviewing the Guaymi
community of Abrojos to gain a cultural awareness of the lives and knowledge of these
indigenous peoples. Additionally, it was important to understand how a people, such as
the Guaymi, have preserved their indigenous language and traditions in a country which
largely embraces modernity.
42
43
Materials and Methods
W used a voice-activated micro cassette tape-recorder to record the interviews
after informed consent was obtained. We also used survey questions, two books
containing pictures of various birds (Styles et al, 1989) and mammals (Emmons, 1997),
IGNRC maps (CR2CM-8, 1:200.00), and powers of communication and observation to
carry out the interviews.
As a group of student researchers, we created a general survey that included
questions concerning their families, daily life, medicines, health care, conservation, and a
general knowledge of regional animals. Thus, these 16 questions encompassed a broad
range of social and biological issues in the Guaymi community that were pertinent to our
goals. Subsequently, we broke off into groups of three to apply a standardized
questionnaire addressing some additional issues. In our case, we prepared questions
concerning family planning and motherhood, specifically contraceptive practices and
pre- and post-natal care. We also had pictures of local mammals and birds that we
presented for them to identify in Guaymi language.
We approached each of the houses on foot. Prior to entering these people’s
homes, Max Bejarano, our Guaymi contact, approached the houses, prefacing our
intended visit. Beginning with a brief introduction stating who we were, and what we
were doing, we asked for their consent to be interviewed and also consent to record the
conversations. If they agreed, we recorded the interview with the hand-held
microcassette recorder. The survey questions were written in English and translated into
Spanish. We asked them questions orally, indicating that they were to respond likewise.
43
44
Results
The Guaymi persons that we spoke to were thirty-five, forty-eight, and sixty years
old. The first interviewee was a woman, and the other two were men. The people
appeared unaccustomed to outsiders coming into their community, and were somewhat
hesitant to speak with us. The second gentleman was more comfortable talking with us,
and seemed eager to provide us with information about his community. The young
adolescents living in the household stood at the doorway to watch the interview take
place. They were giggling at our broken Spanish and our pronunciation of the Guaymi
animal names. In the next interview, the informant, a sixty-year old man, spoke very
little Spanish. Therefore, we did not get much information from that informant.
The Guaymi homes are very spread out, each one barely visible from the next,
but each sharing panoramas of mountains, valleys, and rich green forest. There were
eleven, nine, and ten people living in each house where we interviewed, respectively.
The first interviewee stated that she lives with her brother and next door to her sister. She
explained that such an arrangement, where whole families live in close proximity to each
other, is typical of the Guaymi. We noticed that there was a small Evangelical church
near the first house that we visited. We also encountered a set of schoolrooms, two old
and a new one under construction by a small athletic field. Results are presented in
Tables 1-3.
44
45
Table 1: Interview Data from Abrojos Households
This table represents the information and observations acquired from the survey questions during the
interview process.
Subject of Interest
Age
Name
Number of people living in
household
Number of children
Guaymi 1
Guaymi 2
35
Felipa MontezumaMontezuma
Guamyi 3
48
Ramon MontezumaBejarano
Age of children
11
9
20,18,15,12, 10, 7, 4, 2
years and 3 months
17, 15, and younger
Years at current location
all her life
60
Sr. Montezuma
9
6
10
7
no information
Where he/she goes when
sick
all his life
all his life
go to the hospital when
go to the hospital, use it is absolutely
go to the hospital
plants, and say prayers necessary
What type of medicine
he/she uses when sick
pills and some herbal
medicine
pills
no information
Typical illnesses in his/her
community
gripe in small children,
and diarrhea
gripe, rubiola, tosferina
no information
Common remedies in the
community
see medicines
Healer in community
Pills from the pulpería,
limonada for bruises
he said that there are
"spiritual" healers but
they have a different
philosophy and aren't
really for healing
physical problems
Source of foods and water
no answer
they had running water
and their own farm that
they lived off of;
everyone works on the
farm, including the
he grows his own food
children, but not
everyday; they buy rice mainly, maíz, rice,
in the pulpería
plátanos, etc.
Typical foods
plátanos, bananas,
pejiballe, yuca, and the
frijoles that her husband
picks, we noticed nance
in the outdoor kitchen
area
no information
Every day activities
she wakes up early,
cleans, washes, cooks,
and takes care of the
children
no information
no information
no information
they grow most of their
food and buy only things
like salt and sugar
rice, maíz, frijoles, yuca
eats breakfast and then
works in the field on the
crop in season (right
now it is rice, then it will
be corn, then beans)
45
46
she said that she has
seen changes in the
land, in that there's
more cultivation
less mountain, more
cultivated land,
no information
they are positive
changes in his opinion/
she said that there was more cultivation. He
more forest when she says that it is necessary
How changes have affected was younger, but now because there are more
people now.
no information
interviewee/community
there's more food
What community has done
He did not address this
to prevent/promote change no answer
question
no information
Changes the land has
undergone
Distinct leaders/ chiefs
Household animals
no answer
Pigs, chickens
He is a representative
for the Guaymi
assembly
Chickens and dogs
no information
Dogs, cats, pig duck
Average number of children
per household in the
community
8-11, varies
did not ask this question did not ask this question
When she started having
children (at what age)
15did not ask this question did not ask this question
Where babies are born in
All children were born in
this community
the house
did not ask this question did not ask this question
Helper in labor process
special foods eaten when
pregnant or nursing
What type of birth control
she uses/is used in the
community
Additional
information/observations
Midwife
did not ask this question did not ask this question
Chicken soups
did not ask this question did not ask this question
Placenta myth: bury a
piece of placenta of last
born child as deep as
the length of an arm far
did not ask this question did not ask this question
from the house
Interview took place in
outdoor shack next to
house with outdoor
kitchen attached. Lots of
Two women and lots of
children looked on, and
children around helping
were not interested in
with animal
talking to us, nor did
identification. Baby in
open hallway of house
they speak much
nestled in hanging
Spanish. According to
knitted chair. We were Interview took place
Max, these people had
outside of house, many never seen North
allowed to hold baby.
The woman’s daughter children looking on and Americans before, and
laughing at us because they were quite hesitant
wrote the correct
spelling for the names of we could not speak
in sharing information
the mammals and birds Spanish or spell Guaymi and suspicious of our
on a sheet of paper.
motives.
names of animals.
Interviewee was not
Additional information from interested in sharing
additional information
the informant
The children of the
house were not his own,
as he had just moved in Interviewee was not
interested in sharing
with their mother two
additional information
months ago.
46
47
Table 2: List of Mammal Names
This table displays the mammal names that were provided by the interviewees when shown a picture of the
particular mammal. The interviewees responded typically with Guaymi names. If they could not recall the
Guaymi name, they were asked to give the Spanish equivalent. If they were unable to recognize the
mammal, then the slot was marked with a “no sabe.”
Scientific name
Mammals
Common name
Spanish Names
Guaymi 1
Guaymi 2
Guaymi 3
Chironectes minimus
Didelphis marsupialis
Didelphis virginiana
Marmosa robinsoni
Bradypus tridactylus
Choloepus hoffmanni
Tamandua tetradactyla
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Trachops cirrhosus
Glossophaga soricina
Artibeus jamaicensis
Saguinus geoffroyi
Saimiri oerstedii
Cebus capucinus
Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
Nasua narica
Procyon lotor
Speothos venaticus
Mustela frenata
Galictis vittata
Conepatuis semistriatus
Eira barbara
Panthera onca
Water opossum
Common opossum
Virginia opossum
Mouse opossum
3 toed sloth
2 toed sloth
Tamandua
Giant anteater
Fringe-lipped bat
Common long-tongue bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C. American squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Coati
Racoon
Bush Dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Jaguar
Zorro de agua
Zarigüeya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedes
Perezoso de dos dedes
Oso colmerero
Oso caballo
Murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
Tamarín mamoseta
Mono ardilla
Mico naicero
Mono congo
Mono colorado
Pizote solo
Mapactre
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Gríson
Gato canero
Tolomuco
Tigre/jaguar
tsoro godvh
tsoro
tsoro
tsorir
cuuh
cuuh
minsulee
minsulee
nguibita
nguibita
nguibita
colonm
druö
druö
jϋrin
jϋrin
gübua
kügwalί
krä
ngibiangí
No sabe
kügualí
nü krä
krä bögö
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
sula
cuuh
cuuh
me
me oso mekri
ngubita
no sabe
no sabe
no esta aqui
druö
nooqui
jϋrin
mub vang
gubah
no
san yoo
gnu
gnu
gnu
gnu
cwara
tsoro
tsoro
tsoro
keda
cuuh
cuuh
meen
meen
ngubita
ngubita
ngubita
no sabe
druö
druö
jϋrin
jϋrin
gubah
kügwalί
krä
ngibiangí
no sabe
kügualí
nü krä
krä bögö
47
48
Table 3: List of Bird Names
This table displays the bird names that were provided by the interviewees when shown a picture of the
particular bird. The interviewees responded typically with Guaymi names. If they could not recall the
Guaymi name, they were asked to give the Spanish equivalent. If they were unable to recognize the bird,
then the slot was marked with a “no sabe.”
Scientific name
Birds
Common name
Spanish Names
Guaymi 1
Guaymi 2 Guaymi 3
Ardeas herodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
Aramides cajanea
Jacana spinosa
Podilymbus podiceps
Calidris mauri
Crax rubra
Penelope purpurascens
Chamaepetes unicolor
Tinamus major
Cathartes aurea
Sarcorramphus papa
Herpetotheres cachinans
Milvago chimachima
Harpia harpyja
Columba nigrirostris
Columba talpacoti
Ara macao
Amazona farinosa
Brotogeris jugularis
Tyto alba
Piaya cayana
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Pteroglossus frantzii
Blue Heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) heron
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacana
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Cresten guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pigeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red billed aracari
Garzόn azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta nivosa
Garza-tigre cullinud
Garcilla estriada
Rascon cuelligris
Jacana centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavόn grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamu
Zopilote
Zopilote rey
Guaco
Caracara
Aguilarpía
Paloma piquicorta
Tortolita rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro verde
Periquito barbinaranja
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotacabras norteno
Martin pescador norteno
Tucancillo piquianaro
krigise
cholube
cholube
cholube
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
chichicuada
iligwi
no sabe
no sabe
segwe
jϋden
ngwen
magϋn
tera
mualä
otogí
ǔtü
no sabe
chacha
türesi
üglü
tigain
tōbra
jugura
bisi
cholube
cholube
cholube
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
magϋn
mguh
qwimueh
otogí
no sabe
rogah
ray
türesi
chiraii
tigain
tōbra
jugura
bisi
48
cholube
cholube
cholube
wichichi
caseren
no sabe
bato
no sabe
no sabe
iligwi
cwelen
oru
solaro
juden
no sabe
magϋn
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
ǔtü
oray roga
sa ori
türesi
üglü
tigain
tōbra
jugura
bisi
49
Discussion
Last Name
The last name, Montezuma, was the same for all three interviewees. Our Guaymi contact
informed us that the reservation was started when two families moved into the Abrojos
area from Panama. Thus, the members of the community possess either Bejarano or
Montezuma as last names.
Families
All of the people we spoke to have lived in the community all of their lives. The number
of family members in each house was quite large. The houses we visited had seven to
nine children each, ranging in age from twenty years to less than three months old. The
reason for such a large amount of children may be due to the lack of birth control, which
we assessed in the interviews to be the case. When we inquired about birth control, there
was nothing to suggest the use of modern contraceptives. On the contrary, though, we
did verify a Guaymi tradition for family planning by two different Guaymi informants.
We were told that the tradition is, when woman births, which she desires to be her final
child, she cuts a piece of the placenta off. She then takes this piece of her last child’s
placenta to a far away place where she buries it at an arm’s depth, and places a rock over
it. This ritual will ensure that she has no more children.
Homes and Daily Life
The homes were modest, generally made of wood with large outdoor, covered
kitchen areas. The households are self-sufficient for the most part, growing most of the
food they need on private plots of land. They had many chickens and dogs meandering
49
50
around. The chickens they used for eggs and meat. Each of the homes had running
water outside. There was no sign of electricity but we were never invited into the houses
to determine this for sure. The men work outside of the house in agriculture, and the
women do housework, care for children and also work in the fields garnering food. The
children also help out, we were told, and at two of the houses, we observed children
taking laundry off of the lines and folding it.
Health Care
In the event of an emergency or serious illness, all three of these families go to the
hospital. The first informant, a 31 yr. old woman, told us that she had given birth to all of
her babies in the house. However, the hospital or clinic seemed to be the primary method
for obtaining medical care in the community.
Changes in the Land
In this community, changes witnessed in the land entail the further cultivation of
land for agriculture. This was understood among the Guaymi as a positive change
because it has brought them more food.
Acknowledgments
We would like to thank the generous and obliging Guaymi community, Max
Bejarano, Luis Diego Gomez, and Gabriela Demergasso.
50
51
References
Emmons, L.H. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. The University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, IL. Templates 1-17
IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca. Mapa 3322. San José. 1:200.000
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1989. A guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Cornell
University Press, Ithaca, NY. Templates 5-27
51
52
Exploration of a Guaymi Reservation: Abrojos-Montezuma
1
2
Kim, P.1, Brownlee, K.2, E. Loggins3
Dept of Biology, Cornell, Dept. of Anthropology, U. of Montana, 3Dept. of Biochemistry, U. of
Tennessee
Abstract
A rapid ethnobiological assessment was conducted at the Abrojos
Guaymi reservation near the town of Montezuma in the southern region of
Costa Rica. Interviews of three local households occurred at this beautiful
mountain top Guaymi community. A standardized questionnaire was
used. Topics consisted of daily activities, health and healing, food, and
conservation issues, in addition to local names of certain mammal and bird
species. Additional questions were asked concerning local religious
beliefs involving animals, creation myths and legends, and funerary
practices. This community has been heavily influenced by Christianity
and is also very environmentally conscious.
Key Words: Costa Rica, Guaymi, ethnobiology, Abrojos-Montezuma
Introduction
The Guaymi are one of the many indigenous peoples of Costa Rica and Panama,
and currently reside on state reservations in the eastern region of the country. AbrojosMontezuma, the site visited, is located in the southeastern part of Costa Rica,
approximately five miles from the Panamanian border in the province of Golfito, located
at coordinates 8º37’ N, 82º55’ W. The area is mountainous and forested, with the climate
being warm and dry. The community is located up steep gravel roads, with clusters of
houses are intertwined with patches of forest. The three households interviewed live on
land separated by fields where they practice subsistence agriculture. It appeared as if
only a few houses were in close proximity to one another; there was a significant amount
of forest in between groups of houses. A mix of Guaymi and Spanish speakers was
interviewed, as well as practicing and non-practicing Christians, apparently Evangelical
sects. Two out of the three informants had been living on the land for their entire lives,
while the other informant had moved from another region ten years ago. All the
53
households visited had small children and it appeared that at least two, if not three
generations lived in the same household. In terms of vocations, individuals here do not
participate in the market economy, and, thus, are not a part of the paid labor force, but do
partake of many small microenterprises, such as selling handmade crafts or cacao seeds.
Most inhabitants survive from subsisting off the products of the surrounding
environment.
Materials & Methods
Three student researchers approached three separate households and conducted
three full interviews, about an hour each. The standardized questionnaire included group
questions common for all interviews in the community, pertaining to topics such as daily
life, familial information, knowledge of Costa Rican fauna, foods, and medicine. Using
IGNCR (1988) map Golfito CR2CM-9 to locate the coordinates. Picture templates from
Neotropical Rainforest Mammals (Emmons, 1997) and A Guide to Birds of Costa Rica
(Stiles et al, 1989) were used to assess the knowledge of Costa Rican fauna, with results
summarized in Tables 1 and 2. Separate from these common topics, religious questions
were included regarding the spirits of animals, knowledge of tribal creation myths, and
funeral rituals and practices. After obtaining informed consent and permission to use a
tape recorder, as required in the International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) Code of
Ethics, researchers took notes with the aid of our translators and informants. At the end of
the interview, pictures were taken of informants and their families.
With regards to methods, in general, one student asked the questions in Spanish
and taped answers, another student took handwritten notes, and the third student made
54
detailed observations of the surrounding environment and any pertinent household
information for later analysis.
Observations & Results
Informant 1 is a 30-year-old woman, whose husband is the local pastor of the
Evangelical Christian Church that is only a few yards away from the house. We spoke in
depth with the woman, while holding her beautiful six-year-old daughter in her lap.
Unfortunately, we were not able to meet her husband. She has nine children, aging from 6
to 23, with one set of twins. The family has lived on this plot for thirty years.
The second interview was with one woman and her husband who appeared half
way during the interview. Their household included their eight children, aging from 5
months to 24 years. We were able to observe the two smallest children playing in the
yard, and then a twelve year old girl and a seventeen year old girl taking care of the
smaller children. The woman spoke very little, if any Spanish, requiring the use of a
Guaymi-Spanish translator, making the interview somewhat difficult to begin. But when
the husband arrived he took over answering questions. The family has lived on this plot
for ten years, previously residing on another area of the mountain. Their house was
brilliantly painted in two complementary shades of blue and green and was the only
house we interviewed that was a painted.
Informant 3 seemed extremely reluctant to speak with us. He was the father of the
household, and refused to be recorded. There are ten people total in this house, with a
new granddaughter. The son-in-law did not resemble anyone else in the community that
we observed and it seems clear that he came from a different area.
55
In general, all three houses were constructed of wooden planks and metal roofs
and sometimes thatch. At each location, many animals wandered around, including pigs,
chickens, and dogs. Houses contained a number of smaller separate structures, such as a
cooking area where the fire was kept, a storage area covered by wood, and a living area.
All of the residences were very clean and well kept.
Aves y Mamiforos (Birds & Mammals)
Informant 1 was able to name 80% of the mammals in Guaymi and only one of
the birds. She seemed confused when confronted with so many pictures of similarlooking birds.
Informant 2 named 76% of the mammals in Guaymi and 69% of the
birds. Informant 3 named 72% of the mammals in Guaymi and 90% of the birds. This
family, in particular, showed much interest in the pictures, pointing them out to each
other (see Tables 1 and 2 of Appendix).
Comidas Tipicas (Typical foods)
On the whole, the families interviewed share a common typical diet consisting of
rice, beans, yucca, plantains, bananas, pejiballe, and cacao. The alcoholic beverage
chicha, made of various different ingredients, but usually corn, appears to be a favorite
among this community of Guaymi.
Informant 1 stated that she raises or gathers most of their food, including the
meat, with chicken being the main meat source. This community gets its potable water
from an aqueduct.
Informant 2 discussed the fact that the family practices subsistence agriculture,
with all food is grown on premises. Except for some meat, which is bought. The plot of
land that they farm is located directly behind the house. The family grows rice (Oriza
56
sative), corn (Zea mays), bananas (Musa sp.) and beans (Phaseolus sp.), in addition to the
previous stated common foods. Chicha, water, and other juices are common beverages
enjoyed by the family. Cacao was drying in the sun on a sheet, as was to be sold later.
Informant 3 also raises or gathers most of the family’s food sources, including
beans, corn, bananas, plantains, and yucca. Water was being gathered in a 50-gallon drum
from a gutter on the roof for use in addition to water from the local aqueduct.
Las Enfermedades (Illnesses)
In general, Informant 1 said that the family rarely gets sick. Hospital visits are
rare and the use of conventional medication is also infrequent. The only precaution taken
to ensure good health is the practice of praying to God, in the Christian sense. Only when
medical conditions get serious, such as in the case of an injury, do they utilize local
health care facilities.
Informant 2 stated that the family does not often go to the hospital, preferring to
use remedies made from local plants. General illnesses include flu, diarrhea, vomiting. As
in the case above, when there are medical emergencies, they do go to the hospital.
Informant 3 also discussed how the family searches for plants and natural
products to use as remedies for ailments before actually going to the hospital. Common
illnesses are flu and another illness (sarampiou) that seems to occur every five years or
so, but he would not expand on this.
Conservacion (Conservation)
In terms of local environmental concerns, Informant 1 said that the Guaymi, as a
community, keep a check on the condition of the mountain that they live on, preventing
stripping of the forests by the white people, but also by their own Guaymi neighbors.
57
There have been changes on the mountain over the years, which, in her opinion, are for
the worse. Changes observed are mostly related to deforestation in order to create more
agricultural land. Whether this land is needed by the local Guaymi, or by intruding
neighbors is not clear.
Informant 2 stated that there have been lots of major changes, all for the worse,
due to increased cultivation.
Informant 3 has noticed that there have been changes in the surrounding
environment, which he believes are for the worse. Because of increased land used strictly
for cultivation purposes, there are fewer trees in the area, and therefore a lack of building
material and a lack of natural food sources. The deforestation detracts also from local
beauty.
Religious Beliefs
All
three households interviewed are Christians, some practice by going to church
on a regular basis, while others skip church but still adhere to the Christian views of Jesus
Christ.
When asked about local myths and Guaymi creation stories, Informant 1 stated
that many myths and legends have been forgotten or cannot be remembered enough to be
retold to others. She did say that the old people of the community were the ones who
know the traditional stories. This woman was a firm believer in the Christian idea of
creation and the Adam and Eve story. She indicated that non-Christian stories have not
been retained, such as traditional Guaymi creation myths. In terms of whether or not
animals have spirits, Informant 1 does not believe that animals have their own spirits, but
she does offer up a prayer to God in appreciation for the meat that the animals provide.
58
Also, funeral rituals have changed over the years. According to this informant, the locals
no longer practice traditional rituals, but instead follow Christian funeral ceremonial
practices.
Informant 2 does believe that animals have a spirit, but not necessarily a soul.
There are no prayers or offerings made before the killing of animals. The family is
Christian, but does not currently attend church. In terms of creation stories and myths, the
people are aware that such stories do exist, and remember having heard them in the past.
However, they were not able to recount any such stories; they had either forgotten the
sequence of events within the stories, or did not want to share these stories with outsiders.
They said that some members of the community from older generations still knew and
remembered important Guaymi stories, but the only person in the near area was a very
old man who was very hard of hearing, if not mostly deaf. According to this informant,
there are not any festivals celebrated in the area and funerals are observed in the Christian
fashion.
Informant 3 believes that animals have spirits, but would not further elaborate. He
considers animals to be primarily for food, and does not believe in offering up any
prayers before killing them. Upon reading the traditional Guaymi story of “El Gavilan y
El Tigre,” (Montezuma, 1991) the family seemed interested and apparently had never
heard it before. No one would elaborate on other important stories or whether or not the
one read was accurate, as they had never heard it before. Evidently, funerals are also held
in the Christian tradition.
59
Discussion & Conclusions
During this Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment (REA) performed on the Guaymi
Indigenous Reservation, we found that many people still spoke Guaymi and that Spanish
is considered to be a second language. It can be deduced, then, that at least some of the
traditional culture still remains intact. However, due to this language barrier, plus the
level of Spanish skill of the student researchers, the interview process was somewhat
challenging, and many questions were interpreted as being in a yes or no format, which
presented a problem at times in data extrapolation and elaboration for the questions asked
In appearance, the Guaymi community seemed to be mainly untouched by
modernization. The community is somewhat isolated due to the steepness of the roads
and absence of any major highways in close proximity. This geographical isolation
appears to have sheltered this group somewhat in terms of language preservation, as
mentioned above, yet Christian religious influences have managed to permeate this
community, as demonstrated by all three informants affirming Christian beliefs.
This village also feels very rural. Households are generally spaced some distance
apart, most likely, to allow access to cultivation land and space for animals. The
researchers did not find any sort of communal gathering place, except for a large field
near the local, newly built school, suggesting perhaps that the local church serves as the
center of the community.
Overall, the community appears to be in good health. This may be due to the
resident’s diet, or the availability of conventional health care in extreme situations, or
simply that the people we interviewed had other sources of treatments, such as use of
natural products, as stated by Informant 3.
60
All the families observed grow and gather their own food and buy very little. This
suggests that participation in the market, monetary-based economy is not predominant on
this reservation.
Subsistence agriculture, however, seems to be becoming an
environmental concern for these people, since all of the informants mentioned that more
deforestation is happening in order to make land available to farm and that they think this
is a problem.
The Guaymi informants did not want to talk about, or did not know the traditional
myths or stories. The fact that the group of researchers was all outsiders might explain
the withholding of this information. The prevalence of Christianity may be a factor in the
decline of cultural knowledge. Informant 1 did explain the older people still know the
myths. However, if the older people do not know the whole story, they will not attempt
to explain part of the story.
Acknowledgements
We’d like to thank the people of the town of Abrojo, in the Guaymi Indian
Reserve for their cooperation and hospitality. Special thanks to our informants Max
Bejarano, Esperanza Bejerano Montezuma, Edilin Rios Montezuma, and Juan
Montezuma Bejerano. And lastly, thanks to Luis Diego Gomez, and Gabriella
Demargasso for their help as our translators.
61
References
Emmons, L. H. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. The University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, IL
Montezuma, L. P. 1991. Nuestros Abuelos Nos Contaron Historias. ACUN, San Felix,
Chiriqui
Stiles, F.G. and Skutch, A.F. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Cornell
University Press, Ithaca, NY
IGNCR 1988 Golfito CR2CM-9 [1:200,000] 8º37’ N, 82º55’ W
62
Appendix
Table 1. Identification of Mammals by Informants
(X = did not recognize mammal)
Scientific name
Mammalia
Chironectes minimus
Didelphis marsupialis
Didelphis virginiana
Marmosa rovinsoni
Bradypus tridactylus
Choloepus hoffmanni
Tamandua tetradactyla
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Trachops cirrhosus
Glossophaga soricina
Artibeus jamaicensis
Saguinus geoffroyi
Saimiri oerstedii
Cebus capucinus
Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
Nasua narica
Procyon lotor
Speothos venaticus
Mustela frenata
Galictis vittata
Conepatuis semistriatus
Eira barbara
Panthera onca
Common name
Spanish name
Family1
Family2
Family3
Water oppossum
Common appossum
Virginia oppossum
Mouse oppossum
3-toed sloth
2-toed sloth
Tamanua
Giant anteater
Fringe-lipped bat
Common long-tongue bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C. American squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Coati
Raccoon
Bush dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Jaguar
Zorro de agua
Zarigϋeya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedos
Perezoso de dos dedos
Oso Colmenero
Oso Caballo
Murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
Tamarin, Marmoseta
Mono ardilla
Cairara, machin blanco
Mono congo
Mono Colorado
Pizote solo
Mapache
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Gríson
Gato Cañero
Tolomuco
Tigre, Jaguar
X
Kheu-ddo
Kheu-ddo
tu weh
Kheu
Kheu
X
X
ni bi ta
ni bi ta
ni bi ta
Druh
Druh
Druh
Druh
Druh
Ngu bwa
Ngu bwa
Ngu bwa
Neu
Neu
X
X
Gwa ra
Siri
kheu du
kheu du
kheu du
Kheu
Kheu
men sol li
meng kri
ni bi ta
a ra be
a ra be
X
Titi
ngu bwung
X
X
nu bwagura
nu bwagura
X
en neu ne
X
ku gwu
X
ko ra
kheu du
kheu du
kheu du
siri
kheu
kheu
X
mehni bi ta
ni bi ta
ni bi ta
X
drru aba
X
drru a
ngu bwung
mu bwa
mu bwa korei ai
X
X
ssan yong
keu gwu
X
kora torong
Gal sa
X
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
X
X
guichichi
X
X
kosren
X
X
X
irigui
kwulegwi
X
mongsolodo
keu deng
ngue
magu
mu
deu boro
kri gi de
kri gi de
kri gi de
dtong
kri gi de
ko se reng
gwichichi
X
X
irigui
kwe reing
uru
mon soro
he deing
mwe
mago
tera
X
Table 2. Identification of Birds by Informants
(X = did not recognize bird)
Aves
Ardeas heodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
Aramides cajanea
Jacana spinosa
Podilymbus podiceps
Calidris mauri
Crax rubra
Penelope purpurascens
Chamaepetes unicolor
Tinamus major
Cathartes aurea
Sarcorramphus papa
Herpetotheres cachinans
Milvago chimachima
Harpia harpyja
Blue Heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) heron
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacan
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Crested guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Garzón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta nivosa
Garza tigre cuellinuda
Garcilla estriada
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacana centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamu
Zopilote
Zopilote rey
Guaco
Caracara
Aguila arpía
63
Columba nigrirostris
Columba talpacoti
Ara macao
Amazona farinosa
Brotogeris jugularis
Tyto alba
Piaya cayana
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Pteroglossus frantzii
Shot-billed pigeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red billed aracari
Paloma Piquicorta
Tortolita Rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro Verde
Periquito barbinaranja
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotocabras Norteño
Martin Pescador Norteño
Tucancillo
Piquianaranjado
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
mu taldi
brun chi
X
chachama
tarechi
euglu
ti gan
tu bra
moro neu gwei
bisi
euh deu
euh deu
ro ga
o rei
turesi
drowa dogo
ti gaing
tu bra
che rara
bisi
64
Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment of the Abrojos Guaymi Indian
Reservation
Sadiqa Edmonds.1, Rachel Hart2 and R. Huang3
1
Department of Chemistry, Spelman College, 2Department of Microbiology, University of
Tennessee at Knoxville, 3Department of Biology, Duke University *
Abstract
The Guaymi community of interest is located at Abrojos, a reservation in the southern area of
Costa Rica. A rapid ethnobiological assessment was conducted on Wednesday, July 25, 2001 to
find out about the culture of the Guaymi and their views through their cultural lens. The
standardized questionnaire fit into four general categories: general information and observations,
medicine, conservation, and animals. The interview indicated that the Guaymi, although definitely
affected by outside influences, still retain many Guaymi customs and the language. The Guaymi
also use medicinal plants for the treatment of illnesses. Conservation in Guaymi community is not
cooperative, although deforestation has greatly affected it. The Guaymi value animals as pets,
sources of food, and see them as spiritual beings.
Keywords: Costa Rica, Ethnobiology, Guaymi, Abrojos, Indigenous community
Introduction
The Guaymi community of Abrojos-Montezuma is an indigenous community
located in the southwestern area of Costa Rica. It is at an altitude of about 500 meters,
and is located at 8°37’N, 82°55’W and its average temperature for most of the year is
about 25oC. The community is located several kilometers from the town of Neily and
overlooks a forest. The Guaymi live without many amenities present in traditional Costa
Rican lifes*tyles. Also, the community, as it has remained fairly isolated from Costa
Rican society at large, has retained much of its culture and language.
We traveled to Abrojos in order to conduct a rapid ethnobiological assessment of
the community. The interview generated information about Guaymi life and culture,
*
[email protected]
65
specifically family structure, power structure in society, common foods, changes in the
landscape, medicine, and animals. This information will provide insight into an ancient
and rich culture that is invaluable to the history of native Costa Rican peoples.
Materials and Methods
The group interviewed various families within the Abrojos location of the
Guaymi community on July 26, 2001. The location of the community was found using
the map IGNCR (1988) Golfito CR2CM-9.
We randomly chose three houses to
approach. At each house, the family was first informed about the nature of the research,
and then asked for permission to interview according to the Society of Ethnobiology
Code of Ethics. If granted permission, we also asked permission to record the interview
using a small Optimus Micro-42 Microcassette Recorder. The purpose of the recorder
was to have the informants’ exact language preserved for analysis and to be able to better
understand what was said.
Questions were asked using a standardized questionnaire concerning various
aspects of Guaymi culture and every day life.
The subjects covered consisted of
medicine, food, conservation, and animal identification.
For the purpose of bird
identification, a book entitled A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F.Gary Stiles and
Alexander F. Skutch (1994) was used. For mammals, Neotropical Rainforest Mammals
by Louise H. Emmons (1997) was used. Observations during the interview and the
answers of each family were both compared and contrasted. The results were used to
analyze and then draw a conclusion about the state of the Guaymi community.
66
Results and Conclusions
The Abrojos reservation was located atop a lush green mountain overlooking
cultivated land. Houses were spaced relatively far apart. Houses consisted mainly of
wooden boards and metal roofs. The paths connecting the houses were mud trails. The
main schoolhouse had sparse furniture and only consisted of a few benches.
Additionally, there were no windows or chalkboards in the school.
The first family consisted of a wide age range of children, from toddlers to
teenagers. There were nine people in the house, seven of whom were children, four girls
and three boys. The person interviewed was a 17-year-old woman, without children,
named Victoria Rodríguez. We also spoke to a young man named Bolivar. Their house
contained bamboo supports in front. Additionally, benches or seats made of wood were
placed on the front porch. The front porch wall of one house contained various paper
drawings on the walls. Beds consisted of wooden tables often covered with piles of
clothing. The back room of another house contained food, including corn (zea mays),
bananas (musa acuminata), lychee (nephelium lappaceum), and pigs (sus scrota). The
room also contained a hammock for relaxation.
The second family had about ten people. There was a young woman named
Martha Beita, six of her children, her mother and father, and another young woman.
Martha had spent about 12 years in Panama, and had just returned to Abrojos.
The third family also had about ten people. We interviewed Marcelino Ruiz
Bejarano, who lived there with his wife, three children, and father-in-law’s children.
Their house consisted of only one room with no walls and a dirt floor.
Animals,
67
including chickens, dogs and cats, roamed freely throughout and around this house.
There was even a chicken bed in the house.
The gender roles in each of the families were consistent. The daily lives of the
women consisted of cleaning the house, taking care of the children, and cooking, while
the daily lives of the men consisted of hunting and working. Victoria, a 17-year-old
informant from the first family, stated that her daily activities consisted of cleaning,
taking care of her brothers and sisters, and cooking. She also informed us that during her
free time she played Guaymi games and listened to Guaymi music.
The Rodríguez family obtained most of their food from hunting, from their
household animals, and from their vegetable garden. Their diet mainly consisted of
bananas, plantains (musa balbisiana), beans (phaseolus vulgaris), rice (oryza sativa),
yuca (manihot esculenta), chicken, pork, and beef. The Beita family did not have a
garden, however their diet also consisted of various foods including rice, corn, beans,
pejibayes (bactris gasipaes), yuca, bananas, chayote (sechium edule), ayote (cucurbita
moschata), chicken, and yam soups.
The Bejarano family’s diet also consisted of
pejibaye, bananas, corn, rice, beans, and yuca. Their meats included fish and other
animals that live by the river, 5 kilometers away.
When sick, two of the people interviewed said that they used medicinal plants.
One of them, the first informant, also said that she would go to the healer of the
community for a remedy. All said that the common illnesses in their communities
included the flu and vomiting, while two of the three said that diarrhea was also common.
The first informant said that there is a specific healer within the community. She also
told us that plants could be used medicinally by putting them in hot water and using them
68
as a tea. The first informant informed us that a remedy for inflammation involved putting
the liquid of a boiled plant on the skin one time a day for four days. She believed that
sicknesses could arise from eating bad food, while Bolivar, another man at the first home,
believed that illness could also arise from killing too many animals. Bolivar felt that
sickness could arise from the latter via vengeance on the part of the animal gods. The
second informant said that she did not use medicinal plants for healing, but rather asked
God for help, as she was Christian. The third informant stated that he obtained his
medicine from mountain plants. He used these plants by first cutting them up and boiling
them in water to drink as a tea.
There were several types of domesticated animals present in the communities,
including dogs, pigs, chickens, cats, cows, and horses. The animals roamed relatively
freely around the houses, and the inhabitants of the communities used the animals for
food, companionship, and transportation.
In the first family, one of the brothers
specifically cared for and knew how to treat the animals for illness. He said that there are
specific plants for treating animals and also plants for animals and humans, such as
Guaymi “ngimagrion.” All the families agreed that animals do have souls; the first
family believed this because animals “obviously love and are loved.”
The third
informant agreed with this and said that “animals draw breath, so they must have a soul.”
Bolivar also said that the animals have their own god. This god can become angry, he
said, if more animals are killed than needed. This animal god then sends the hunter bad
dreams in which the roles of the animal and hunter are reversed. The hunters are
supposed to ask for permission before killing an animal from the animal god. All of the
families stated that wild animals have largely disappeared from the area because of
69
deforestation; therefore, hunting is done rarely and for special rituals only. The second
and third families stated that they either used herbal remedies on their animals or did
nothing when they were sick. None of them mentioned a veterinarian in the area or
among the communities.
Each of the families interviewed knew the majority of the names of both birds and
animals in their native language. Tables 1 and 2 include the results and are appended to
this report. About 65% of the birds and 60% of the mammals were given the same or
very similar names by at least 2 informants. There were only 3 mammals that none of the
informants knew, including the Geoffroy’s tamarin, racoon, and bush dog. There were
also only 3 birds that none of the informants recognized, including the tiger heron, greenbacked heron, and the northern jacana.
All three informants noted a decrease in vegetation in their general area. The first
informant believed that tree cutting was the main cause for decrease in vegetation. She
stated that trees were cut mainly to make houses and to cook. Though these changes
affect her greatly, she stated that the people of the reservation did nothing to prevent
changes because each family is independent and did not bother to replant anything. She
stated that this is different from before, when there was more of a sense of cohesion
within the community. In the past there were community meetings in which decisions to
replant vegetation were made. The second informant stated that with less vegetation, the
temperatures in the region have increased. The third informant stated that there was both
fewer vegetation and fewer animals in the region.
The Rodriguez family explained that the community is well-organized with a
president named Marcos, who citizens go to for civil disputes. However, they stated that
70
the community is fairly calm overall and rarely has to deal with any civil disputes.
Additionally, there are various laws, including the regulation of tree cutting.
A
government body oversees the laws being passed as well as those being reviewed. The
Beita family explained that they have an organized society broken into one hundred
committees working in seven sections.
It was evident that the Abrojos Guaymi community still respected and carried on
its culture. This was evident in their recognition of most of the surrounding fauna, their
continued use of their language, and the appreciation of their culture in the younger
generation, as evidenced by Victoria. However, it was also evident that the community
had been affected by deforestation and modernization. This could be seen in the changes
that were identified in the hunting, eating, religious, and healing practices of the people
interviewed.
Acknowledgements
We would like to acknowledge Victoria Rodriguez, Martha Beita, and Marcelino Ruiz for
their valuable insight into the Guaymi community.
References
IGNCR. 1988. Golfito CR2CM-9. San José. 1:200.000.
Emmons, L.H. 1997. Neotropical Rainfrest Mammals. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press. [Plates 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17]
Stiles, FG. and Skutch, A.F. 1994. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca: Cornell
University Press. [Plates 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 27]
71
Table 1. Animal Nomenclature
Plate
1
2
4
5
6
10
11
13
14
15
16
17
#
8
11
12
9
2
5
6
8
6
1
5
6
6
9
5
3a
4
6
8
1
3
4
5
6
Scientific Name
Chironectes minimus
Didelphis marsupialis
Didelphis virginiana
Marmosa robinsoni
Bradypus tridactylus
Choloepus hoffmanni
Tamandua tetradactyla
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Trachops cirrhosus
Glossophaga soricina
Artibeus jamaicensis
Saguinus geoffroyi
Saimiri oerstedii
Cebus capucinus
Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
Nasua narica
Procyon lotor
Speothos venaticus
Mustela frenata
Galictis vittata
Conepatuis semistriatus
Eira barbara
Panthera onca
Common Name
Water oppossum
Common oppossum
Virginia oppossum
Mouse oppossum
3-toed sloth
2-toed sloth
Tamandua
Giant anteater
Fringe-lipped bat
Common long-tongue bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C. American squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Coati
Racoon
Bush dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Jaguar
Spanish Name
Zorro de agua
Zarigüeya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedos
Perezoso de dos dedos
Oso colmenero
Oso caballo
Murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
Tamarín, Marmoseta
Mono ardilla
Mico maicero
Mono congo
Mono colorado
Pizote solo
Mapache
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Grisón
Gato cañero
Tolomuco
Tigre/Jaguar
Group 1 Group 2
mawla nu
tubue
kudo
kudo
kundoh
ku
ku
ku
ku
mainsuli main
main
mainkri
nibida
nibida
nibida
nibida
Group 3
kudo
kudo
kudo
tubweh
ku
ku
mainsuli
mainsuli
nibida
nibida
nibida
monchi
juri
juri
droah
mono tongue
droahnita
juri
juri
munchi
mubwah sutu mubweh sutu mubweh
nu
nu
kubwah
kurah
nugwhy
nu
nu
kubwah
gura
corda taron
72
Table 2. Bird
Nomenclature
Plate
#
5
6
9
10
16
6
1
13
18
7
3
11
12
12
3
4
5
6
Scientific Name
Ardeas herodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
Aramides cajanea
Jacana spinosa
Podilymbus podiceps
Calidris mauri
Crax rubra
Penelope purpurascens
Chamaepetes unicolor
Tinamus major
Common Name
Blue heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) heron
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacana
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Crested guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Spanish Name
Garzón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta nivosa
Garza-tigre cuellinud
Garcilla estriada
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacara centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamu
Group 1
Group 2 Group 3
krigise
kride
krigise
kride
chulubweh
chulubweh
kosneh
kotreh
kochele
13
3
5
Carthartes aurea
Sarcoramphus papa
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Zopilote
Zopilote rey
15
8
9a
9
5
7
1
3
14
Herpetotheres cachinans
Milvago chimachima
Harpia harpyja
Columba nigrirostris
Columba talpacoti
Ara macao
Amazona farinosa
Brotogeris jugularis
Guaco
Caracara
Aguil arpía
Paloma piquicorta
Tortolita rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro verde
Periquito barbinaranja
9
7
17
1b
16
Tyto alba
Piaya cayana
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Pteroglossus frantzii
Laughing falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pigeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned
parakeet
Barn owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red-billed aracari
mwahlah mwahlah
chichiboh
irigwi
irigwi
irigwi
kuneh
kuleh
uru
monosoloro mosloro mosolo
bo
kudeh
kudeh
kudeh
mweh
mweh
kudendaw
ga
mago
mago
mago
mu
dobwadah
kura adwi udu
udu kia
nubrichi
udu
migragwah
rogah
rogah
rogah on
cha cha
oreh gri sri
ture chi
dureci
durechi
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotacabras norteño
Martin pescador norteño
Tucancillo piquianaran
ugru
tiguyn
tobrah
chirraro
bisi
17
18
19
20
21
27
ugru
tiguyn
toborah
bisi
gechuwah
tiguyn
toborah
chirraro
bichilink
73
73
Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment of the Abrojos- Montezuma Guaymi Indian
Reservation
Teich, A.1, Kim, P.2, Huang, R.3, Brownlee, K.4, Edmonds, S.5, Hart, R.6, Loggins, E.7, Moye, E.8,
M. Ruiz9
Dept. of Environmental Science, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2 Dept. of Biology,
Cornell Univ., 3Dept. of Biology and Math, Duke Univ., 4Dept. of Anthropology, Univ. of
Montana, 5Dept. of Biochemistry, Spellman Univ., 6Dept. of Microbiology, Univ. of Tennessee at
Knoxville, 7Dept. of Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Univ. of Tennessee at
Knoxville, 8Dept. of Biology, Univ. of Pennsylvannia, 9Dept. of Microbiology, Univ. of Maryland
at College Park
1
Abstract
A rapid ethnobiological assessment was conducted at the Abrojos
Guaymi reservation near the town of Montezuma in the southern region of
Costa Rica. Interviews of nine local households occurred at this beautiful
mountain community with the use of a standardized questionnaire. Topics
consisted of daily activities, health and healing, food, and conservation
issues, in addition to local names of certain mammal and bird species.
Additional questions were asked concerning local religious beliefs
involving animals, creation myths and legends, and funerary practices.
This community has been heavily influenced by Christianity and evidently
is also very environmentally conscious.
Key words Guaymi, Abrojos, Montezuma, Medicinal Plants, Conservation,
Introduction
The Guaymi are a group of indigenous peoples of Costa Rica and Panama who
currently reside on state reservations. The Guaymi community of Abrojos-Montezuma is
located in the southern part of Costa Rica, approximately 10 km from the Panamanian
border at coordinates, 8º37’ N, 82º55’ W in the province of Golfito. It has an altitude of
about 500 meters, and its temperature on the interview day was about 25oC. Located
several kilometers from the town of Neily, the reservation overlooks a large tropical
forest. Overall, the Guaymi live without many amenities present in modern Costa Rican
lifestyles, such as televisions and electricity. Also, the community, as it has remained
fairly isolated from Costa Rican society at large, has retained much of its unique culture
74
and language. The mountain community of Abrojos, with approximately 1000
inhabitants, is located up steep gravel roads. Houses were spread far apart, with fields
and forests in between. All the households visited had small children and at least two, if
not three generations live in the same household. In terms of vocations, individuals here
do not participate in the market economy, and, thus, are not a part of the paid labor force,
but do partake of many small microenterprises, such as selling handmade crafts or cacao
seeds. Most inhabitants survive from subsisting off the products of the surrounding
environment.
We traveled to Abrojos in order to conduct a rapid ethnobiological assessment of
the community. The interview generated information about Guaymi life and culture,
specifically family structure, power structure in society, common foods, medicine, and
animals, and changes in the landscape.
Materials and Methods
Multiple families within the Abrojos community were interviewed on July 25,
2001. At each house, the family was first informed about the nature of the research, and
then asked for ‘informed consent’, in accordance with the ethnobiological code of ethics.
If granted permission, we also asked permission to record the interview using a voice
activated microcassette recorder. Used IGNCR (1988) map CR2CM-9 [1:200.000] to
determine the location of Abrojos. The purpose of the recorder was to have the
informants’ exact language preserved for analysis and to better translate what was said.
When consent was obtained, questions concerning various aspects of Guaymi
culture and everyday life were asked using a standardized questionnaire. The subjects
75
covered consisted of medicine, food, conservation, knowledge of Costa Rican fauna,
religion, and spirituality. For the purpose of bird and mammal identification, we used
templates from A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica (Stiles et al, 1989) and Neotropical
Rainforest Mammals (Emmons, 1977), with results summarized in Tables 1 and 2.
Observations during the interview and the answers of each family were compared to
analyze the state of the Guaymi community.
Results and Conclusion
Informant 1 is a 17-year-old woman, one of 7 children living in the house. Their
house contains bamboo supports in front, with benches made of wood on the front porch.
The front porch wall of one house contained various paper drawings. Beds consisted of
wooden tables often covered with piles of clothing. The room also contained a hammock
for relaxation.
Informant 2 is a young woman who has just returned from Panama after living
there for 12 years. Living in her house are 10 people, six of her children, her mother,
father, and another young woman.
Informant 3 also lived in a household of 10, consisting of his wife, three children,
and father-in-law’s children. Their house consisted of only one room with no walls and a
dirt floor. Animals, including chickens, dogs and cats, roamed freely throughout and
around this house. There was even a chicken bed in the house.
Informant 4 is a 30-year-old woman, whose husband is the local pastor of the
Evangelical Christian Church that is only a few yards away from the house. We spoke in
depth with the woman, while holding her six-year-old daughter in her lap. Unfortunately,
76
we were not able to meet her husband. She has nine children, aging from 6 to 23, with
one set of twins. The family has lived on this plot for thirty years.
Informant 5 is a woman in her forties, and her husband appeared half way during
the interview. Their household included their eight children, aging from 5 months to 24
years. We observed the two smallest children playing in the yard, and then a twelve-yearold girl and a seventeen-year-old girl taking care of the smaller children. The woman
spoke very little, if any Spanish, requiring the use of a Guaymi-Spanish translator,
making the interview somewhat difficult to begin. But when the husband arrived he took
over answering questions.
Informant 6 seemed extremely reluctant to speak with us, and refused to be
recorded. There are ten people total in this house, with a new granddaughter. The sonin-law did not resemble anyone else in the community that we observed and it seems like
he is not Guaymi.
Informant 7 is aged 35, and has nine children, ranging in ages from 3 months to
20 years. She was very ambivalent, giving simple answers to only some of the question,
and she did not wish to be tape-recorded. Her sister’s chickens were roaming around her
covered kitchen area. There was a small child in a hammock that we could see through
the doorway.
Informant 8 is a forty eight-year-old man, who lives with a woman and her six
children. However, they are not married. He is a representative on a Guaymi council
and spoke at length about the poor representation of common people, such as himself,
even within the Guaymi political structure. His house was small and clean. We sat under
a covered area attached to the house, which had sanded stumps that were clearly intended
77
for visitors. He seemed comfortable discussing at length with us, and stressed the
importance of communication with people outside of the reservation.
Informant 9 was an elderly Guaymi man who lived with his wife, and many
children. We were not able to extract the exact number of household members and
furthermore had a hard time understanding what he was conveying because he hardly
spoke Spanish. We had a translator with us, but nevertheless we were not able to
understand much of what he said. We also attempted to speak with two women who
were present at the house. But they did not talk to us. It is not clear whether they also
spoke only Guaymi or just felt uncomfortable with our presence.
Comidas Tipicas (Typical Foods)
On the whole, the families interviewed share a common typical diet consisting of
rice, beans, yucca, plantains, bananas, pejiballe, and cacao. The alcoholic beverage
chicha, made of various different ingredients, but usually corn, appears to be a favorite in
this community.
Informant 1 stated that she raises or gathers most of their food, including the
meat, with poultry being the main meat source. In fact, all of the families had chickens
roaming around and they all reported eating chicken.
This community gets its potable water from an aqueduct. Informant 2 discussed
the fact that the family practices subsistence agriculture, with all food grown on premises,
except for some meat, which they buy. The plot of land that they farm is located directly
behind the house. All of the families interviewed farmed on personal plots of land. The
majority of food in Abrojos seems to be grown rather than purchased from stores.
78
Birds and Mammals
Informant 1 knew 76% of the mammals and 79% of the birds. Informant 2 knew
60% of the mammals and 76% of the birds. Informant 3 knew 80% of the mammals and
66% of the birds. Informant 4 knew 80% of the mammals and almost none of the birds.
Informant 5 knew 76% of the mammals and 69% of the birds. Informant 6 knew 76% of
the mammals and 90% of the birds. Informant 7 knew 96% of the mammals and 76% of
the birds. Informant 8 knew 76% of the mammals and 55% of the birds. Informant 9
knew 92% of the mammals and 76% of the birds (see Tables 1 and 2 in Appendix).
Language Barrier
Since the Guaymi language has been preserved and most of the interviews were
held with older people, some of the interviews had to be translated from Guaymi to
Spanish. At the start of the interview, there were communication problems. Because of
the language barrier, many of the questions resulted in simple yes or no answers.
Furthermore, some of the questions in the interview were worded in a way that the
Guaymi could not understand. For example, during the fourth interview, many questions
had to be rephrased by our translator.
Homes and Daily Life
The Guaymi homes are generally modest, made of wood with broad metal roofs.
Large covered kitchens with running water are located outside. Dirt paths connect the
houses.
79
Other builds seen in the communities were two schools, one new and one old, and
a church. The main schoolhouse had sparse furniture and only consisted of a few
benches. Additionally, there were no windows or chalkboards in the school. The Guaymi
schools only go through the sixth grade. And as the closest high school is an hour and a
half away, most Guaymi’s only complete primary school. When out of school, the
children help out at home by working in fields, chopping wood, or helping with laundry.
The gender roles in each of the families were consistent. The daily lives of the
women consisted of cleaning the house, taking care of the children, and cooking, while
the men hunt and work the fields. The first informant, a 17-year-old, stated that her daily
activities consisted of cleaning, taking care of her brothers and sisters, and cooking. She
also informed us that during her free time she played Guaymi games and listened to
Guaymi music.
Medicine/ Health Care
Five of the nine people interviewed said that they use medicinal plants during
times of illness. Six of the nine people said that they would go to a hospital or clinic only
when absolutely necessary or if local plant remedies did not work. Informants 2, 4 and 7
revealed that they ask God for help and/or pray, in the Christian sense, for maintaining or
improving health.
The first informant said that she would go to the healer of the
community for a remedy in addition to using medicinal plants.
Presently, healers do not seem to be used as much for healing physical illnesses or
perhaps they are looked upon skeptically for physical healing. For example, informant 8
80
brought up that there are “spiritual” healers with different philosophies about healing the
soul, but this is different from physical shamanic healing.
Seven informants stated that the flu is a common illness within the reservation,
while four stated that vomiting, and three said that diarrhea, are common within the
community. Additionally, informant 6 stated that measles are common, and informant 8
stated that rubella and tuberculosis are common illnesses. Informant 6 stated that the flu
and measles tend to be prevalent every five years.
With respect to methods of preparing remedies from medicinal plants, the first
and third informants told us specifically that the plants best used in teas. The first
informant also informed us that a remedy for inflammation involved putting the liquid of
a boiled plant on the skin once a day for four days.
In terms of using modern medication, Informants 7 and 8 said that they would
purchase pills during times of illness.
The first informant believed that sicknesses could arise from eating bad food,
while a man at the house of the first informant believed that illness could also arise from
killing too many animals. He felt that sickness could arise from the latter via vengeance
on the part of the animal gods.
Conservation
All of the informants grow and gather most of their own food. The problem that
comes from this that more and more forestland has to be cleared for farming.
In this community, there has been an influx in agriculture, a rise in cultivation.
Many people view this positively because it has brought them more food. But others,
81
such as the first informant believed that tree cutting is the main cause for decrease in
vegetation. She stated that trees were cut mainly to make houses and for firewood.
Though these changes affect her greatly, she stated that the people of the reservation did
nothing to prevent changes because each family is independent and does not bother to
replant. She stated that this is different from before, when there was more of a sense of
unity within the community.
In the past there were community meetings in which
decisions to replant vegetation were made.
The second informant stated that with less vegetation, the temperatures in the
region have increased. The third informant stated that there was both less vegetation and
fewer animals in the region.
In terms of local environmental concerns, Informant 4 said that the Guaymi, as a
community, keep a check on the condition of the mountain that they live on, preventing
stripping of the forests by the white people, but also by their own Guaymi neighbors.
There have been changes on the mountain over the years, which, in her opinion, are for
the worse. Changes observed are mostly related to deforestation in order to create more
agricultural land. Whether this land is needed for the local Guaymi, or by intruding
neighbors is not clear.
Informant 5 and 6 have noticed that there have been changes in the surrounding
environment, which they believe, are for the worse. Because of increased land used
strictly for cultivation purposes, there are fewer trees in the area, and therefore a lack of
building material and a lack of natural food sources. The deforestation, they say, also
detracts from local beauty.
82
So, in terms of land use, the Guaymi concur that in recent years, more mountain
land has been cultivated. There has been additional agriculture, which naturally
necessitates deforestation. Some Guaymi hail this since it brings them more food, while
others see deforestation as a serious problem.
Animals
There were several types of domesticated animals present in the communities,
including dogs, pigs, chickens, cats, cows, and horses. The animals roamed relatively
freely around the houses, and the inhabitants of the communities used the animals for
food, simple companionship, and transportation. In the first family, one of the brothers
specifically cared for and knew how to treat the animals for illness. He said that there are
specific plants for treating animals, such as Guaymi “ngimagrion.”
Spirituality and Religion
All the families polled agreed that animals do have souls; the first family believed
this because animals “obviously love and are loved.” The third informant agreed, saying
“animals draw breath, so they must have souls.” Informant in house 1 also said that the
animals have their own god. This god can become angry if more animals are killed than
needed. This animal god then sends the hunter bad dreams in which the roles of the
animal and hunter are reversed. The hunters are supposed to ask for permission before
killing an animal from the animal god. However, not all of the informants were in
agreement whether animals have souls or not. Informant 5 believes that animals have a
83
spirit, but not necessarily a soul. Therefore there are no prayers or offerings made before
killing them.
All of the informants interviewed were Christians, with most of them attending
church regularly. They follow Christian rituals and ceremonies, such as Christmas and
Easter as well as traditional Guaymi beliefs. Informants 5 and 6 related, for example,
some details about the Gauymi funerary practices. They said that the body must remain
in the house for 3 or 4 days, but did not know exactly know why, other than to allow
relatives time to come to funerals.
Discussion
In Abrojos, the many overlaps in survey answers suggest related cultural
understanding and community knowledge. Some would argue that acculturation of the
Guaymi is a pressing issue. In some senses, our data revealed, for example, the scarcity
of medicinal uses of plants, and the absence of knowledge of myths and Guaymi history.
But in fact, ethnographers have recently obtained information consolidating the presence
of the myths and the traditional culture. Probably we did not obtain this information and
these stories due to flaws in our survey process, questionnaires, and outsider status.
Acknowledgments
We’d like to thank the people of the town of Abrojo, in the Guaymi Indian
Reserve for their cooperation and hospitality. Special thanks to Max Bejarano, Esperanza
Bejerano Montezuma, Edilin Rios Montezuma, Montezuma Bejerano, Victoria
Rodriguez, Martha Beita, Marcelino Ruiz, Maria, Felipa Montezuma, Ramon Montezuma
84
Bejerano, and Sr. Montezuma. And lastly, thanks to Luís Diego Gomez, Gabriela
Demergasso, José Gonzalez, and Rebecca Lutzy for help in translating.
References
Emmons, L. H. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. The University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, IL 1997.
Montezuma, L. P. Nuestros Abuelos Nos Contaron Historias. ACUN, San Felix,
Chiriqui, 1991.
Stiles, F.G. and Skutch, A.F. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Cornell University
Press, Ithaca, NY: 1989.
IGNCR Golfito CR2CM-9 [1:200,000] 8º37’ N, 82º55’ W
85
Appendix
Table 1. Identification of Mammals by Informants
(X = did not recognize mammal)
Scientific name
Common name
Spanish name
Family1 Family2
Family3
Family4
Family5
Family6
Family7
Family8
Water oppossum
Common appossum
Virginia oppossum
Mouse oppossum
3-toed sloth
2-toed sloth
Tamanua
Giant anteater
Fringe-lipped bat
Common long-tongue bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C. American squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Coati
Raccoon
Bush dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Zorro de agua
Zarigueya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedos
Perezoso de dos dedos
Oso Colmenero
Oso Caballo
Murcielago
Murcielago
Murcielago
Tamarin, Marmoseta
Mono ardilla
Cairara, machin blanco
Mono congo
Mono Colorado
Pizote solo
Mapache
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Grison
Gato Canero
Tolomuco
Mawla
Tubue
Kudo
X
ku
Ku
Mainsuli
main
Nibida
Nibida
Nibida
X
Monchi
Juri
Juri
X
Mubwah
X
X
Nu
Nu
Kubwah
X
kudo
kudo
kudo
tubweh
ku
ku
mainsuli
mainsuli
nibida
nibida
nibida
X
mono tongue
X
juri
X
sutu mubweh
X
X
nu
nu
kubwah
gura
X
Kheu-ddo
Kheu-ddo
tu weh
Kheu
Kheu
X
X
ni bi ta
ni bi ta
ni bi ta
Druh
Druh
Druh
Druh
Druh
ngu bwa
ngu bwa
ngu bwa
Neu
Neu
X
X
Siri
kheu du
kheu du
kheu du
Kheu
Kheu
men sol li
meng kri
ni bi ta
a ra be
a ra be
X
Titi
ngu bwung
X
X
nu bwagura
nu bwagura
X
en neu ne
X
ku gwu
X
kheu du
kheu du
kheu du
siri
kheu
kheu
X
mehni bi ta
ni bi ta
ni bi ta
X
drru aba
X
drru a
ngu bwung
mu bwa
mu bwa korei ai
X
X
ssan yong
keu gwu
X
tsoro godvh X
tsoro
X
tsoro
X
tsorir
sula
cuuh
cuuh
cuuh
cuuh
minsulee me
minsulee me oso mekri
nguibita
ngubita
nguibita
X
nguibita
X
colonm
X
druö
druö
druö
nooqui
jϋrin
jϋrin
mub vang
jϋrin
gübua
gubah
kügwalί
no
krä
san yoo
ngibiangí gnu
X
gnu
kügualí
gnu
nü krä
gnu
Family9
Mammalia
Chironectes minimus
Didelphis marsupialis
Didelphis virginiana
Marmosa rovinsoni
Bradypus tridactylus
Choloepus hoffmanni
Tamandua tetradactyla
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Trachops cirrhosus
Glossophaga soricina
Artibeus jamaicensis
Saguinus geoffroyi
Saimiri oerstedii
Cebus capucinus
Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
Nasua narica
Procyon lotor
Speothos venaticus
Mustela frenata
Galictis vittata
Conepatuis semistriatus
Eira barbara
nu
kudo
X
kundoh
ku
ku
main
mainkri
nibida
X
X
X
droah
droahnita
juri
munchi
sutu mubweh
X
X
X
X
X
X
tsoro
tsoro
tsoro
keda
cuuh
cuuh
meen
meen
ngubita
ngubita
ngubita
X
druö
druö
jϋrin
jϋrin
gubah
kügwalί
krä
ngibiangí
X
kügualí
nü krä
86
Table 1. Identification of Birds by Informants
(X = did not recognize bird, O = did not know bird)
Scientific name
Aves
Ardeas heodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
Aramides cajanea
Jacana spinosa
Podilymbus podiceps
Calidris mauri
Crax rubra
Penelope purpurascens
Chamaepetes unicolor
Tinamus major
Cathartes aurea
Sarcorramphus papa
Herpetotheres cachinans
Milvago chimachima
Harpia harpyja
Columba nigrirostris
Columba talpacoti
Ara macao
Amazona farinosa
Brotogeris jugularis
Tyto alba
Piaya cayana
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Pteroglossus frantzii
Common name
Spanish name
Family1
Family2
Family3
Family4 Family5
Family6
Family7
Family8
Family9
Blue Heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) heron
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacan
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Crested guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pigeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red billed aracari
Garzon azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta nivosa
Garza tigre cuellinuda
Garcilla estriada
Rascon cuelligris
Jacana centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavan grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamu
Zopilote
Zopilote rey
Guaco
Caracara
Aguilarpia
Paloma Piquicorta
Tortolita Rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro Verde
Periquito barbinaranja
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotocabras Norteno
Martin Pescador Norteno
Tucancillo Piquianaranjado
krigise
krigise
chulubweh
X
X
kosneh
X
X
X
irigwi
kuneh
X
monosolorobo
kudeh
mweh
mago
mu
dobwadah
kura adwi
nubrichi
rogah
cha cha
türesi
üglü
tiguyn
tōbra
chirraro
bisi
kride
kride
X
X
X
kotreh
X
mwahlah
chichiboh
irigwi
kuleh
uru
mosloro
kudeh
mweh
mago
X
X
ǔtü
ǔtü
rogah
oreh gri
dureci
üglü
tiguyn
tōbra
X
bisi
X
chulubweh
X
X
X
kochele
X
mwahlah
X
irigwi
X
X
mosolo
kudeh
kudendawga
mago
X
X
udu kia
migragwah
rogah on
sri
durechi
gechuwah
tiguyn
tōbra
chirraro
bichilink
gal sa
X
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
kri gi de
kri gi de
kri gi de
dtong
kri gi de
ko se reng
gwichichi
X
X
irigwi
kwe reing
oru
mon soro
jϋden
ngwen
magϋn
tera
X
ǔtü
ǔtü
ro ga
o rei
türesi
drowa dogo
tigain
tōbra
che rara
bisi
krigise
cholube
cholube
cholube
X
X
X
X
chichicuada
iligwi
X
X
segwe
jϋden
ngwen
magϋn
tera
mualä
otogí
ǔtü
X
chacha
türesi
üglü
tigain
tōbra
jugura
bisi
cholube
cholube
cholube
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
magϋn
mguh
qwimueh
otogí
X
rogah
ray
türesi
chiraii
tigain
tōbra
jugura
bisi
cholube
cholube
cholube
wichichi
caseren
X
bato
X
X
iligwi
cwelen
oru
solaro
juden
X
magϋn
X
X
X
ǔtü
oray roga
sa ori
türesi
üglü
tigain
tōbra
jugura
bisi
X
X
guichichi
X
X
kosren
X
X
X
irigwi
kwulegwi
X
mongsolodo
keu deng
ngwen
magϋn
mu
deu boro
mu taldi
brun chi
X
chachama
türesi
üglü
tigain
tōbra
moro neu gwei
bisi
87
✰ ZANCUDO ✰
~ Tschannen-Moran, Baker, Folse, Huang, Hart, Loggins, Edmonds,
Kim, Brownlee, pp.87-96
~ Bromberg, Kieves, Williams, Venkatesan, Willetts, Moye, Ruiz,
Zellie, Teich, pp.97-107
87
A Brief Introduction to Life in Zancudo, Costa Rica
Tschannen-Moran, B.,1 Baker, H.,2 Folse, H.,3 Huang, R.,4 Hart, R.,5 Loggins, E.,6
Edmonds, S.,7 Kim, P.,8 K. Brownlee 9
1
Dept. of Biology, Duke Univ. 2 Dept. of Applied Math, Harvard Univ. 3 Dept. of Botany, Univ. of
Missouri 4 Dept. of Biology, Duke Univ. 5 Dept. of Microbiology, Univ. of Tennessee 6 Dept. of Ecology,
Univ. of Tennessee 7 Dept. of Chemistry, Spelman Colege 8 Dept. of Biology, Cornell Univ. 9 Dept. of
Anthropology, Univ. of Montana
Abstract: Zancudo is a small beach community on the Pacific coast of
southwestern Costa Rica. A rapid ethnobiological assessment was
conducted to learn about the culture of the Zancudo Beach community.
The standardized questionnaire fit into four general categories: general
information and observations, medicine, tourism, and animals. The
interviews indicated that the community is extremely dependent on tourist
services for the bulk of its income, and there appears to be a definite influx
of foreigners, along with their cultural influences, as well. Many local
inhabitants rely heavily on conventional Western ideas and very little
indigenous knowledge has remained intact.
Key Words: Ethnobiology, Costa Rica, Indigenous community, Zancudo
Introduction:
In the past 15 years, Zancudo, a rural beach town, has become a tourist attraction
for its beaches, surfing, and sport fishing. It is located in the province of Puntarenas,
Costa Rica at 8º23´N, 83º9´W. The soil was wet, sandy, and nearly black in appearance.
The flora includes palms between 3 and 4 meters in height as well as tropical trees, which
grew to nearly 10 meters. Standing water was observed in the roads and lower areas as a
result of the rainy season as well as poor drainage. This also indicated poor drainage.
Bars, restaurants and tourist paraphernalia were scattered throughout the community,
indicating a strong economic reliance on foreigners. All informants interviewed were
very willing to speak with us and none refused taping.
88
Materials and Methods:
Materials included a microcassette tape recorder, field notebooks, cameras and
rain gear. In addition, we used A guide to the birds of Costa Rica (1989), Neotropical
rainforest mammals (1997), and Guía de las aves de Costa Rica (1998) in obtaining folk
taxonomy information. We also used map CR2CM-8 in obtaining geographical
information (IGNCR 1988). Finally, we used a previously prepared standardized
questionnaire to guide our interviews.
We randomly approached houses and requested informal interviews beginning at
10:00 am on July 29, 2001. We obtained informed consent to conduct and record each
interview as per the guidelines stated in the Code of Ethics of the International Society of
Ethnobiology (1998). Following our questionnaire, we inquired about views on
conservation, medical perspectives, and local names of birds and animals.
Results:
Zancudo (1) was a 26-year-old female who lived in a three-generation household
with seven adults and two children, one of them hers. Their household contains two dogs
and a cat. She has lived in Zancudo all of her life and is now married to a Californian
who came to Zancudo eight years ago. After the interview, her husband described the
area as beautiful with many ways to enjoy nature. They own a small, well-kept bar and
restaurant, playing “American” music. The interview took place in this bar, named after
their daughter.
Zancudo (2) was a 29-year-old female who also lived in a three-generation
household with five adults and nine children. Her mother was married to a man who was
89
not her father. Details of this were not requested. She had lived in Zancudo for 17 years
after moving from a nearby banana farm called Cuarenta y Nueve that now grows palm
trees. The household was small but neat, with geese, chickens, dogs and cats. There were
modern items inside and a small garden in the back with no medicinal herbs.
Zancudo (3) was a woman in her forties who lived with her husband and two
young children. Her other children are married and live in the same community. She has
lived in the same house for the past 35 years. It is an addition to the back of the local
convenience store. There were several dogs and cats roaming throughout the house, in
addition to several chickens in the backyard.
Zancudo (4) was a man in his forties. He has seven children. Five of the children
live at home, and two are married. He is a fisherman and owns a “soda,” a bar and
restaurant, in addition to renting out cabins. The interview was conducted in the “soda”,
which was empty, because it is not the tourist season. He moved here 28 years ago from
Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
Zancudo (5) was a 21-year old woman, who has lived in the area all her life and
currently lives with her husband, 7-month-old son, and her husband’s parents. The house
was made of concrete, wood, and a roof of dried leaves. It had a porch with rocking
chairs, and the inside features several couches, a bar-like area, two television sets with
one in the bedroom, Christmas decorations, a nice CD player, and clothes scattered about
the room. It also functions as the fish market from which they make their living. They
have two dogs and one cat. There was a dirt area behind the house with a grill and men of
the house were knocking the bark off pieces of wood with wooden implements.
90
Zancudo (6) was an elderly man who lived with his wife and no children. He had
one leg and looked rather unkempt. He was originally from Nicaragua and had moved to
the area about thirty years ago. His wife was short, wore a long skirt and an intricate
blouse. Their house had a thatched roof, a picture of a parrot, a small central room with a
beer calendar and a clock, and a kitchen that was visible from the central room. They
have three dogs, three children, and a large garden in front of their house from which they
gave us samples of oregano, some medicinal plants, and a fruit called maracuya.
Medicine & Health:
In general, all of the informants go to Golfito Hospital when they are very sick,
though plant remedies are utilized, as well, for minor illnesses. In addition to major
illness, Zancudo (3) goes to Golfito Hospital for childbirth, which is forty-five minutes
away by boat. Zancudo (4) stated that Zancudo needs its own hospital, however, doctors
from Golfito come to the coastal town to see patients once or twice a month according to
Zancudo (2), (3) and (5). Zancudo (1) claimed that she was able to go to a nearby clinic,
as opposed to Golfito Hospital, during times of minor illness.
With respect to common illnesses in the community, three informants claimed
that the flu is common. Additionally, two say that malaria occurs (though Zancudo (1)
stated that there were only one or two cases a year). Informants also mentioned diarrhea,
allergies, stomach problems, bone aches, headaches, and colds as common illnesses.
Zancudo (2) said that stomach problems are possibly caused by problems with well
water.
Informants had varied methods of self-medicating. Methods mentioned included
cashew juice to alleviate diarrhea, lemon juice or tea for the flu, chamomile tea with
91
honey for calming pain during monthly periods and to alleviate sore throats associated
with the flu. Zancudo (5) and (6) use ruda (Ruta halepensies) in oil (“con aceite”) to help
earaches. Additionally, Zancudo (6) noted that mastranto and yerba buena (Mentha spp.),
two plants she has in her garden, are good for the stomach. She also noted that there are
plants that may be chopped up and used as a drink to help calm inflammation, though she
did not mention plant names.
In the prevention of disease and maintenance of health, Zancudo (5) said that she
uses a vaccine to prevent the flu, while Zancudo (3) and (4) said that they use pills.
Zancudo (2) said that chlorine needs to be put in water to prevent sicknesses such as
diarrhea and other stomach problems. She also claimed that they did not eat or perform
exercises specifically for maintaining health.
Conservation:
Zancudo has seen many changes in the environment over the years. The past
thirty years have seen Zancudo change from a wild rainforest to an active tourist town..
Today houses and restaurants line the main road, with mostly cultivated plants growing in
backyards. In general, the people living and working in Zancudo believe these changes
are for the better. Zancudo (2) and (3), however, was ambivalent about her feelings of
change. While stating that conditions are better now due to more work availability,
Zancudo (3) complained about the need to depend on tourism for a livelihood. Zancudo
(1) and (4) both claimed that life in Zancudo was better because of the tourism.
Similarly, Zancudo (5) and (6) felt that tourism is good for the community and is their
main source of income. Zancudo (6) mentioned that without tourism their only other
source of income would be that generated by the fishing industry.
92
Zancudo (1) was adamant that the people had become more education about
conservation of nature as tourism had increased. She claimed that people were becoming
more concerned with protecting the natural resources and the water sources for the area.
Additionally, she commented that members of the town had previously thrown their trash
into the sea for disposal, but now relied on trash service for a cleaner disposal. Her claims
of an increased awareness among the community about conservation were supported by
the observation of signs with statements such as “Basura en la Basurera” (Trash in the
Trashcan) and “Protejamos la Naturaleza” (We Protect Nature). Other informants,
however, did not indicate a conscientious effort to conserve their natural resources, but
did make note of the loss of bird and animal species in the area.
Bird and Animal Names:
Results from the bird and animal names section of the interview revealed that
informants tended to identify mammals better than birds. On average, 64.6% of the 24
mammals shown were identified, while only 48.2% of the 28 birds shown were known.
Zancudo (3) and (4) knew the most mammals and birds, identifying 73.1% of all animals
shown, while Zancudo (6) knew the least, identifying 38.5% of the animals. This large
range of percentages implies that animals were not widely known throughout the
community in general.
Discussion:
The community of Zancudo has experienced a loss of natural resources and an
increase in tourism in the last thirty years. The large number of bars, restaurants, and
tourism ventures evidenced a heavy economic reliance on tourism. Most informants
93
seemed to be pleased with the economic possibilities that came with tourism and
downplayed the loss of natural resources in their interviews.
Signs with statements promoting “environment friendly” tourism suggest a
conscientiousness within the community regarding conservation. The statements of
Zancudo (1) support this observation. Although other informants did not claim to be
actively trying to conserve their resources, they had noticed the decrease in animal and
bird populations. Their concern about this change indicated at least an acknowledgment
of the need to conserve their resources. Knowledge of the area’s birds and animals varied
significantly within our informant group, suggesting that this type of knowledge is not
widespread.
Most medicine observed by the citizens of Zancudo was allopathic medicine,
dispensed either in hospitals or in clinics. We observed a small reliance on medicinal
plants for the treatment of minor illnesses, but it is not known whether this knowledge
was indigenous to the area or not. Prevention of disease was also viewed with a very
western perspective as several informants relied on flu shots and pills to prevent disease.
Overall, medicine was very modernized with very little evidence of indigenous
knowledge.
Conclusion:
Zancudo has lost much of its natural resources with the advent of tourism in their
community, however, the economic benefits have been significant enough that the
tourism is viewed positively within the community. Possibly as a result of this tourism,
though, the community is now mostly modernized in their views and lifestyles.
94
Acknowledgements
Thanks to Yemsy, Edit, Sylvia, Benicia, Julio, Emilia, Eladio and the town of Zancudo
for their willingness to share and teach us about their culture and lives. Thanks also to
Luís Diego Gómez, José González, and Rebecca Lutzy for their generous assistance and
valuable information.
References:
Emmons, L.H. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. Chicago. 307 p.
Gomez, L.D., Capson, T., and J. Gonzalez. 2000. Ethnobiology July-August 2000.
Organization for Tropical Studies Undergraduate Summer Abroad Program.
146 p.
IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca. Mapa CR2CM-8. San José. 1:200.000.
International Society of Ethnobiology. 1998. Code of Ethics. Ethnobiology 2001 reader.
516 p. pp. 1-4.
Lothrop, S.K. 1963. pp. 253-6 in J.H. Steward (ed.) Handbook of South American
Indians. Vol. IV. Cooper Square. 609 p.
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Comstock.
511 p.
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1998. Guía de Aves de Costa Rica. Instituto Nacional de
Biodiversidad. Costa Rica. 580 p.
95
96
Appendix 1:
Table 1: Animal Names
Plate
1
1
1
2
4
4
4
4
#
8
11
12
9
2
5
6
8
5
6
6
10
11
11
13
14
15
15
15
16
16
16
16
17
6
1
5
6
6
9
5
3a
4
6
8
1
3
4
5
6
Scientific Name
Chironectes minimus
Didelphis marsupialis
Didelphis virginiana
Marmosa robinsoni
Bradypus tridactylus
Choloepus hoffmanni
Tamandua tetradactyla
Myrmecophaga
tridactyla
Trachops cirrhosus
Glossophaga soricina
Astibeus jamaicensis
Saguinus geoffroyi
Saimiri oerstedii
Cebus capucinus
Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
Nasua narica
Procyon lotor
Speothos venaticus
Mustela frenata
Galictis vittata
Conepatuis semistriatus
Eira barbara
Panthera onca
Common Name (Eng)
water oppossum
common appossum
virginia oppossum
mouse oppossum
3-toed sloth
2-toed sloth
Tamandua
giant anteater
Common Name (Esp)
zorro de agua
zarigüeya
zorro
marmota
perro de monte
perezosa de dos dedes
oso calmenero
oso cabano
Zancudo (1)
X
Zoro
Zoro
Ratón
Perezosa
Perezosa
Oso hormiguero
Oso hormiguero
Zancudo (2)
X
X
Zoro
Zoro
X
Perezoso
Perezoso
Oso Hormiguero
Zancudo (3)
Zorro
Zorro
Zorro
Comadreja
Perezoso
Perezoso
Oso hormiguero
Oso hormiguero
fringe-lipped bat
com. Long tongue bat
large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C.A. Squirrel Monkey
Capuchin Monkey
Howler Monkey
Spider Monkey
Coati
Racoon
Bush dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Jaguar
murcielago
murcielago
murcielago
tamarín,marmoseta
mono ardilla
cairara, machin blanco
mono congo
mono colorado
pizote solo
mapache
perro de monte
comadreja
grisón
gato coñero
tolomuco
tigre, jaguar
Total # asked
# identified in Spanish
% identified in Spanish
Murciélago café
Murciélago café
Murciélago
X
Mono tití
Mono
Mono
Mono
X
Mapache
X
X
X
X
X
Tigre
24
16
66.7
Oso Hormiguero
Murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
X
Mono tití
X
Congo aujador
Pizote
Mapache
X
X
X
Sorillas
X
Mani gordo
24
15
62.5
Vampiro murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
X
Mono tití
Cariblanca
Mono congo
Mono colorado
Mapache
Mapache
X
Nutria
Nutria
Zorro mion
X
Tigre
24
21
87.5
97
Table 2: Bird Names
Plate
5
6
7
11
12
#
6
9
10
16
1
13
18
3
12
3
4
5
13
15
17
18
19
6
3
5
8
9a
9
5
7
1
3
14
20
21
9
7
17
27
1b
16
(?= unintelligible name)
Scientific Name Common Name (Eng) Common Name (Esp)
Ardeas herodias
Blue Heron
garzón azulado
Egretta caerulea
Little Blue Heron
garceta azul
Egretta tula Snowy (Cattle) Heron
garceta nivosa
Tigrisoma lineatum
Tiger Heron
garza-tigre
Butorides striatus Green-backed Heron
garcilla estriada
Aramides cajanea
Wood Rail
rascón cuelligrio
Jacana spinosa
Northern Jacana
jacana
centroamericana
Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed Grebe zambullidor piquipinto
Calidris mauri
Western Sandpiper correlimos occidental
Crax rubra
Great Curassow
pauón grande
Penelope
Crested Guan
para crestada
purpurascens
Chamaepetes
Black Guan
paua negra
unicolor
Tinamus major
Great Tinamou
tinamu
Cathartes aurea
Turkey Vulture
zapilote
Sarcorramphus papa
King Vulture
zapilote rey
Herpetotheres
Laughing Falcon
guaco
cachinans
Milvago chimachima
Caracara
caracara
Harpia harpyja
Harpy Eagle
aguilarpia
Columba nigrirostris
Shot-billed pidgeon
palmoa piquicorta
Columba talpacoti
Ruddy Ground Dove
tortolita rojiza
Ara macao
Scarlet Macaw
guacamayo rojo
Amazona farinosa
Mealy Parrot
loro verde
Brotogeris jugularis
Orange-chinned pariquito barbinaranja
Parakeet
Tyto alba
Barn Owl
lechuza ratonera
Piaya cayana
Squirrel Cuckoo
cuco ardilla
Caprimulgus
Whip-poor-will
chotacabras norteño
vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Kingfisher
martin pescador
norteño
Pteroglossus frantzii
Red-billed Aracari
tucancillo
piquianaranjado
Total # asked
# identified in Spanish
% identified in
Spanish
Zancudo (1) Zancudo (2)
Garza
X
X
X
Garza
X
Garza Común
X
X
X
X
X
Piche
X
Zancudo (3) Zancudo (4) Za
Garza Martin penya
Garza
Garza
Garza
Garza
Garza
Choguaco
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
Pavas
X
Patos
Gaviota
X
Zuta montus
Patos
X
Pana
Pana
X
X
X
X
Paras
X
El rey zopilote
Zopilote
X
X
X
Gabilán
X
Rey zopilote
X
X
X
Zopilote
Rey zopilote
Gabilán
Gabilán
Gabilán
Paloma
Paloma
Lapas
Loras
Periko
Gabilán
X
Palomas
Tortolas
Lapa
X
Sopollitos
X
Kurke
Paloma
Paloma
Lapa
Loro
Perikos
Gabilán
Lechusa
X
X
Lapa
Lora
X
Buho
X
Giguino
Lechusa
X
Codormís
Buho
X
X
Lechusa
X
Cullero
X
Martín
pescador
X
Martin
pescador
Tucan
Colibrí
X
28
16
57.1
28
10
35.7
28
17
60.7
Tucan
28
18
64.3
28
10
35.
98
Fishing for Information at the Zancudo Coastal Community
Bromberg, K.1, Kieves, N.2, Williams, K.3, Venkatesan, A.4, Willetts, E.5, Moye, E.6,
Ruiz, M.7, Zellie, H.8, A. Teich.9
1
Dept. of Biology, Tufts Univ., 2 Dept.'s of Environmental Studies and Biology, Middlebury College, 3 Dept. of
Environmental Science, Tufts Univ., 4 Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, Duke Univ., 5 Dept. of Biology, Univ. of
Pennsylvania, 6 Dept. of Biology, Univ. of Pennsylvania, 7 Dept. of Microbiology, Univ. of Maryland at College
Park, 8 Dept. of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Penn. State, 9 Dept. of Environmental Studies, Univ. of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill.
Abstract
In order to obtain information about the local knowledge and culture in the Costa Rican
community of Zancudo we conducted interviews and analyzed results. This paper includes
the results from a series of questions concerning daily life, medicine, health, and conservation,
as well as local folk taxonomy of birds and mammals. We found that while medicinal plant
and lay-remedies are used, people in Zancudo frequent hospitals and doctors for serious
health problems. For the most part, they are not concerned with conservation and do not have
a consistent working knowledge of local fauna.
Key Words: Zancudo, Costa Rica, Golfito, Ethnobiology, Puntarenas, Ticos
Introduction
The Costa Rican coastal community of Zancudo is located at 83º 10’ W and 8º
35’ N (IGNCR, 1988) in the southwestern portion of Costa Rica, in the Province of
Puntarenas. The quiet little town is situated at sea level on the Golfo Dulce, 15
kilometers south of Golfito (Rachowiecki and Thompson, 2000). The town of
Zancudo runs parallel to the ocean line and is transected by a unleveled dirt road.
In the last five years, it has developed into a tourist haven. Assorted bars and
cabins cater to the tourists who visit primarily between the months of November and
April. Also, American- and Italian-owned “fincas” (farms) grow food to be exported.
The town is a rather disparate mix of cultures; Roy’s Zancudo Lodge, entertaining
middle-aged tourists, exists alongside the small, tin-roofed homes of the native Ticos
(Costa Ricans). Some houses are well kept and brightly painted, while others are
thatched or ramshackled, set back from the six kilometers of black sand beach that is
99
Zancudo’s main attraction. We also noticed that there are a number of vacant
buildings and houses for sale.
The purpose of our study was to increase our understanding of the local
culture of Zancudo and to practice methods of field ethnobiology through
observations and interviews with six members of the community.
Materials and Methods
Six informants were interviewed at random. After obtaining informed
consent, we used a voice-activated micro-cassette tape-recorders in accordance with
the Code of Ethics of the International Society of Ethnobiology (Gómez, 2001).
Color illustrations of pre-selected birds and mammals from Stiles and Skutch's A guide
to the birds of Costa Rica (1989) and Emmons and Feer's Neotropical rainforest mammals: a
field guide (1997) were used to obtain local folk taxonomy from the community. As a
group of student researchers, we created a standardized general survey that included
questions concerning family life, medicine, conservation, and a general knowledge of
regional animals; these questions encompassed a broad range of social and biological
issues. The study was conducted Sunday 29 July 2001 between 1030 and 1200 hours.
Results
Daily Life:
Although a fairly developed village, Zancudo is not as self-sufficient as the
indigenous communities in Costa Rica. Since most local money comes from tourism,
many villagers work at local bars or clean cabins. Informants 3 and 5 were
housekeepers; Informant 3 was cleaning a house for sale and Informant 5 explained
that her job was to clean her own house, while her husband fished. A sign pointed to
100
their house that read, in translation, “Fish for Sale.” Thus, the fish not only served as
food for the family, but also was a source of income.
Informant 4 was a bartender who worked in Zancudo but did not live there.
She commuted every weekend back to Canóas, a nearby town. She had decided to
send her son to live with his aunt in San José because there were better schools there.
Informant 6, a policeman interviewed at the station, also commuted from a nearby
town. We were unsure what Informants 1 and 2 did on a daily basis. Informant 1
was 20 years old and did not attend school. She seemed to take care of a one-year old
and 8-month old who were part of her extended family, but not her own. Informant 2,
a 51-year-old, did not say what her daily job was, but did say she tended a garden and
enjoyed making quilts. Her son worked for a gringo on a farm across the road.
In all houses, interviewers noticed a multitude of possessions, including
American knick-knacks (e.g. ‘Huggies’ or ‘Lifesavers’), plastic wall hangings, bikes,
stereos, and even a boat motor and TV in the house of Informant 1. Some displayed
art that was Christmas-themed, either with a Christian motif (a nativity scene) or
strictly related to the holiday (reindeer with bells). Informants 1, 3, and 5 had dogs
and Informant 2 had a parrot. The parrot was not bought but “came down from the
tree and stayed.” In general, the houses were large and made from concrete with tin
roofs. Kitchens were inside homes and were generally the largest room of the house.
Medicine:
In Zancudo, the majority of medical care is in the form of allopathic medicine.
All six informants stated that in cases of serious illness, an ill person would be taken
to the hospital in Golfito, a city located half an hour away by car. However, each
101
informant differed on the type of medicine used for minor illnesses. Informants 1, 2,
and 5 stated that herbal medicine is never used in their respective households.
Informant 2 elaborated upon this, stating that she goes to the store and buys pills such
as Aspirin for headaches and fevers. Informant 2 and 6 explained that gripe
(influenza) and fever are the two most common illnesses that strike the Zancudo
community. Only Informants 3, 4, and 6 used medicinal plants as an integral part of
their health care.
Informant 3 named and described a few of the plants she used and for what
purpose. Coyoturillo, a member of the Piperaceae family, is used for inflammation.
Guanilama is used to make a tea to alleviate tensions that cause collitis. Salvia is
used to aid in the pain of arthritis. Pasimo is used by women for infections. Almendo
leaves are used to reduce cholesterol levels. In addition, Informant 4 uses
Manzanilla, which relieves menstrual cramps. Informant 6 did not specify what he
medicinal plants he used in his home; he simply related that for minor illness he
would treat himself with natural remedies.
In general, Zancudo residents appear to use pills and most, if not all, use the
hospital in Golfito. However, remnants of medicinal plant use can be found in
Zancudo, as exemplified by Informants 3 and 4. It seems that those residents who
still use medicinal plants as health care tools use them only as part of their medicinal
care, supplementing them with the use of pills, the hospital, and doctor visits.
Conservation:
In general, the people of Zancudo were not concerned about conservation,
despite the fact that the natural environment seemed to be an integral part of their way
102
of life. The spouse of Informant 5 was a fisherman, and Informant 2 mentioned that
the tourist attraction to Zancudo was mostly fishing-related. However, neither
worried about fish populations or water quality. None of the informants had noticed
any change in the natural landscape over their lifetime except for the appearance of
more tourists, cabins, and bars. No mention was made of the land that had to be
cleared to build tourist resources. When prodded further, Informant 2 did mention
that the number of plants and animals had declined in her lifetime, but it was not of
great concern to her.
While Informant 3 had an impressive knowledge of animal names, the other
informants proved to have little or no knowledge of local fauna. Informant 6 knew of
nearby Corcovado National Park, but Informant 5 had never heard of the Costa Rican
National Park System. There was noticeable concern for litter in the community,
evidenced by the presence of signs asking that trash be thrown in the trashcans. None
of the informants upheld conservation as a major priority in their lives.
Folk Taxonomy:
See Tables 1 and 2 for the accumulated folk taxonomy from the six
informants interviewed. A key is included to explain various answers and
observations.
Conclusion
As a tourist location, the town of Zancudo was marked by easy accessibility,
welcoming signs in Spanish and English, tourist friendly venues, modern material
culture and prices, and the general nonchalant attitude towards our presence. On a
Sunday afternoon, the community displayed a slow-paced way of life. Our data
103
suggests general apathy from the people of Zancudo regarding the changing culture.
The loss of traditional practices, such as the use of medicinal plants, are apparent in
Zancudo. This is perhaps due in part to an increased influence by outside cultures as
tourism increases. At the same time, increased tourism has not been entirely felt as it
was notable that few people spoke or were learning English. Moreover, the relatively
low level of knowledge of the local environment suggested and confirmed that the
important aspects of the culture were not closely connected to the natural
surroundings.
104
Acknowledgements
A heartfelt thanks to the community of Zancudo for their general hospitality,
in particular Zancudo citizens Bella Rue, Gerardo Alvarado, Jessica, and Maria Luisa.
References
Emmons, L., and F. Feer. 1997. Neotropical rainforest mammals: A field guide,
Second Edition. Chicago. 307 p.
Gómez, L.D. 2001. Ethnobiology 2001 reader. Organizaton for Tropical Studies.
516 p. pp. 1-4.
IGNCR. 1988. Mapa CR2CM-9. Golfito. 1:200.000.
Rachowiecki, R., J. Thompson. 2000. Lonely planet: Costa Rica. Lonely Planet
Publications, Victoria, Australia. 509 p. pp. 475-477.
Stiles, F.G., and A.F. Skutch. Plates by D. Gardner. 1989. A guide to the birds of
Costa Rica. Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, Ithaca,
New York. 511 p.
105
Table 1. Names of Bird Species: Latin, English, Spanish and Local
Scientific Name
English Name
Spanish Name
Ardeas herodias
Blue heron
Garzón azulado
Egretta caerulea
Little blue heron
Garceta azul
Garza
Garza café
Egretta tula
Snowy (Cattle) heron
Garceta nivosa
Garsis
Garza
Garza blanca
Tigrisoma lineatum
Tiger heron
Garza-tigre cuellinud
Garsis
Martín
Horalico
Butorides striatus
Green-backed heron
Garcilla estriada
Martin pena
Aramides cajanea
Wood rail
Rascón cuelligrís
Cucaleca
Jacana spinosa
Northern jacana
Jacara centroamericana
Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebe
Zambullidor piquipinto
Calidris mauri
Western sandpiper
Correlimos occidental
Crax rubra
Great curassow
Pavón grande
Informant 1
Informant 2
Informant 3
Garza
Gruya de la guna
(did not know)
(did not know name)
Carrocos
Pajarito de playa
(did not know name)
Paro
Penelope purpurascens
Crested guan
Pava crestada
(did not know name)
Pavo negra
Chamaepetes unicolor
Black guan
Pava negra
(did not know name)
Pavo negra
Tinamus major
Great tinamou
Tinamu
(did not know name)
Gallina de monte perdis
Carthartes aurea
Turkey vulture
Zopilote
Gabilares
Chichi
Sarcoramphus papa
King vulture
Zopilote rey
Herpetotheres cachinans
Laughing falcon
Guaco
Milvago chimachima
Caracara
Caracara
Harpia harpyja
Harpy eagle
Aguil arpía
Alcor
Gateolor
Columba nigrirostris
Shot-billed pigeon
Paloma piquicorta
Palomitas
Pelma morada
Gavilon
Gabilares
Reso pelote
Gabilares
Quaco
Gabilares
Gavelon
Columba talpacoti
Ruddy ground dove
Tortolita rojiza
Tortolas
Golombrínas
Castilla
Ara macao
Scarlet macaw
Guacamayo rojo
Lapas
Guacamayes
Lapa
Amazona farinosa
Mealy parrot
Loro verde
Lora
Lora
Loro
Brotogeris jugularis
Orange-chinned parakeet
Periquito barbinaranja
Pericos
Pericitos
Periquos
Boo
Tyto alba
Barn owl
Lechuza ratonera
Piaya cayana
Squirrel cuckoo
Cuco ardilla
Caprimulgus vociferus
Whip-poor-will
Chotacabras norteño
Ceryle alcion
Kingfisher
Martin pescador norteño
Pteroglossus frantzii
Red billed acari
Tucancillo piquianaranijado
Gaviotas
Lechuza
Lechuza
Novisto
Tiju
Novisto
(did not know)
Alcatraz
Alcatras
Tucan
Pichilinguo
Scientific Name
English Name
Spanish Name
106
Informant 4 Informant 5
Informant 6
Ardeas herodias
Blue heron
Garzón azulado
Aves
Pato
(did not know)
Egretta caerulea
Little blue heron
Garceta azul
Aves
Piche
(did not know)
Egretta tula
Snowy (Cattle) heron
Garceta nivosa
Aves
Mugarce
Tigrisoma lineatum
Tiger heron
Garza-tigre cuellinud
Aves
Butorides striatus
Green-backed heron
Garcilla estriada
Aves
(did not know)
(did not know)
Aramides cajanea
Wood rail
Rascón cuelligrís
Aves
(did not know)
Chorcha
Jacana spinosa
Northern jacana
Jacara centroamericana
Aves
Piches
(did not know)
Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebe
Zambullidor piquipinto
Aves
Pato
Pato
Garcang
Martín
Calidris mauri
Western sandpiper
Correlimos occidental
(did not know name)
(did not know)
Crax rubra
Great curassow
Pavón grande
Cocaleca
Pabon
Penelope purpurascens
Crested guan
Pava crestada
(did not know)
Pabon
Gallina de monte
Pabon
Chamaepetes unicolor
Black guan
Pava negra
Tinamus major
Great tinamou
Tinamu
Guina monte
Carthartes aurea
Turkey vulture
Zopilote
Zopilote
Zopilote
Sarcoramphus papa
King vulture
Zopilote rey
Zopilote
Rey zopilote
Herpetotheres cachinans
Laughing falcon
Guaco
Gabilang
Gabilang bu
Milvago chimachima
Caracara
Caracara
Grabibanca
(did not know name)
Harpia harpyja
Harpy eagle
Aguil arpía
Tortolitas
Agila harpia
Columba nigrirostris
Shot-billed pigeon
Paloma piquicorta
Tortolita
Columba talpacoti
Ruddy ground dove
Tortolita rojiza
Ara macao
Scarlet macaw
Guacamayo rojo
Tortolita
Amazona farinosa
Mealy parrot
Loro verde
Loras
Pericos
Brotogeris jugularis
Orange-chinned parakeet
Periquito barbinaranja
Perico
Zapollas
Tyto alba
Barn owl
Lechuza ratonera
Lechusa
Boo
Piaya cayana
Squirrel cuckoo
Cuco ardilla
(did not know)
(did not know)
Caprimulgus vociferus
Whip-poor-will
Chotacabras norteño
Hujeros
Holondrinas
Ceryle alcion
Kingfisher
Martin pescador norteño
Capinteros
Martinpeña
Pteroglossus frantzii
Red billed acari
Tucancillo piquianaranijado
Chilinguas
Tucanes
Lapas
Lapa rojo
Table 1. A set of bird species were pre-selected from Stiles and Skutch's A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Color illustrations of each
species were shown to the informants, and they were asked for the local name. The presence of "(did not know") signifies that the informant
was not familiar with the bird. The presence of "(did not know name") indicates that the informant was familiar with the bird, but could not name
the species. A blank cell indicate that the informant was not questioned about the species, or did not provide any information about the bird.
107
?
BRUNKA
?
?
Indigenous Reservations:
~Rey Curré
~Edmonds, Hart, Huang, pp.108-117
~Brownlee, Kim, Loggins, pp. 118-125
~Moye, Ruiz, Teich,pp.126-133
~Edmonds, Hart, Huang, Moye, Ruiz, Teich, Brownlee, Kim,
Loggins, pp.134-144
~Boruca
~Bromberg, Kieves, Williams, pp.145-155
~Baker, Folse, Tschannen-Moran, pp.156-164
~Venkatesan, Willetts, Zellie, pp.165-174
~Bromberg, Kieves, Williams, Venkatesan, Willetts, Zellie,
Baker, Folse, Tschannen- Moran, pp.175-189
108
Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment of the Brunka Indian Reservation at
Rey Curré
Authors: Edmonds, S.1 , Hart, R. 2 , R. Huang3
1
Department of Chemistry, Spelman College, 2 Department of Microbiology, University
of Tennessee at Knoxville, 3 Department of Biology, Duke University *
Abstract
Three Brunka informants from the southern Costa Rican town of Curré were interviewed.
Interviews were conducted to find out about the culture of the Brunka and their views through
their cultural lens. The questions fit into four general categories: general information, medicine,
conservation, and animals. The interview indicated that the Brunka society is losing much of its
tradition to modernization. Very few of the Brunka still use plants to treat illness, and the Brunka
are making efforts to conserve their land and society, although this seems to be an uphill battle.
The Brunka value animals as pets and sources of food but have lost much of their knowledge
about them. The Brunka have been greatly affected by the building of the Interamerican Highway,
which runs directly through their community. This highway along with other outside influences
led to modernization and is causing the disappearance of their culture.
Keywords: Costa Rica, Ethnobiology, Indigenous Community, Brunka, Rey Curré
Introduction
The Brunka reservation in Rey Curré is situated at 8°58’N, 83°15’W on the lower
portion of the Coquito mountain gradient near the Térraba River, a high-sediment river.
The daily average temperature at this time of year is about 25ºC. The Brunka people are
one of the most silent in their native tongue of the indigenous communities in Costa Rica.
Very few elders in the community still speak the native language and their culture is
disappearing.
This loss of culture is related to the construction of the InterAmerican
Highway, which was built in 1945. The construction of the highway brought
deforestation, pollution, and modernizing influences to the Brunkas.
A few of them still
hold on to some of their culture and lifestyle, but it appears that their identity is steadily
melting into Costa Rican society at large.
109
We traveled to Rey Curré in order to conduct a rapid biological assessment of the
community.
The interview generated information about Brunka life and culture,
specifically family structure, power structure in society, common foods, changes in the
landscape, medicine, and animals.
This information will provide insight into an ancient
and rich culture that is invaluable to the history of native Costa Rican peoples.
Materials and Methods
The group interviewed various families on Thursday, July 26, 2001 within the
Rey Curré location of the Brunka community. The location of the community was found
using the map IGNCR Talamanca CR2CM-8.
We randomly chose three houses to
approach. At each house, the family was first informed about the nature of the research,
and then asked for permission to interview according to the Society of Ethnobiology
Code of Ethics. If granted permission, we also asked permission to record the interview
using a small Optimus? Micro-42 Microcassette Recorder. The purpose of the recorder
was to have the informants’ exact language preserved for analysis and to be able to better
understand what was said.
Questions were asked using a standardized questionnaire concerning various
aspects of Brunka culture and every day life.
The subjects covered consisted of
medicine, food, conservation, and animal identification.
For the purpose of bird
identification, a book entitled A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F.Gary Stiles and
Alexander F. Skutch (1994) was used. For mammals, Neotropical Rainforest Mammals
by Louise H. Emmons (1997) was used. Observations during the interview and the
answers of each family were both compared and contrasted. The results were used to
110
analyze and then draw a conclusion about the state of the Brunka community.
These
results are summarized in Tables 1 and 2.
Results and Conclusions
The Brunka village consisted of houses closely spaced along several gravel roads.
There was a large school near the front of the community, a medical clinic, and a church.
The first house, where the first two interviews were conducted, had a concrete floor,
stucco walls, glass windows, and painted green borders and doorways. Inside the house
was an intricate wooden child’s bed frame, clothes hanging on clothes lines, a picture of
the Last Supper, a couch and two loveseats, and a dirt area similar to those at Abrojos.
This area held the “stove”, which consisted of a heath of hot rocks used for cooking and a
hammock.
It appeared to be used as a general purpose area.
This family and other
houses in the community had yards with many colorful flowers and plants.
There were five people in the Rojas family including the interviewee Marciana,
who was 56. Uriel, the second interviewee, was, perhaps, Marciana’s nephew. Marciana
lived with her husband, her children and her grandchildren.
However, when we asked
her “¿Cuántas personas viven en esta casa?” (How many people live in this household?),
it was unclear to us whether she meant that five people actually lived in the house, or five
people were in her immediate family. Uriel was 20 and lived across the street in a house
with 8 other people. In Uriel’s front yard, there was a “rock sphere” called “esfera de
piedra,” which he said symbolized the earth and life cycles for the Brunka. The first and
third houses we visited had stucco walls and concrete floors, but the third house was not
as sturdily constructed. The third house also had partly wood walls and had a back porch
111
with a dirt floor. Inside the house, there did not seem to be as much decoration. Notably,
there was a small television and a multiple-disc CD player in the living room.
The
residents of the third house were an older couple with five children, three of whom were
in high school. The family name was Roja Morales, and the interviewee was the father,
Santos, who was 59 years old.
In the community, women mainly did the housework and men worked out in the
field, although these roles were interchangeable.
For the most part, the culinary habits of the current-day Brunka are similar to
those of the majority of Costa Ricans.
Their food is obtained from a food store, and
much of the diet consists of rice (oryza sativa), beans (phaseolus vulgaris), corn (zeo
mays) and plantains (musa balbisiana).
The first informant, Marciana Rojas Gonzalez,
stated that she only purchases her family’s daily food needs at a “pulpería,” or a small
food store with only essential items.
She also stated that they do not eat meat frequently,
as it is not abundant in the region.
Chicken is often the chosen meat for special
occasions. Both the first and second informants stated that the nearby Terraba River, a
cultural symbol of the Brunka, is polluted and therefore the fish are not edible and the
water not potable.
The third informant stated that insecticides have polluted the river
with extra runoff created by the cutting down of trees.
The effect of the Interamerican Highway on the Brunka reservation was a major
topic brought up during all three interviews.
It was interesting to note that the first
informant immediately told us, upon arrival, that the community has greatly changed
since the advent of the Interamerican Highway. She said that no one in the reservation
could prevent these changes, but that these changes did not all have negative
112
ramifications.
For example, the highway provided better access to health clinics and
veterinarians as opposed to before, when a healer within the reservation would treat
patients. At the same time, she stated that more people have been getting sick now than
in the past, so this better access to health care has been beneficial. The second informant
stated that the highway and development in the region has resulted in less vegetation and
animals.
The third informant stated that since the development in the region, the
community has become more separated and prone to robberies, as opposed to before,
when people would unite to help each other. He also stated that the generation before
him sold the most of the land, which left little for current citizens to use. This has lead to
people seeking work in larger cities such as San José and Limón. However, they do still
have an association that dealt with laws and overlooked development, school, church, and
health care.
The interview with the second informant was very interesting.
He was only 20
years old and yet knew a great deal about the Brunka culture and history. He stated that
he wanted to be an anthropologist and even knew a great deal about the methods used in
anthropology.
He worked for the Museo Nacional in San Jose by collecting Brunka
materials. He mentioned that there is a teacher in the Brunka school, who teaches a small
amount of Brunka in addition to other subjects.
However, he felt that this was not
sufficient to preserve the Brunka language. He talked about how it is important to know
English for using computers and felt that one reason Brunka is not preserved is because
modernization has made it obsolete. Uriel wanted to preserve his culture and was
disappointed and sad that others, both outsiders and Brunka, did not make stronger efforts
to do so. He also compared the Brunka to other cultures and stated that the Bribri, for
113
example, had been able to keep their language. Uriel also brought out a map of the village
that he had drawn, a book containing Brunka legends, and a paper his father had written
in order to archive information simply for the sake of the Brunka.
The map featured
symbols for the church, houses, trails, rivers, and the InterAmerican highway.
It was
significant that a lot of the houses had been crossed out, which indicated they were vacant
and that people were leaving the village.
Uriel seemed to have the potential to be a
driving force in preserving the community and was a leading informant.
Two of the informants stated that currently, people almost always go to health
clinics when they have illnesses, as opposed to previously when there was a Sukia, or
healer, in the region. The other informant, Uriel, stated that plants are still used during
times of illness, though they are mainly used for small illnesses.
For more serious
illnesses, visits to hospitals are necessary. All three of them seemed to know a bit about
the medicinal uses of plants.
Marciana stated that for inflammations, one could boil a
plant in water and put the resultant water-plant mix on their skin as a topical treatment.
She was unable to state the name of this plant, however. Additionally, plants could be
used in several ways (teas, poultices, baths) to help cure illnesses. It was interesting to
note that although Marciana went to a doctor as well as using her own techniques to help
her anemia, she said that she cured her own anemia. Perhaps she believed that she was
knowledgeable enough about plants and healing to cure herself and that the doctors
played a miniscule role in treating her. Uriel stated that healers were generally the only
ones to know which plants were used for what medicinal purposes.
This probably
explained why the three informants knew little about what plants were used for healing.
Healers would initially give ill people something to hold them over, such as albaca, and
114
then concoct a secret plant mix to treat the illness. The third informant knew the most,
though still a small amount, about which plants are used medicinally.
He stated that
henhibre is used for the flu and arnica is used for treating skin cuts topically after cooking
the arnica.
Marciana and Uriel both believed that children tend to get sick the most. This fits
with Uriel’s statement that children comprised forty percent of the community. Stomach
aches, vomiting, the flu, and cancer were all noted as common illnesses within the
reservation.
There were many domestic animals in the community, including cows, chickens,
cats, dogs, and birds. The informants said that when the animals were young and sick,
they took them to a vet, but if they were old, they just let them die.
When asked if
animals had souls, all the informants seemed confused; the question probably needs to be
reworded.
The first informant said that animals did not have souls, and the third one
mentioned that there was a “spirit of the mountains” somehow related to animals that
used to exist, but that there are too many lights at night for the spirit now.
There are few wild animals left due to development.
animal identification portion of the interview.
identify many of the fauna in Spanish.
This was evident in the
Neither of the first two informants could
The third informant could identify most of the
animals, however he only knew the Brunka name for a few.
Modernization and westernization are evident in most of Brunka lifestyle.
obvious that the Brunkas are more affected by modernization than the Guaymi.
the informants spoke of “before” and “after” the highway.
It is
All of
“Before” the highway, for
example, the people knew of medicinal plants and wild animals.
“After,” however, the
115
people go to clinics, and much of the knowledge about plants and animals has been lost.
The Brunka language, culture, and society have also been greatly impacted by
modernization. The Brunka language is disappearing and seems like it will die with the
older generation in the community. Brunka society seems also to be in a constant state of
change and upheaval, and the infrastructure that kept it stable in the past is being
stretched. The people are also leaving for cities because there are less opportunities to
work traditionally because of the highway and deforestation. Efforts are being made to
preserve Brunka culture (Uriel, for example), but as a whole, the Brunka culture and
language is disappearing. The road that cut right through the community has also cut the
community from tradition and its past.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank Marciana Rojas, Uriel Rojas, and Santos Roja Morales for their
valuable insight into the Brunka community.
We would also like to thank the township
of Boruca for their hospitality.
References
IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca CR2CM-8. San José. 1:200.000.
Emmons, L.H. 1997. Neotropical Rainfrest Mammals. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press. [Plates 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17]
Stiles, FG. and Skutch, A.F. 1994. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca: Cornell
University Press. [Plates 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 27]
116
Table 1. Mammal Nomenclature
Plate
1
2
4
5
6
10
11
13
14
15
16
17
#
8
11
12
9
2
5
6
8
6
1
5
6
6
9
5
3a
4
6
8
1
3
4
5
6
Scientific Name
Chironectes minimus
Didelphis marsupialis
Didelphis virginiana
Marmosa robinsoni
Bradypus tridactylus
Choloepus hoffmanni
Tamandua tetradactyla
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Trachops cirrhosus
Glossophaga soricina
Artibeus jamaicensis
Saguinus geoffroyi
Saimiri oerstedii
Cebus capucinus
Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
Nasua narica
Procyon lotor
Speothos venaticus
Mustela frenata
Galictis vittata
Conepatuis semistriatus
Eira barbara
Panthera onca
Common Name
Water oppossum
Common oppossum
Virginia oppossum
Mouse oppossum
3-toed sloth
2-toed sloth
Tamandua
Giant anteater
Fringe-lipped bat
Common long-tongue bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C. American squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Coati
Racoon
Bush dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Jaguar
Spanish Name
Zorro de agua
Zarigüeya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedos
Perezoso de dos dedos
Oso colmenero
Oso caballo
Murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
Tamarín, Marmoseta
Mono ardilla
Mico maicero
Mono congo
Mono colorado
Pizote solo
Mapache
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Grisón
Gato cañero
Tolomuco
Tigre/Jaguar
Group 1
Group 2
Group 3
copachin
kweh
sorros
sorro espino
rata
nomh
osos
pellicallijera
mono
peli
pellicallijera
osomigueron
osomigueron
murcielago
kuh se
murcielago pampiros mar kuh se
murcielago
kuh se
matilla
mono titi
mono
non
non suht
non
mono corrar
mono corrar
si
si
mapache
foca
nuchia
nuchia
sorro
tigre
tigre
tigre, jaguar
117
Table 2. Bird Nomenclature
Plate
5
6
7
11
12
13
15
17
18
19
20
21
27
#
6
9
10
16
1
13
18
3
12
3
4
5
6
3
5
8
9a
9
5
7
1
3
14
9
7
17
1b
16
Scientific Name
Ardeas herodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
Aramides cajanea
Jacana spinosa
Podilymbus podiceps
Calidris mauri
Crax rubra
Penelope purpurascens
Chamaepetes unicolor
Tinamus major
Carthartes aurea
Sarcoramphus papa
Herpetotheres cachinans
Milvago chimachima
Harpia harpyja
Columba nigrirostris
Columba talpacoti
Ara macao
Amazona farinosa
Brotogeris jugularis
Tyto alba
Piaya cayana
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Pteroglossus frantzii
Common Name
Blue heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) heron
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacana
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Crested guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pigeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red-billed aracari
Spanish Name
Garzón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta nivosa
Garza-tigre cuellinud
Garcilla estriada
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacara centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamu
Zopilote
Zopilote rey
Guaco
Caracara
Aguil arpía
Paloma piquicorta
Tortolita rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro verde
Periquito barbinaranja
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotacabras norteño
Martin pescador norteño
Tucancillo piquianaran
Group 1
Group 2
garsos
Group 3
martin
chokwakos
garzas
kokolekas
patas
jiwirros
pawgohn
pawgohn
papeel
golonas
gahbilones
cabirando
guaco
guaca
lapa
lodo
lechusah
lapa
pelicula
buho
rabilanca
tortola
lapa
lodo
perrico
ku
llete
cupintero
tucan
118
A Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment of a Boruca Community: Rey Curré
Kim, P.1 , Brownlee, K.2 , E. Loggins3
1
Dept of Biology, Cornell, 2 Dept. of Anthropology, U. of Montana, 3 Dept. of Biochemistry, U. of
Tennessee
Abstract
We conducted a rapid ethnobiological assessment in the town of Rey
Curré in the Boruca region. Information was taken from the Boruca
community through the use of an interview involving a standardized
questionnaire. The residents of the community have forgotten almost all
of their culture, even among the older generation. They have become very
modern, having such utilities as radios, washing machines, and weed
wackers. Even though most of their culture has disappeared, the Boruca
have a desire to relearn and revive their culture. The children have started
relearning some of their culture through programs in their schools.
Key Words: Costa Rica, Guaymi, ethnobiology, Abrojos-Montezuma
Introduction
The Boruca of Rey Curré, Province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica, are an indigenous
people, living on the Boruca Reservation, which is divided into two parts by the InterAmerican Highway. With the building of this highway in the 1960’s, the culture of these
people has slowly disappeared. The Boruca are one of the few indigenous people of
Costa Rica that have lost their language. All people speak Spanish, with very few of the
older generations able to speak any Boruca. The community, in general, is quite
modernized, with radios playing in several houses, and organized community activities.
Lately, there has been an interest in reviving the Boruca culture, and to such ends, Boruca
language is being taught in the schools.
119
Materials and Methods
Materials included a microcassette tape recorder (with informed consent by
interviewees) and microcassettes. Using IGNCR (1988) map Talamanca CR2CM-8 to
determine the location of Curre at 8?58’ N, 83?15’ W. Picture templates from
Neotropical Rainforest Mammals (Emmons, 1997) and A Guide to Birds of Costa Rica
(Stiles et al, 1989) were used to assess the knowledge of Costa Rican fauna. Three
families from the town of Rey Curré were introduced to us.
Upon arriving at a central location, we asked families questions from our
questionnaire, after first obtaining informed consent and permission to record, as
suggested in the International Society of Ethnobiology ?ISE? Code of Ethics. The
standardized questionnaire included questions regarding knowledge of Costa Rican
fauna, typical food, health, changes in their environment, and religion. Interviews ranged
from 20 minutes to one hour.
Results and Observation
Informant 1 had been born and raised in the town of Rey Curré. Approximately
35 years old, he lives with his own family, and visits his mother regularly. The house
was constructed of wood, with metal roofing.
Informant 2 is a 66-year-old woman, who lives with her husband in a
government-provided home. She was born in the area, and has lived there all her life.
She makes bags from cotton as a living, and spends most of her days cleaning and
cooking. She has eight children, whose ages range from 25 to 47.
Informant 3 is a 53-year-old who lives with her husband and youngest daughter.
Owning two houses, they were the most affluent and open of the informants visited. She
120
is a weaver by trade and plans of opening a crafts and food store in the near future. She
is also one of the woman leaders in the community.
Birds and Mammals
The first and third informants were not able to tell us the names of the birds and
mammals, due to lack of time. Informant 2 recognized and named 72% of the mammals
and 79% of the birds. The specific names can be found in Tables 1 and 2.
Table 1. Mammal identification by informants.
(X = did not recognize mammal)
Plate
#
1
8
11
12
2 9
4 2
5
6
8
5 6
6 1
5
10 6
11 6
7
13 5
14 3a
15 4
6
8
16 1
3
4
5
6
Scientific name
Mammalia
Chironectes minimus
Didelphis marsupialis
Didelphis virginiana
Marmosa rovinsoni
Bradypus tridactylus
Choloepus hoffmanni
Tamandua tetradactyla
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Trachops cirrhosus
Glossophaga soricina
Artibeus jamaicensis
Saguinus geoffroyi
Saimiri oerstedii
Cebus capucinus
Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
Nasua narica
Procyon lotor
Speothos venaticus
Mustela frenata
Galictis vittata
Conepatuis semistriatus
Eira barbara
Panthera onca
Common name
Spanish name
Family1
Water oppossum
Common appossum
Virginia oppossum
Mouse oppossum
3-toed sloth
2-toed sloth
Tamanua
Giant anteater
Fringe-lipped bat
Common long-tongue bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C. American squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Coati
Raccoon
Bush dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Jaguar
Zorro de agua
Zarig?eya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedos
Perezoso de dos dedos
Oso Colmenero
Oso Caballo
Murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
Tamarin, Marmoseta
Mono ardilla
Cairara, machin blanco
Mono congo
Mono Colorado
Pizote solo
Mapache
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Gríson
Gato Cañero
Tolomuco
Tigre, Jaguar
canguro
zorro
zorro espino
camadreha
perico rijero
X
tejon
aguila
murcielago
murcielago
murcielago
X
titi
mapachin
congo
monos
pizote
mapaching
X
X
X
X
X
tigre
Table 2. Bird recognition by informants
(X = did not recognize bird)
121
Plate
#
5
6
9
10
16
6 1
13
18
7 3
11 12
12 3
4
5
6
13 3
5
15 8
9a
17 9
18 5
7
19 1
3
14
20 9
21 7
17
27 1b
16
Scientific name
Aves
Ardeas herodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
Aramides cajanea
Jacana spinosa
Podilymbus podiceps
Calidris mauri
Crax rubra
Penelope purpurascens
Chamaepetes unicolor
Tinamus major
Cathartes aurea
Sarcorramphus papa
Herpetotheres cachinans
Milvago chimachima
Harpia harpyja
Columba nigrirostris
Columba talpacoti
Ara macao
Amazona farinosa
Brotogeris jugularis
Tyto alba
Piaya cayana Squirrel cuckoo
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Pteroglossus frantzii
Common name
Spanish name
Family1
Blue Heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) heron
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacan
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Crested guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pigeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn owl
Garzón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta nivosa
Garza tigre cuellinuda
Garcilla estriada
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacana centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamu
Zopilote
Zopilote rey
Guaco
Caracara
Aguila arpía
Paloma Piquicorta
Tortolita Rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro Verde
Periquito barbinaranja
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotocabras Norteño
Martin Pescador Norteño
Tucancillo Piquianaranjado
martín
Garza
Garza
Patos
Garza
Martín
Martín
Patos
X
Pavo
Pavo
Pavo
Pavo
Zopilote
Zopilote rey
Paloma castilla
Paloma
X
X
X
Loro
Loro
X
Buho
X
X
Chokla
Cusinga
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red billed aracari
Typical foods
Rice (Oriza sative), beans (Phaseolus sp.), corn (Zea mays), bananas (Musa sp.),
plantains (Musa sp.), and yuca (Manihot esculenta) were all common foods, as well as
several vegetables that could be found locally. Informant 3 served us a lunch consisting
of corn tortillas, heart of palm, avocado, and watermelon. All the informants stated that
they ate beef, poultry, and pork. Informants 1 and 3 raise their own chickens and pigs,
but buy beef from a store. Informant 2, due to her old age, does not raise any vegetables,
but instead buys most of her foods from others, or the store. All informants ate fish,
122
which are obtained from the river by young boys. All informants had potable water in
their kitchens.
Health
All three informants stated that they went to hospitals for medical treatment.
There are no native healers in the area, and people prefer to see doctors. Informants 1
and 2 did not know much about medicinal plants, but informant 3 stated that she had
some knowledge of medicinal plants, but did not specify exactly what she knew.
Informants 2 had some medication that was applied on her legs for open sores. Informant
3 had tincture of valerian root and some hand lotion in her cabinet. Informants 1 and 2
stated that there aren’t many serious illnesses that they know of, but some common
illnesses include flu, diarrhea, stomachaches, and fever.
Environmental changes
All three of the informants stated that there have been negative changes in the
environment. Informant 1 went into detail how the land had become worse throughout
the years, due to cultivation of land by immigrants. An enthusiast of the relearning of the
Boruca culture, he told us how the whole town sat upon a historical cemetery which dates
back over 500 years. People have been finding artifacts on the land, as more and more
land is tilled for farming and raising animals. Informant 2, having been born there, has
noticed many negative changes over the years. There are fewer animals and trees in the
area, as land has been cleared. She stated that there was no fruit being produced by the
earth because “the Earth is tired, and does not want to give food.” She described how
foreigners, and natives alike, are prevented from damaging the land on the mountains.
Anyone caught doing so is asked to leave. Informant 3 also states that there have been
123
changes in the land, for the worse, and there will be more, if the government is not
stopped. A member of the local government, she is working to prevent construction of a
dam on the Boruca region by the government.
Religion
None of the informants remembered much about Boruca myths or creation stories.
Informants 1 and 2 are both Methodist Christians, with informant 2 stating that she is no
longer Catholic because of all the bad things that the Catholic Church is doing throughout
the world. They both attend the local Methodist church. There was no time to ask
informant 3 about her religion, but there was a picture of the Last Supper in her kitchen.
None of the informants believed that animals had spirits, solely serving as food. Also,
none of the informants remembered any funerary rituals.
Additional results
Upon arrival at the town, informant 1 showed us the local Boruca museum and
the panteón (cemetery). The panteón has been in place for several hundred years, and is
constructed of round stones stacked on top of each other. Our first informant informed us
that the man living at the panteón refused to give an interview because many of the older
generation are quite shy. In front of the museum, there was a spherical stone with a sign
that read ‘esfera de piedra’ (sphere of stone). Walking down a trail, informant 1
explained how there are more perfectly spherical stones at the top of the mountain,
without any known history.
Informant 3 was proud of the fact that she had accompanied UN representatives on their
tour of the region. The UN representatives will be assisting the five Indian reserve
communities of the region (Boruca, Terraba, Cabagra, Salitre, Guaymi), in their protest
124
of the government’s plan to build a dam, which would force all of the people to relocate.
She stated that the Indians don't have official title to the land, because the government
will not give them their papers of ownership. She stated that ‘the Costa Ricans want to
call the Indians white, but God created her as an Indian and she is proud to be one’. She
also showed us several artifacts that they had found over the years as they have worked
the land.
Discussion
The Boruca town of Rey Curré is quite representative of the Costa Rican image.
The people are open and friendly to strangers. When we were sitting at the soccer field,
waiting for other group members to arrive, the people living by the field presented us
with coconuts and mangos.
Informants 1 and 3 seemed to be well off, living comfortably, earning enough
money, and having positions in the community. However, informant 2, due to her old
age, lived in a lower quality house than the other two and just managed to get by,
financially.
Our results show that the community relies mostly on hospital and clinical
services for any medical requirements. Informants 1 and 3 seemed to be in good
condition, whereas informant 3 had open sores on her legs.
There is an overall sense of unity in the community, which could be noticed in the
friendliness of the people. In addition, people were gathering to cut the grass at the
soccer field, in preparation for the game later on that evening. Playing soccer with the
children, there was no squabbling over the ball, and the children were very friendly.
125
Acknowledgments
We’d like to thank the people of the town of Rey Curré, in the Boruca Indian Reserve for
their cooperation and hospitality. Special thanks to Olman Rojas Gonzalez, Mercedes
Rojas, and Anita Rojas Gonzalez. And lastly, thanks to Henry Lu Gomez for his help as
our translator.
References
Emmons, L. H. 1997 Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. The University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, IL
Stiles, F.G. and Skutch, A.F. 1989 A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Cornell
University Press, Ithaca, NY
IGNCR Talamanca CR2CM-8 [1?200,000] 8? 58’ N, 83? 15’ W
126
Brunka of Costa Rica: Indigenous Community, Contemporary Life
Teich, A.1 , Ruiz, M.2 , L. Moye.3
1
Dept. of Environmental Studies, Univ. of North Carolina, 2 Dept. of Microbiology, Univ. of Maryland at College Park,
3
Dept. of Biology, Univ. of Pennsylvania.
Abstract
The Brunka Costa Rican community at Rey Curré is located on the shore of the Terraba
River. We went to this community and interviewed people in three homes regarding
various aspects of Brunka life, and we gave them bags of rice at the interview to thank
them for their time. The information gathered from the interviews suggest that this is a
community of hard working people who are losing their culture and language to the everincreasing modernization of their land and way of life. It also suggests a feeling of
disenfranchisement felt by the Brunka people. Costa Rica has plans to build a dam
upstream from the Rey Curré community, which would devastate much of their land.
Key Words: Brunka, Boruca, Rey Curré, ethnobiology, Costa Rica
Introduction
As ethnobiologists, we are interested in the lives and knowledge of indigenous
peoples. We used interviews to learn about their perceptions of the world. We wanted
to know some general things about Brunka culture, along with wanting to learn about
prenatal and postnatal care, and the use of contraceptives.
On July 26, we visited encountered the Brunka’s community, who possess an
aging culture dating from 2000 years old ago. The Brunka reservation of Rey Curre´
stretches along the shore of the tranquil Terraba River, which is colored rusty brown by
the sediment. The Inter-American Highway was built in the 1940’s and runs through the
middle of the reservation. Agricultural plots, with chayote (Sechium edule), bananas
(Musa sp.) and other fruits and other vegetables line the riverbed on the reservation side.
The houses are relatively close together. The homes we visited seemed to have ample
amenities, including running water, and two of the three had televisions and stereo
systems in the interview area. Like the Guaymi reservation, and like many places in
127
Costa Rica, there were lots of dogs roaming around. There were also happy children
walking through the neighborhood. At the soccer field, which was beside the school in
the community, there were young boys and girls playing soccer and older boys cutting
back the grass on the field with machetes.
Materials and Methods
A voice-activated microcassette tape-recorder was used to record the
conversations after obtaining permission of the interviewer. We also used survey
questions, two books containing pictures of various birds (Stiles et al, 1989) and
mammals (Emmons, 1997), IGNRC maps (CR2CM-9 1:200.00) and our powers of
communication and observation to carry out the interviews.
On July 24, our group of 18 ethnobiology students prepared a general survey with
questions in spanish that we felt were both appropriate in length and content. We
prepared 16 questions encompassing a broad range of social and biological issues in the
Brunka community, which were pertinent to our goals. Also the questionnaire contained
the templates with Costa Rican fauna to be identified in both Brunka and Spanish. We
also showed and had the interviewees identify Costa Rican fauna from the above books.
Results:
Table 1: Interview Data from Brunka Households
This table represents the information and observations acquired from the survey questions during the
interview process.
Subject of Interest
Age
Informant 1
Informant 2
31
Informant 3
31
41
128
Name
Elsa Rojas
Number of people living in
household
Number of children
Age of children
Years at current location
Miriam Castro Vargas
4
2
9yrs (Gustavo), 10
months(Mario)
all her life
Where he/she goes when
to the hospital
sick
13, 12, and 3 years old
2 months
Flora Rojas Morales
5
3
6
5
22,18,12,8,4
all her life
What type of medicine
he/she uses when sick
Albahaca
Hospital
the doctor
go to the hospital for some,
albahaca for gripe, asthma,
respiratory problems, ginger
for coughs, manzanilla,
saca de límon, juanilama,
pills
naranjo agrio
Typical illnesses in the
community
Stomach aches, head
aches, fevers
Asthma, gripe
Asthma, gripe
see medicines
Antibiotics and pills
from the doctor, shots,
Advil specifically, etc.
Common remedies in the
Albahaca
community
There are women in the
community who know
how to use plants, but
A healer in the community she does not go to them no clear answer
There are women in
the community,
including Dona Anita
and her husband, who
cure and help people
in the community
Water comes from
cañería from the river,
which she gets her
Water from aquaducts,
water from but she
cañería, some foods, such also said that there
as meats, rice, from the
was a "tank in the
Source of foods and
pulpería, but some foods
plaza" that some
water
such as frijoles in the fields people get water from
Pulpería, cañería
Frijoles, arroz, maíz,
maíz, frijoles, arroz, café papaya, chayote, picadillo, Tamales de arroz y
Typical foods
chocolate, yuca, verduras olla de carne
carne, rice, beans
Cleans, washes, listens
Works in her house, wakes
to radio, takes care of
Cooks, cleans, takes
children. Husband works up at 5 in the morning, or
in agriculture brings
whenever her husband has care of children,
to go to work. Cooks and meets with committee
vegetables home and
Everyday activities
fighting oppression
gets paid
cleans.
Yes, there were
changes in the
Witnessing change in the
land
yes, trees were cut down no clear answer
mountain, less forest
129
they can no longer eat
animales of the forest
because there are so
few, including the lack
of pecari
She spoke about
Costa Rican plans to
construct upstream
from the reservation
that will devastate
much of the fertile
land, and the
committee she
She has only been there for participates in to fight
There are guards working a short time, so it is hard to this (see discussion
tell
to protect the land
for details)
Due to trees being cut
down, there is less water
How these changes affect and the water is of a
her in her life
lower quality
no clear answer
How the community has
done anything to
prevent/promote change
in the land
Distinct leaders/chiefs
no answer
no answer
Committee of seven
people with a
president that
governs, and they are
elected every 2 years
What household animals
she has
None
chickens and a dog named
"Lassie"
2 dogs, chickens
Average number of
children per household in
5, 10, varies
the community
When she started having
children (at what age)
6-10, varies
Where babies are born in
this community
at the hospital
22
5-10, varies
18
18
the hospital and at
home, she had three
Hospital, she had cesarean of her children at
sections with all three of her home, the other at the
children
hospital
doctors, nurses
her mother assisted
her home births,
otherwise, doctors in
the hospital
special foods eaten when
pregnant or nursing
Soups, milk
Soups
she gives in to
cravings, always
wanted things that
she wouldn't like
ordinarily
What type of birth control Many women use the
she uses/is used in the
"pill" and men use
community
condoms
many women use the "pill"
and condoms, but she had
here tubes tied and can't
have more children
she uses an injection
from the hospital,
which many women
also use along with
the "pill" and condoms
Who helps in the labor
process
There used to be
parteras (midwifes) but
there aren't any now
130
Additional
information/observations
Interview took place in
outdoor kitchen while
A few teenage Brunka girls interviewee prepared
15 inch television, stereo, and children were gathered tamales of rice and
nice beds, clean floor,
in the house watching
beef with her
oldest child knew some television when we arrived. daughter's assistance.
words in Brunka learned Tapestry above television
Blond-haired baby
from school
depicting The Last Supper. doll on floor
Additional information
from the informant
Knew a lot about
socioeconomic issues
of the community,
involved in a
committee fighting
repression, felt that
indigenous peoples
Interviewee was not
were being cheated
Barunka, her husband was. out of their land
Table 2: List of Mammal Names
This table displays the mammal names that were provided by the interviewees when shown a picture of the
particular mammal. The interviewees responded with Spanish names. Since they could not recall the
Barunka name, they were asked to give the Spanish equivalent. If they were unable to recognize the
mammal, then the slot was marked with a “no sabe.”
Scientic name
Mammals
Common name
Spanish Names
Baruka 1
(in Spanish)
Baruka 2 Baruka 3
Chironectes minimus
Didelphis marsupialis
Didelphis virginiana
Marmosa robinsoni
Bradypus tridactylus
Choloepus hoffmanni
Tamandua tetradactyla
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Trachops cirrhosus
Glossophaga soricina
Artibeus jamaicensis
Saguinus geoffroyi
Saimiri oerstedii
Cebus capucinus
Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
Nasua narica
Procyon lotor
Speothos venaticus
Mustela frenata
Galictis vittata
Conepatuis semistriatus
Eira barbara
Water opossum
Common opossum
Virginia opossum
Mouse opossum
3 toed sloth
2 toed sloth
Tamandua
Giant anteater
Fringe-lipped bat
Common long-tongue bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C. American squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Coati
Racoon
Bush Dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
zorro de agua
Zarigüeya
zorra
marinota
perezoso de tres dedes
perezoso de dos dedes
oso colmerero
oso caballo
Murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
tamarín mamoseta
mono ardilla
mico naicero
mono congo
mono colorado
pizote solo
mapactre
perro de monte
comadreja
gríson
gato canero
tolomuco
zorro
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
perezoso
perezoso
oso miguerro
ormiguerro
no sabe
vampiro, murcielago
vampiro, murcielago
mono
retiti
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
pizote
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
zorro
no sabe
***data lost ***did not
have books;
planning
we were to
collaborate
group on an
interview
131
Panthera onca
Jaguar
tigre/jaguar
tigre
Table 3: List of Bird Names
This table displays the bird names that were provided by the interviewees when shown a picture of the
particular bird. The interviewees responded with Spanish names. Since they could not recall the Barunka
name, they were asked to give the Spanish equivalent. If they were unable to recognize the bird, then the
slot was marked with a “no sabe.”
Scientific name
Birds
Common name
Spanish Names
Baruka 1
(in Spanish)
Baruka 2 Baruka 3
Ardeas herodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
Aramides cajanea
Jacana spinosa
Podilymbus podiceps
Calidris mauri
Crax rubra
Penelope purpurascens
Chamaepetes unicolor
Tinamus major
Cathartes aurea
Sarcorramphus papa
Herpetotheres cachinans
Milvago chimachima
Harpia harpyja
Columba nigrirostris
Columba talpacoti
Ara macao
Amazona farinosa
Brotogeris jugularis
Tyto alba
Piaya cayana
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Pteroglossus frantzii
Blue Heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) heron
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacana
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Cresten guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pigeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red billed aracari
garz?n azulado
garceta azul
garceta nivosa
garza-tigre cullinud
garcilla estriada
rascon cuelligris
jacana centroamericana
zambullidor piquipinto
correlimos occidental
pav?n grande
pava crestada
pava negra
tinamu
zopilote
zopilote rey
guaco
caracara
aguilarpía
paloma piquicorta
tortolita rojiza
guacamayo rojo
loro verde
periquito barbinaranja
lechuza ratonera
cuco ardilla
chotacabras norteno
martin pescador norteno
tucancillo piquianaro
pelecon
garzos
garzos
no sabe
pato
pato
pato
no sabe
no sabe
pava
pava
no sabe
no sabe
gavilanes alguilas
gavilanes alguilas
aguila
aguila
aguilas blancas
paloma
paloma
lapa
loro
pericosbras
lechuzos
no sabe
no sabe
no sabe
tucan
***data lost ***did not
have books;
planning
we were to
collaborate
group on an
interview
Discussion
Of the women interviewed, foods, health, and daily activities were very similar.
Among the three Brunka families that we interviewed, there was a lot of overlap in the
132
foods. All of the families mentioned beans (Phaseolus sp.), rice, (Oriza sativa) corn (Zea
mays), and yucca (Manihot utilissima) among daily foods. Additionally, the families also
attested to their use of hospitals and clinics for the majority of their health problems and
concerns. The women that we spoke to practiced some form of birth control and were
comfortable talking about the use of birth control in the community.
All the men work in the fields performing agricultural based work. The three
women all worked in their homes and gave similar accounts of their daily routines, such
as cleaning cooking, and caring for children. The women we interviewed had many
things in common. Most apparently, they were all in touch with aspects of contemporary
life. Two of the three homes had televisions with cable and expensive stereos. The third
interview was conducted in an outside kitchen so we were not able to assess whether
there was also a television in this house. Furthermore, they all admitted using birth
control and seemed knowledgeable about various modern contraceptives and family
planning methods, such as injections, the “pill”, condoms, and laparectemies.
It seems apparent that with the gain of amenities, such as electricity and clean
water, which certainly improve the quality of life on the reservation, the Brunka language
is quickly being lost. Many attribute this loss to the imposition of the Inter-American
Highway and the assimilation into modernity. In the words of our third interviewee, the
struggle to maintain Brunka character and autonomy is salient and alive.
Preparing tamales with the help of her teenage daughter in their outdoor kitchen,
this woman told us about the impending dam to be shortly constructed upstream from the
reservation. Such a dam would devastate the community, putting much of the area under
water, namely crop areas along the shore. This woman travels to San Jose every 15 days
133
to meet with a group of people in the similar fight for indigenous rights, specifically the
right to protect their land. The details/specifics of this meeting, in terms of logistics,
committees and clout were unclear. She did however stress the importance of foreign
communication and access to technology, such as the Internet, for their purpose.
Conclusion
In conclusion, the character of the Brunka reservation seemed in a state of
transition. Both the jewels and perks of modern Costa Rica cover the corpus of this small
community. The homes and people did not seem poor or pitiful. On the contrary, they
appeared to be of middle class standing. Along with the absence of poverty, there was
also an absence of the indigenous Brunka language and traditions, which may
sorrowfully be on the cusp of extinction.
Acknowledgments
We would like to thank the generous and obliging Brunka community, Henry L. Gómez,
Gabriela Demergasso, and Rebecca Lutzy.
References
Emmons, L.H.1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. The University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, IL. Templatee 1-17
IGNCR. 1988. Golfito. Mapa 3322. San Jose. 1:200.000
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1989. A guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Cornell
University Press, Ithaca, NY. Template 5-27
134
Brunka of Costa Rica: Indigenous Community, Contemporary Life
Teich, A.1 , Kim, P.2 , Huang, R.3 , Brownlee, K.4 , Edmonds, S.5 , Hart, R. 6 ,
Loggins, E.7 , Moye, E. 8 , M. Ruiz9
1
Dept. of Environmental Science, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2 Dept. of Biology, Cornell Univ.,
Dept. of Biology and Math, Duke Univ., 4Dept. of Anthropology, Univ. of Montana, 5Dept. of Biochemistry,
Spellman Univ., 6Dept. of Microbiology, Univ. of Tennessee at Knoxville, 7Dept. of Biochemistry, Cellular
and Molecular Biology, Univ. of Tennessee at Knoxville, 8Dept. of Biology, Univ. of Pennsylvannia, 9Dept.
of Microbiology, Univ. of Maryland at College Park
3
Abstract
We conducted a rapid ethnobiological assessment in the town of Rey Curré, Costa Rica.
Rey Curre´ is an indigenous, Brunka community, located by the Terraba River.
Information was gathered from the Brunka community through interviews involving a
standardized questionnaire. The residents, who call themselves Brunka, have forgotten
almost all of their culture, even among the older generation. The Brunka have been
greatly affected by the building of the Interamerican Highway, which runs directly
through their community. This highway, along with other outside influences, led to
modernization and is causing the dis appearance of their culture. They have become very
Westernized, having such modern conveniences as radios, washing machines, and weed
wackers. Even though most of their culture has disappeared, the Brunka have a desire to
relearn and revive their culture. The children have started relearning some of their
culture through programs in their schools.
Keywords : Boruka, Brunka, Costa Rica, ethnobiology, Puntarenas, Rey Curré
Introduction:
The Brunka of Rey Curré, Province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica, are an indigenous
people living on a Brunka Reservation. This is situated at 8°58’N, 83°15’W on the lower
portion of the Coquito mountain gradient near the high-sediment Térraba River. On plots
by the river, watermelons (Citrullus lanatus), chayote (Sechiva edule), and other crops
are raised. The daily average temperature at this time of year is about 25ºC. On July 26,
2001, we visited the Brunka community, which possesses an aging culture dating from
2000 years ago.
The Brunka people are one of the most silent indigenous people; they have lost
their language. Very few people in the community still speak the native language, and
their culture is disappearing. This loss of culture is in part due to the construction of the
135
Interamerican Highway in 1945. The construction of the highway brought deforestation,
pollution, and modernizing influences to the Brunka community. The homes we visited
seemed to have ample amenities, including running water, television, and radios. A few
Brunka still hold on to some of their original culture and lifestyle, but it appears that their
identity is steadily melting into Costa Rican society at large.
Materials and Methods :
The group interviewed various families within the Rey Curré location of the
Brunka community.
The location of the community was found using the map IGNCR
(1988) Talamanca CR2CM-8.
We randomly chose nine houses to interview. At each
house, the family was first informed about the nature of the research, then asked for
permission to interview, in accordance with the Code of Ethics set forth by the
International Society of Ethnobiology.
If granted permission, we also asked permission
to record the interview using a microcassette recorder. The purpose of the recorder was
to have the informants’ exact language preserved for analysis and to better understand
what was said.
Using a standardized questionnaire, informants were asked about religion,
medicine, food, conservation, and identification of Costa Rican fauna. For the fauna
identification, tables from A guide to birds of Costa Rica (Stiles et al, 1989) and
Neotropical rainforest mammals (Emmons, 1997) were used. The interview generated
information about Brunka life and culture, which provides insight into an ancient and rich
culture that is invaluable to the history of native Costa Rican peoples.
136
Results and Discussion:
Informant 1 was born and raised in the town of Rey Curré. Approximately 35
years old, he lives with his own family and visits his mother regularly. The house was
constructed of wood, with metal roofing.
Informant 2 is a 66-year-old woman who lives with her husband in a governmentprovided home. She was born in the area and has lived there all her life. She handweaves bags from cotton for a living and spends most of her days cleaning and cooking.
She has eight children, who range from 25 to 47 years of age.
Informant 3 is a 53-year-old woman who lives with her husband and youngest
daughter. Owning two houses, she was one of the more affluent informants visited.
Additionally, she was quite open about answering questions. She is a weaver by trade
and plans on opening a crafts and food store in the near future. She is also one of the
women leaders in the community.
Informant 4 is a 31-year-old female. She lives with her husband and two children.
She had a well-tended garden and a clean house with a television, stereo, and flowered
couch. Her nine-year-old son was able to write down the names of about ten animals in
the Brunca language. The mother seemed very proud of her son’s talents, even though
she did not know the language.
Informant 5 is a 31-year-old female. She just moved to Rey Curré two months
before the interview with her husband and two small children. She herself, with light
hair and blue eyes, is not a native from the Brunka region, but her husband is. There
were three young women sitting around chatting with her in the living room when we
137
came. Judging from the informality of their banter, she was accepted and had good
friends in the community already.
Informant 6 is a 41-year-old female. She has five children, ages 22, 18, 12, 8, and
4. She was making tamales with her 18-year-old daughter in their outside kitchen during
our interview. They consisted of marinated red meat, vegetables, corn meal, and banana
leaves. She spoke at length with us about Costa Rican plans to construct a dam upstream
from the reservation that would devastate much of their fertile land. She participates in a
committee for indigenous rights.
Informant 7 is a 51-year-old woman who lives with her daughter and
grandchildren. She used to work as a weaver and sold her crafts, but after becoming ill
with anemia, had to stop working. She appears to be well-provided for and has a house
with concrete floors, painted walls, beds, and couches.
Informant 8 is the 20-year-old nephew of informant 7. He is an aspiring
anthropologist, and his father records the history of the community. He lives across the
street from his aunt in a similar house. Informant 8 is quite knowledgeable about the
history and current situation of the community.
Informant 9 is a 53-year old man who lives with his wife. Their children have
gone to San José to go to school. He has been a witness to the modernization of the
community and recalls some Brunka. He also has a decent knowledge of the mammals
and birds in Costa Rica. He has a CD player and TV and yet seems to lament changes in
the community.
Daily Life
138
In general, there is a division of labor in the Brunka community. Women work at
home, cleaning, cooking, and washing, while men work out in the fields. Informants 2
and 3 both worked with cotton, harvesting and weaving the fibers. Informants 3 and 6
are both leaders in the community, attending various meetings.
Food
Rice (Oriza sativa), beans (Phaseolus sp.), bananas (Musa sp.), plaintains (Musa
sp.), and yuca (Manilot utilissima) were all common foods, as well as several vegetables
that could be found locally. Many Brunka do not own fields, so they also buy food from
the pulpería (grocery store). Informant 7 stated that meat is not eaten too frequently, as it
is not abundant in the region, with chicken being the chosen meat for special occasions.
Others, like informants 1 and 3, raise their own poultry and pigs for consumption, but buy
beef from the store. Fish is obtained from the river by young boys. However, informants
7 and 8 stated that insecticides have polluted the river, making the fish inedible and the
water not potable. Other informants stated that they obtained their water from their
kitchens.
Environmental Changes and Conservation
All informants interviewed agreed that there have been changes in local land.
Most stated that these changes were negative, with decreases in vegetation and animals
due to increased cultivation. Informant 1, an enthusiast of Brunka cultural and linguistic
revival, told us that the whole town sits upon a historical cemetery, dating back over 500
years. Recently, people have been finding artifacts on the land, as more and more land is
tilled for farming and raising of animals. Informant 2 also noted the negative changes in
the land, remarking “the Earth is tired, and does not want to give food.” Informant 4
139
also explained that because trees have been cut down, there is less water, which is also of
lower quality. On the other hand, informant 7 stated that she has noticed some positive
changes, with the building of the InterAmerican Highway. The highway provides better
access to health clinics and veterinarians as opposed to before, when a healer within the
reservation would treat patients. At the same time, she stated that more people have been
getting sick now than in the past, so this better access to health care has been beneficial.
Animal Identification
Informants 2,3, 5, and 6 were not asked to identify animals due to lack of time.
Most could not identify too many of the animals or birds. Informant 1 identified 67% of
the mammals and 79% of the birds. Informant 4 identified 50% of the mammals and
75% of the birds. Informant 7 identified 33.3% of the mammals and 11% of the birds.
Informant 8 identified 29.2% of the mammals and 18% of the birds. Informant 9
identified the most animals, identifying 96% of the mammals and 79% of the birds. (See
Appendix for results).
Spirituality and Religion
None of the informants remembered much about Brunka myths or creation
stories. Informants 1 and 2 are both Methodist Christians, with informant 2 stating that
she is no longer Catholic because of all the bad things that the Catholic Church is doing
throughout the world. They both attend the local Methodist church. There was no time
to ask informants 3 or 7 about their religion, but there were pictures of the Last Supper
hanging in both of their kitchen. Mostly, the informants did not believe that animals had
spirits, solely serving as food. Informant 6 mentioned that there was a ‘spirit of the
140
mountains’, who was somehow related to animals that used to exist, but now did not
because there were too many lights in the community.
Medicine
Most of the informants stated that they went to hospitals for medical treatment.
Because there are no longer any native healers in the area, the people prefer to see
doctors. Informant 5 stated that plants are still used during times of illness, though they
are mainly used for minor things.
Informant 7 stated that for inflammations, one could
boil a plant in water and put the resultant water-plant mix on their skin as a topical
treatment. Additionally, plants can be used in drinks as cures. It was interesting to note
that although Informant 7 went to a doctor, she cured her anemia with natural, botanical
remedies. Informant 8 stated that healers were generally the only ones to know which
plants were used for specific medicinal purposes. They would initially give ill people
something to hold them over, such as alhabaca, and then concoct a secret plant mix to
treat the illness.
Informant 9 knew the most about medicinal plants.
He stated that
henhibre is used for the flu and arnica is used for treating skin cuts topically after cooking
the arnica. Informant 2 had some medication that was applied on her legs for open sores.
Informant 3 had tincture of valerian root and some land cream in her cabinet.
Women’s Health
The female informants #7, 8, and 9 were interviewed about birth control and
family planning. They were comfortable talking about these things. Furthermore, they
all attested to using birth control and seemed knowledgeable about various modern
contraceptives and family planning methods, such as injections, the pill, condoms, and
laparectemies. In regards to childbearing, informant 7 had given birth to two children in
141
the hospital. Informant 8 had three children born via cesarean section in the hospital.
Informant 9 explained that of her five children, three were born at home with the
assistance of her mother, while the last two were born in the hospital.
Conclusion:
The Brunka town of Rey Curré is quite representative of the Costa Rican image.
The people are very hospitable, welcoming and open with strangers. When we were
sitting at the soccer field, waiting for other group members to arrive, the people living by
the field presented us with coconuts and mangos.
Modernization and westernization are evident in most of Brunka lifestyle. They
feel it is important to step into modernity and catch up with technology. As a whole, the
Brunka culture and language is fast disappearing. The road that cut right through the
community also cut the community off from its tradition and past. At the same time, they
realize that the loss of their culture is not acceptable. To such ends, they have started
incorporating Brunka language into the schools.
Acknowledgments
We’d like to thank the people of the town of Rey Curré, in the Brunka Indian
Reserve for their cooperation and hospitality. Special thanks to Olman Rojas Gonzalez,
Mercedes Rojas, Anita Rojas Gonzalez, Marciana Rojas Gonzalez, Uriel Rojas, Santos
Rojas Morales, Elsa Rojas, Miriam Castro Vargas, and Flora Roja Morales . And lastly,
thanks to Henry Lu Gomez, Gabriela Demergasso, and Rebecca Lutzy.
142
Reference:
Emmons, L.H. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. The University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, IL. Plates 1-17
IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca CR2CM-8. San José. 1:200.000.
Stiles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1989. A guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Cornell
University Press, Ithaca, NY. Plates 5-27
143
Table 1. Mammal identification by
informants.
(X= did not recognize mammal)
Plate
#
Scientific name
Mammalia
1 8 Chironectes minimus
11 Didelphis marsupialis
12 Didelphis virginiana
2 9 Marmosa rovinsoni
4 2 Bradypus tridactylus
5 Choloepus hoffmanni
6 Tamandua tetradactyla
8 Myrmecophaga tridactyla
5 6 Trachops cirrhosus
6 1 Glossophaga soricina
5 Artibeus jamaicensis
10 6 Saguinus geoffroyi
11 6 Saimiri oerstedii
7 Cebus capucinus
13 5 Allouatta palliata
14 3a Ateles geoffroyii
15 4 Nasua narica
6 Procyon lotor
8 Speothos venaticus
16 1 Mustela frenata
3 Galictis vittata
4 Conepatuis semistriatus
5 Eira barbara
6 Panthera onca
Common name
Spanish name
Informant1
Water oppossum
Common appossum
Virginia oppossum
Mouse oppossum
3-toed sloth
2-toed sloth
Tamanua
Giant anteater
Fringe-lipped bat
Common long-tongue bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C. American squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Coati
Raccoon
Bush dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Jaguar
Zorro de agua
Zarig?eya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedos
Perezoso de dos dedos
Oso Colmenero
Oso Caballo
Murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
Tamarin, Marmoseta
Mono ardilla
Cairara, machin blanco
Mono congo
Mono Colorado
Pizote solo
Mapache
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Gríson
Gato Cañero
Tolomuco
Tigre, Jaguar
canguro
zorro
zorro espino
camadreha
perico rijero
X
tejon
Aguila
Murcielago
Murcielago
Murcielago
X
Titi
ma ching
Congo
Monos
Pizote
Mapachin
X
X
X
X
X
Tigre
Inf. 2 Inf. 3 Inf. 4
zorro
X
X
X
prezoso
perezoso
oso miguerro
hormiguerro
X
vampiro, murcielago
vampiro, murcielago
mono
retiti
X
X
X
pizote
X
X
X
X
zorro
X
tigre
Inf. 5
Inf. 6
Inf. 7
Inf. 8
Inf. 9
X
X
X
X
nomh
Mono
X
X
Murcielago
Murcielago
Murcielago
X
Mono titi
non suht
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
Tigre
X
kweh
X
X
osos
peli
X
X
X
vampiros mar
X
X
mono
X
X
X
X
X
X
foca
X
X
X
tigre
copachin
zorros
zorro espino
rata
prellicallijera
pellicallijera
osomigueron
osomigueron
kuh se
kuh se
kuh se
matilla
non
non
mono corrar
mono corrar
si
si
mapache
nuchia
nuchia
zorro
X
tigre, jaguar
144
Table 1. Birds identification by informants.
(X= did not recognize bird)
Plate #
5
Scientific name
Aves
6 Ardeas herodias
9 Egretta caerulea
10 Egretta tula
16 Tigrisoma lineatum
6 1 Butorides striatus
13 Aramides cajanea
18 Jacana spinosa
Common name
Blue Heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) heron
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacan
Spanish name
Garzón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta nivosa
Garza tigre cuellinuda
Garcilla estriada
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacana
centroamericana
7 3 Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebe
Zambullidor
piquipinto
11 12 Calidris mauri
Western sandpiper
Correlimos occidental
12 3 Crax rubra
Great curassow
Pavón grande
4 Penelope purpurascens
Crested guan
Pava crestada
5 Chamaepetes unicolor
Black guan
Pava negra
6 Tinamus major
Great tinamou
Tinamu
13 3 Cathartes aurea
Turkey vulture
Zopilote
5 Sarcorramphus papa
King vulture
Zopilote rey
15 8 Herpetotheres cachinans
Laughing falcon
Guaco
9a Milvago chimachima
Caracara
Caracara
17 9 Harpia harpyja
Hqarpy eagle
Aguila arpía
18 5 Columba nigrirostris
Shot-billed pigeon
Paloma Piquicorta
7 Columba talpacoti
Ruddy ground dove
Tortolita Rojiza
19 1 Ara macao
Scarlet macaw
Guacamayo rojo
3 Amazona farinosa
Mealy parrot
Loro Verde
14 Brotogeris jugularis
Orange-chinned parakeet Periquito barbinaranja
20 9 Tyto alba
Barn owl
Lechuza ratonera
21 7 Piaya cayana Squirrel cuckoo
Cuco ardilla
17 Caprimulgus vociferus
Whip-poor-will
Chotocabras Norteño
27 1b Ceryle alcion
Kingfisher
Martin Pescador
Norteño
16 Pteroglossus frantzii
Red billed aracari
Tucancillo
Piquianaranjado
Informant1
Inf. 2 Inf. 3 Inf. 4
Inf. 5 Inf. 6 Inf. 7
Inf. 8
Inf. 9
martin
garsa
garsa
patos
garsa
martin
martin
pelecon
garzos
garzos
X
pato
pato
pato
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
garzos
X
X
X
X
martin
chokwakos
garzos
X
X
X
kokolekas
patos
X
X
X
patas
X
pavo
pavo
pavo
pavo
zopilote
zopilote rey
paloma castilla
paloma
X
X
X
loro
loro
X
buho
X
X
chokla
X
pava
pava
X
X
Gavilanes
Gavilanes
aguila
aguila
aguilas blancas
paloma
paloma
lapa
loro
pericosbras
lechuzos
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
cabirando
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
Lapa
lapa
Loro
pelicula
Lechusa X
X
buho
X
X
X
X
X
X
jiwirros
pawgohn
pawgohn
papeel
golonas
gahbilones
X
guaco
guaca
X
rabilanca
tortola
lapa
loro
perrico
ku
X
llete
cupintero
cusinga
tucan
X
tucan
X
145
145
Observations and Analysis of Visit to Boruca Indigenous Reservation
26 July 2001
1
Bromberg, K1 ., Kieves, N2 ., K. Williams 3
Dept. of Biology, Tufts Univ., 2 Dept. of Enviromental Studies and Dept. of Biology, Middlebury
College, 3 Dept. of Environmental Studies, Tufts Univ.
Abstract: We visited the Boruca Reservation to learn about the culture and way of life of the
Boruca, an indigenous group in southwestern Costa Rica. With the construction of the InterAmerican Highway, the Boruca people began to lose their cultural identity and ties to the land
on which they had lived for thousands of years. Through interviews with four Boruca
women, we gained insight into the problems facing the community, including health care,
environmental issues, and assimilation into modern Costa Rican culture. From these
interviews and our experiences within the community, we judged the Boruca to be a friendly
people who are fiercely proud of their cultural identity, and are struggling to preserve that
identity despite modernizing and acculturating influences.
Keywords: Ethnobiology, Costa Rica, Puntarenas, Boruca, Brunka, indigenous,
acculturation.
Introduction:
Like many modern indigenous tribes of Costa Rica, today’s Boruca are most
likely remnants of several historical cultures from neighboring regions. They originated
in the Terraba Plain area, which they still inhabit today (Steward, 1963a). The Boruca
language, like many other indigenous languages in Costa Rica, is a Chibchan language;
more specifically, it is a Western Talamanca dialect (Steward, 1963b).
The town of Boruca, where our study was conducted, is located in a dry, warm
climate in a tropical region. The culture has been present in the region since as early as
2000 BCE. When the Inter-American Highway was constructed in 1948, the Boruca’s
land was divided into two, with half being near Río Grande de Térraba and half in the
adjacent hills. This separation opened the Boruca reservation to outside influences, and
was damaging to the people, causing many of the Boruca’s cultural traditions to be lost.
This includes the knowledge and everyday use of their dialect, which is only now being
regained. Today, approximately 2000 Boruca descendants live on the reservation (L. D.
Gómez, pers. Comm. 2001). This indigenous culture is referred to as both Boruca and
146
Brunka, and people of the village of Boruca respond to both names. The traditional
language, however, is always referenced as Boruca.
The community of Boruca is located in the southwestern corner of Costa Rica at
83º 20’ W, 9º 00’ N at elevation 550m (IGNCR CR 2CM-8). Our study site was located
on the hilly, mountainous side of the Boruca land. Boruca was accessible by a dirt road
and set approximately 30 minutes off of the Inter-American Highway. Much of the land
surrounding the community we studied was agricultural; the crops, predominantly coffee,
were grown according to monoculture or diculture agricultural practices. The community
was centered around a secondary school, a general store, and the Boruca Museum, with
several dirt roads branching out from the center of town. Electricity and running water is
available in the community, and houses are prefabricated and constructed of synthetic
rather than natural materials.
The purpose of our study was to better understand the culture of the Boruca
people through observations and personal interviews. Knowing that the people had lost
much of their native culture, it was our goal to understand how the community was
addressing their assimilation into mainstream Costa Rican life. Results are summarized
in Tables 1 and 2.
Materials and Methods :
Equipment used consisted of a handheld tape recorder and tapes, cameras,
notebooks and writing instruments, and copies of Stiles and Skutch's A Guide to the
Birds of Costa Rica (1989) and Emmons and Feer's Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A
Field Guide (1997). To locate the latitude and longitude, as well as elevation, of Boruca
we used IGNCR topographical map CR2CM-8 of the Talamanca region.
147
We arrived at the study site of Boruca by 4 x 4 vehicle at approximately 1030
hours and departed the community at approximately 1500 hours. During our study
period, we spoke with four Boruca women and asked questions about their culture and
lives, including their food, daily life, social organization, conservation, and medicine. In
addition to questioning interviewees about these pre-selected categories, we intended to
ask each individual to identify a series of bird and mammal species in their native dialect.
Color illustrations were shown from the field guides. We asked each interviewee for
permission to tape-record our conversation for our use during the writing of this report, in
accordance with the guidelines set by the International Society for Ethnobiology’s code
of ethics (Gómez 2001).
The first house we visited was chosen because of the presence of children in the
yard: we assumed someone was home, and were proved correct when we met Informant
1. A schoolgirl, about nine years of age, led us to a general store where we spoke with
Informant 2 for our second interview. The first interview lasted approximately one hour
while the interview with Informant 2, due to time constraints, lasted only 25 minutes. At
this point, we lunched in a plaza at the center of the community with several local boys
ages 4-10.
After lunch, we were invited to the home of several of the boys where we spoke
with their mother, Informant 3, approximately 40 years old, for about 50 minutes. Her
sons then led us to a relative’s home where we interviewed Informant 4, roughly 35
years old, for approximately 20 minutes. At this time we concluded our interviews and
spent an hour in the Boruca Museum before leaving the community.
Results and Discussion:
148
We were welcomed into every home we approached. This may have been due to
our association with the children who lived there; all of the children we met, both inside
and outside of homes, were extremely playful and outgoing.
Our Informant 1 was willing to speak with us from the start, although she placed a
20-minute time limit on the interview. As we spoke with her, she became more excited
about sharing information with us and extended her time limit indefinitely. Informant 2
spent less time with us, but was also willing to share her information, though she warned
us before the interview that she possessed little knowledge of Boruca culture. The same
outgoing and willing attitudes to share knowledge were also seen from Informant 3 and
Informant 4: Informant 3, after her interview, presented us each with small handcrafted
purses and welcomed us back to her home whenever we wished to return.
All four women spoke excellent Spanish, their first language, and were able to
understand our substandard Spanish. In the local school, however, many other languages
were taught as well, including English, French, and the Boruca dialect. The local
education system played an important role in the community: we saw children in school
uniforms going to and from school throughout the time we were present in the
community, and they often discussed schoolwork.
The oldest woman we interviewed, Informant 1, indicated that she had some
knowledge of the Boruca dialect when we questioned her about bird and mammal names,
but unfortunately we were not able to question her about many species. She had,
however, passed some of this knowledge on to her children, as she asked her daughter to
help her identify species names. In contrast to this, the other women, who were 10-15
years younger, seemed to be barely familiar with the Boruca dialect. Both Informant 3
149
and Informant 4, however, mentioned that their children were learning the Boruca dialect
in school; all of Informant 3’ children were excited to teach us words in the dialect, and
brought out their notes and textbooks.
All of the homes that we visited had electricity, running water, and modern
appliances like a TV, light fixtures, and a radio; Informant 1 even had a refrigerator.
Homes had painted cement floors, purchased furniture, clocks, Christian paintings,
photographs of family members, and other purchased decorations. However, households
varied to some extent in the amount of technology and modern conveniences available:
Informant 1 had a gas oven for cooking, for instance, while Informant 3 had a wooden
table holding pots over an open fire. Everyone we saw wore western-style dress, and
even with the lack of some modern conveniences, it was obvious that the Boruca people
were as a general rule a fairly acculturated society.
Despite these signs of assimilation, many Boruca people still made their living
through agriculture and artisanship. Three out of four of the women we interviewed were
artisans, producing woven cloth from their own cotton thread, while others in their
households made hand-carved wooden masks. The women were all extremely proud of
their traditional handiwork, and specifically told us that they used “natural colors,” dyes
made from local plants.
Informant 3, approximately 40 years old, spoke of times in her youth when her
father used to take her hunting, but all of the interviewees mentioned declining mammal
populations over the past few decades. Hunting is a tradition, which the community
seems to have lost due to modernization and local extinctions; all four women obtained
some of their food from the local store. Informant 1 was dismayed at the amount of
150
imported meats that the community has come to consume regularly. There appeared to
be a fairly recent shift away from locally grown and locally bought food, opening up
Boruca as a market for commercially produced food. Inevitably, this will probably lead
to a less agriculturally based economy and, by extension, a diversification of careers in
the community. In fact, it appears that this diversification has already begun: Informant 3
told us that since she was a child, when the community had a single store, the number of
businesses in town has increased to four or five (one of which is run by Informant 2).
Two of Informant 3’ children moved to San Jose to pursue work as a mechanic and
construction worker; moving away to find work is apparently a culturally acceptable
choice now, evidence that there has been a shift in cultural values from a community- and
family-centered life.
Informant 1 deplored some of the changes she has seen over her lifetime. She
noted an increase in cancer in the community, and cited the cause of the problem as the
increased consumption of non-traditional, imported foods. Her husband had died of
stomach cancer, and she named several other Boruca people who had also suffered from
cancer* . Additionally, two of the women we interviewed mentioned that asthma has
become increasingly common in the community, especially among children. It is
interesting, although inconclusive, to note that both cancer and asthma are often
associated with environmental problems.
Additional health problems, according to Informant 1 and Informant 4, stem from
alleged discriminatory treatment towards indigenous people in local hospitals and clinics.
They attributed this poor quality of care to the fact that they were not able to directly pay
*
Cancer is sort of a general term for all terminal illneses not easliy understood by the natives of Costa Rica.
151
the doctors, as non-indigenous people were able to do. They also claimed that doctors
hesitated to give them more expensive or specialized treatments for this same reason.
Perhaps because of these issues, three out of four women said they use local
plants for some medicinal purposes. Informant 1, Informant 3, and Informant 4 all
mentioned a remedy for colds, stomach problems, and vomiting, made from a tree called
“hombre grande.” Informant 3 gave us a small taste of this remedy, which she kept in
the house; as all three women described, it was extremely bitter and tasted fermented.
The women seemed proud of their knowledge of botanical medicines, and Informant 1
related to us that many people in the community use medicinal plants. She also said that
there remain a few female healers with knowledge of botanical medicines but that no true
shamans remained among the Boruca.
The women’s knowledge of botanical cures seems to be one of the few remaining
connections the Boruca have to nature. Many of the mammals that the women
recognized from illustrations were no longer found in the surrounding area, and were
only remembered from sightings in their youth (Table 1). Informant 1 also said that there
used to be more respect for nature among the Boruca, a respect that had been instilled in
her by her grandparents. She implied that this respect could no longer be found in the
community’s youth.
Informant 3 and Informant 4 informed us that there was not enough water for the
community for the whole day, and Informant 3’ youngest son pleaded with us for a drink
because he was thirsty and there was no water available at his house. Informant 4
attributed this lack of water to the diversion of river water for irrigation purposes.
However, despite this and other significant environmental problems, the interviewees did
152
not seem passionate about conservation. Informant 3 said that it is important to protect
the land for the sake of the animals, a presence that she had enjoyed when she was a
child; Informant 2 told us it was important to protect nature, not because of any concrete
benefits, but because it is pretty. It seemed that to some extent the Boruca people had
lost the ties to their land that, according to Informant 1 and Informant 3, previous
generations possessed.
Conclusion:
While the Boruca community in Boruca has integrated many features of modern
Costa Rican society into its culture, the people hold steadfastly to their few remaining
cultural traditions. Although historical practices such as hunting and the use of the native
Boruca dialect in community festivals are most likely lost for good, the Boruca people
are making a concerted attempt to salvage their cultural values and traditions. It appears
important to the Boruca to reconcile their assimilated modernization and desire for
further development with the needs of the environment and the preservation of their
cultural identity.
Acknowledgements:
We would like to thank the community of Boruca, particularly Margarita Lasa,
Emilce Leiva, Lydia Fernández Rojas, and Casilda Rojas Lazaro for their warmth and
openness.
153
Works Cited:
Emmons, L., and F. Feer. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide,
Second Edition. Chicago. 307 p.
Gómez, L.D. 2001. Ethnobiology 2001 Reader. Organization for Tropical Studies. 516
p. pp. 1-4.
IGNCR. 1970. Mapa CR2CM-8. Talamanca. 1:200.000.
Stiles, F.G., and A.F. Skutch. Plates by D. Gardner. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of
Costa Rica. Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New
York. 511 p.
Steward, J.H. 1963a (ed). Handbook of South American Indians vol IV. pp. 43-68.
Cooper Square. 609 p.
Steward, J.H. 1963b (ed). Handbook of South American Indians vol VI. pp. 52-87.
Cooper Square. 715 p.
Table 1. Names of Birds: Latin, English, Spanish,
Boruca
Birds
Scientific Name
English Name
Ardeas herodias
Blue heron
Egretta caerulea
Little blue heron
Egretta tula
Snowy (Cattle) egret
Tigrisoma lineatum
Tiger heron
Butorides striatus
Green-backed heron
Aramides cajanea
Wood rail
Jacana spinosa
Northern jacana
Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebe
Calidris mauri
Western sandpiper
Crax rubra
Great curassow
Penelope purpurascens
Crested guan
Chamaepetes unicolor
Black guan
Tinamus major
Great tinamou
Cathartes aurea
Turkey vulture
Sarcorramphus papa
King vulture
Herpetotheres cachinans
Laughing falcon
Milvago chimachima
Caracara
Harpia harpyja
Harpy eagle
Columba nigrirostris
Shot-billed pidgeon
Columba talpacoti
Ruddy ground dove
Ara macao
Scarlet macaw
Amazona farinosa
Mealy parrot
Brotogeris jugularis
Orange-chinned parakeet
Tyto alba
Barn owl
Piaya cayana
Squirrel cuckoo
Caprimulgus vociferus
Whip-poor-will
Ceryle alcion
Kingfisher
Pteroglossus frantzii
Red-billed aracari
Spanish Name
Garazón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta thula
Garza-tigre cuellinuda
Garcilla verde
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacana centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamú grande
Zopilote cabecirrogo
Zopilote rey
Guaco
Caracara cabecigualdo
Aguila arpía
Paloma piquicorta
Tortolita rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro verde
Periquito barbinaranja
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotacabras gritón o Ruidoso
Martín pescador collarejo
Tucancillo piquianaranijado
Informant 1
Informant 2
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
pato (Sp.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
zopilote (Sp.)
zopilote (Sp.)
gabilones (Sp.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
pelicos (Sp.)
loro (Sp.)
loro (Sp.)
bu (Sp.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
Informant 3
cocaleca (Sp.)
cocaleca (Sp.)
cocaleca (Sp.)
cocaleca (Sp.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
cratos (B.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
du (B.)
du (B.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
155
Table 2. Names of Mammals: Latin, English, Spanish,
Boruca
Mammals
Scientific Name
English Name
Chironectes minimus
Water oppossum
Didelphis marsupialis
Common oppossum
Didelphis virginiana
Virginia oppossum
Marmosa robinsoni
Mouse oppossum
Bradypus tridactylus
Three-toed sloth
Choloepus hoffmanni
Two-toed sloth
Tamandua tetradactyla
Tamandua
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Giant anteater
Trachops cirrhosus
Fringe-lipped bat
Glossophaga soricina
Common long-tongue bat
Artibeus jamaicensis
Large fruit-eating bat
Saguinus geoffroyi
Geoffroy's tamarin
Saimiri oerstedii
Central American squirrel
monkey
Cebus capucinus
Capuchin monkey
Allouatta palliata
Howler monkey
Ateles geoffroyii
Spider monkey
Nasua narica
Coati
Procyon lotor
Racoon
Speothos venaticus
Bush dog
Mustela frenata
Weasel
Galictis vittata
Grison
Conepatuis semistriatus
Skunk
Eira barbara
Tayra
Panthera onca
Jaguar
Spanish Name
Zorro de agua
Zarigúeya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedos
Perezoso de dos dedos
Oso colmenero
Oso caballo
Murcielago
Murcielago
Murcielago
Tamarín, Marmoseta
Mono ardilla
Informant 1
(did not know)
(did not know)
surit (B.)
ratones (Sp.)
Cairara, Machin blanco
Mono congo
Mono colorado
Pizote solo
Mapache
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Grisón
Gato cañero
Tulomaco
Tigre/jaguar
Informant 2
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
ratones (Sp.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
tejong (B.)
tejong (B.)
cusic (B.)
cusic (B.)
cusic (B.)
mono (Sp.)
(did not know)
Informant 3
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
cusic (B.)
cusic (B.)
cusic (B.)
(did not know)
ngong (B.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
tigre (Sp.)
ngong (B.)
ngong (B.)
ngong (B.)
ngong (B.)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
(did not know)
leon (Sp.)
Tables 1 and 2. The names of birds and mammals were selected from Stiles and Skutch's A guide to the birds of Costa Rica and Emmons and Feer's Neotropical
rainforest mammals: a field guide. Color illustrations of each species were shown to the interviewee and they were asked for the Boruca name. If they could not
provide the species' name in Boruca, they were asked to provide the species' name in Spanish. The presence of "(did not know)" signifies that the interviewee was
not familiar with the bird or mammal. A blank cell indicates that the interviewee was not asked for the name of that species.
156
Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment (REA) of Boruca Indigenous Reservation, Costa Rica
Tschannen-Moran, B.,1 Baker, H.,2 H. Folse3
1
Dept. of Biology, Duke Univ. 2 Dept. of Botany, Univ. of Missouri
3
Dept. of Applied Math, Harvard Univ.
Abstract:
The Brunka are an ancient people with a history in the Talamancan
region of Costa Rica dating back to 2000 BC. As a result of the Interamerican
Highway, modern Costa Rican society has been introduced to the Brunka culture. On
July 26, 2001, we conducted interviews with three indigenous Brunka in Boruca,
using a standardized questionnaire. We inquired about daily life, social structure, the
environment, medicine and the indigenous names of birds and animals. Everyone
interviewed felt as if they are losing their culture and their language to modern Costa
Rican society. The people interviewed, however, had different perspectives regarding
the changes in their culture ranging from very positive to very cynical.
Key words: Brunka, Boruca, Costa Rica, Ethnobiology, Indigenous
Introduction:
The Brunka are an indigenous culture in the Southwest portion of Costa Rica situated in
the Talamanca Range near the Térraba River. The name, Boruca, is now commonly used among
Spanish speakers to refer to the general Brunka people, an adaptation of Burucac, the term used
by Juan Vázquez in 1563 to describe the people (Stone 1949). The current Boruca people are a
heterogeneous mix of groups indigenous to the Térraba plain, but have molded together to form a
single community (Steward 1963). However, they are currently losing their language and culture,
largely as a result of the Interamerican Highway, built in the late 1940s. The Highway bisects
their culture into two communities, Rey Curré and Boruca (Gómez pers. comm. 2001).
On July 26, 2001, we visited the town of Boruca, located in the province of Puntarenas,
Costa Rica at 9?01’N and 83?20’W (IGNCR 1988). To arrive, we traveled down a gravel road,
with coffee plantations on either side. The climate is dry, so vegetation consists primarily of
savanna and tropical dry forests. Soil contained reddish clay and was cracked from dryness. An
REA of the town was gathered from interviews with the older, male, heads of three households.
Through these interviews, we were able to gain a better understanding of the Boruca culture.
157
Materials and Methods :
We randomly approached three houses and requested informal interviews, completing
three over the course of approximately four hours. We spoke with several children in the
community and obtained one of our interviews from his family. We obtained informed consent
to conduct and record each interview as per the guidelines as stated in the Code of Ethics of the
International Society of Ethnobiology (1998). Materials included a microcassette tape recorder,
field notebooks, cameras, and rain gear. We used a standardized questionnaire, prepared
beforehand, of qualitative questions about medicine, social structure, conservation issues, and
daily life. We then showed the informants color plates from Emmon’s Neotropical Rainforest
Mammals (1997) and Stiles’ et al Birds of Costa Rica (1989) and asked for the name of each bird
or mammal in Brunka, or failing that, in Spanish. Common names of species were taken from the
former and the Spanish publication of the latter (Stiles et al 1998). The names and locations of
general geography are from IGNCR (1998) Talamaca map.
Results:
While driving to the village, we saw several thatched traditional houses in the valley.
However, most of the houses in Boruca were well constructed with cement walls and floors, tin
roofs, running water, and electricity. Entering the village, we observed several men on
horseback, presumably on their way to their farms. We also saw children in uniform going to
school. Several bars, stores, churches and schools were observed near each other, giving the
village a central community atmosphere. We observed no traditional dress during our visit.
158
The Brunka seemed to be accustomed to both tourists and researchers. All three of the
men we interviewed were willing to share their memories and insights about the Brunka
community. Brunka (1) was a man approximately 70 years old with four children, many
grandchildren, and a house with many modern amenities such as a television, washing machine
and modern furniture. His household consisted of two houses constructed very close together.
One house appeared to have a kitchen inside the house and several bedrooms. The other had
several bedrooms plus a living room and an eating area. In the back, there was a washing
machine and clotheslines. He was initially wary of our interview for fear of exploitation, but
then through an explanation of our intentions, he agreed to the interview as an important part of
trying to maintain his culture.
Brunka (2) was in his early sixties with a similar family structure to Brunka (1). When we
arrived, and explained our intentions, he and his son brought out an accordion and small drum to
play for us. After the performance, he brought out a Brunka book made in 1986 of folktales. It
was written in the native dialect and in Spanish. Several chickens and dogs were on the property.
The house had several bedrooms with more musical instruments hanging on the wall. Each room
was exceptionally organized and clean. The son brought out masks he had made and offered
them for sale. In the front window of the house, there was a picture of Mary and Jesus. The son
wore a cross around his neck. The atmosphere was open and the children were excited for
company, bringing us handmade benches to sit on.
Brunka (3) was about 70 years old. He lived with his wife, three children, and several
grandchildren in a three-bedroom house. The kitchen was not observed from where the interview
took place on the front porch. Several chickens, dogs, cats and a tame parrot (Amazona sp.) were
living on the property. A saddle draped a fence near by. The atmosphere was open and Brunka
159
(3) easily spoke about his culture. The gentleman was an artisan and voluntarily showed us
several masks he had made.
Environment
Brunka (1) and (3) made the statements that they previously didn’t have a road that
connected them directly to Buenos Aires, Puntarenas. Before, traveling there required a trip
either on foot or on horseback. It meant crossing two rivers by swimming with your horse or
constructing a boat, a full day’s trip. Now the road crosses all of these barriers and a trip to
Buenos Aires takes half an hour. Brunka (1) was upset by the changes brought about by the
construction of the road and the loss of culture that came with it. Brunka (3), in contrast,
associated the road with positive changes. In addition to these changes, all three of the
interviewees noted that there was originally a great diversity of animals near the community,
which now have disappeared with the influx of people.
Community Structure
All three interviewees noted that the original governing system of the Brunka culture has
been replaced by the central government of Costa Rica. An organization called the Asociación de
Desarrollo Comunal (Association for Community Development) now works specifically for the
benefit of the Brunka. However, the Association works on the promotion of Brunka people rather
than in a directly governmental role. Brunka (1) and (3) also mentioned the Juéz de Paz, the
Judge of Peace, which previously served the Brunka community by maintaining peace within the
community in a “kind and respectful way.” This organization stopped performing its duties fifty
years ago when the Costa Rican police system extended its jurisdiction to the Brunka
community.
160
Daily Life
Daily life seems to have changed for some members of the community with the exposure
to modern society. For example, of the three men that we interviewed, Brunka (1) and (3)
indicated that they purchased the food they ate. Brunka (2), however, was coming back from
gathering green beans on the farm when we met him. He explained to us that they rented space
on a farm to grow food for their household. Another significant change in their daily life is that
they are no longer fluent in Brunka language and do not use it for communication. Brunka (1)
and (3) indicated that this change is the result of school-teachers from outside the community
who prohibited the use of the Brunka language in school. Now, however, teachers are resuming
to teach the Brunka language.
Medicine and Health
All three interviewees mentioned the use of medicinal plants, although they indicated
different levels of use. Brunka (1) claimed that most people had a basic knowledge of medicinal
plants that they used in their treatment of fevers, diarrhea and other basic disorders. Brunka (2)
had a more proficient knowledge of medicinal plants and drank a tea of medicinal leaves and a
root called armadillo every morning to prevent illness. The scientific name of this root was
unknown. Brunka (3) mentioned medicinal plants but focused on the need to travel outside of the
community or to a medical clinic provided by the Costa Rican government to obtain good
medical care. The most common disorders in the community are cancer and derrame cerebral
(stroke) in the community and are difficult if not impossible to treat. The only hope for treatment
is to travel to San Isidro or San José, according to Brunka (3). We also received conflicting
statements regarding whether or not there was a healer in the town, with Brunka (1) claiming that
there was not a healer and Brunka (2) claiming to serve as one.
161
Animal Names
Brunka (2) was the most knowledgeable of the names in the indigenous dialect. He
identified a total of 31 animals and birds in Brunka, 66.7% of the mammals and 53.6% of the
birds. Brunka (1) was somewhat knowledgeable, identifying 50% of the mammals and 7.1% of
the birds in Boruca. Brunka (3) knew little about the indigenous taxonomy, identifying four
mammals names and no bird names. All three informants knew the mammals better than the
birds. It is important to note that all of the men knew more names in Spanish than they did in
their native language evidencing that Spanish is the primary language of the area.
Discussion:
Life in the Brunka community has seen large changes in the last century; the Brunka
culture is not the center of daily life for its members. The governmental system, health system,
and household amenities were comparable to those of a non-indigenous town. The importance of
continuing with the traditional Brunka culture did not seem to be held by all of the members of
the community. An example of this is Brunka (1)’s ignorance of the position of Brunka (2) as a
healer with medicinal plants, despite being a close neighbor. Brunka (2) had a larger indigenous
language base than the other two interviewees did, indicating a disparity of traditional knowledge
between him and the other interviewees.
In addition to the difference in knowledge about the Brunka culture, there seemed to be
different points of view regarding modernization and the influx of non-indigenous people. All of
the interviewees were displeased by the decline in wildlife that had occurred around the
community, but their feelings about other parts of modernization were varied. Brunka (1) seemed
to live in the manner of a modern Costa Rican while lamenting the loss of his culture and
language. Brunka (2) didn’t vocalize the same lamentations, but still struggled to maintain his
162
traditional ways. Brunka (3), on the other hand, was very encouraged by the modernization
changes. His only reservation was that they now worried money more than they had in the past.
Despite these different perspectives on modernization, the influx of Costa Rican culture
continues effecting permanent alterations in the traditional culture.
Acknowledgments:
Thanks to Alan González, Alfonso, Jesus Alberto, and José Isaac of the Brunka
Reservation. Thanks also to Luís Diego Gomez, José Gonzalez, and Rebecca Lutzy for their
generous assistance and valuable information.
References:
Emmons, L.H. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. Chicago. 307 p.
Gomez, L.D., Capson, T., and J. Gonzalez. 2000. Ethnobiology July-August 2000.
Organization for Tropical Studies Undergraduate Summer Abroad Program.
146 p.
IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca. Mapa CR2CM-8. San José. 1:200.000.
International Society of Ethnobiology. 1998. Code of Ethics. Ethnobiology 2001 reader.
516 p. pp. 1-4.
Lothrop, S.K. 1963. pp. 253-6 in J.H. Steward (ed.) Handbook of South American
Indians. Vol. IV. Cooper Square. 609 p.
Stone, D. 1949. The Boruca of Costa Rica. Peabody Museum of American Archeology
and Ethnology. Cambridge. 50p.
163
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Comstock.
511 p.
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1998. Guía de Aves de Costa Rica. Instituto Nacional de
Biodiversidad. Costa Rica. 580 p.
Appendix:
Mammals
Plate # Scientific Name
1 8 Chironectes minimus
Common Name (Eng) Common Name (Esp)
water oppossum
zorro de agua
Brunka 1
tsí
Brunka 2 Brunka 3
chisas
zorros de agua
(Esp)
1 11 Didelphis marsupialis
common appossum zarigüeya
tsí
chisas
zorros de agua
(Esp)
1 12 Didelphis virginiana
virginia oppossum
zorro
tsí
chisas
zorros (Esp)
2 9 Marmosa robinsoni
mouse oppossum
marmota
tsí
tswitsa perezoso (Esp)
4 2 Bradypus tridactylus
3-toed sloth
perezoso de tres dedos x
tsä
oso (Esp)
4 5 Choloepus hoffmanni
2-toed sloth
perezoso de dos dedos x
tsä
oso (Esp)
4 6 Tamandua tetradactyla
Tamandua
oso calmenero
mapachín (Esp) tsing
oso hormiguero
(Esp)
4 8 Myrmecophaga tridactyla giant anteater
oso cabano
mapachín (Esp) tsing
oso reál (Esp)
5 6 Trachops cirrhosus
fringe-lipped bat
murciélago
kutzi
kukswé kutsi
6 1 Glossophaga soricina
com. Long tongue bat murciélago
kutsi
kutsi
kutsi
6 5 Astibeus jamaicensis
large fruit-eating bat murciélago
kutsi
kutsi suit kutsi
10 6 Saguinus geoffroyi
Geoffroy's tamarin
tamarín,marmoseta
nong
zorro
mono (Esp)
11 6 Saimiri oerstedii
C.A. Squirrel Monkey mono ardilla
nong
nong
mono ardilla (Esp)
11 7 Cebus capucinus
Capuchin Monkey
cairara, machin blanco nong
nong tso mono ardilla (Esp)
13 5 Allouatta palliata
Howler Monkey
mono congo
nong
x
mono (Esp)
14 3a Ateles geoffroyii
Spider Monkey
mono colorado
nong
nong
mono colorado
(Esp)
15 4 Nasua narica
Coati
pizote solo
pizote (Esp)
x
pizote (Esp)
15 6 Procyon lotor
Racoon
mapache
x
mapachi pizote (Esp)
ne
15 8 Speothos venaticus
Bush dog
perro de monte
x
x
pizote (Esp)
16 1 Mustela frenata
Weasel
comadreja
comadreja
x
x
(Esp)
16 3 Galictis vittata
Grison
grisón
x
x
zorro en yondo
(Esp)
16 4 Conepatuis semistriatus Skunk
gato coñero
?
x
zorro en yondo
(Esp)
16 5 Eira barbara
Tayra
tolomuco
x
x
x
17 6 Panthera onca
Jaguar
tigre, jaguar
tigre pintado
bich
krua
(Esp)
Total # aksed
24
24
24
# identified in Brunca
12
16
4
% identified in Brunca
50
66. 7
16. 7
164
Birds
Plate #
5 6
9
10
16
6 1
Scientific Name
Ardeas herodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
12 3 Crax rubra
4 Penelope
purpurascens
5 Chamaepetes unicolor
6 Tinamus m ajor
Great Curassow
Crested Guan
Brunka 3
garasas (Esp)
garasas (Esp)
garasas (Esp)
garasas (Esp)
pájaro del río
(Esp)
rascón cuelligrio
pájaro del río (Esp) ko tra
pájaro del mar
(Esp)
jacana centroamericana pájaro del río (Esp) x
x
zambullidor piquipinto
pato (Esp)
x
pasto (Esp)
correlimos occidental
pájaro del mar (Esp) kwi
pasto del mar
(Esp)
pavón grande
pavón (Esp)
köng
pavón (Esp)
para crestada
pava (Esp)
köng tso pavos (Esp)
Black Guan
Great Tinamou
paua negra
tinamu
13 3 Cathartes aurea
Turkey Vulture
zapilote
pafila (Esp)
gallina del monte
(Esp)
somchicha (Esp)
zapilote rey
rey sope (Esp)
13 Aramides cajanea
Common Name (Eng)
Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Snowy (Cattle) Heron
Tiger Heron
Green-backed Heron
Wood Rail
18 Jacana spinosa
Northern Jacana
7 3 Podilymbus podiceps Pied-billed Grebe
11 12 Calidris mauri
Western Sandpiper
5 Sarcorramphus papa King Vulture
Common Name (Esp)
garzón azulado
garceta azul
garceta nivosa
garza-tigre
garcilla estriada
Brunka 1
pájaro del río (Esp)
pájaro del río (Esp)
pájaro del río (Esp)
pájaro del río (Esp)
pájaro del río (Esp)
Brunka 2
sä
x
x
köng
x
köng tso pavos (Esp)
ung kro perontís (Esp)
Gaum de sopilote (Esp)
mar
x
rey de
sopilotes (Esp)
hö
guaco (Esp)
15 8 Herpetotheres
cachinans
9a Milvago chimachima
17 9 Harpia harpyja
18 5 Columba nigrirostris
7 Columba talpacoti
Laughing Falcon
guaco
guaco (Esp)
Caracara
Harpy Eagle
Shot-billed pidgeon
Ruddy Ground Dove
caracara
aguilarpia
palmoa piquicorta
tortolita rojiza
19 1 Ara macao
Scarlet Macaw
guacamayo rojo
gabilan (Esp)
x
palomas (Esp)
palomas pequeño
(Esp)
lapa (Esp)
Mealy Parrot
Orange-chinned
Parakeet
Barn Owl
Squirrel Cuckoo
loro verde
pariquito barbinaranja
loro (Esp)
kranchis
lapa
lapa (Esp)
(Esp)
ora (Esp) perico (Esp)
x
perico (Esp)
lechuza ratonera
cuco ardilla
buho (Esp)
x
bu
kexan
3 Amazona farinosa
14 Brotogeris jugularis
20 9 Tyto alba
21 7 Piaya cayana
17 Caprimulgus vociferus Whip-poor-will
27 1b Ceryle alcion
Kingfisher
16 Pteroglossus frantzii
Red-billed Aracari
chotacabras norteño
cujeo (Esp)
martin pescador norteño chokla
tucancillo
piquianaranjado
Total # aksed
# identified in Brunka
% identified in Brunka
toucan (Esp)
hö
x
x
x
gabilan (Esp)
condor (Esp)
paloma (Esp)
paloma (Esp)
buho (Esp)
parajo
cornente (Esp)
cojebo cujeo (Esp)
chokla
la del no
martín (Esp)
tsurit
tucan pequeo
(Esp)
28
28
28
2
15
0
7.14
53.52
0
165
An Ethnobiological Analysis of
The Boruca Community:
A Divided People, Still United
Venkatesan, A.1 , Willetts, E. 2 , Zellie, H. 3
1
Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, DukeUniversity, 2 Dept. of Biology, University of Pennsylvania,
3
Dept. of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Pennsylvania State University
Abstract: A short ethnobiological research study was completed on July 26, 2001 in the
Boruca community, which was separated from the Curre Boruca Community by the
InterAmerican Highway about forty years ago. Three families were questioned
concerning six general areas: conservation, everyday life, names of mammals and birds,
medicine, organization, and westernization in their community. From these answers as
well as from observations of the town and the households, it was deduced that although
the Boruca community has been severely affected by Westernization, they are still
attempting to conserve their culture through artisan work and through the teaching of
Boruca language in school.
Key words: Brunka, Boruca, Puntarenas, Costa Rica, Ethnobiology
Introduction
The Boruca Community, also known as the Brunka, consists of 3,000 indigenous inhabitants and
is located about 50 kilometers northwest from the OTS Los Cruces Field Station in the Puntarenas
Province in Costa Rica. This resevation, split by the InterAmerican Highway, is 24,000 hectares. The
first historical account of the Boruca dates to 1562 when Juan Vásquez de Coronado arrived in the
southern region of Costa Rica (Pacheco p.18). The land is very dry and the soil is mostly clayish, thus
explaining the lack of plant diversity and less vegetation surrounding the area in comparison to other parts
of Costa Rica.
Modernization of an area can have devastating and long-lasting effects on a population. The
Boruca indigenous people of Southern Costa Rica near the Terraba River are one such group that has
been completely changed by the introduction of the InterAmerican Highway. We visited one half of the
original reservation, the section near the hills. A fairly populous area full of enthusiastic families,
abundant useful ethnobiological data was obtained at Boruca to analyze the culture of these people and
how it has been changed by Westernization.
166
Materials and Methods
In interviewing the Boruca people we used a standardized questionnaire. A small voice-activated
tape recorder was also used to audiotape a family if they affirmed our request. A Talamanca map was
used to determine the coordinates of Boruca which is located at about 9 degrees 00’ latitude and 83
degrees 19’ longitude (IGNCR CR2CM-8, 1988). A notebook and pen, Emmons’ (1997) Neotropical
Rainforest Mammals, and Stiles and Skutch’s (1989) A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica were also used in
the ethnological assessment.
We entered the field with no assistants, staying there from about ten in the morning to three in the
afternoon. Before beginning the interview we explained to the household what we were doing and why, as
to obtain informed consent in accordance with the Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics (International
Society of Ethnobiology 1998). Our introduction to the families was also altered a little from our other
experiences. We decided to have a more relaxed approach to the family, simply introducing ourselves as
students, stating our names, and conversing with the numerous children that were found in all of the
houses. This naturally led to the use of the questionnaire and made us closer to the family as a whole.
Much more information could be gathered because of this approach. We asked the first and second
family if we could record the conversation, and they willingly allowed us to tape them. Also in contrast,
this time numerous questions were asked to different members of the households, including the mother,
the father, and most of the children. This aided in triangulation of more data.
Results/Discussion
The houses located in this Boruca reservation were very close together, appearing to encourage a
friendlier neighborhood atmosphere. The community is a very open and friendly one, with young children
with bare feet that came and talked to us on the street. The houses appeared small yet cozy, full of
memorabilia such as pictures of family members and other such things. The Boruca reservation had a
community convenience store in the center of town, thus appearing to be more affected by
Westernization. This was also supported in other details that will be explained later in this paper.
167
Three families were interviewed. In the first household, five children and one grandchild live with
the parents. The mother did not have a job but cooked and cleaned around the house. Her husband
worked as a farmer for the family and sold a few of their goods. They appeared to be fairly poor in
contrast to other families. They had a green parrot (Amazona sp.) as a pet whose favorite word to repeat
was ¨chica.¨ The two young boys, both around 7 years old, wore uniforms from school and were very
well behaved and happy to see visitors, kissing each of us on the cheek upon entering. The oldest son was
especially knowledgeable about the town and languages, knowing three languages to varying degrees
(Boruca, Spanish, English). When we asked how many people live in the Boruca reservation, the mother
directed the question to him? he replied that there are 3000 people in the community. When we asked to
take a picture, they eagerly asked us if we could mail them copies so they could put it on their walls along
with family pictures.
At the second family household we talked to the mother (Informant 2), and her daughter of about
12 years. Two of her grandchildren also lived there. Informant 2 told us that she and her husband built
their thatched roof home, made of caña blanca (Gynerium sp.) and palms, by hand eight years ago. She
was born in the community and has lived there all of her life, with the exception of an eight month stay in
San Jose. She thought the city and textile factory that she worked in were so dangerous and uninviting
that she moved back to her life in the Boruca community. In this community she does not have to lock
her door, as she knows that no one will steal her belongings. She is a weaver, dying her own string and
weaving it herself to sell to tourists inside and outside of the community. As a result of her interaction
with tourists, she spoke very slowly and clearly for us. Her husband makes bows and arrows and other
such artisan goods to sell to tourists also. This family was fairly economically stable, owning a
television, a washing machine and dryer, a nice clock, and an old couch.
We talked with a grandfather, his son, and a grandson at the final household. This house, as well
as the first one, was made of stucco, in contrast to the thatched house of the second Informant which was
more similar to original homes built by the Boruca people. The grandfather and son were musicians,
168
playing a drum and accordion performance for fifteen minutes to demonstrate. The son was also an
artisan. It was observed that their house had bolts to lock the door.
In the three houses visited, a definite trend was found regarding the knowledge of the Boruca
language. In general, the smallest children, usually around the age of six or seven, appeared to know the
most Boruca because it is taught in school. Three different families, each having numerous children,
demonstrated this trait as the children taught us simple Boruca words while the parents stated that they
did not know the language. This reflects the fact that the schools are using workbooks and other such
literary tools to teach the native language to the young. What appears remarkable, however, is that older
children that have stopped learning Boruca in school seem to have lost this knowledge, thus it is the
smallest children that hold the most knowledge of their native tongue in the entire household. This was
seen in the case of the first family when the 12-year-old daughter told us she does not remember how to
say Boruca words. However, her younger siblings gladly showed us their numerous notebooks and taught
us how to say different words and phrases in Boruca. One son specifically said that he talks to some
people in Boruca because it is very important to know his native language. The third family visited was
slightly different, because a grandfather in that family also remembers how to say certain Boruca words,
thus aiding in the nomenclature of the mammals and birds. Perhaps the teaching of Boruca in the schools
is new to the community in response to the lack of valuing the culture as modernization has touched most
aspects of these natives’ lives.
In contrast to Guaymi, Boruca is a dying language? therefore the information we obtained on local
nomenclature was a bit different than in the Guaymi community. Tables 1 and 2 contain the names of
mammals and birds that the first and third family could identify for us. It is important to note that the
information from the first family was given by a seven year old boy while the names from the third family
were given by a man in his sixties or older.
The first family identified 33% of the mammalian species and 0% of the bird species. The third
family identified 50% of the mammalian species and 54.5% of the bird species. However, it is evident
169
that none of the animals that were answered by both families were given matching Boruca names, thus
showing that some of them must be incorrect.
Medicine in this community is a stark contrast to the medicine of the Guaymi in Coto Brus.
While many Guaymi seemed to prefer natural remedies before visiting a clinic or the hospital, the
Borucas appeared to be more apt to use “Western Medicine” even in cases when the illnesses were not
serious. The 12-year-old girl in the first family, when asked what her family does when there is an illness
in the household, told us two different things. She first stated that if the illness were serious, an
ambulance would come and take them to the clinic in Buenos Aires. She then elaborated stating that if
the illness were not so serious, aspirin or other such drugs would be purchased at the local store and used
to combat the illness. There was no mention of any herbal or natural medicine at all. Mild fevers are the
most prevalent ailments in the community, probably as a result of influenza or other mild illnesses.
There were varying degrees of modernization within each household, although the town in
general did have a convenience store and other more “Western” things. The first family had a television,
stating that in general there are few things bought outside of the town’s economy. They grow their own
beans, rice, corn, tomatoes, and fruits in the hills nearby so food in general is not bought from the outside
word. Interestingly, Informant 1kept commenting on various items we had, asking if they were very
expensive. She asked this about a pair of boots and the mammalian and bird books we used to identify
animals. As mentioned previously, western medicines are bought frequently from the convenience store.
The second household appeared even more self-sufficient, as they dye their own strings with natural dyes.
As stated earlier, they had even more appliances for their business. In comparison to Guaymi, the
Borucas seem more affected by the outside world yet they are still attempting to conserve the artisan part
of their culture.
Production of goods is at the essence of the Boruca economy. The prevalence of artisan goods in
the community was incredibly high, and it is the only source of income for a certain part of the
population. In the second house visited, both the husband and wife produced craft goods to sell to tourists
in the nearby towns as well as to tourists that came to their house or the area. Demonstrating how to
170
make various materials and naturally dye the thread, Informant 2 explained whether or not she minded
outsiders asking her about her weaving knowledge. She explained that she likes it when outsiders want to
know how she makes her goods, not only so she can share the culture but also so that we can understand
how much hard work and dedication goes into each small bag she makes. The Borucas are very proud of
the fact that all goods are made by hand, and enjoy sharing this with others.
Fear of their knowledge being stolen from them does not appear to be an issue at all. One
middle-aged man living in the third house we visited, Informant 4, carved masks and drums. Informant 4
cuts down the balsa trees himself, carrying pieces of the trunk to his house to carve. He eagerly showed
us the tools used to carve the balsa wood and proudly discussed the history behind the masks. For these
two households, tourist revenue is essential for their sustenance. When we asked the eight-year-old
nephew of the mask maker, whether he likes outsiders coming to talk to him about questions he said yes.
His reasoning—visitors always give him presents. Thus this community appears to not only be touched
by Westernization in the sense of outside goods becoming a necessity, but also because of the effect
tourism has on all aspects of their lives.
Culture in the form of myths is represented in these crafts, and thus conserved through the
passing of this knowledge. The mother of the second family was teaching her daughter how to weave
when we entered the household. The production of cultural goods is obviously valued tremendously in
their home. The story of the Diablitos celebration (Dec 29 – Jan 2) permeates through the development of
wooden masks. Alfonso explained the significance of this celebration. He stated that certain members of
the community attach these wooden masks to their faces and dance, representing their deceased
grandparents. The color red on the masks signifies blood while the black and green signify the presence
of the spirits of ancestors. Although Western goods such as whiteboards, televisions, and radios may
appear to have changed their way of life, many aspects of their culture are being conserved through the
economy that the Borucas have developed.
171
Conclusion
It appears that although the Boruca community has lost much of their culture due to the
introduction of the InterAmerican highway and other aspects of industrialization, they are fighting hard to
hold on to what culture they have left. The large number of artisan members in the community has
enabled the Borucas to pass along the mythology and history that comes along with the craft making. For
example, the making of masks helps to keep the celebration of the diablitos alive for future generations.
Some outside influences such as roads, washing machines, and clinics appeal to these indigenous people
while the splitting of their reservation in half was obviously detrimental to their sustenance as a cultural
group attempting to hold on to its traditions. In general, the Boruca people demonstrate a strong will to
not only keep their culture alive, but also to share it with outsiders that want to learn about their people.
172
Acknowledgments
Thanks to the Boruca community for their generous hospitality.
Thanks to the Rodríguez family and the two González families for their intuitive insights.
Thanks also to Jose González for his assistance in the field.
Much appreciation to Luis Diego Gómez and Rebecca Lutzy for their guidance.
References
Emmons, Louise H. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. Chicago. Plates 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 13, 14,
15, 16, 17. 307p.
IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca. CR2CM-8. 1:200,000.
International Society of Ethnobiology. 1998. International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) Code of Ethics.
Pacheco, M.A.Q. 1996. Narraciones borucas. Universidad de Costa Rica. p.18
Stiles, G. F. and Skutch, A. F. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Comstock Publishing. Plates 5,
6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, and 19. 511p.
Table 1. Data collected from Mammalia Faunal
Questionnaire
Plate
Picture Number Scientific Name
1
2
4
5
6
10
11
13
14 3a
15
16
17
8 Chironectes minimus
11 Didelphis marsupialis
12 Didelphis virginiana
9 Marmosa robinsoni
2 Bradypus tridactylus
5 Choloepus hoffmanni
6 Tamandua tetradactyla
8 Myrmecophaga tridactyla
6 Trachops cirrhosus
1 Glossophaga soricina
5 Artibeus jamaicensis
6 Saguinus geoffroyi
6 Saimiri oerstedii
9 Cebus capucinus
5 Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
4 Nasua narica
6 Procyon lotor
8 Speothos venaticus
1 Mustela frenata
3 Galictis vittata
4 Conepatuis semistriatus
5 Eira barbara
6 Panthera onca
Common English Name
Spanish Name
Water oppossum
Common oppossum
Virginia oppossum
Mouse oppossum
3-toed sloth
2-toed sloth
Tamandua
Giant anteater
Fringe-lipped bat
Common long-tongue bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C. American squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Coati
Racoon
Bush dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Jaguar
Zorro de agua
Zarigüeya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedos
Perezoso de dos dedos
Oso colmenero
Oso caballo
Murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
Tamarín, Marmoseta
Mona ardilla
Cairara, Machin blanco
Mono congo
Mono colorado
Pizote solo
Mapache
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Grisón
Gato cañero
Tolomuco
Tigre/Jaguar
Boruca Name
Family 1
rata
ouis
X
raton
onsa perezoso
X
X
X
huen
X
X
X
non
X
seto
X
X
X
coma deeja
X
X
X
X
X
Boruca Name
Family 3
chisas
chisas
X
tsuisa
cha
cha
tsing
tsing
cuswe
cussectsee
cutseyso
nong
nongsut
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
174
Table 2. Data collected from Bird Faunal Questionnaire
Plate
Picture Number Scientific Name
5
6 Ardeas herodias
9 Egretta caerulea
10 Egretta tula
16 Tigrisoma lineatum
6
1 Butorides striatus
13 Aramides cajanea
18 Jacana spinosa
7
3 Podilymbus podiceps
11
12 Calidris mauri
12
3 Crax rubra
4 Penelope pururascens
5 Chamaepetes unicolor
6 Tinamus major
13
3 Cathartes aurea
5 Sarcorramphus papa
15
8 Herpetotheres cachinans
9a
Milvago chimachima
17
9 Harpia harpyja
18
5 Columba nigrirostris
7 Columa talpacoti
19
1 Ara macao
3 Amazona farinosa
14 Brotogeris jugularis
20
9 Tyto alba
21
7 Piaya cayana
17 Caprimulgus vociferus
27 1b
Ceryle alcion
16 Pteroglossus frantzii
Common English Name
Blue Heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) Heron
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacana
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Crested guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing Falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pigeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn Owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red billed aracari
Spanish Name
Garzón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta Nivosa
Garza-tigre Cuellinud
Garcilla estriada
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacana centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón Grande
Pava Crestada
Pava Negra
Tinamu
Zopilote
Zopilote Rey
Guaco
Caracara
Aguilarpía
Paloma Piquicorta
Tortolita Rojiza
Guacamayo Rojo
Lore verde
Pariquito Barbinaranja
Lechuza Ratonera
Cuco Ardilla
Chotocabras Norteño
Martin Pescador Norteño
Tucanillo Piquinaranijado
Boruca Name (Family 3)
sa
ceng
cotra
kui kui
con
con zo
con zo
krun
ho
ho
kek san
si et
175
Modernized Tradition: The Brunka Culture
Tschannen-Moran, B. 1 , Bromberg, K. 2 , Venkatesan, A. 3 , Zellie, H. 4 ,
Kieves, N. 5 , Williams, K.6 , Baker, H. 7 , Willetts, E. 8 , H. Folse9
1
Dept. of Biology, Duke University, 2 Dept. of Biology, Tufts University, 3 Dept. of Biomedical
Engineering, Duke University, 4 Dept. of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Pennsylvania State
University, 5 Dept. of Biology , Dept. of Environmental Studies, Middlebury College, 6 Dept. of
Biology, Tufts University, 7 Dept. of Biology, University of Missouri, 8 Dept. of Biology,
University of Pennsylvania, 9 Dept.of Applied Math, Harvard University
Abstract:
The Brunka are an ancient people with a history in the Talamancan
region of Costa Rica dating back to 2000 BC. As a result of the Interamerican Highway,
modern Costa Rican society has been introduced to the Brunka culture. We conducted
interviews with ten indigenous Brunka in Boruca, using a standardized questionnaire. We
inquired about daily life, environment, social organization, medicine, and the indigenous
names of birds and animals. The Brunka seemed fairly modernized. They imported a lot
of their food, appliances, and construction materials. The people interviewed had
different perspectives regarding the changes in their culture ranging from very positive to
very cynical.
Key words: Brunka, Boruca, Costa Rica, Puntarenas, Ethnobiology, Indigenous
Introduction:
The Brunka are an indigenous culture in the Southwest portion of Costa Rica situated in
the Talamanca Range near the Térraba River. The name, Boruca, is now commonly used among
Spanish speakers to refer to the general Brunka people, an adaptation of Burucac, the term used
by Juan Vázquez in 1563 to describe the people (Stone 1949). The current Boruca people are a
heterogeneous mix of groups indigenous to the Térraba plain, but have molded together to form a
single community (Steward 1963). However, they are currently losing their language and culture,
largely as a result of the Interamerican Highway, built in the late 1940s. The Highway bisects
their culture into two communities, Rey Curré and Boruca (Gómez pers. comm. 2001).
On July 26, 2001, we visited the town of Boruca, located in the province of Puntarenas,
Costa Rica at 9?01’N and 83?20’W (IGNCR 1988). To arrive, we traveled down a gravel road,
with coffee plantations on either side. The climate is dry, so vegetation consists primarily of
savanna and tropical dry forests. Soil contained reddish clay and was cracked from dryness. A
rapid ethnobiological assessment of the town was gathered from interviews with members from
176
ten households. Through these interviews, we were able to gain a better understanding of the
Boruca culture.
Materials and Methods :
We randomly approached ten houses and requested informal interviews, completing them
over the course of approximately four hours. We spoke with several children in the community
and obtained several interviews from their families. We obtained informed consent to conduct
and record each interview as per the guidelines as stated in the Code of Ethics of the
International Society of Ethnobiology (1998). Materials included a microcassette tape recorder,
field notebooks, cameras, and rain gear. We used a standardized questionnaire, prepared
beforehand, of qualitative questions about medicine, social structure, conservation issues, and
daily life. We then showed the informants color plates from Emmon’s Neotropical Rainforest
Mammals (1997) and Stiles’ et al Birds of Costa Rica (1989) and asked for the name of each bird
or mammal in Brunka, or failing that, in Spanish. Common names of species were taken from the
former and the Spanish publication of the latter (Stiles et al 1998). The names and locations of
general geography are from IGNCR (1998) Talamanca map.
Results:
While driving to the village, we saw several thatched traditional houses in the valley.
However, most of the houses were well constructed with cement walls and floors, tin roofs,
running water, and electricity. Many of the houses had appliances such as televisions and
washing machines; family photographs hung on the walls. Entering the village, we observed
several men on horseback, presumably on their way to their farms. We also saw children in
uniform going to school. Several bars, stores, churches and schools were observed near each
other, giving the village a central community atmosphere. The Brunka dressed in Western style
177
clothing. According to Brunka (4), about 3,000 people live on the Boruca Reservation. The
Brunka seemed to be accustomed to both tourists and researchers entering their community and
were warm and welcoming.
Brunka (1) was a man approximately 70 years old with four children and many
grandchildren. He was initially wary of our interview for fear of exploitation, but soon agreed to
the interview. Brunka (2) was in his early sixties with a similar family structure to Brunka (1).
He and his son were musicians and artisans and externally devout Catholics. Brunka (3) was
about 70 years old and lived with his wife, three children, and several grandchildren in a threebedroom house. He was an artisan and voluntarily showed us several masks he had made.
Brunka (4) lived with her five children and one grandchild. Her husband was a farmer. Brunka
(5) lived with her daughter of about 12 years and two of her grandchildren. She is a weaver,
dying her own string and weaving it herself to sell to tourists inside and outside of the
community. Her husband makes bow and arrows and other such artisan goods to sell to tourists.
Brunka (6) lived with his son and grandson. The grandfather and son were musicians, playing a
drum and accordion performance for fifteen minutes to demonstrate. The son was also an
artisan. Brunka (7) was a 50-year-old grandmother who lived with one of her daughters, her sonin-law and their children. She and her daughter were local artisans. Brunka (8) was a 40-year-old
mother. She owned a small general store. Brunka (9) was the mother of a large family. Her two
oldest sons had moved to San Jose, and she was currently living with her husband and four other
children. She and her husband were also local artisans. Brunka (10) was approximately 30years-old and lived with her husband and her two young children. She was an artisan as well.
178
Daily Life
The majority of informants both grew and bought their food. Typical crops are beans
(Phaseolus vulgaris), rice (Oryza sativa), corn (Zea mays), tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum),
and various tropical fruits in the hills nearby. However, Brunka (1) and (3) indicated that they
purchased the food they ate. Brunka (7) was dismayed at the amount of imported meats that the
community has come to consume regularly. There appeared to be a fairly recent shift away from
locally grown and bought food, opening up Boruca as a market for commercially produced food.
Inevitably, this will probably lead to a less agriculturally based economy and, by extension, a
diversification of careers in the community.
In fact, it appears that this diversification has already begun: Brunka (9) told us that since
she was a child, when the community had a single store, the number of businesses in town has
increased to four or five (one of which is run by Brunka (8)). Two of Brunka (9)’s children
moved to San José to pursue work as a mechanic and construction worker; moving away to find
work is apparently a culturally acceptable choice now, evidence that there has been a shift in
cultural values from a community- and family-centered life.
Production of goods is at the essence of the Boruca economy. The prevalence of artisan
goods in the community is incredibly high and is the only source of income for a certain part of
the population. Seven out of ten interviewees were local artisans. Women generally produced
woven cloth from their own cotton thread and natural dyes from local plants, while men made
hand-carved wooden masks, specifically used in the ritual of the Fiesta de Los Diablitos in
December.
Brunka (5) and (6) built their own houses with thatched roofs made of caña blanca
(Gynerium sagittatum) and dried palm fronds (Aracaceae). Others had houses with cement walls
179
and tin roofs. Brunka (8) told us that her house was pre-fabricated. Most houses had several
bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. Brunka (5) expressed a feeling of security in the
community, saying she does not have to lock her door. Brunka (6) felt differently. Some houses
kept chickens, cats, and dogs. Brunka (3) and (4) had tamed parrots (Aratinga sp.).
Environment
Brunka (1) and (3) made the statements that they previously did not have a road that
connected them directly to Buenos Aires, Puntarenas. Previously, traveling there required a trip
either on foot or on horseback. It meant crossing two rivers by swimming with your horse or
constructing a boat—a full day’s trip. Now the road crosses all of these barriers and a trip to
Buenos Aires takes half an hour. Brunka (1) was upset by the changes brought about by the
construction of the road and the loss of culture that came with it. Brunka (3), in contrast,
associated the road with positive changes.
Brunka (9) spoke of times in her youth when her father used to take her hunting. Hunting
is a tradition, which the community seems to have lost due to modernization and extinction of
local fauna. She and five other of the interviewees mentioned declining mammal populations
over the past few decades.
Brunka (9) and (10) informed us that there was not enough water for the community for
the whole day, and Brunka (9)’s youngest son pleaded with us for a drink because he was thirsty
and there was no water available at his house. Brunka (10) attributed this lack of water to the
diversion of river water for irrigation purposes.
However, despite this and other significant environmental problems, the interviewees did
not seem passionate about conservation. Brunka (9) said that it is important to protect the land
for the sake of the animals, a presence that she had enjoyed when she was a child. Brunka (8)
180
told us it was important to protect nature, not because of any concrete benefits, but because it is
pretty. Brunka (7) also said that there used to be more respect for nature among the Boruca, a
respect that had been instilled in her by her grandparents. She implied that this respect could no
longer be found in the community’s youth.
Community Structure
Three interviewees noted that the original governing system of the Brunka culture has
been replaced by the central government of Costa Rica. An organization called the Association
for Development now works specifically for the benefit of the Brunka. However, the Association
works on the promotion of Brunka people rather than in a directly governmental role. Brunka (1)
and (3) also mentioned the Juéz de Paz, the Judge of Peace, which previously served the Brunka
community by maintaining peace within the community in a “kind and respectful way.” This
organization stopped performing its duties fifty years ago when the Costa Rican police system
extended its jurisdiction to the Brunka community. Brunka (7) belonged to one of the several
groups for local artisans.
Medicine and Health
The Borucas are apt to use “Western Medicine” even in cases when the illnesses were not
serious. Seven out of ten interviewees used medicinal plants. Brunka (4), (5), and (6) did not
mention medicinal plants when asked about health care. Brunka (1) claimed that most people
had a basic knowledge of medicinal plants that they used in their treatment of fevers, diarrhea
and other basic disorders. Brunka (2) had a more proficient knowledge of medicinal plants and
drank a tea of medicinal leaves and a root called armadillo every morning to prevent illness.
Brunka (7), (9), and (10) all mentioned a remedy for colds, stomach problems, and vomiting,
made from a tree called “hombre grande.”
181
We received conflicting statements regarding whether or not there was a healer in the
town, with Brunka (1) claiming that there was not a healer and Brunka (2) claiming to serve as
one. Brunka (7) said that there remain a few female healers with knowledge of botanical
medicines but that no true shamans remained among the Boruca. According to the 12-year-old
girl in the Brunka (4) household, if an illness is serious, an ambulance would come and take
them to the clinic in Buenos Aires. If the illness were not so serious, aspirin or other such drugs
would be purchased at the local store and used to combat the illness.
Brunka (3) mentioned medicinal plants but focused on the need to travel outside of the
community or to a medical clinic provided by the Costa Rican government to obtain good
medical care. However, according to Brunka (7) and (10), some health problems stem from
alleged discriminatory treatment towards indigenous people in local hospitals and clinics. They
attributed this poor quality of care to the fact that they were not able to directly pay the doctors,
as non-indigenous people were able to do. They also claimed that doctors hesitated to give them
more expensive or specialized treatments for this same reason.
We received conflicting information on the most common illnesses. According to
households 4 through 6, mild fevers are the most prevalent illnesses in the community, probably
as a result of influenza or other mild illnesses. However, according to 1 through 3, the most
common disorders in the community are cancer and stroke (derama cerebral) in the community
and are difficult if not impossible to treat. According to Brunka (3), their only recourse for these
illnesses is to travel to San Isidro or San José.
Brunka (7), whose husband had died of stomach cancer, blamed the increase in cancer on
the increased consumption of non-traditional, imported foods. Additionally, two of the women
we interviewed mentioned that asthma has become increasingly common in the community,
182
especially among children. It is interesting, although inconclusive, to note that both cancer and
asthma are often associated with environmental problems.
Indigenous Language
Brunka (1) and (3) told us that teachers had prohibited the use of the indigenous language
until recently. Now they have begun teaching it in school. The effect of this change was seen in
houses 4, 5, 6, and 9 where we found that in general the smallest kids, usually around the age of
six or seven, appeared to know the most Boruca. All were excited to show off their knowledge,
bringing out their textbooks. However, the older kids seem to have lost this knowledge. The
smallest kids hold the most knowledge of their native tongue in the entire household. This was
seen in the case of the Brunka (4) household, where the 12-year-old daughter told us she does not
remember how to say Boruca words. However, her younger siblings gladly showed us their
numerous notebooks and taught us how to say different words and phrases in Boruca.
Additionally, the older generation in the community, such as Brunka (7), also had considerable
knowledge of Boruca. She had begun to pass this knowledge on to her children and
grandchildren.
It is important to note that the information from Brunka (4) was given by a seven-yearold boy while the names from Brunka (6) were given by a man in his sixties or older. The
children of Brunka (4) did not have the attention span to continue with the bird names. Also, no
names were asked of Brunka (5).
Complete results of the folk taxonomy questionnaire are in Tables 1 and 2. A summary
of the exercise is presented in Table 3.
Table 3 – Summary of Taxonomy Results
Informant
% mammals identified in Brunka
% birds identified in Brunka
1
50
7.1
2
66.7
53.6
3
16.7
0
4
33
Na
6
50
54.5
8
20.8
0
9
33.3
10.7
183
?? No data available for Brunka 5, 7, and 10
Conclusion
Brunka is a community struggling with a balance between tradition and modern
lifestyles. A recent shift in teaching the native language in schools is a step in rekindling their
heritage. Some natives are still artisans, producing the traditional Brunka crafts while others
make their living through farming. Yet the community chooses allopathic medicine over natural
healing methods. Contemporary goods are offered by the stores and bars that have been built
within the village. This mix of past and present can be viewed by walking through the
community, looking at the houses which are constructed with both locally-grown, native
materials and cement. Due to the Interamerican highway bisecting the community,
environmental alteration seemed inevitable. Some view this change as progress, others are
aware of the loss of water and wildlife. There was an overall sense of encouragement that the
Brunka could assimilate these changes into their evolving culture.
184
Acknowledgments:
Thanks to the Brunka Reservation for their generous hospitality.
Thanks also to Luís Diego Gomez, José Gonzalez, and Rebecca Lutzy for their generous assistance and
valuable information.
References:
Emmons, L.H. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. Chicago. 307 p.
Gomez, L.D., Capson, T., and J. Gonzalez. 2000. Ethnobiology July-August 2000. Organization
for Tropical Studies Undergraduate Summer Abroad Program.
146 p.
IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca. Mapa CR2CM-8. San José. 1:200.000.
International Society of Ethnobiology. 1998. Code of Ethics. Ethnobiology 2001 reader. 516 p.
pp. 1-4.
Lothrop, S.K. 1963. pp. 253-6 in J.H. Steward (ed.) Handbook of South American Indians. Vol.
IV. Cooper Square. 609 p.
Stone, D. 1949. The Boruca of Costa Rica. Peabody Museum of American Archeology and
Ethnology. Cambridge. 50p.
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Comstock.
511 p.
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1998. Guía de Aves de Costa Rica. Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad.
Costa Rica. 580 p.
185
Table 1. Names of Birds: Scientific, English,
Spanish, and Boruca
Scientific Name
English Name
Ardeas herodias
Blue heron
Egretta caerulea
Little blue heron
Egretta tula
Snowy (Cattle) egret
Tigrisoma lineatum
Tiger heron
Butorides striatus
Green-backed heron
Aramides cajanea
Wood rail
Jacana spinosa
Northern jacana
Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebe
Calidris mauri
Western sandpiper
Crax rubra
Great curassow
Penelope purpurascens
Crested guan
Chamaepetes unicolor
Black guan
Tinamus major
Great tinamou
Cathartes aurea
Turkey vulture
Sarcorramphus papa
King vulture
Herpetotheres cachinans Laughing falcon
Milvago chimachima
Caracara
Harpia harpyja
Harpy eagle
Columba nigrirostris
Shot-billed pidgeon
Columba talpacoti
Ruddy ground dove
Ara macao
Scarlet macaw
Amazona farinosa
Mealy parrot
Brotogeris jugularis
Orange-chinned parakeet
Tyto alba
Barn owl
Piaya cayana
Squirrel cuckoo
Caprimulgus vociferus
Whip-poor-will
Ceryle alcion
Kingfisher
Pteroglossus frantzii
Red-billed aracari
Spanish Name
Garazón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta thula
Garza-tigre cuellinuda
Garcilla verde
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacana centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamú grande
Zopilote cabecirrogo
Zopilote rey
Guaco
Caracara cabecigualdo
Aguila arpía
Paloma piquicorta
Tortolita rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro verde
Periquito barbinaranja
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotacabras gritón o Ruidoso
Martín pescador collarejo
Tucancillo piquianaranijado
Informant 1
pájaro del río (Sp.)
pájaro del río (Sp.)
pájaro del río (Sp.)
pájaro del río (Sp.)
pájaro del río (Sp.)
pájaro del río (Sp.)
pájaro del río (Sp.)
pato (Sp.)
pájaro del mar (Sp.)
pavón (Sp.)
pava (Sp.)
pafila (Sp.)
gallina del monte (Sp.)
somchicha (Sp.)
rey sope (Sp.)
guaco (Sp.)
gabilan (Sp.)
x
palomas (Sp.)
palomas pequeño (Sp.)
lapa (Sp.)
loro (Sp.)
kranchis
buho (Sp.)
x
cujeo (Sp.)
chokla
toucan (Sp.)
Informant 2
sä
x
x
köng
x
ko tra
x
x
kwi
köng
köng tso
köng tso
ung kro
Gaum de mar
x
hö
hö
x
x
x
lapa (Sp.)
ora (Sp.)
x
bu
kexan
cojebo
chokla
tsurit
Informant 3
garasas (Sp.)
garasas (Sp.)
garasas (Sp.)
garasas (Sp.)
pájaro del río (Sp.)
pájaro del mar (Sp.)
x
pasto (Sp.)
pasto del mar (Sp.)
pavón (Sp.)
pavos (Sp.)
pavos (Sp.)
perontís (Sp.)
sopilote (Sp.)
rey de sopilotes (Sp.)
guaco (Sp.)
grabilan (Sp.)
condor (Sp.)
paloma (Sp.)
paloma (Sp.)
lapa (Sp.)
perico (Sp.)
perico (Sp.)
buho (Sp.)
parajo cornente (Sp.)
cujeo (Sp.)
la del no martín (Sp.)
tucan pequeo (Sp.)
186
Scientific Name
Ardeas herodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
Aramides cajanea
Jacana spinosa
Podilymbus podiceps
Calidris mauri
Crax rubra
Penelope purpurascens
Chamaepetes unicolor
Tinamus major
Cathartes aurea
Sarcorramphus papa
Herpetotheres cachinans
English Name
Blue heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) egret
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacana
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Crested guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing falcon
Spanish Name
Garazón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta thula
Garza-tigre cuellinuda
Garcilla verde
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacana centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamú grande
Zopilote cabecirrogo
Zopilote rey
Guaco
Informant 6
Sa
Milvago chimachima
Harpia harpyja
Columba nigrirostris
Columba talpacoti
Ara macao
Amazona farinosa
Brotogeris jugularis
Tyto alba
Piaya cayana
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Pteroglossus frantzii
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pidgeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red-billed aracari
Caracara cabecigualdo
Aguila arpía
Paloma piquicorta
Tortolita rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro verde
Periquito barbinaranja
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotacabras gritón o Ruidoso
Martín pescador collarejo
Tucancillo piquianaranijado
ho
ceng
cotra
kui kui
con
con zo
con zo
krun
ho
kek san
si et
Informant 8
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
pato (Sp.)
x
x
x
x
x
zopilote (Sp.)
zopilote (Sp.)
gabilones
(Sp.)
x
x
x
x
pelicos (Sp.)
loro (Sp.)
loro (Sp.)
bu (Sp.)
x
x
x
x
Informant 9
cocaleca (Sp.)
cocaleca (Sp.)
cocaleca (Sp.)
cocaleca (Sp.)
x
x
x
cratos (B.)
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
dú (B.)
dú (B.)
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Table 1. The names of birds were selected from Stiles and Skutch's A guide to the birds of costa rica (1989). Color illustrations of each species were shown to the informant, and they
were asked for the Boruca name. If they could not provide the species' name in Boruca, they were asked to provide the species' name in Spanish. The presence of "x" signifies that
the interviewee was not familiar with the bird. A blank cell indicates that the interviewee was not asked for the name of that species.
? BriBri ?
?
Indigenous Reservation:
~KekoLdi
~Bromberg, Kieves, Zellie, Baker, pp.190-198
~Willetts, Folse, Tschannen- Moran,Kim, pp.199-208
~Hart, Ruiz, Loggins, Williams, pp. 209-220
~Teich, Venkatesan, Huang, Brownlee, pp.221-233
190
As The Bats Spread The Seeds:
An Ethnobiological Analysis of
The Bribri Community
Baker, H.1 , Bromberg, K.2 , Kieves, N. 3 , Zellie, H. 4
1
Dept. of Biology, University of Missouri, 2 Dept. of Biology, Tufts University,
3
Depts. of Environmental Studies and Biology, Middlebury College,
4
Dept. of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Pennsylvania State University
Abstract: A Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment (REA) was completed
on 7 August 2001 in the Bribri indigenous community at Keköldi,
Province of Limón, Costa Rica. One family was questioned concerning
six general areas: conservation, medicine, everyday life, folk
taxonomy, art, and social organization in the community. From
informant responses and observations of the village and household, we
concluded that although the Bribri community has been affected by the
surrounding Afro-caribbean culture, they have zealously maintained
cultural traditions such as artisan work, typical foods, and the Bribri
language.
Key words: Keköldi, Bribri, Province of Limón, Costa Rica,
indigenous, Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment(REA), ethnobiology.
Introduction:
The Bribri are a Central American indigenous tribe in the Talamanaca Division
and Talamanca Group, which also includes the Dorasque, Changuena, Terraba, Boruca,
and Cabecar tribes. According to F. Johnson (Steward, 1963), it is unclear where the
Bribri culture originated. The name Bribri first appears in 19th century literature. Despite
the lack of conclusive evidence, Johnson believes that the Bribri are closely related to the
Guetar, a historically north-Costa Rican group.
The Bribri community at KéköLdi, Province of Limón, Costa Rica, consists of
about 250 community members in 50 families (Bribri 2, pers. comm., 2001). The
community is 26 years old. At the time of establishment, the region was predominantly
cocoa (Theobroma cacao) plantations owned by Afro-Caribbeans. Many Bribri came to
work in the area for these farmers. From the plantations, the Bribri workers obtained
specimens to begin their own small cocoa farms. Some years ago, cocoa crops was
plagued by a decimating fungus. Some Bribri, who had by this time established
191
themselves in the area, abandoned this crop, replacing it with banana or plantain (Musa
spp.); others began commuting to Puerto Viejo and surrounding towns to work.
The Keköldi Reservation is located approximately 5 km from the city of Puerto
Viejo. It rests in the foothills of the Talamanca Range that runs down central Costa Rica.
Many small streams traverse the landscape, which is predominantly secondary forest with
a heavy understory. Common trees are fig (Ficus sp.) and cocoa. Houses are distant
from one another and connected by well-worn trails. There is, however, a house where
centralized meetings of community organizations convene. At the access point to the
Caribbean Coastal Road south of Limón, there are two businesses, a general store and an
iguana farm. These are the only two businesses we saw in the area.
Our purpose in visiting the Bribri community at Keköldi was to explore the Bribri
culture using a Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment (REA).
Materials and Methods:
We were met at the entrance to the Keköldi Reservation, 82º 52’W, 9º 37’ N,
(IGNCR,1988) by a member of the community who led us to the household of our
informant. To transcribe these interviews, we obtained informed consent in accordance
with the Code of Ethics of the International Society of Ethnobiology (1998). Books
containing color illustrations of various birds, A guide to the birds of Costa Rica (Styles
and Skutch, 1989), and mammals, Neotropical rainforest mammals (Emmons and Feer,
1997), were used to obtain local folk taxonomy from the community. As a group of
student researchers, we created a standardized general survey that included questions
concerning family and community life, food, medicine, conservation, and a general
192
knowledge of regional animals. The study was conducted between 930 and 1400 hours on
Tuesday, 07 August 2001.
Results:
We could not interview more than one household because as our guide explained,
most community members work away from the house in the morning. Our guide, Bribri
1, was very helpful and gave us much information. Bribri 2, our only informant, was
extremely intelligent and resourceful and was enthusiastic to speak to us. Bribri 2 lives
with his Guaymi wife and 17 month old daughter. Their home is on his mother’s
property, but he is in the process of building a new home on his own property. Although
simple, his house contained many modern appliances such as a hiking backpack, a
mountain bike, a stroller, and a baby-walker.
Daily and Community Life:
Bribri 2 explained that some community members work in their own fields.
Common crops include rice (Oryza sativa), pejibaye (Bactris gasipaes), bananas and
plantains (Musa spp.), cocoa (Theobroma cacao), corn (Zea mays) and beans (Phaseolus
vulgaris). Moreover, they tend to their chickens (Gallus gallus) and pigs (Sus scrofa),
which are used for eggs and meat. Some natives work on farms owned by afrocarribeans, but Bribri 2 stressed they do not compete with them; the Bribri do not farm
for money, as do the afro-carribeans. Bribri 1 informed us that recently community
members have been commuting to nearby cities for work, predominately at tourist
resorts.
Other community members are “artesanas,” or artisans, who use only locally
grown materials. Some of this art work is now made to sell to tourists. They produce hats,
193
baskets, and placemats from weaving Palmata (Palmata sp), a plant that grows only in
swampy areas. They use the leaves once the plant has reached one meter in height. They
use the wood of pejivaye trees (Bactris gasipaes) to make bows and arrows. Balsa wood
(Ochroma pyramidale) is used to fabricate the body of drums. Iguana (Iguana iguana)
and wild boa constrictor skin (Constrictor constrictor) are used for the drum heads. For
this purpose as well as for food, the Bribri have an iguana farm. Bamboo (Bambusa sp) is
used to construct roofs and other household items. When asked if bamboo is native,
Bribri 1 responded, “no,” and explained why in an analogy. Bats (O: Chiroptera)
disperse defecated seeds that they have eaten. These seeds now grow in a different place
than they originated. The Bribri have analogously planted bamboo, originating in Asia,
in their soil.
Both Bribri 1 and 2 worked as naturalist guides. Bribri 2 receives more tours than
Bribri 1 because he speaks English. They are self-employed but associated with an
ecotourist company that attracts travelers.
Within the community there is one director who is primarily self-elected. Usually
male, he communicates economic status to the community members as well as other
concerns and issues within the society. In the past, there have been problems with some
leaders because they gave many orders. Currently, the community is satisfied with the
director, who has been in office for the past four years.
Medicine:
When asked what the Bribri do when they are sick, our informant told us that it
depends on the severity. Years ago, the terrain was too rough to walk to the road to take
a bus to the hospital. Thus, they employed an indigenous doctor. Now, the road and
194
trails have improved, allowing the community members to get to a phone, located at the
general store, to call an ambulance. Bribri 2 still utilizes medicinal plants to treat
malaria, stomach problems, diarrhea, and other ailments. For these maladies, they use
ginger (Zingiber officinale), quinina (Cinchona pubescens), and hombre grande (Quassia
amara); Cocolmeca (Smilax sp.) is used to improve circulation.
Conservation:
Banana plantations once dominated the Bribri land. Now, community members
have begun reforestation. Asocianción Nacional Asuntos Indigena (ANAI) and other
international groups are funding these efforts towards conservation. Moreover, money
made from selling indigenous crafts and profits from the iguana farm are given to this
cause.
In some areas, the Bribri have cleared land to grow corn. The farmers use the
slash-and-burn method in order to eradicate rats. They regret that this process kills other
small endangered animals as well as the rats that spoil their crops. They fallow plots of
land for two years at a time due to the high clay concentration
The two informants have strong environmental ethics; they are naturalist guides
and are involved with the community’s conservation oraganization. Bribri 1 spoke
passionately about the reservation, saying that the land meant more to him than any
amount of money.
Folk Taxonomy:
See Tables 1 and 2 for the accumulated folk taxonomy from the interviewed
informant. Bribri 2 speaks his native language fluently, as witnessed from his
conversation with his mother, along with English, Spanish and some Dutch for his work.
195
From Bribri 2’s knowledge of native bird and mammal names, we concluded that the
Bribri language is still employed. This idea was solidified by the fact that Bribri is taught
in their schools.
Conclusion:
Due to our lack of interviews, we are unable to make any solid conclusions about
the Bribri. However, we gathered from the two with whom we spoke that this community
is concerned with the environment and interested in its conservation and preservation
The Bribri still hold strong to their culture, making art from native vegetation and
decorating it with traditional designs. They teach their children traditional customs and
their language is spoken in the homes and schools.
The Bribri have a positive outlook of the modern world. They proudly keep to
their native beliefs while welcoming the entrance of some western acculturation from
Puerto Viejo and Limón, two neighboring towns bustling with ticos and tourists. In
conclusion, due to the strength of their culture, the Bribri will persevere. ¡Viva Bribri!
Acknowledgements:
A heartfelt thanks to the community of Bribri for their general hospitality. Many
thanks to Alex, Lucas, and Juanita for their enlightening insights. Thanks to Rafael
Ocampo and Gabriela Demargasso for their assistance in the field. Much appreciation to
Luis Diego Gómez for this opportunity.
196
References:
Emmons, L., and F. Feer. 1997. Neotropical rainforest mammals: a field guide, Second
Edition. Chicago. 307 p.
Gómez, L.D. 2001. Ethnobiology 2001 reader. Organization for Tropical Studies. 516
p. pp. 1-4.
IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca CR2CM-6. San José. 1:200.000.
Steward, J.H. 1963 (ed). Handbook of South American Indians vol VI. pp. 52-87.
Cooper Square. 715 p.
Stiles, F.G., and A.F. Skutch. Plates by D. Gardner. 1989. A guide to the birds of
Costa Rica. Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New
York. 511 p.
197
Table 1. Names of Bird Species: Latin, English, Spanish, and
Bribri
Scientific Name
Ardeas herodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
Aramides cajanea
Jacana spinosa
Podilymbus podiceps
Calidris mauri
Crax rubra
Penelope purpurascens
Chamaepetes unicolor
Tinamus major
Cathartes aurea
Sarcorramphus papa
Herpetotheres cachinans
Milvago chimachima
Harpia harpyja
Columba nigrirostris
Columba talpacoti
Ara macao
Amazona farinosa
Brotogeris jugularis
Tyto alba
Piaya cayana
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Pteroglossus frantzii
English Name
Blue heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) egret
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacana
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Crested guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pidgeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red-billed aracari
Spanish Name
Garazón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta thula
Garza-tigre cuellinuda
Garcilla verde
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacana centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamú grande
Zopilote cabecirrogo
Zopilote rey
Guaco
Caracara cabecigualdo
Aguila arpía
Paloma piquicorta
Tortolita rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro verde
Periquito barbinaranja
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotacabras gritón o Ruidoso
Martín pescador collarejo
Tucancillo piquianaranijado
Informant 1
x
x
x
Caiz
x
x
x
Tanger
x
Duwi
Cayi
x
Chu
Uru
Uru kiguru
Guaco (Sp.)
Guaco (Sp.)
Tebri
Nubor
Nubor
Pabatsitsi
Kiju
Turi
Mok
Petra
x
Nmari
Batsik
Table 1. The names of birds were selected from Stiles and Skutch's A guide to the Birds of costa rica. Color
illustrations of each species were shown to the informant who was asked for the Bribri name. The presence of
"x" signifies that the informant was not familiar with the bird. "(Sp.)" signifies that the name provided by the
informant was Spanish.
198
Table 2. Names of Mammals: Latin, English,Spanish, and
Bribri
Scientific Name
English Name
Spanish Name
Chironectes minimus
Water oppossum
Zorro de agua
Didelphis marsupialis
Common oppossum
Zarigúeya
Didelphis virginiana
Virginia oppossum
Zorra
Marmosa robinsoni
Mouse oppossum
Marinota
Bradypus tridactylus
Three-toed sloth
Perezoso de tres dedos
Choloepus hoffmanni
Two-toed sloth
Perezoso de dos dedos
Tamandua tetradactyla
Tamandua
Oso colmenero
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Giant anteater
Oso caballo
Trachops cirrhosus
Fringe-lipped bat
Murcielago
Glossophaga soricina
Common long-tongue bat
Murcielago
Artibeus jamaicensis
Large fruit-eating bat
Murcielago
Saguinus geoffroyi
Geoffroy's tamarin
Tamarín, Marmoseta
Saimiri oerstedii
Central American squirrel monkey
Mono ardilla
Cebus capucinus
Capuchin monkey
Cairara, Machin blanco
Allouatta palliata
Howler monkey
Mono congo
Ateles geoffroyii
Spider monkey
Mono colorado
Nasua narica
Coati
Pizote solo
Procyon lotor
Racoon
Mapache
Speothos venaticus
Bush dog
Perro de monte
Mustela frenata
Weasel
Comadreja
Galictis vittata
Grison
Grisón
Conepatuis semistriatus
Skunk
Gato cañero
Eira barbara
Tayra
Tulomaco
Panthera onca
Jaguar
Tigre/jaguar
Informant 1
Ukari
Krebarí
Krebarí
Krebarí
Sakura
Seri
Uri
Ti uri
Dekur
Dekur
Dekur
x
Úk
Úk
Anka
Saur
Tsi
Curock
Nmu
Gwa
Gwa
Wakiuta
x
Durigrun
Table 2. The names of mammals were selected from Emmons and Feer's Neotropical rainforest
mammals. Color illustrations of each species were shown to the informant who was asked for the
Bribri name. The presence of "x" signifies that the informant was not familiar with the animal.
199
KéköLdi: Modern amenities, ancient culture
Folse, H.1 , Kim, P.2 , Willetts, E.3 , B. Tschannen-Moran4
1
Department of Applied Mathematics, Harvard University; 2 Department of Biology, Cornell University, 3
Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, 4 Department of Biology, Duke University
Abstract: The Bribri people of KéköLdi are indigenous to
southeastern Costa Rica and currently reside on a reservation
and maintain a life mostly separate from the rest of the country.
A one-day observation of the community using standardized
questionnaires provided insight into the daily life of these people.
A common cultural connection still seems to be tying this group
together and further movements to maintain reservation selfsufficiency are in progress.
Key Words: Bribri, Costa Rica, Ethnobiology, Province of Limón, KéköLdi
Introduction
The Bribri are members of the Talamanca group of indigenous peoples that also includes
the Cabekar and Boruca peoples. Nothing is known about where they, or their name, come from
(Steward 1963). Traditionally, chieftaincy was hereditary within a single family, a remnant of an
older class system (Steward 1963). They have exogamous, matrilineal clans and previously
waged wars to obtain slaves and sacrificial victims (Steward 1963). In recent history, the Bribri
people worked on cocoa (Theobroma cacao) farms for black farm owners, but began working
almost exclusively on their own farms circa twenty years ago, as those owned by the blacks were
bought by foreigners (Mayorga pers. comm. 2001).
The Bribri of the KéköLdi reservation reside on the Carbón mountain range near Puerto
Viejo, in the Limón province of Costa Rica, located at 82º52’ W and 9º37’N. There are currently
230 people compromising 50 families in the 500-hectare reservation (Mayorga pers. comm.
2001). The Bribri language, from the Chibchan language family, is still used throughout the
community. The local flora and fauna were typical of tropical secondary forest. We entered the
community to conduct an ethnobiological assessment in order to obtain an accurate
understanding of the Bribri culture.
200
Materials and Methods
Materials included a microcassette tape recorder, field notebooks, cameras and rain gear.
In addition, we used A guide to the birds of Costa Rica (Stiles et al, 1989), Neotropical rainforest
mammals (Emmons, 1997), and Guía de aves de Costa Rica (Stiles et al, 1998) to obtain folk
taxonomy information. We also used map CR2CM-8 to obtain geographical information
(IGNCR 1988). Finally, we used a previously prepared standardized questionnaire to guide our
interviews. We obtained informed consent to conduct and record each interview as per the
guidelines in the Code of Ethics of the International Society of Ethnobiology (1998).
The interviews began at 10:30 am on August 7, 2001. We arrived by bus to the dirt road
leading to the KéköLdi community and walked the remaining distances, approximately 0.5
kilometers (km) to an Iguana (Iguana iguana) farm and artisan shop and then later to the
community itself, approximately 3 km farther uphill. An indigenous guide led us to houses after
the Spanish-speaking Bribri woman who directed the Iguana farm introduced us to the
reservation. We used the standardized group questionnaire as well as observation of the property
to obtain information regarding daily life, social structure, conservation and medicine. We also
obtained information regarding general knowledge of Bribri names of birds and animals based
on their recognition of animal and bird drawings.
Results:
Bribri (1) was an elderly woman who had forgotten her age but remembered that she had
eight children and several grandchildren. She lived alone in a house that was made primarily of
machine-sawed boards. It was connected to another building where her son lived. Both buildings
were on stilts and were roofed with tin. According to Bribri (1), the previous thatch roof had
201
attracted cockroaches (Xestoblatta hamata) and was replaced. The kitchen had a sink with
running water that comes through plastic pipes from a reservoir and both gas-burning and woodburning stoves. Under and around the house were many ducks [Anatidae] and chickens (Gallus
gallus), several turkeys (G. variegatus), three dogs (Canus familiaris), and a pig (Sus scrofa) tied
up by a rope. There was a garden in back with impatients (Impatients balsamina), several other
plants and an ornamental hedge along the side of the house. There was also a chicken coop with
more chickens. Lying around in front of the house was a machete and several pairs of rubber
boots. Woven trash baskets contained egg shells, a deodorant cap, a plastic bag, a plastic bottle,
and bits of wire. Inside, she had a bicycle and a chain saw. Bribri (1) wore a yellowed, holed tee
shirt, a manufactured skirt and had a ring on her left hand.
Bribri (2), a close neighbor of Bribri (1), lived in a similar house, primarily made up of
sawn wood, except for the back, which was made of thin strips of bark. The house was raised on
stilts and roofed with tin. The front segment had closed walls and was divided into three rooms.
We were not asked inside and the window was covered with a curtain. The smaller room had an
open window and seemed to be used for storage. It contained a child’s bicycle and a black and
green plastic helicopter. Behind the house were many discarded, broken plastic toys and rubber
boots, both adult and children sized. The back was an open kitchen containing a sink with
running water, a gas stove, a wood-burning stove, plastic items such as cups, a cheese grater,
Tupperware, plates, and a bare light bulb. A Honda portable generator (EM 1400X) powered the
house. Lying around in front of the generator were many discarded, plastic bottles of fuel.
Behind the house was a garden with 7 wire baskets containing orchids [Orchidaceae]. In front of
the house were a machete and a shovel. They had a dog and chickens.
202
Daily Life:
Bribri (1) told us that she starts the day by making coffee or her drink for the day. She
continues by making lunch and whatever food is needed for the day. A pile of rice (Oriza sativa)
was drying on the floor for this purpose. She grows yuca (Manihot esculenta), tiquisque
(Xanthosoma sp.), rice and beans (Papilionaceae sp.), among other plants, for her own use.
Both of our informants eat the ducks and chickens that are on their property.
Additionally, both informants go to the food store at the entrance of the reservation to buy food
when they don’t have enough from what they have grown. Specifically, Bribri (1) buys rice,
beans and meat when she doesn’t have enough. Both informants buy spices such as salt,
cinnamon and sugar at all times of the year. Other than her trip to the grocery store, Bribri (2)
claimed that she rarely leaves the reservation. Bribri (2) is also an artisan who makes crafts out
of palm leaves and sells these crafts to supplement their income.
Social Structure:
Bribri (1) explained that the Bribri have an Asociación de Desarrollo Comunal
(Association for Community Development) that runs the community. According to our guide, the
association is mandatory in indigenous communities per law number 38109. This association has
a president, vice president, and a total of ten members that make laws for the community and
helps raise funds for community concerns. Our guide informed us that the chieftaincy system
previously in use had died out years ago. Bribri (1) laughed at the possibility that a chief might
still govern them. A second organization within the community, according to the owner of the
iguana farm, is specifically for the protection of nature within the reservation.
203
According to Bribri (1), indigenous Bribri teachers teach schools within the community.
There, students are taught Spanish, English and Bribri, as well as Bribri myths and farming
skills. Bribri (2) informed us that children on the reservation begin school at age six.
Conservation:
The Bribri have an organization specifically for the protection of nature, called KéköLdi
Kolá We. Possibly as a result of the organization, neither of our informants had noticed major
changes in the environment of the reservation. Bribri (2), however, did note that the population
increase in the Puerto Viejo area had affected the surrounding environment of the town. Bribri
(1) noted that deforestation within the reservation had previously been a common occupation, but
that it had been prohibited years ago, partly to reverse the watershed drying that was occurring.
They planted new trees to replace those lost by deforestation.
In addition to reforestation, our guide also explained to us that the Bribri utilize a rotating
crop system in which the land for agriculture is only used once every four years; this allows the
nutrients in the land to regenerate. We observed the clearing of one fallow while another was left
to replenish itself, as we walked to the houses of our informants.
Medicine:
Both of our informants claimed that they had never been to the hospital for disease, but
Bribri (2) told us that other members of the community were more apt to do so. When our
informants become ill, they rest and then look for plants in the mountain that can cure their
illnesses. Both women seemed to have a proficient knowledge of the medicinal plants around
them. Bribri (1) cultivated several medicinal plants such as Sarsaparilla (Sarsaparilla sp.),
Ginger (Zingiberaceas sp.) and Cuculmeca (Esmilaceas sp.). She explained several remedies to
us such as drinking teas of ginger root for swollen glands, lemongrass for colds, and sarsaparilla
204
for cleaning the blood and eliminating amoebas. She also indicated that a bath of lombredos
(Loganiacea loganiaceas) could eliminate fevers and mosquito bites. Bribri (2) told us that she
makes a vapor of medicinal plants to reduce cold symptoms.
Bribri (1) informed us that the most common diseases include rheumatism, body aches,
headaches and fatigue. She suffered from all of these ailments. Bribri (2) claimed that the most
common disease is the cold. Both claimed not to have any practices to prevent disease, although
Bribri (2) claimed that doctors came to the community to give young children vaccinations.
Bird and Mammal Names
Bribri (1) was extremely knowledgeable about both birds and animals, identifying 23 of
the 24 mammals and 27 of the 28 birds. She also offered the names of several species that were
not on our list. Bribri (2) was only somewhat knowledgeable, identifying 15 of the 24 mammals
with the assistance of her 3-year-old son. He showed a considerable interest and knowledge of
animals. When we came to the jaguar, he said “nomú.” When we repeated “nomó” back to him,
he replied that “nomó” lives in the water. His mother explained to me that “nomó” is a kind of
fish. We were not able to ask her the names of the birds, due to time constraints. (See Appendix
for results).
Discussion:
The Bribri show an impressive richness of culture. The use of their language is still
strong within the community, as is their knowledge of medicinal plants. They are not completely
self sufficient, but they provide much of their food themselves. They have their own
government, although this is not their traditional governing system. They had very little
knowledge of life outside of the reservation and neither showed nor admitted to much
205
acculturation. For example, they prefer herbal remedies to the hospital when sick. However,
they have no qualms about supplementing their traditional lifestyle with amenities and
manufactured goods, as shown by the generator, chainsaw, and running water. Their balance
between tradition and westernization is reflected in their school system; they teach Bribri
language and culture in addition to English and Spanish. However, our perspective may be
biased due to our limited number of informants. For instance, neither of them left the reservation
often, but we were told that many Bribri work in hotels as maids. Perhaps, had we interviewed
people who work outside of the reservation, we would have witnessed more acculturation.
They also showed an environmental consciousness in that they have a special
organization devoted to conservation. Their agricultural technique for preventing erosion and
returning nutrients to the soil seemed very ecologically conscious. The Bribri use iguanas for
both food and medicine, but they release most of the iguanas at the farm because they are
concerned with maintaining the threatened wild population of iguanas. They are very aware of
environmental problems and seek to address them.
Conclusion:
The Bribri’s success in maintaining their way of life and thriving in the modern world
gives a reason to be optimistic about their future. They have maintained their environmental and
cultural heritage while incorporating bits of western culture. Hopefully, this pattern will continue
and they will maintain their culture in the future.
206
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the Bribri community of KéköLdi for their willingness to share
with us about their community. Special thanks to Lucas Mayorga, José Feliciano Trigueroa,
Anna Badma, and Marissa for their kindness. Finally, additional thanks to Rafael Ocampo and
Rebecca Lutzy for their help in our investigation.
References
Emmons, L.H. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. Chicago. 307 p.
Gomez, L.D., T. Capson and J. Gonzalez. 2000. Ethnobiology July-August 2000. Organization
for Tropical Studies Undergraduate Summer Abroad Program. 146 p.
IGNCR. 1988. Limón. Mapa CR2CM-6. San José. 1:200.000.
International Society of Ethnobiology. 1998. Code of Ethics. Ethnobiology reader. 516 p. pp 1-4.
Steward, J. (ed). 1963. The Handbook of Costa Rican Indians. Vol. 4. Cooper Square. 609 p.
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Comstock. 511 p.
Styles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1998. Guía de Aves de Costa Rica. Instituto Nacional de
Biodiversidad. Costa Rica. 580 p.
207
Appendix:
Mammals
Plate #
Common name
Spanish name
Bribri 1
Bribri 2
Water oppossum
Zorro de agua
X
X
11 Didelphis marsupialis
Common appossum
Zarig?eya
bu' kri
X
12 Didelphis virginiana
Virginia oppossum
Zorra
bu' kri
X
2
9 Marmosa rovinsoni
Mouse oppossum
Marinota
bu' kri
X
4
2 Bradypus tridactylus
3-toed sloth
seri
mon
5 Choloepus hoffmanni
2-toed sloth
suhna
suno
6 Tamandua tetradactyla
Tamanua
Perezoso de tres
dedos
Perezoso de dos
dedos
Oso Colmenero
uhrí
uhrí
8 Myrmecophaga tridactyla Giant anteater
Oso Caballo
nai uhrí
uhrí
5
6 Trachops cirrhosus
Fringe-lipped bat
Murciélago
duh kul
duh kul
6
1 Glossophaga soricina
Murciélago
duh kul
duh kul
5 Artibeus jamaicensis
Common long-tongue
bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Murciélago
duh kul
duh kul
10
6 Saguinus geoffroyi
Geoffroy's tamarin
su kwe
X
11
6 Saimiri oerstedii
óhk
X
7 Cebus capucinus
C. American squirrel
monkey
Capuchin monkey
Tamarin,
Marmoseta
Mono ardilla
wim
X
5 Allouatta palliata
Howler monkey
Cairara, machin
blanco
Mono congo
sára
ruh ke
14 3a Ateles geoffroyii
Spider monkey
Mono Colorado
sára
sal
15
4 Nasua narica
Coati
Pizote solo
tsí
tsí
6 Procyon lotor
Raccoon
Mapache
ko orok
ko rok
8 Speothos venaticus
Bush dog
Perro de monte
usnumo
X
1 Mustela frenata
Weasel
Comadreja
bwo tong
hauwa
3 Galictis vittata
Grison
Gríson
hauwa
X
4 Conepatuis semistriatus
Skunk
Gato Cañero
buh kuri
hauwa
5 Eira barbara
Tayra
Tolomuco
hauwa
X
6 Panthera onca
Jaguar
Tigre, Jaguar
nomú
nomú
1
13
16
Scientific name
8 Chironectes minimus
208
Birds
Plate
# Scientific name
Common name
Spanish name
Bribri 1
6 Ardeas herodias
Blue Heron
Garzón azulado
kais
Garceta azul
kais
Garceta nivosa
kais
kais
Green-backed heron
Garza tigre
cuellinuda
Garcilla estriada
13 Aramides cajanea
Wood rail
Rascón cuelligrís
kok tre
18 Jacana spinosa
Northern jacan
joh tsuru
5
9 Egretta caerulea
10 Egretta tula
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) heron
16 Tigrisoma lineatum
Tiger heron
6
1 Butorides striatus
X
11 12 Calidris mauri
Western sandpiper
12
3 Crax rubra
Great curassow
Jacana
centroamericana
Zambullidor
piquipinto
Correlimos
occidental
Pavón grande
4 Penelope purpurascens
Crested guan
Pava crestada
kaé
5 Chamaepetes unicolor
Black guan
Pava negra
kaé
6 Tinamus major
Great tinamou
Tinamu
tsuriri
3 Cathartes aurea
Turkey vulture
Zopilote
puhn
5 Sarcorramphus papa
King vulture
Zopilote rey
uru
Guaco
puhn
7
3 Podilymbus podiceps
13
15
Pied-billed grebe
8 Herpetotheres cachinans Laughing falcon
9a
habí
dwí
Caracara
Caracara
puhn
17
9 Harpia harpyja
Hqarpy eagle
Aguila arpía
sarpung
18
5 Columba nigrirostris
Shot-billed pigeon
Paloma Piquicorta
noboro
7 Columba talpacoti
Ruddy ground dove
Tortolita Rojiza
dú
1 Ara macao
Scarlet macaw
Guacamayo rojo
ku quo
3 Amazona farinosa
Mealy parrot
Loro Verde
ku ju
Orange-chinned
parakeet
Barn owl
Periquito
barbinaranja
Lech°uza ratonera
ngu nge
Cuco ardilla
tsigwa
Chotocabras
Norteño
Martin Pescador
Norteño
Tucancillo
Piquianaranjado
tanék
19
Milvago chimachima
pato
14 Brotogeris jugularis
20
21
9 Tyto alba
7 Piaya cayana Squirrel
cuckoo
17 Caprimulgus vociferus
27 1b Ceryle alcion
16 Pteroglossus frantzii
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red billed aracari
mok
tráko
ba tsík
209
Observations From Visit to the KéköLdi Bribri Indigenous Reservation
Hart, R. 1 , Loggins, E.2 , Ruiz, M.3 , K. Williams4
1
Department of Microbiology, University of Tennessee 2 Department of Biochemistry, University of
4
Tennessee 3 Department of Microbiology, University of Maryland, College Park
Department of
Environmental Studies, Tufts University
Abstract
The Bribri community of KéköLdi is located near the town of Puerto Viejo,
Limón, in northeastern Costa Rica. A rapid ethnobiological assessment was conducted
on Tuesday, August 7, 2001, to explore the culture and daily life of the Bribri. The
standardized questionnaire included four general categories: general observation and
daily life, medicine, conservation, and animals. The interview indicated that the KéköLdi
community, although affected by outside influences, is making a significant effort to
preserve their community. Conservation is considered to be essential, and many of the
Bribri attempt to maintain a sustainable way of life. The Bribri use medicinal plants for
the treatment of minor illnesses but also visit clinics. They value animals as pets, sources
of food, and to some extent as spiritual beings.
Keywords: Costa Rica, Ethnobiology, Bribri, KéköLdi, Limón, reservation, indigenous
commu nity
Introduction
The specific origins of the Bribri people are not known. However, it appears that
the name “Bribri” was derived from the word “viceita” and was first recorded in the
nineteenth century (Steward, 1963). The Bribri are part of the Talamanca group and are
most closely related to the Cavecar and Brunka peoples. It is postulated that they could
also be related to the Guetar group, which once occupied the Caribbean coast of Costa
Rica from the mouth of the Pacuare River south to Puerto Limón (Steward, 1963).
The Bribri community of KéköLdi is an indigenous community located in the
Limón Province in the eastern corner of Costa Rica. It is located at 9°37’N, 82°52’W
(IGNCR, 1988), in a forested area several kilometers from the town of Puerto Viejo. The
reservation is densely forested, though some areas appear to have been formerly put to
agricultural use and have since been abandoned. Houses are, for the most part, isolated
from each other, and are connected only by small footpaths.
210
We traveled to KéköLdi in order to conduct a rapid ethnobiological assessment of
the community. Our two interviews generated information about Bribri life and culture,
specifically family and societal structure, common foods, medicine, animals, changes in
the landscape, and views on conservation.
Materials and Methods
The group conducted two interviews in the Bribri community of KéköLdi on
August 7, 2001. The location of the community was found using the map IGNCR (1988)
Talamanca CR2CM-8. The young Bribri boy who acted as our guide asked permission
for an interview at each household. Once inside, each family was first informed about
the nature of the research, and then asked for permission to interview in accordance with
the Code of Ethics of the International Society of Ethnobiology (1998). We also asked
permission to record the interviews using a small Optimus? Micro-42 Microcassette
Recorder, in order to preserve the informants’ exact language for analysis.
Questions were asked using a standardized questionnaire concerning various
aspects of Bribri culture and every day life, including medicine, food, conservation, and
animal identification. For the purpose of animal identification, books containing
drawings of birds (Styles et al., 1989) and mammals (Emmons, 1997) were shown to the
informants. We requested that each informant identify the animal in Bribri or, if that
name was not known, in Spanish.
There was a dual purpose to our visit to the Bribri community. We wanted to
learn about the Bribri culture and their everyday life, and also to practice the basic
principles of field ethnobiology.
Results
Daily Life:
211
The two households where we conducted the interviews showed some evidence of
acculturation. They played American music on their radios, and wore western-style
clothing, including T-shirts printed with slogans from the United States. However, our
informants also followed some traditional Bribri ways of life, like cooking outside over
an open hearth and speaking the Bribri language within the community.
In regards to our first informant, a woman of approximately 65 years, many Bribri
traditions appeared to have been upheld. She had lived in the same two-room house for
the past 30 years; the family owned two raised wooden houses with metal roofs, which
were surrounded by palm trees. This informant does not generally leave the house; she
watches her grandchildren while her daughter works as a waitress in a hotel in Puerto
Viejo. The porch had an old iron sewing machine with a foot pedal and a radio in the
corner. The house had a vegetable garden, but the family went to the supermarket for
other staples like sugar, meat, and oil. A typical meal consisted of rice (Oryza sativa)
beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), and plantains (Musa acuminata x balbisiana). The family
also used chickens (Gallus gallus) and ducks (Anatidae sp.) for food, and sometimes
iguanas (Iguana iguana) on special holidays. The family no longer kills iguanas they see
in the wild because they have become very rare.
The second informant was a man, approximately 30 years old, who was born in
the area; he lived in a wooden house with a metal roof with his wife and three children.
When not spending time with his family, he worked within the community. The second
informant grew almost all his own food, and wanted to teach his family to be selfsustaining. He refused to buy food from the supermarket because he felt it was too
expensive and contained too many unhealthy chemicals to give to his children.
212
Our second informant was active in the Indigenous Association in the community,
which solves problems through community-wide discussion and regulations. Although
he was not a member, nor did he hold a particular office, but he attended the meetings
and supported the goals of the association. These goals included conservation,
responsible development, and cooperation within the community.
Medicine:
The families interviewed used a limited amount of medicinal plants. They visited
a clinic, about twenty minutes away, for serious illnesses and emergencies, as there was
no healer in the community. The second informant’s family seemed to use more
medicinal plants than the first family, to treat illnesses like grippe; this was a part of the
second informant’s effort to be self-sustaining. Both informants also talked about using
medicinal plants for animals; the first informant said that her family used no botanical
medicines, but then mentioned a specific treatment for eye problems in chickens.
Conservation:
Conservation seemed to be an important consideration for the community. Some
land looked like it had been cleared for agriculture and was being allowed to revert to
wilderness; both informants also said they had to get a license from the indigenous
community as a whole before they could cut down trees. The second informant believed
strongly in the preservation of natural habitat, and said that his goal was to make his
family self-sustainable. His plans for doing this included depending less on purchased
food, which contain chemicals he believed were harmful to his family. Neither family
hunted and said they avoid killing wild animals; the second informant said that if they
213
killed animals for food, or destroyed their habitat, the animals would move to another
mountain and the Bribri would have no animals at all.
The iguana farm near the community was also a good example of attempts at
sustainable agricultural and food practices. The iguanas had multiple uses within the
community; they provided food, hide, and could be sold for pets. By growing iguanas
agriculturally, the Bribri could keep a traditional food source and refrain from killing
iguanas in the wild. Additionally, the fat from iguanas can be used medicinally, as a
means of treating coughs in children.
The first informant said there have been no changes in the land, but the second
informant disagreed; he volunteered information about his concern with the big banana
(Musa acuminata) plantations surrounding the area, which were owned by large North
American companies. He said that these well-known international fruit companies used
chemicals on the bananas that contaminated the water and wind and caused illnesses
within the community.
The first informant knew the Bribri names of ten out of the twenty-eight birds we
showed her, which is thirty-six percent. She knew four out of twenty-four mammals,
which is seventeen percent. Thus she did not have much knowledge about regional
fauna. The second informant identified seventeen out of twenty-eight birds in Bribri,
which is sixty-one percent. He knew fourteen out of twenty-four mammals, which is
sixty percent. He therefore had a significantly greater knowledge of area fauna than the
first informant.
Animal Treatment:
214
The families both had several types of animals. The first family had cats (Felix
domesticus), dogs (Canis familiaris), ducks, and a loro (Amazona Farinosa) named
Nestor. The first informant was Catholic and did not believe that animals had spirits.
The second family had cats, dogs, pigs (Sus scrofa), and ducks; that informant said he
was not religious but did believe that animals had spirits. He said that “animals breathe,
animals eat, animals drink… so they must have spirits.” The first informant said that she
took sick animals to the vet and also mentioned a treatment for sick chickens involving
coconut and lemon. The second informant said that when his animals are sick, he treats
them with plants, takes them to the vet, or kills them if necessary.
Discussion
When the families accepted us into their house, the informants seemed friendly
and talkative. However, they did refused to let us record the interviews or take pictures
of them.
Information given by the first informant about the community was limited
because she mostly worked in the house. She had little notion of the events happening in
the area; for example, she knew nothing about the iguana farm just down the path from
her home.
On the other hand, the second informant knew a lot about the area. He went to
community meetings and was active in community projects, including work with other
communities. When he was a child he worked on various projects in the mountains along
with other indigenous peoples, and learned to speak Spanish and Cabecar at an early age
along with the Bribri language used in the home. The second informant’s superior
knowledge of nature might have been related to age and gender roles within the
215
community. The younger, male informant, who was more involved in the community,
said he used to work in the forest in cooperation with other communities, and probably
knew more of the mammal and birds names because of this.
Conclusion
From the results of our interviews it appears that the inhabitants of the KéköLdi
Bribri community are very concerned about conservation. They make decisions that
affect the community as a group; for instance, special licenses are needed to cut down
trees, so that no single person can destroy part of their ancestral land. There is some
variation in the level of commitment to community organizations and in the amount of
exposure to outside influences, and some traditional aspects of Bribri culture like hunting
have been abandoned as unsustainable. However, the KéköLdi Bribri seem to have a
well-defined cultural identity and to be a cohesive community, despite outside pressures
and individual differences of opinion.
216
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the Bribri KéköLdi Reservation for their warmth and generosity
in welcoming us into their community. In particular, we would like to acknowledge
Nativida Lopez and Ángel Paez, and the friendly and helpful Miguel. We would also like
to thank Henry Lou.
References
Emmons, L.H., and F. Feer. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide,
Second Edition. Chicago. 307 p.
Gómez, L.D. 2001. Ethnobiology 2001 Reader. Organizaton for Tropical Studies. 516
p. pp. 1-4.
IGNCR. 1988. Mapa CR2CM-8. Talamanca. 1:200.000.
Stiles, F.G., and A.F. Skutch. Plates by D. Gardner. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of
Costa Rica. Ithaca, New York. 511 pp.
Steward, J. H., ed. 1963. Handbook of South American Indians. Vol. 4. The CircumCaribbean Tribes. New York. 609 pp. p.54.
217
Table 1. Names of Birds: Scientific, English, Spanish, and Bribri
The names of birds were selected from Stiles and Skutch's A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Color illustrations of
each species were shown to the interviewee and they were asked for the Bribri name. (Sp) signifies that the Spanish
name was given by the informant. The presence of "NA" signifies that the interviewee was not familiar with the bird or
mammal. A blank cell indicates that the interviewee was not asked for the name of that species. The column "Bribri
Response 1" corresponds to our first Bribri informant, and "Bribri Response 2" to our second informant. the bird or
mammal. A blank cell indicates that the interviewee was not asked for the name of that species. The column "Bribri
Response 1" corresponds to our first Bribri informant, and "Bribri Response 2" to our second informant.
Scientific Name
English Name
Spanish Name
Bribri Response 1 Bribri Response 2
Ardeas herodias
Blue heron
Garazón azulado
NA
Öke
Egretta caerulea
Little blue heron
Garceta azul
Caíz
Caíz
Egretta tula
Snowy (Cattle) egret
Garceta thula
NA
Caíz
Tigrisoma lineatum
Tiger heron
Garza-tigre
cuellinuda
NA
Caíz
Butorides striatus
Green-backed heron
Garcilla verde
NA
NA
Aramides cajanea
Wood rail
Rascón cuelligrís
NA
NA
Jacana spinosa
Northern jacana
Jacana
centroamericana
NA
NA
Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebe
Zambullidor
piquipinto
NA
NA
Calidris mauri
Western sandpiper
Correlimos
occidental
NA
NA
Crax rubra
Great curassow
Pavón grand
Düi
Düi
Penelope purpurascens
Crested guan
Pava crestada
Krayí
Minoche
Chamaepetes unicolor
Black guan
Pava negra
NA
NA
Tinamus major
Great tinamou
Tinamú grande
Chü
Chü (Br), Gallena
de monte (Sp)
218
Cathartes aurea
Turkey vulture
Zopilote
cabecirrogo
NA
Uronilla
Sarcorramphus papa
King vulture
Zopilote rey
NA
Uronilla kegrü (Br),
Rey zopilote (Sp)
Herpetotheres
cachinans
Laughing falcon
Guaco
NA
NA
Milvago chimachima
Caracara
Caracara
cabecigualdo
NA
Tzpiña
Harpia harpyja
Harpy eagle
Aguila arpía
Pü
NA
Shot-billed pidgeon Paloma piquicorta
NA
Nobür
Columba talpacoti
Ruddy ground dove
Tortolita rojiza
NA
NA
Ara macao
Scarlet macaw
Guacamayo rojo
Kokán
NA
Amazona farinosa
Mealy parrot
Loro verde
Kokone
Kokóne
Brotogeris jugularis
Orange-chinned
parakeet
Periquito
barbinaranja
NA
NA
Tyto alba
Barn owl
Lechuza ratonera
NA
Mök
Piaya cayana
Squirrel cuckoo
Cuco ardilla
Mök
Tsigü
Whip-poor-will Chotacabras gritón
o Ruidoso
Mök
Shpü
Columba nigrirostris
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Kingfisher
Martín pescador
collarejo
pescador (Sp)
Martín pescador
(Sp)
Pteroglossus frantzii
Red-billed aracari
Tucancillo
piquianaranijado
Bsík
Bsík
219
Table 2. Names of Mammals: Scientific, English, Spanish, and Bribri
The names of birds and mammals were selected from Emmons and Feer’s Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field
Guide. Color illustrations of each species were shown to the interviewee and they were asked for the Bribri name.
(Sp) signifies that the Spanish name was given by the informant. The presence of "NA" signifies that the interviewee
was not familiar with the bird or mammal. A blank cell indicates that the interviewee was not asked for the name of
that species. The column "Bribri Response 1" corresponds to our first Bribri informant, and "Bribri Response 2" to our
second informant. the bird or mammal. A blank cell indicates that the interviewee was not asked for the name of that
species. The column "Bribri Response 1" corresponds to our first Bribri informant, and "Bribri Response 2" to our
second informant.
Scientific Name
English Name
Spanish Name
Bribri Response 1 Bribri Response
2
Chironectes minimus
Water oppossum
Zorro de agua
NA
Ratón (Sp)
Didelphis marsupialis Common oppossum
Zarigúeya
NA
Sorro
Didelphis virginiana
Virginia oppossum
Zorra
NA
Sorro
Marmosa robinsoni
Mouse oppossum
Marinota
NA
Chechalla
Bradypus tridactylus
Three-toed sloth
Perezoso de tres
dedos
NA
Sairee (Br),
Perezoso (Sp)
Choloepus hoffmanni
Two-toed sloth
Perezoso de dos
dedos
NA Perezoso colorado
(Sp)
Tamandua tetradactyla
Tamandua
Oso colmenero
NA
Hürri
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Giant anteater
Oso caballo
NA
Oso caballo (Sp)
Trachops cirrhosus
Fringe-lipped bat
Murciélago
NA
Dukür
Glossophaga soricina
Common longtongue bat
Murciélago
NA
Dukür
Artibeus jamaicensis
Large fruit-eating
bat
Murciélago
NA
Vampíru (Sp)
Saguinus geoffroyi
Geoffroy's tamarin
Tamarín,
Marmoseta
NA
Sü (Br), Monotiti
(Sp)
220
Saimiri oerstedii
Cebus capucinus
Central American
squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
Mono ardilla
Ök
Ök
Cairara, Machin
blanco
NA
Wím
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Mono congo
Mono colorado
Säd
Tzí
Säd
Tzí
Nasua narica
Coati
Pizote solo
NA
Curóc
Procyon lotor
Racoon
Mapache
NA
NA
Speothos venaticus
Bush dog
Perro de monte
NA
NA
Mustela frenata
Weasel
Comadreja
NA
Güa
Galictis vittata
Grison
Grisón
NA
NA
Conepatuis semistriatus
Skunk
Gato cañero
Güa
NA
Eira barbara
Tayra
Tulomaco
NA
NA
Panthera onca
Jaguar
Tigre/jaguar
NA
Numú
221
Rapid Ethnobiological Assessment of the Bribri Indigenous Reservation
at KéköLdi, Costa Rica
Teich, Alice1 , Venkatesan, Aruna2 , Huang, Richard 3 , Kristina Brownlee4
1
Dept. of Environmental Science, Univ. of North Carolina, 2 Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, Duke Univ.,
3
Dept. of Biology, Duke Univ., 4 Dept. of Anthropology, Univ. of Montana
Abstract: This report contains a summary of our visit to the Bribri community at
KéköLdi, Costa Rica. The family that we interviewed works in the fields around their
home, harvesting and producing the vast majority of their foods. Their typical diet
consists of common Costa Rican foods. They have a thorough working knowledge of
their native Bribri language. They utilize the local clinic and hospital when they need
serious medical attention, but are very aware of local plant and herbal remedies. They are
highly concerned and educated about conservation and deforestation, as well as cultural
preservation of Bribri indigenous knowledge.
Keywords: Bribri, Talamanca, Chibchan, Kéköldi, Limón, Costa Rica, Ethnobiology
Introduction
The Bribri are one of many indigenous groups in Costa Rica. Bribri, like both
the Guaymi and Brunka languages, are within the Chibchan language family. The
community that we visited, located at KéköLdi, is high in the western part of the
Talamanca Mountain Range in the Province of Limón, at 9 degress 37 minutes north, 82
degress 52 minutes west (IGNCR Talamanca CR2CM-8). While lush foliage covers the
landscape, such as “hombre grandes” (Quassia amara), and wild ferns, the land itself is
not conducive to cultivating plants due to the low nutrient content of the soil.
Deforestation, we were informed, is driving the deterioration of this already fragile
ecosystem.
There are 50 families with a total of 230 individuals living in Kéköldi. We began
the day by visiting an iguana (Iguana iguana) farm that the Bribri have maintained for
thirteen years. At this site, there are many enclosures consisting of different ages of
222
iguanas, from small juveniles to old individuals. This community undertaking is a
sustainable venture, in which captive iguanas are bred for many uses. Additionally,
economic gain comes from the high tourist flow by selling homemade crafts. The
community members eat the meat and the eggs of the iguanas as well as releasing a large
number of them back into the wild to rejuvenate the natural population. From this farm
we proceeded to hike high through the forest towards the nearest home, which was a
thirty-minute hike from the iguana farm.
Materials and Methods
The research group, consisting of four students and one guide, interviewed a
Bribri family within the location of Kéköldi on Tuesday August 7, 2001. At the home
that we visited, the family was first informed about the nature of the research. We asked
and obtained permission to interview them according to the International Society of
Ethnobiology (ISE) Code of Ethics (ISE 1998).
Questions were asked using a standardized questionnaire concerning various
aspects of Bribri culture and everyday life. The subjects covered included medicine and
health, typical foods, daily life, social organization, conservation, and folk taxonomy of
mammals and birds. For the purpose of bird identification, A Guide to the Birds of Costa
Rica (Stiles and Skutch 1994) was used. For mammals, Neotropical Rainforest Mammals
(Emmons 1997) was employed. The results are the folk taxonomt questionairre are
summarized in Tables 1 and 2. Responses were used to analyze the Bribri way of life and
state of the community.
223
Results and Discussion
Informant 1 explained to us that he and Informant 2, his wife, have lived in their
house for only two years. Previously, they lived in a different Bribri community within
the same reservation. Their eldest daughter, Informant 3, also lives in this household
with her two daughters. The family divides their time between two dwellings. The older
dwelling is used during the day for cooking and sitting while the newer dwelling, just
next door, is used for sleeping only. The older dwelling has a floor made of “Chontha”
(Arecaceae) and “Iras” (Ocotea sp.), while the ceiling is made from palm fronds. The
newer dwelling appears to be made of a hardwood, similar to the plywood commonly
used in the United States of America. Nine people live in this household: Informants 1,
2, and 3, the five children of Informant 1 and 2, including Informant 3, and Informant 3’s
two children. The children of Informant 1 and 2 are of the ages 7, 10, 13, 15, and 23.
Three of the young children are attending school.
Observing the household, we noticed that both houses are structured on one foot
stilts, with various animals wandering around underneath, mostly chickens (Gallus
gallus). The household also contains one small pig (Sus scrofa) and two dogs (Canus
familiaris) as pets. The living area is quite large, with two hammocks, many hanging
baskets and bags, clothes drying inside and outside, and a radio perched on a shelf.
Various fruits lie on the floor, along with with a few small and colorful plastic toys. The
inside and outside spaces of this household are extremely neat and well-kept.
224
Daily Life
The Bribri family that we conversed with seemed to be very self-sufficient, only
buying goods that cannot be obtained from within the Bribri reservation from the
Pulpería, or local market. They cultivate yuca (Manihot esculenta), bananas (Musa sp),
beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), corn (Zea mays), and rice (Poaceae) on the land surrounding
their homestead. They also raise chickens and one piglet for family consumption. The
only goods bought from the store are: matches, soap, machetes, clothes, shoes, and
kerosene for lighting lamps, since they do not have electricity. They wear Western
clothes, such as pants and collared shirts for men and skirts and dresses for the women.
Thus, the Bribri do not seem to buy any food; they only buy goods needed to maintain the
houses.
When asked about their daily activities, Informant 1 explained that he works the
land all day, either sewing seeds to be grown, cleaning the gardens, or harvesting the food
they consume. He informed us that they only sell a small quantity of food for money,
mainly growing food for their own sustenance. Informant 2 mostly cleans and works in
the house, but also helps out in the yard a little. The three middle children attend a
primary school each day, unless it is raining excessively. They have their classes either
in the morning or in the afternoon, switching off every other week. The fifteen-year-old
girl explained to us that the children like to go to school in the morning much more than
in the afternoon, because it rains less and is not as scary to walk half an hour walk home
in the morning. The teacher of the school is Costa Rican and no Bribri language is taught
to the students.
225
Folk Taxonomy
Informant 1 had a large knowledge of mammals and birds (refer to Tables 1 and
2). He was able to identify the vast majority of pictures that were showed to him. He
identified all 28 birds, and out of the 24 mammals, he identified 22 of them (91.7%). Our
local guide, José Feliciano, helped us spell the BriBri names that Informant 1 gave us.
The fact that Informant 1 was able to give distinct names for almost every animal picture
presented suggests that the Bribri are quite aware of the animals in their natural
environment.
Social Organization
Informant 1 explained that there is an association of indigenous people on the
reservation that meets about once a month. Although it was not very clear exactly what
they do, it appears that this community organization focuses on keeping the reservation
safe from outsiders. There are three guards placed to make sure outsiders do not come
upon the prohibited land, looking out especially for hunters that like to come and pursue
the abundant fauna. The president of the association is especially generous to all of the
community members, aiding them in the construction of their houses and other important
group tasks. The association also gives money to the people going into San Jose to buy
goods. As Informant 1 said, “El presidente lucha mucho para nosotros,” (“The president
fights a lot for us,”).
When questioned about different roles in the community, our informants indicated
that there are very few artisans in the community. Only lately have tourists and other
non-indigenous people begun entering the reservation, so the few artisans in the
226
community have recedntly developed their skills to fuel the economy from tourist
purchases. The rest of the community members thus work on their own land, mostly
growing crops used for food and raising animals. It does not appear that the community
is formally divided into farmers, artisans, carpenters, etc. When asked if there is a healer
in the community, Informant 3 explained that there is not a healer in her particular
community, but she does know of healers from other BriBri communities on the same
reservation.
Community involvement is also illustrated by the fact that several women of the
community have worked in conjunction with other organizations to publish such Bribri
traditional information as myths and language educational tools.
Conservation
The iguana sustainable farm, located at Kéköldi, which we first visited upon
entering the community, is an excellent representation of Bribri sentiments on
conservation. The farm has been ongoing for thirteen years and is a primary tool for
preserving iguanas for future generations. In the history of this farm, 30,000 iguanas
have been raised. Apparently only one out of sixty eggs survive in the wild because they
either die from illness or are hunted by indigenous people or outsiders. There are many
uses for the iguanas raised at this location. Some are utilized as a food source for the
community, while others are released into the wild. The animal itself has ethnobiological
significance in that their skin is used as drum heads and the fat is used medicinally for
children with colds. A few are sold to outside vendors to make enough money to pay the
workers that maintain the farm, but not for profit. One problem described by the
indigenous woman that showed us the farm, who is a community leader, is that iguanas
227
released from the farm are actually being hunted by outside hunters. Part of the purpose
of releasing the iguanas into the wild is for indigenous people to hunt them naturally, but
hunting by prohibited hunters has been an ongoing problem for the survival of these
iguanas. She emphasized that the purpose of the farm is solely for the conservation and
survival of these animals for future generations. Thus, any money made from the farm is
used for maintenance and payroll costs.
The family we interviewed was also informative about conservation in the
community. On our hike to the house, we saw at least two signs regarding conservation
of the land. The first said “Por respeto a nuestra cultura cuidemos los bosques y a los
animales para que no desaparesca,” (For respect to our culture, we take care of the forests
and the animals so that they do not disappear). The second sign showed a picture of a
mammal and asked the reader to please make sure that it is not killed. Our informants
explained that these signs were written by the association of indigenous people in order to
stop hunting taking place illegally on this Bribri reservation.
Informant 3 also spoke about deforestation, explaining that when there are plants
and trees abundant on the land, there is a lot of shade so that crops flourish. However,
when the land is deforested it becomes dry and the people cannot maintain their crops.
Informant 1 told us that these problems have always been present but have escalated in
the past few years. Therefore, the association is actively working to slow down or stop
these actions that are happening to the land, but it is very difficult for them to enforce
their policies because outsiders trespass on their land. It seems that, unfortunately, the
Costa Rican government does not provide protection for the reservation land from outside
intruders.
228
Informant 3 showed us a calendar made by the Proyecto Namasöl group, a
collection of indigenous people that live on the Namasöl hill nearby. On each page there
was a different myth or story of the Bribri’s in Spanish. Also written for each month was
a quote concerning the importance of the land for the survival of the Bribri. One quote
stated, “Los bosques pueden existir sin nosotros ... Nosotros sin los bosques no
podríamos vivir,” (The forests can exist without us … without the forests we cannot live).
Another quote said, “El ser humano no es dueño de la vida ... Tan solo es parte de ella...”
(The human race does not own life, it is only part of it). These statements seem to
represent the general consensus on conservation within the Bribri community. If the land
is not conserved, there will be nothing for the future generations to have to survive off of.
They also have a view of the land as being personally sacred and something that people
cannot own or take advantage of.
Medicine
Informant 3, a 23-year-old woman and mother of two small children, informed us
about how her family manages health issues. They go to a clinic in Puerto Viejo for
monthly checkups, but for serious emergencies, they go to the hospital in Limón. To
arrive at the hospital, they must walk to Puerto Viejo, which takes thirty minutes, and
then ride an ambulance to Limón.
In addition, Informants 2 and 3 both spoke about their use and knowledge of
medicinal plants, explaining that they use them for minor illnesses that do not require a
visit to the hospital in Limón.
The woman who runs the iguana farm also told us about the medicinal application
of Iguana. They boil the iguana and peel the fat off of the skins. They then use the skins
229
to apply to abrasions. Other uses include the preparation of a drink from the iguana fat
that is helpful for stomach ailments, for colds, and for other minor ailments in children.
The Bribri who guided us back from the Informant’s house was named Herman.
He serves as a guard against poachers and outside hunters who wish to hunt in this Bribri
community. He shared valuable information concerning the various medicinal trees and
plants near the household. The “hombre grande”, a large hardwood tree, is a source of
Quinina, which they make into a tincture to treat maladies. He also showed us Broka
(Piperaceae spp.), which is prepared in the form of infusion to treat the flu or flu-like
symptoms in children. He also showed us a tree that he called, “India-Pelao.” This is a
large hardwood tree used as an anti-venom in instances of Terceo-Pelo snakebites. It is
prepared as a tincture to drink as well as applied topically to the site of the bite.
Conclusions
After conversing with the informants of this household, we gained considerable
information concerning the Bribri way of life. Although we were only able to visit one
household, the three informants we spoke with were very willing to share their
knowledge and experiences.
Our interviews with the informants suggest that the Bribri language is far from
extinct.
Although not taught in local schools, the language is preserved through family
interactions, as most inhabitants learn Bribri in the home initially and subsequently learn
Spanish in the formal school setting. This retention of traditional language suggests that,
perhaps, much indigenous knowledge is still relatively intact, but more research is
required.
230
From the information obtained, it appears that the Bribri are an organized and
active indigenous group. In terms of conservation, it seems that these people are very
aware of current ecological issues and are actively involved in finding solutions. The
community is socially well organized and active, as exemplified by the sustainable
iguana undertaking.
231
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the obliging Bribri community along with José Feliciano,
José González, Juanita Sánchez, Adulia, Inocencia, and Nancy Joanna for making our
visit so informational and enlightening.
References
IGNCR. 1988. Talamanca CR2CM-8. San José. 1:200.000.
Emmons, L.H. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press. Plates 1,2,4,5,6,10,11,13,14,15,16,17.
Stiles, FG. and Skutch, A.F. 1994. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca: Cornell
University Press. Plates 5,6,7,11,12,13,15,17,18,19,20,21,27.
232
Table 1
Bribri Mammal Names
Plate
1
2
4
5
6
10
11
13
14
15
16
17
#
8
11
12
9
2
5
6
8
6
1
5
6
6
9
5
3a
4
6
8
1
3
4
5
6
Scientific Name
Chironectes minimus
Didelphis marsupialis
Didelphis virginiana
Marmosa robinsoni
Bradypus tridactylus
Choloepus hoffmanni
Tamandua tetradactyla
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Trachops cirrhosus
Glossophaga soricina
Artibeus jamaicensis
Saguinus geoffroyi
Saimiri oerstedii
Cebus capucinus
Allouatta palliata
Ateles geoffroyii
Nasua narica
Procyon lotor
Speothos venaticus
Mustela frenata
Galictis vittata
Conepatuis semistriatus
Eira barbara
Panthera onca
Common Name
Water oppossum
Common oppossum
Virginia oppossum
Mouse oppossum
3-toed sloth
2-toed sloth
Tamandua
Giant anteater
Fringe-lipped bat
Common long-tongue bat
Large fruit-eating bat
Geoffroy's tamarin
C. American squirrel monkey
Capuchin monkey
Howler monkey
Spider monkey
Coati
Racoon
Bush dog
Weasel
Grison
Skunk
Tayra
Jaguar
Spanish Name
Zorro de agua
Zarigüeya
Zorra
Marinota
Perezoso de tres dedos
Perezoso de dos dedos
Oso colmenero
Oso caballo
Murciélago
Murciélago
Murciélago
Tamarín, Marmoseta
Mono ardilla
Mico maicero
Mono congo
Mono colorado
Pizote solo
Mapache
Perro de monte
Comadreja
Grisón
Gato cañero
Tolomuco
Tigre/Jaguar
Informant 1
di' bakali
bísbakali
bísbakali
butsurë`
sël̀ë
sinà
urrì
nai' urri
talì dukur
talì dukur
dukúr
wìm
stsa'k
ök̀
wìm
sàl
stsí
klòk
imák
awà
wa'
dulëḱöl
233
Table 2
Bribri Bird Names
Plate
5
6
7
11
12
13
15
17
18
19
20
21
27
#
6
9
10
16
1
13
18
3
12
3
4
5
6
3
5
8
9a
9
5
7
1
3
14
9
7
17
1b
16
Scientific Name
Ardeas herodias
Egretta caerulea
Egretta tula
Tigrisoma lineatum
Butorides striatus
Aramides cajanea
Jacana spinosa
Podilymbus podiceps
Calidris mauri
Crax rubra
Penelope purpurascens
Chamaepetes unicolor
Tinamus major
Carthartes aurea
Sarcoramphus papa
Herpetotheres cachinans
Milvago chimachima
Harpia harpyja
Columba nigrirostris
Columba talpacoti
Ara macao
Amazona farinosa
Brotogeris jugularis
Tyto alba
Piaya cayana
Caprimulgus vociferus
Ceryle alcion
Pteroglossus frantzii
Common Name
Blue heron
Little blue heron
Snowy (Cattle) heron
Tiger heron
Green-backed heron
Wood rail
Northern jacana
Pied-billed grebe
Western sandpiper
Great curassow
Crested guan
Black guan
Great tinamou
Turkey vulture
King vulture
Laughing falcon
Caracara
Harpy eagle
Shot-billed pigeon
Ruddy ground dove
Scarlet macaw
Mealy parrot
Orange-chinned parakeet
Barn owl
Squirrel cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Kingfisher
Red-billed aracari
Spanish Name
Garzón azulado
Garceta azul
Garceta nivosa
Garza-tigre cuellinud
Garcilla estriada
Rascón cuelligrís
Jacara centroamericana
Zambullidor piquipinto
Correlimos occidental
Pavón grande
Pava crestada
Pava negra
Tinamu
Zopilote
Zopilote rey
Guaco
Caracara
Aguil arpía
Paloma piquicorta
Tortolita rojiza
Guacamayo rojo
Loro verde
Periquito barbinaranja
Lechuza ratonera
Cuco ardilla
Chotacabras norteño
Martin pescador norteño
Tucancillo piquianaran
Informant 1
kaís
kaís
kaís
ók
döćho
kòktere
kòktere
dulú
di'tsrët́sërë
dawë´
kaë`
dùsial
chù
ölö´
duchí
ök̀pu
ök̀pu
sàlpu
dó
nùböl
kuka'
kukulé
ël̀
sàl wöḱir
tsíkko
shapö´
tràk
bitsìk
? MALEKU ?
?
~Baker, p.234
~Bromberg, p.235
~Brownlee, p.237
~Edmonds, p.240
~Folse, p.241
~Hart, p.244
~Huang, p.246
~Kieves, p.248
~Kim, p. 250
~Loggins, p.252
~Moye, p.254
~Ruiz, p. 256
~Teich, p.258
~Tschannen- Moran, p.260
~Venkatesan, p.262
~Willetts, p.264
~Williams, p.266
~Zellie, p.268
234
Heather Baker
Eco-Tourism and the Maleku
A group of ethnobiologists visited a Maleku traditional thatched home on the 11th of
August, 2001.
This fabricated home, only a short hike away, of the indigenous Maleku is
mantained by the Lake Cotor, Eco-Lodge of Costa Rica, located near the Arenal Volcano.
The
surroundings of the community are of a cloud forest, moderate teperature with moisture most of
the time. Because of time restrainst, the group chose this means of contact, rather than personal
interviews in the homes of the Maleku.
The group approached the assimilated home of the Maleku, noticing the palms used as
roofing, raw wood frame and a bathroom with plumbing, located up the hill acomadating tourist.
The informants name was Ranaldo, age 17. He studied Spanish and math in school. He was
paid by the Eco-Lodge to inform tourists about his culture. He spoke proudly about his history
of daily life, social structure and crafts. He brought out sugarcane, fruit, cacoa, and a root of
smilax as examples of food consumed daily.
The hand made crafts were of masks, a long
wooden shaft and a ornate drum covered with iguana skin.
indicating the ritual it was used for.
Ranaldo played differents rythms
For instance, a short, deep pop on the drum for hours
indicates the laminting for the dead.
Because of the display of culture, no real assesment could be made about the Maleku.
However, a desire to hold on to tradition was present in the fact that Ranaldo was proudly
speaking about himself and his people.
awareness of this indigenous community?
Without the Eco-Lodge, would there be such an
235
The Tourist in Me, the Tourist in You
1
K. Bromberg1
Dept. of Biology, Tufts University
At the Maleku ranch, I was struck by a clear image of eco-tourism. Throughout
this paper, I speak of our group as tourists, because our interests are a mix of tourism and
science, and in the instance of this visit, I felt we were more tourists than scientists. The
Maleku house was conveniently located about twenty minutes by foot from the eco-lodge
at Lake Cotol. We walked to the ranch on a beautiful, well-established forest trail, where
select tree species were labeled with small signs. Ronaldo, our Maleku informant, was
dressed traditionally, something that is outdated in the modern Maleku community. The
Maleku people, did not use the ranch except to host tourist groups. Arts were sold in the
ranch, and prices were listed in US dollars. Our informant unhesitatingly welcomed
photographs, and, as I left, he reminded me, “Tomorrow we are open from 8:00 until
4:00!” The whole experience, although very informative, somewhat resembled a
theatrical performance.
This conclusion was further supported by the Ronaldo’s response to the question,
“Are tourists good for the [Maleku] community?” Ronaldo seemed to misunderstand the
object of the question and replied that the tourists are interested in indigenous culture
and enjoy learning about it. He also mentioned that tourists like to hike in the area and
do the canopy activity. To me, it seemed the experience was all about us, like a show of
Maleku culture for our enjoyment.
On the other hand, I felt more comfortable during the Maleku visit than I have
during any other community visit we have done. This time, I was not entering people’s
homes uninvited (although we previously acquired consent, this time we had a
236
preconceived meeting time, which represents a decision, as opposed to simple
permission.). In the Maleku community, the effects of western society have already been
felt. The ranch is a manifestation of the community’s reaction to tourism. In effect, the
ranch serves to protect the rest of the Maleku community from further disturbance by
outsiders.
Also, Ronaldo seemed extremely proud to share his culture with us. He was
proud of his knowledge, and our interested in his culture seemed to validate that
knowledge as something special and unique.
Contrary to my initial feeling of uncertainty, I think this style of tourism may be a
healthy way in which outsiders can experience indigenous culture without having too
much of an effect. Inherently, to establish such a culture house for tourists, both the
indigenous community and the tourists must be aware of each other’s needs and desires.
We, the tourists, must respect the wishes of the community and appreciate what they
decide to share with us. In return, the Maleku community has chosen to enthusiastically
tell us about their daily life, community traditions, and to answer our questions within
their capability. However, it goes without saying that this type of tourism is not practical
for accurate research, as perspectives are filtered by the consciousness of interests.
In my mind, the question remains if this is a good reconciliation between tourism
and the preservation of indigenous culture. Is this the future of indigenous cultures —
compromising some privacy for the economic gain from selling tourist services?
237
THE MALEKU
Kristina Brownlee1
1
Dept. of Anthropology, University of Montana
On August 11, 2001 the Ethnobiology Summer Program course
participants hiked to the Maleku fabricated “model” house, near the Eco-Lodge
Hotel. The morning was cloudy and foggy with a light mist of rain. We hiked
through the lush green forest on a wooden trail, taking particular note of the trees
and plants with labels and signs in order to improve our botanical knowledge.
Upon crossing the fallen log bridge, at the first glimpse of the thatch-roofed hut, it
feels quite surreal, like we had all just happened upon a quaint, indigenous
dwelling. On entering the dwelling, it struck me how dim and dark it was, and
suddenly I noticed a young man of about seventeen standing there in a short,
grass-like skirt with a headband encircling his deep brown locks of hair. I thought
we had entered an exhibit at Disney Land, and immediately I began to feel very
uncomfortable and almost cheated out of my “indigenous community” visit. It
was obvious the boy was in a costume specifically for the tourists from the nearby
Eco-Lodge, and I began to wonder how authentic all this was. The house was
covered in leaves which withstood the pounding rain quite well, and there were
many crafts and souvenirs hanging all around. It struck me, too, how similar all
the crafts have been: same sort of dried hicara bowls with ornate carvings and
wooden masks, extremely similar to the wares of the Boruca community. As this
local person began to discuss traditional Maleku activities in clearly spoken
Spanish, I began to drift off and contemplate the entire “model” house set up and
its future implications for traditional indigenous societies.
Is this system of authentic-style dwellings and traditionally clad guides the
future of cultural survival among indigenous groups? Are communities able to
profit from tourists without having to experience firsthand the western onslaught
of gadgets and loud and complaining groups? Is this a win-win situation where
tourists and insensitive students can “see” what it is like to be a real Maleku
238
(“Look ma! A real Indian!”) without negatively affecting actual indigenous
communities? These questions began to plague me as I spent the next day
analyzing and realizing many things.
The first conclusion I came to was the fact that this was the first place I
felt comfortable bringing our class too. Us, with all of our students and chatter
and bags and clutter, did nothing at this house that had not been done before. I felt
very at ease listening to the boy’s discussion and demonstration of traditional
activities, such as drumming. We were learning about the culture without really
experiencing the modern communities. This is an important point, though,
because we are here, in my opinion, to experience and learn from present-day
indigenous communities, not contrived pseudo-windows to the past.
Another thought is that, however cheesy and fake this model house felt, it
was making it economically sensible to “preserve” cultures, or at least give
individuals from indigenous communities a real reason to learn about and
understand traditional activities, if for nothing more but to exploit it in the pursuit
of the tourist dollar. And why not? In this day and age, simple economics
permeates everything and the preservation of indigenous cultures is no exception.
If it takes the thought of money to encourage the education and passing down of
indigenous knowledge, then so be it. But, in my paranoia, I am concerned that
what we are seeing in this model really is not authentic at all, but just a show. I do
not really believe this, I sense that the Maleku are a people located in an area of
high tourist traffic and have somehow realized the need to profit from tourism
activities in order to sustain indigenous communities. As an ethical dilemma,
should indigenous culture be “for sale” to foreigners in this setting in order to
enable the preservation of heritage? Do other communities in Costa Rica partake
of these activities? Are the crafts actually traditional or are they just objects to
sell? The search for genuine authenticity in the 21st century, a quest that could last
a lifetime. How interesting, too, is the bathroom there with running water and the
plastic hummingbird feeder strategically placed to ensure the viewing of many a
wonderful hummingbird species. I just wonder what happens when our guide gets
up to go to work in the morning, after I saw him in western-style dress at our
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hotel. It seemed from his talk that the Maleku are very proud of their heritage and
want to share it with others and be in control of their own exploitation, in a sense.
This, I guess, is the future of indigenous preservation: the motivation for the
younger generation to learn about their culture is the economic incentive of
foreign money, but at least the knowledge is being preserved and maintained,
despite the somewhat odd motivation. Perhaps I am just an ignorant American
and the Maleku, like other indigenous people today, are ahead of the game and
becoming the masters of their own futures by designating activities. It is the
organized and economically savvy indigenous groups that will withstand the test
of time, westernization, and development, I believe and hopefully the authentic
garb is more than just a costume, but a window to the past and a door to the
future. One question remains: is this the next generation of indigenous
communities, the fusion of traditional history for future economic survival? As an
ethnobiology course that studies indigenous populations and their knowledge, I
thought it was quite strange for us to be visiting this type of tourist attraction. But,
with closer contemplation, it occurred to me that we visited this home in order to
see the possible future for indigenous communities and to inspire our own
personal inner dialogue about the meeting of cultures and the importance of
financial motivation. As strange and contrived the model house felt, I must say
that it seems like a positive step for indigenous groups to take in order to preserve
their traditional knowledge and ways in the overwhelming and inescapable
influence of industrialized nations.
Before we told you what to think,
you thought.
Before we made you worship our god,
you had your own god.
Before we told you how to live,
you flourished.
Will you be around to show us
what we fail to see?
Sadiqa Edmonds
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An Important Lesson
On Saturday, August 11, 2001 we visited a Maleku informant. This visit took place at a
“mock” Maleku hut, in which the informant was dressed in traditional Maleku garb. The hut was
made of wood and straw, and had a stone floor. It was lit with what appeared to be a homemade
candle.
A stone heath contained a burning fire.
The walls were decorated with various crafts,
including masks, drums, and bow and arrows.
My initial impression of the Maleku was mixed. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit, and learned
a lot about the culture and traditions of the Maleku people.
What interested me most was the
location and structure of the visit. In all of our other visits to indigenous communities, we actually
went into the community to people’s houses and conducted interviews.
At first, I felt that the culture of the Maleku was cheapened by the fact that it was so touristoriented. The mock hut, prepared talk, and souvenirs ready for purchase led me to that conclusion. I
almost felt as if the whole thing was a performance for us.
However, upon further contemplation on the visit, I began to appreciate it. I think that the
Maleku have taken tourism into their own hands.
By controlling what visitors see, they therefore
control the impact of the outside population of people on their community.
Overall, the Maleku visit impacted me in many different ways. Although I learned a large
amount of valuable information about the Maleku, I think that I learned an even more important
lesson from the structure of the visit.
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My impressions of a brief visit to a reconstructed traditional Maleku house
Henri Folse
Learning about the Maleku was a shocking experience. There are only 600 of
them left, and yet the area of land they have is so small that they are cramped in with one
house right up against the next and not enough land to farm. Because their population is
so small, they are completely exogamous, marrying only Bribri, Guyamí, or Boruca.
This was very difficult for me to accept. When our informant explained it, I understood
that they did not marry within their community or palenque, but that they did marry with
the other two palenques. I was quite stubborn in believing that this is what he said
because I did not want to believe that they Maleku were not allowed to marry Maleku.
Because these other two groups are so much larger the Maleku will eventually be
completely absorbed into the Bribri and Guyamí.
Seeing them as a tourist attraction was also disturbing. The “house” we visited
was more a gift shop than a house, lined with indigenous crafts with price tags in dollars.
Apparently the hotel’s clients have so little contact with actual Costa Rican culture that
they prefer to pay in dollars to colones. While our informant was knowledgeable and
gave us good answers to our questions, the experience was very different from our usual
interview. The informant, rather than sharing with us, was just doing his regular job that
he does Monday through Friday. It was obvious that parts of his speech were rehearsed
and had been repeated many times. I felt like there was very little difference between us
and the average tour group of ecotourists. Because we have more of a background, we
may have asked more numerous and more purposeful questions, but other than that we
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were there to take pictures, buy souvenirs, and see the quaint Indian house. While at the
other reservations I felt like a researcher, here I felt like a tourist.
The challenge presented is to interpret the experience as a researcher and learn
something from it. Since we did not see the Maleku in their home setting, we cannot
make any observations on their daily life. However, we do have an opportunity to see the
effect of interaction between tourism and indigenous peoples. While my initial reaction to
this interaction was very negative, after reflection I can also see a positive side. While I
don’t have sufficient information to say anything with confidence, I can speculate that
most of the cultural damage to the Maleku was not caused directly by tourism. Once the
damage has already been done, tourism could have a positive effect on their culture. I
don’t know whether or not the Maleku still use their crafts for themselves, but in either
case, the fact that tourists are willing to pay good money for them is helping them keep
their artistic tradition alive. In general, tourists want to see and learn about their culture.
This gives the Maleku an additional incentive to hold on to their culture. Of course,
without knowing about the real life of Maleku outside of their interaction with tourists, I
can’t say whether or not they would be holding on to the culture without tourists. It may
be that their traditions are not dying out and that they would be keeping them alive for
themselves regardless of tourists. Whether or not this is the case, I’m sure that the influx
of money that tourism brings is helpful to the community. It also gives them higher
standing in Costa Rica. Because they are a tourist attraction, keeping their culture alive is
valuable to the Costa Rican government as well.
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For us, the idea of Maleku culture transformed into a tourist attraction is very sad,
but the Maleku may not see this process in the same way. If I had the opportunity to do
more ethnographic research on the Maleku, I would focus on the effect of tourism to try
to answer the question “What is the effect of tourism on the Maleku?” both from the
point of view of an anthropologist seeking to be objective and from the point of view of
the Maleku themselves.
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Inside a Maleku Hut
1
Rachel Hart1
Department of Microbiology, The University of Tennessee
My first impression upon approaching the Maleku hut was that of surprise— it looked like a
“traditional” abode, and I thought that maybe the Maleku still resided in customary housing. However, my
surprise was replaced with disappointment at finding that this hut was basically a tourist attraction. We
then entered the hut to find a variety of “traditional” goods for sale and the Maleku informants dressed in
“traditional” attire. This seemed less authentic than our other encounters with indigenous informants in
that previous interviews did not seem quite so much like “sales” of indigenous culture. The other
interviews seemed more “real” because we actually went into households to conduct the interviews and
actually got to see the actual communities and speak with various community members.
The format of this interview, although it lacked somewhat a feeling of authenticity, did provide
mucho useful information. The informant spoke very clear Spanish, and I could actually understand a great
deal of what he said. He explained various features of the community and then answered our questions.
There were several objects laid out on a table in front of him, and as he spoke about them, he passed them
around the group. He mentioned several medicinal plants and their uses; I heard him say “stomach pain”
and “headache,” but I was not able to get which plants cured what. I heard what I believed were several
plant names, including coculmeca, cascara, and cacao. Also, at the beginning of the interview, he
mentioned cacao and the preparation of an alcoholic drink, and near the end of the interview spoke about
the use of cacao in funerary ritual and also said that cacao was the “drink of the gods.” Cacao has
obviously been an important plant to the Maleku.
He also pointed out highly colorful animal masks sitting on a shelf and talked about the spirits
associated with them. I asked him if in fact the animal masks represented animal spirits and also if these
spirits were part of Maleku religion, and he replied positively to both questions. It seemed like he spoke a
lot more about animals and spirits than informants from other communities; his information, however,
could have been just a part of his “spiel” on the community and not representative of the true views of
community members. When asked what religion the Maleku practice, he said that most are Catholic but
that a few still practiced their traditional religion. He mentioned the primary Maleku god, “Tocu,” but said
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there was not a god of the animals specifically. There is one shaman who inherited the role from a shaman
who died twenty years ago. He did say that there were still healers in the community.
He also talked about language, education, and other Maleku traditions. He said that some Maleku
are trilingual and that they know Maleku, Spanish, and English; the latter two languages are taught in
Maleku schools. I believe he said that there were five to six schools close to or in the community and that
there is a Maleku instructor in the schools. Family structure, according to the informant, consists of
grandparents, parents, and five to seven children living in one household. Maleku women usually have
their first child at the age of eighteen. He also talked about the hunting of pehibaye and showed us the bow
and arrow used for this purpose. The Maleku also fish in the Rio Frio and the Lago Coter. The head of the
Maleku community is the “Tafa,” which also means “tigre” and represents a very “intelligent and
aggressive” animal spirit. My impression was that the Malekus have a weak relationship with surrounding
Costa Rican communities.
It was difficult to get a “realistic” perception of this community because of the format of the
interview. It felt like the informant, who was a younger member of his community, was just giving a spiel
on his community and probably did not have a extensive knowledge of the community. Although his
excellent Spanish facilitated the interview, the information he contributed seemed like it could have just
been what tourists want to hear. I would almost rather have a difficult time trying enter and conduct
indigenous village than having everything laid out for me. Although definitely more of a “hassle,” I think
our first interviews generated more accurate observations and information.
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Richard Huang
Introduction to Field Ethnobiology
August 12, 2001
The Maleku: Keeping Traditions Alive
The traditional Maleku house was located 1400 meters into a forest along a trail
consisting of wooden boards and stumps. As I approached the house, the first thing I
realized was how picturesque the wooden house looked right next to the stream; I wanted
to capture the scene, so I took a picture. The interior of the house was rather dark, with
only a fire and the light peeking through the forest canopy brightening the interior. A
ladder led up to the second floor, which must have been pitch black. Out from the dark
came Renaldo, our Maleku informant, who was wearing a grass skirt and a headpiece. In
a way, it reminded me a bit of the Polynesian style of dress.
Luckily, Renaldo spoke clearly enough for me to understand a large amount of his
Spanish. He discussed various foods and their uses within the Maleku community.
Many of them I had heard before in other Costa Rican indigenous communities. Bananas
are used to make drinks. Sugar cane is used to make chicha, an alcoholic beverage.
“Cacao” is used to make a drink of the gods. “Cucumeca” is a medicinal plant used for
arthritis and maintaining healthy blood. “Hombregrande” is also a medicinal plant used
by the community. “Chile tabaco” drink is used for birth control. In terms of meats, the
animals that they consume are rather exotic, even today in Costa Rica. Specifically,
iguanas and turtles are eaten. It’s rather interesting how conscious they are about
conservation; they only eat male iguanas so as to spare the females for reproductive
purposes. Along these same lines, Renaldo showed us a bow and arrow made of pejiballe
that was used in the past for hunting. However, nowadays, only fish are hunted. He
stated that animals must be preserved in order to halt the extinction of animal species. It
was great to hear how conscious the Maleku were about conservation of animals.
Speaking of conservation, it was great to hear that the Maleku have maintained
much of their culture despite having a relatively small population and being pushed into
small reservations. Similar to some of the other indigenous groups we have studied, the
Maleku learn the Maleku language from their parents at a young age. They subsequently
learn Spanish in school, and some even learn English. In addition to learning Spanish
and English, two languages spoken primarily by Western cultures, many Maleku have
adopted Catholicism. Although many believe in a Christian god, many also believe in
Toku, the god of the traditional Maleku religion. Thus, Western ideas have permeated
into their culture, but not necessarily at the expense of their own culture. I find it
interesting how many believe in two gods, considering Christianity forbids the belief in
any god except the one and only God.
One tradition I found particularly interesting, reminding me a bit of Chinese
culture, is in the naming of children. Grandparents give their grandchildren names at
fifteen years of age that imply a certain personality trait. For example, Renaldo’s name
means “powerful warrior” in Maleku. My Chinese name, given to me by my grandfather,
means “perseverence.”
Part of the reason that the Maleku have preserved their culture is likely because
they have great pride in it. Renaldo specifically stated this, in addition to saying that he
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is “más Tico que los Ticos” (more Costa Rican than the Costa Ricans), as the Maleku
were here long before the Spaniards arrived. Additionally, the Maleku have tried to
educate others about their culture by doing presentations in traditional-style homes such
as the one we visited. Like many other indigenous groups, they also sell traditional
crafts, keeping a piece of the culture alive in other households.
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Nico Kieves
Introduction to Field Ethnobiology
Summer 2001
Professor L.D. Gómez
Impressions of the Maleku
From the information provided by our informant, Renaldo, it seems that the
Maleku are in a situation where they are attempting to preserve aspects and traditions of
their culture, but they are hindered in doing so because of their current compromised
situation. At one point, the community had large tracts of their own land, but they now
have been placed on a reservation that is not large enough to accommodate their
agricultural needs, given that they still practice agriculture as the primary source of the
foodstuff. In addition, they have been placed in concrete homes as opposed to being
allowed to live in their traditional homes. Oddly enough, this is an approach the Costa
Rican government has not taken with any other indigenous tribe. It has detracted from
their ability to continue with cultural traditions such as burying their dead within their
homes.
While some traditions, such as burial in the home, have been lost in the Maleku
culture, others are being preserved. Children grow up speaking Maleku in their homes;
some people are beginning to again construct traditional homes; a chieftain figure is still
present; and traditional ceremonies are still performed. It also seems as if young Maleku
are being taught the traditions of their culture whether they are practiced or not. This
impression was given by our young informant, 17 years old, who was very
knowledgeable about his cultural practices. However, this may be attributed to the fact
that his job is as an informant to visitors that wish to learn about his culture.
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Renaldo works as a tourist informant at a traditional Maleku house that is built for
the purpose of attracting visitors. My first impression upon arrival was that the house
was very commercialized. It seemed almost as if the Maleku culture had been preserved
in this one place as a tourist attraction to bring in money. A fire was lit, Renaldo was
dressed in traditional Maleku clothing, and there were crafts displayed for sale
throughout the house; it seemed very artificial.
One would hope that a visit to the Maleku reservation would provide a different
insight to the current situation of the culture and a more accurate view of how the Maleku
have been able to acclimate to their current situation.
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Paul Kim
Ethnobiology 2001
Maleku paper
The Maleku, an indigenous group of Costa Rica, live in the Arenal mountain
range in Guanacaste. The Maleku are very traditional, managing to maintain their
language and much of their culture. The Maleku that we visited reside by the Lago
Coter, and are a tourist attraction. With their model of a traditional Maleku house, they
share some aspects of their culture with foreigners.
Our informant, Renaldo, was a 17 year old youth, dressed in traditional
mastate skirt. To hear him speak about his culture was great, because it showed that there
is a connection to his roots, unlike many of the other indigenous groups that we visited.
He provided general information, as well as information concerning hunting, funerals,
and marriages. He stated that when he turns 18, he will learn even more about the
culture. The fact that they are still so culturally well grounded is invigorating.
It is very admirable that the people are maintaining their tradition, as well as the
purity of their race. The fact that 99.9% of the Maleku marry within their own groups is
very interesting. They are such a close bound group that any marriages with Tico are
very frowned upon. Renaldo said that anyone who marries a Tico is no longer welcome
in the community. They may visit occasionally, but they are not allowed to live on with
their families.
However, the model house that we visited is of two views in my mind. While I
admire their desire to maintain their culture by teaching others, and showing the
traditional Maleku ways to foreigners, I almost feel that it is in a way degrading for them
to put themselves on show like that. I do understand that they can’t make enough money
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from their low-input farming, and they must supplement their income with the money
from our tourism. But the fact that they dress up in mastate skirts and headbands to cater
to ecotourism rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps, if I knew that they were doing this out of
a true desire to teach their culture, I might feel better about this. But the fakeness of the
whole setup was too much for me. It’s very obvious that this isn’t the way that life is for
them anymore.
I suppose I need to find out more before I make any such judgments. But I would
feel a lot better about this ecotourism if I could know that it was based on making money.
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The Image of Maleku as Seen From a Hut
1
Emily Loggins1
Dept. of Biochemistry, Cellular & Molecular Biology, University of Tennessee
The night before the group left to meet the Maleku informant, it was explained
that we would see a model house for the Maleku. The actual community is about 30km
from the hotel and the Maleku now live in government built homes. From the Coter Lake
Hotel, the Maleku hut was a fifteen minute walk. The group traveled down a gravel road,
then turned off the road onto a path through the forest. After winding through the forest,
the group came upon a large hut standing alone. The hut had walls made of wood and a
roof made out of leaves of a palm tree. As we entered the hut, the informant, an eighteen
year boy, stood next a fireplace. The informant wore a grass skirt and headband with two
feathers. The bottom part of the hut was open and looked like a gift shop with different
crafts hanging from the walls. There was a staircase from the gift shop to the second
floor.
The informant spoke Spanish very well and was very knowledgeable about the
community. Unfortunately, much of the information was incomprehensible to me
because of my lack of Spanish. The talk began with information about the community
and medicinal plants. He passed around the group items that sat in front of him on a
table. One such item was a mask with coral snake painted on the sides. He explained to
the group that the coral snakes represent the image of the shaman. Also, he believed
animals have spirits. Then, he told us that the last shaman of his community died 20
years ago. When asked to tell animal names in Maleku, he answered quickly and with
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confindence. Due to small numbers left in his community, Maleku people have to marry
outside their communities.
The small numbers of the population do not have a chance to grow due to
government housing. The government came into the community and built small concrete
houses close together. The people have no place to do their tribal activities. The hut we
saw shows how the houses used to look. Also, the hut seemed like a tourist trap. The
hotel we are staying at is highly involved in this “hut business”. If you do not have the
money to buy a craft, you can charge it to your room. The whole set-up seems like an
ecotourist trap. It is great to show how life used to be but sad at the same time because of
gift shop atmosphere. The informant seemed like he was doing a job instead of being a
true community informant.
Elizabeth Moye
Ethnobiology 01
254
August 11, 2001
Maleku paper
A Visit to the Maleku Community : They gave us an inch so that we would
not take a mile
Today we visited the Maleku indigenous community. It is located in a cloud forest
by Coter Lake We visited a model house that was built specifically for tourists and
students like us that want to learn more about the Maleku culture. Inside the house there
was a fire burning, but other than that it was dark underneath the wood hut. Our
informant was a seventeen-year-old Maleku young man that speaks both Spanish and the
Maleku language. He gave us an opportunity to have a question and answer session about
the Maleku culture and life. The room was lined with crafts for sale, including large
colorful drums with the vibrating membrane made out of iguana skin.
The Maleku are a community of about 500 to 700 members. They maintain their
own language and culture despite the several factors they have against them, including
loosing control of their land and being forced to move into communal housing. They
have five to six schools in their community that teach reading, math social studies and
Spanish. Children go to school at the age of six, and begin learning Spanish at that point
since the Maleku language is spoken at home. There are many interesting traditions
including that of marring people when they are still babies, and learning about the full
culture at eighteen years old.
At first I did not like the touristy feel of the model house and presentation style. I
felt that it was staged and not a true connection with the Maleku culture. But then, after
further evaluation, I was happier with this style of interaction. Having a tourist model
house and informant allows curious people to learn about the culture and keeps them
from conducting intrusive interviews and interrupting Maleku life. Although the model
Elizabeth Moye
Ethnobiology 01
255
August 11, 2001
Maleku paper
house does affect the community in some way, I am sure that it protects against much
more invasive behavior, thus assuring them some privacy. This visit to the Maleku
community allowed me to see an innovative way to protect and maintain cultural
integrity.
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Monica Ruiz
August 12, 2001
The Road Less Traveled to Maleku
The Maleku model house was nestled in the forest near Lake Coter. We arrived
to the medium-sized wooden, bamboo-thatched house. The young seventeen-year old
boy that greeted us in a skirt made of dried bamboo leaves. His bronze skin and
sparkling brown eyes glowed in the dark rays of the sunlight. He provided us with all the
information our little hearts could possibly desire. That day he told us about the Maleku
culture, co-existing with the Spanish Tico. Maybe surviving because of the Costa Rican
tourism.
A fire was burning in the hearth in the corner of the open room. The room was
bordered by wooden benches and the walls were covered crafts made from fruit husks.
The table in the middle of the room was laden with various items that the Maleku boy
would use during his presentation. He picked up sugar cane explaining that it was made
into an alcoholic beverage called chicha. He also showed us cocolmeca which I bought
in the form of tea for my mother the day before.
During the presentation, the boy told us about how the Maleku community no
longer hunts to conserve the wild animals. They do fish, however, when necessary.
They like to eat turtles. While he was talking, I sat on a bench next to the table. Alice
and I were worried about me sitting there for fear that the bows on the bench might knock
over. All of a sudden, the wooden bench fell beneath me. I felt embarrassed but I tried to
make it a graceful fall at least. So I just stood for the rest of the time. At the end, I asked
the boy if he knew about medicines that are used for pregnancy. He said that medicinal
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traditions aren’t taught until one is eighteen years of age. After the presentation, I
purchased a fruit husk with bird designs. Because I didn’t have any money, this was
charged to my room. I thought this was interesting that the Maleku community was in
cahoots with the hotel.
Well, the end. Farewell.
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Alice Teich1
1
Dept. of Environmental Science. Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Maleku are one of indigenous groups of Costa Rica. The indigenous people
of Costa Rica comprise 1% of the entire population of the country, and the Maleku only
number 600. But nevertheless, they are the only indigenous group in the western side of
the country who has maintained their indigenous language.
In this cloud forest on the fog-saturated morning of Aug. 11, we hike to the model
house in the Lago Coter Reserve. The roof of the home is made of palm, just like the
Maleku did in the past, but the palms are tied together with nylon. The house is
traditional balsa. The outhouse, which is for visitors, is also made of traditional balsa.
But it has electricity and running water, and if anything, mocks tradition.
I feel involuntarily guilty. Seeing this place reminds me of grade school, when
annually, we visited the Cherokee reservation, the American Indian reservation in North
Carolina. The Cherokee danced in neon headdresses, the colors of the feathers were
artificial. They talked of totems and rituals while selling us plastic bows and arrows.
Last year, they built a casino on the Cherokee reservation.
What is next here? Do the Maleku have a more authentic culture that they keep
hidden somewhere else, maintaining this tourist trap as protection? Or is this it? How do
they truly live, and how will they live in the future?
What does the future hold for indigenous people? Preservation in the sense of the
Maleku model house is ex-situ. A glass case, velvet ropes and exit signs, is this culture?
Clearly as brief as my encounter has been with the indigenous people, and as shallow, I
am in no place to judge. But these people, with their rich cultures, in addition to being
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priceless and wise, are ultimately people. In the power play that shapes contemporary
social and political relations, it is our privilege and responsibility as the unoppressed to
protect, invest, and attempt to understand their stories.
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Maleko: Maintaining Traditions in the Face of Hardship
1
B. Tschannen-Moran1
Dept. of Biology, Duke University
The Maleko people have encountered much hardship in maintaining their culture.
A large percent of the land that was once theirs has been taken from them and they were
placed on a reserve with non-traditional houses. Despite these hardships, however, the
Maleko seem to have made a concerted effort to continue that traditions and culture.
They continue to speak their native tongue; children are taught it from birth. They persist
in their use of medicine through medicinal plants and most people seem to retain a
common knowledge of the medicinal properties of the plants around them. Additionally,
they still utilize a modified form of chieftaincy and recognize their cultural ceremonies.
These facts suggest that despite pressure on the community to acculturate, they are
maintaining their traditional culture.
Because the Maleko now live in cement houses located close to each other, I
found it interesting to learn that the community was completely agriculturally based and
that they ate all of the food that they produced. Although they used to hunt more, they
now primarily fish for their meat because many of the species around them are in danger
of extinction. This consideration of the conservation of species in constructing their
lifestyle seemed very ecologically conscious. Their hunting and agriculture practices
seemed to take into consideration what was needed for humans and what was needed for
nature.
Overall, I was impressed by the large amount of native knowledge that our young
informant (Ranaldo) possessed. I am slightly skeptical as to whether or not he is
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representative of the entire culture considering his job is to inform other people about his
culture, but his statement that Malekos are all taught about the intricacies of their culture
at age 18 eases this concern. Ranaldo’s statement that tourism to the show house and their
community was extremely high also initially concerned me, but I found it interesting to
learn that the tourism was well-received. I was also impressed by the CONAI
organization that is working to protect the rights of indigenous groups. It seems like the
Maleko are beginning to stand up for themselves, their rights and their land.
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The Maleku: Una Etnía Desapareciendo a causa de la Influencia del Mundo Afuero
A. Venkatesan1
1
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Duke University
The Maleku indigenous group is a member of the Chibchan language family and is
located in the Northwest region of Costa Rica. In pre-Columbian times, they extended as far
north as Lake Nicaragua. Now existing in only three pueblos, the Maleku have been immensely
impacted by the Costa Rican government and other outsiders, such as Nicaraguan huleros
(rubber tappers). The introduction of Westernized households in the community rather than
traditional homesteads and the omnipresence of Catholicism are two principal examples of
the changes imparted on the Maleku.
The gradual decline of the Maleku is exemplified by their accepted marriage policy. It
is a societal norm that Maleku do not intermarry within pueblos, because they are already so
closely related to one another. Rather, the Maleku marry with members of other indigenous
groups such as the Bribri or the Guaymi. I found it fascinating that although the Maleku are
conscious of the necessity to marry outside of their group, it is considered unacceptable by
the community to marry with a tico or gringo. If this occurs, the Maleku member who
married with an outsider is allowed to visit the pueblo but is not permitted to live there.
Thus Maleku are still attempting to conserve as much of their ethnicity and heritage as they
can with the omnipresence of the outside influences.
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Tourism obviously permeates the community, as the Eco-lodge was clearly connected
to the model Maleku homestead that we visited. However, Maleku seem to be maintaining
some aspects of their culture for the sake of their own people. For example, Renaldo
explained to me that now more Maleku are building typical houses made of palm fronds and
local wood. They also adapt their customs to Western influences. For example, Maleku
traditionally bury family members under the floor of the house. In modern houses with
cement floors, this tradition is modified with a communal burying area rather than the use of
a regular cemetery. In conclusion, although remarkably transformed by outside influences,
the Maleku are adjusting their culture as best they can to perpetuate their traditional way of
life in a modernized world.
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Perceptions of Maleku Culture
E. Willetts1
1
Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania
The Maleku indigenous group is a small community residing in the northwestern part of Costa
Rica. They are one of the four remaining indigenous groups in the country, and are economically
maintaining their culture through tourism, giving guidesof a model house and selling native craft goods.
Most interestingly is their association with a near-by tourist ecolodge, which officially owns the forest on
which the model building is located. Currently, as of August 2001, their schools are teaching three
languages, their community has a lot of foreign interaction, and they are seeking to increase their
reservation.
The model building is located approximately a 15 minute walk from the main road, following a
muddy path supported by tree stump and log steps, which are another 15 minutes from the ecolodge.
Constructed of native plant materials, with a fully functioning fire place and second story, it nevertheless
had a general tourist feel to it. A bathroom decorated in the same style was located a few steps up hill
from the house, and had running water. A hummingbird feeder located in plain view on the tourist path.
The inside of the house displayed many craft goods for sale, and the seventeen-year-old guide stated that
several hundred tourists visit each week, a seemingly large and excessive number, but nevertheless
indicative of the effect tourists have. Supporting this statement, a group of visitors at the forest reserve
was seen, as well as many visitors at the Ecolodge.
The Ecolodge is soley for those people visiting the reserve site and has many modern amenities,
western prices, and selections of food. I was told that many of the Maleku work on the forest reserve, and
then benefit from the Ecolodge facilities, including housing and food, during their work shifts. The actual
Maleku reservation is approximately 30 kilometers from there, far enough that workers only return in
shifts. In terms of the modern society, this poses an interesting dynamic for the model Maleku culture.
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The mannerisms of the guide reflected his experience with tourists, noting often when a ‘good’ question
was asked, and using a charming manner to tell us that the Maleku were very thankful for it. On the other
hand he did not indicate any specific benefits that visiting cultures have., and therefore all that is assumed
is the monetary impact. The high prices, such as twenty american dollars for a 1.5 meter walking stick
carved of the common Peibaje palm tree, supports this assumption. However, our guide was very
intelligent in Spanish and Maleku, knew a lot of information about his own culture, even demonstrating
with his hands at times how certain manual processes were done. The intelligence and insight of the tribe
is also evident in the concern for conservation, for which they choose not to hunt mammals.
From what we were told, the Maleku culture still has its own distinctive traits, for example, each
new child receives a name in Maleku. The language itself is taught by the parents, and reinforced in a
special sector of the school. Marriage rules are in order, and at 18 years old each tribal member learns the
customs of the tribe, specific to special medicinales and adult rituals or knowledge. The culture is defined
by its anamistic beliefs, its use of nature, and pride in itself, as apparent in the items for sale in the model
house, and the dress of the guide. But it appears that the Maleku are entirely integrated and dependent on
outsiders to the reservation for their well being, and have developed the ability to reflect on their culture
and accept westernization.
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Kate Williams
8/12/01
Authentic Hut as Authentic Tourist Attraction:
Our Visit to the Maleku Reservation
Our visit to the Maleku reservation was very different from those to the Guaymi,
Boruca, or Bribri; it was interesting, but I didn’t feel like it truly gave us a feel for the
Maleku culture or people. It was very tourist-oriented—which is fine, but I guess I’ve
been spoiled by the trip thus far, which has enables us to see the realities behind common
facades.
However, Renaldo did tell us some interesting things about Maleku culture; the
marriage traditions, for instance, were really interesting, especially the contrast between
what used to be—the very young marriages, when the children still lived with their
families, for instance—and what happens today (which is much closer to western
courting traditions in many ways). The funerary rites were also really cool, although I
have to say I was surprised that he would be willing to tell us some of that information, as
the other indigenous groups we talked to were secretive and very reluctant to answer
questions about certain aspects of their lives. I felt like it was almost a game to
Renaldo—he could dress up like a “real Maleku” for the tourists, put on a little show to
make them happy, and sell lots of souvenirs. He did seem genuinely nice and happy to
tell us anything we asked, but it seemed to me that maybe part of the reason he was so
open was that he wasn’t as immersed in the culture himself as the other indigenous
people we talked to (at least in the Bribri and Guaymi reservations), and so had less of a
stake in revealing information to outsiders. While I felt it was worth the trip to go see the
model hut (the hike there was worth it all by itself—it was so fun!) and it was very
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interesting to hear a little bit about the traditions and beliefs of another indigenous group,
I felt in some ways that it wasn’t an ethnographic survey (of one interviewee) so much as
a study of the effects of outsiders on an indigenous population.
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Slow Drum Beats Impress the Tourists:
An Ethnobiological Assessment of the Malecu
Heidi Zellie
The forest was quiet when I walked down the path that led to the Malecu village. The
clouds and slight, light wind was calm and soft. The atmosphere differed from the other three
indigenous communities I visited. This made me consider the effect of environment on a people.
However, I was not able to notice if this had an effect on the culture or, even, individual
personalities because I stumbled into a tourist trap.
The habitation we walked to was ‘characteristic’ of a Malecu dwelling, but I doubted it
the whole time. On first entrance, I saw Rinaldo wearing a traditional mastate-made skirt. I was
instantly convinced that they still wore them. Then, I noticed all the art for sale and realized my
mistake. What is real; what is not? Which traditions still hold; which do not?
Even though it surprised and disappointed me that this encounter was staged, I learned a
lot about another indigenous culture, yet still unsure of what traditions continue today. When the
grandchild is 15, the grandparents give them a name. Each name has its own spirit; Rinaldo’s
carries the presence of a powerful, agile warrior. He has had that name for two years. Next year,
when he turns 18, he will learn all the Malecu traditions.
Perhaps in a few years, he will marry, as most Malecu marry when they are around 20.
Because the population is so small, most (if not all) members of this ethnicity marry outside the
community. Rinaldo said his parents would not allow him to live at home if he married a tica,
only Bribri or Guaymi, he stated. Yet, he made the comment that he is more tican than ticos
because he was here before any of them.
Rinaldo showed us the art work that his community makes. The masks, he explained, are
now only for sale. Their ancestors employed them to call in animal spirits for their guidance. He
recalled the meaning of some animals: monkeys are a competitive spirit with grace; jaguars are a
symbol of strength. Because this spirit is highly revered, the name of the village shaman is the
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same as jaguar: Tafa. They make bows and arrows of pejiballe wood; they do not use them for
hunting anymore, but do so for fishing.
One craft that impressed me the most was the drum. The super soft balsa wood was
illustrated with bright animals and birds, all inscribed with their Malecu name. Iguana skin
fabricated the head. It was quite a powerful feeling when I was able to strike the instrument due
to the strong and rough scales, so natural. What struck a chord with my heart was the
significance of the beating. Slow beats signified a death or sadness in the community. Fast beats
that crescendo inform the inhabitants to join together or that someone is coming. I have some
deep connection with music as language and wished that these traditions still continue. Here,
they don’t; maybe somewhere, these rhythms beat on.
Independent Projects
?
~Bromberg
~Brownlee
~Edmonds and Moye
~Folse
~Hart and Loggins
~Huang and Baker
~Kieves
~Kim
~Ruiz
~Teich
~Tschannen-Moran
~Venkatesan
~Willetts
~Williams
~Zellie
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¿Si no cuidas a la tierra, quién te va cuidar?: Conservation methods and reactions
to a changing environment of four Central American indigenous cultures
K. Bromberg1
1
Dept. of Biology, Tufts University
Abstract: Development in the tropics of Central America has resulted in a decline of
species and environmental quality. Many indigenous tribes are still partially or wholly
reliant on local natural resources. This study examined the reactions of the Guaymi,
Boruca, Bribri, and Cuna peoples to these environmental changes, and sought to find
their opinions and methods of conservation. I interviewed informants from each culture,
and read indigenous mythology to understand if and how natural resources fit into these
indigenous cultures. Additionally, I conducted an elementary mammalian population
study to determine the status of endangered mammals in the areas of some indigenous
communities. The Bribri and the Cuna each have unique and interesting methods of
conservation, while the Guaymi and Boruca are, for the most part, passively allowing
their environments to degrade. Infiltration of western culture may have had an effect on
the reactions of these cultures. However, the exchange of ideas and cooperation between
western and indigenous cultures is important to ensure the environmental health of the
future.
Key words: Guaymi, Boruca, Bribri, Cuna, Central America, Costa Rica, indigenous,
conservation, mammalian population study
Introduction:
After many years of disregarding the knowledge of “primitive” indigenous
cultures, the scientific community is turning to indigenous cultures for ideas in
many disciplines, including pharmacology, agro-ecology, and conservation. Also,
the idea of indigenous peoples as “the keepers of the earth” has become popular.
Some believe that indigenous peoples have been using unique forms of
conservation for centuries that western cultures have not yet developed.
Clay (1988) studied many Central and South American tribes to find how
they interact with tropical forests. He found that many cultures use resources of
the tropical environment sustainably. For example, Clay found that some
communities restrain from over-hunting seed-distributing mammals, because they
recognize that such mammals serve an important service to their community
beyond their value as hunted game. Western science has only recently begun to
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accept the value of natural resources as service providers, and society has newly
established the discipline of environmental economics to try to calculate the
monetary value of such services.
In another example, the Tukano Indians of the Upper Rio Negro practice a
unique form of riparian habitat management. The Tukano trap and eat the fish of
the Rio Negro as their main source of protein. Following their tradition, fishing is
prohibited in select parts of the river with forested riverbanks because these areas
“belong to the fish”. Further evaluation reveals that during floods, the
surrounding forest replenishes the nutrients of the river and that the presence of
healthy riparian forest is vital to the river’s fish population. This tradition, which
provides fish with unofficial refuges, is perpetuated by the Tukano’s fears of
reciprocity by natural beings; if one fishes in the prohibited area, it is believed
that the fish will take from that person one child for every fish.
As populations in the tropics continue to grow, it is important to research
environmentally and economically feasible alternatives to support larger
population demands. Some conservationists hope to find ideas in indigenous
traditions that can be expanded to eco-friendly, commercial industries in tropical
regions. Deforestation disasters, such as that caused by the World Bank’s cattle
initiative, can occur when the wrong industry is suggested in a tropical climate.
Clay (1988) suggests that some indigenous peoples should take the practice of
sustainably gathering renewable resources to a commercial level, as some
indigenous peoples of western Brazil plan to do with rubber and Brazil nuts. He
also suggests that some wild animals that are hunted by indigenous peoples may
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be suitable for semi- or full-domestication. Tropical animals would be more
suited to the tropical climate and diet than animals such as pigs, chickens, and
cows, all of European origin.
In theory, cultures that are directly linked to nature should be more
adamant about conserving it; that is to say, in cultures that depend primarily on
nature for their supply of goods, conservation of nature will be integrated into
tradition and practice. Moreover, cultures in close proximity to their natural
resources will be more aware of the health of their environment.
Cultures not as closely linked to the land depend on market economies to
supply them with necessary goods and are typically labeled “western” or
“modern”. Western cultures are still indirectly dependent on the land, but,
theoretically, being obtaining natural resources through “middle-men” allows a
degree of indifference or neglect for the health of the natural environment. Global
trade of both products and ideas has created a virtual monoculture of society.
For this reason, Smith (2001) suggests that preservation of cultural
diversity will preserve biological diversity, and vice versa. For Smith, cultural
diversity is high when there exist many small, diffuse indigenous cultures.
Smith’s theory is of special interest and concern with the recent disappearance of
many native species. Now is a critical time to understand the relationships
between society and biodiversity, before too many species go extinct, leaving
gaping holes in the web of life.
For many years, people have viewed indigenous people as intrinsic
conservationists. In the U.S., American Indians represent a co-existence with the
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natural world and have become the icons of T-shirts, music, and ad campaigns. In
1999, Krech published The ecological indian, concerning the perceived and
historical truth of Native Americans’ effects on North American environments.
He maintains that the belief that Native Americans lived close to the environment
without having a detrimental impact is a misconception. Krech claims that, in
reality, Native Americans caused the endangerment and extinction of many
species, including buffalo, deer, and beaver, by over-hunting. There remains
controversy on whether indigenous cultures can be generalized as ecologically
prudent or not. I will attempt to address this issue in this paper.
My study focuses on several indigenous cultures in Southern Central
America, namely the Guaymi, Boruca, Bribri, and Cuna. Central America has
long served as a mixing ground in both ecological and anthropological history.
The tropical forests of Central America are considered a hotspot for biodiversity,
and contain a great portion of the world’s plant and animal species. However, due
to habitat fragmentation and destruction, many species are in danger of extinction.
Mammals that require large territories have been especially hurt by habitat loss.
However, rodents, which generally adapt well to agricultural and urban
conditions, have continued to increase in numbers. Of 39 species on the “Lista de
Fauna con Poblaciones en Peligro de Extinsión” (List of Fauna with Populations
at Risk of Extinction) (www.minae.go.cr, 2001), 13 are mammals. Of these
mammals, 6 are in the Felidae family, known to keep large territories, and none
are rodents, which generally adapt well to human presence.
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Materials and Methods:
Population Study
On 27 July 2001, at 6:00 am, I set six traps along the Jungle Trail at Las
Cruces Biological Reserve, Puntarenas, Costa Rica. The area is second growth
tropical rainforest. The Jungle Trail begins at the edge of the forest and Wilson
Botanical Gardens. Traps were meant to capture tracks only and followed a
protocol as suggested by Jesús Gerardo (pers. comm., 2001). A 1m-diameter
circle of flour 1mm deep was set down in pre-selected locations. A 3cmdiameter sphere of bait was placed on a 30cm stick in the center of the flour
circle. Bait, as recommended by Luís Diego Gómez (pers. comm., 2001),
consisted of oatmeal, coconut oil, and vanilla. Traps were marked with orange
flags.
Traps 1a and 2a were set furthest inside the forest, on a point bar of the
Río Java. Each subsequent trap was set 400 paces (approximately 300m) up the
trail from the previous trap. Trap 1a was set in sand, and Trap 2a was set in
gravel. Traps 3a, 5a, and 6a were set in leaf litter, and Trap 4a was set in clay
soil. The traps were checked the following morning at 7:00 am, after a night of
dry, clear weather. The traps were checked again the next day, 29 July 2001, at
5:30 am after a foggy night without precipitation. All tracks were copied to scale
by hand and identified when possible.
On 30 July 2001, four traps of the same style were set on the B trail at Las
Alturas de Cotón, Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Las Alturas borders on the La Amistad
National Park, Costa Rica’s largest national park. The forest is also second
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growth and borders on the edge of a large cattle ranch. Traps 1b and 2b were set
furthest inside the forest, in leaf litter on point bars of a small creek. Each
subsequent trap was set 200 paces (approximately 150m) up the trail from the
previous trap. Traps 3b and 4b were also set in the leaf litter of the forest floor.
Traps were checked at 8:30 am on 31 July 2001 after a misty night. Tracks were
recorded and identified, and oatmeal-based baits were replaced with
approximately 20 ml of mashed up, canned sardines in tomato sauce. Jesús
Gerardo recommended this change to obtain the tracks of predatory mammals
(pers. comm., 2001). The traps were checked again at 5:30 p.m. on 1 August
2001. Unfortunately, it had just rained, making tracks exceedingly difficult to
identify.
Culture Study
Equipment used consisted of a handheld tape recorder and tapes, cameras,
notebooks and writing instruments, and Emmons and Feer's Neotropical
Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide (1997). This book was used to question
informants about specific mammals. To locate the latitude and longitude, as well
as elevation, I used IGNCR topographical map CR2CM-8 of the Talamanca
region and CR2CM-9 of the Golfito region.
Additionally, the selected creation myths of each culture were used
to better understand how nature is incorporated into the mythology and belief
system of each culture. The books Narraciones Ngäbes (Instituto de Estudios de
las Tradiciones Sagrada de Abia Yala, 1997), Narraciones borucas (Pacheco,
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1996), Historias del buen Sibú y de los Bribris (Ferreto, 1985), and Secrets of the
Cuna earthmother (Keeler, 1960) were used for this purpose.
I visited three indigenous communities to interview informants on their
thoughts and ideas on conservation, endangered species, and other topical
environmental issues. Informed consent was obtained in accordance with the
Code of Ethics of the International Society of Ethnobiology (Gómez, 2001) before
beginning any interviews and again before recording the interviews.
On 25 July 2001 between 9:00 am and 2:00 p.m., I visited the Coto Brus
Guaymi Indian Reservation [Reserva Indígena Guaymi de Coto Brus], located in
southwestern Costa Rica in the Province of Puntarenas, thirty minutes west of San
Vito at 83°05’W, 8°47’N and at an elevation of approximately 700m (IGNCR,
1988). Many houses in the community are only accessibly on foot or horseback
on the small trails that traverse the land. Family homes consist of a single room
with an outdoor kitchen and sitting area surrounded by fields. Much of the area
was farmed, with such crops as mangoes (Mangifera indica), rice (Oryza sativa),
yucca (Manihot utilissima), and coffee (Coffea arabica). Numerous small creeks
and rivers lined the terrain, crossed by small wooden bridges.
A previously known Guaymi guide led me to the houses of three
informants. Guaymi 1 and her husband were 25 and approximately 30 years old
respectively. The household of Guaymi 2 belonged to the mother of Guaymi 1,
who was 42 years old. Guaymi 3, was a mother of two children and
approximately 35 years old.
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On 26 July 2001, I arrived at Boruca at approximately 10:30 am. The
community of Boruca is located in the southwestern corner of Puntarenas, Costa
Rica at 83º 20’ W, 9º 00’ N at elevation 550m (IGNCR CR 2CM-8). Boruca is
mountainous and accessible by a dirt road. The town is approximately 30 minutes
off of the Inter-American Highway, which divides the reservation in two. Much
of the land surrounding the community is agricultural; the crops, predominantly
coffee, were grown in monoculture or diculture fields. The community was
centered around a secondary school, a general store, and the Boruca Museum,
with several dirt roads branching out from the center of town. Electricity and
running water is available in the community, and houses are prefabricated and
constructed of synthetic materials.
I spoke with four Boruca women. Boruca 1 was a woman about 50 years
old who lived with her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. Boruca 2, a
woman of about 45 years, owned her own small general store and lived with her
mother. I lunched with some local boys, ages 4-10, and they led me to the house
of their mother, Boruca 3, who was about 40 years old. Her sons then led me to
the home of Boruca 4, roughly 35 years old.
Finally, on 07 August 2001 between 9:30 am and 2:00 p.m., I visited the
Bribri community at the KeköLdi Reservation, 82º 52’W, 9º 37’ N,
(IGNCR,1988). The Bribri community at KeköLdi, Province of Limón, Costa
Rica is 26 years old. At the time of establishment, the region was predominantly
cocoa (Theobroma cacao) plantations owned by Afro-Caribbeans. Many Bribri
came to work in the area for these farmers. From the plantations, the Bribri
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workers obtained specimens to begin their own small cocoa farms. Some years
ago, a decimating fungus plagued the cocoa crop. Some Bribri, who had by this
time established themselves in the area, abandoned this crop, replacing it with
banana or plantain (Musa spp.); others began commuting to Puerto Viejo and
surrounding towns to work.
The KeköLdi Reservation rests in the foothills of the Talamanca Range
that runs down central Costa Rica, 5 km from the city of Puerto Viejo. Many
small streams traverse the landscape, which is predominantly secondary forest
with a heavy understory. Common trees are fig (Ficus lyrata) and cocoa. Houses
are distant from one another and connected by well-worn trails.
I was able to speak with two Bribri men during my visit. Bribri 1
appeared to be about 30 years old, and his brother, Bribri 2, was 21 years old.
Both men were naturalist guides for visiting tourists and scientists, and they were
very knowledgeable and protective of their community’s land.
Although I was not able to visit the Cuna community in Panama, I
interviewed Guillermo Archibold of the San Blas, Panama Cuna community at
Las Cruces Biological Station. Archibold is active in the Cuna’s conservation
organization and frequently coordinates efforts with groups outside of the Cuna.
This interview was performed on the evening of 25 July 2001 and tape-recorded
for future use.
Results:
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Population Study
Due to lack of field experience and difficult field conditions, the traps
were neither extremely effective nor successful. The flour became moist from the
ever-present humidity, and tracks were rarely clearly defined. Furthermore, it was
extremely difficult to differentiate tracks from water drips in the leaf litter. In
future experiments, the leaf litter should be completely cleared from each trap
site. Sample size was too small to provide significant results. Therefore,
population estimates were not calculated.
Although ten tracks were found, only three were identifiable. More
species were identified at Las Cruces than at Las Alturas (Tab. 1), but the tracks
of the second day of sampling at Las Alturas were ruined by the rain. Therefore,
the presence of more data at Las Cruces by no means represents a higher
concentration of mammals there. In fact, further studies may reveal higher
mammalian populations at Las Alturas, on account of its proximity to the vast
protected area of La Amistad National Park.
Table 1. Families, Species, and Common Names of Mammals Found in
Las Cruces and Las Alturas
Families present
Las Cruces Dasypodidae
Agoutidae
Cervidae
Mustelidae
Las Alturas Didelphidae
Species Present
unknown
Dasyprocta punctata
Mazama americana
Eira barbara
unknown
Common name
Armadillo
Central American agouti
Red brocket deer
Tayra
Oppossum
Table 1. Mammals were identified using tracks obtained by simple, baited flour traps.
The presence of "unknown" signifies that the track was not identifiable beyond the family
level. Many other tracks were left, but only those listed were identifiable to the level of
family. Tracks were identified with the help of Jesús Gerardo and Reid's A field guide
to the mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico.
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None of the mammals found are currently listed as endangered species,
according to Costa Rica’s Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía (MINAE) 1998 list
(www.minae.go.cr, 2001). I spotted two Central American agoutis, Dasyprocta
punctata, in Las Cruces while checking traps, and both animals saw me but did
not immediately run away. I believe this calm behavior may represent an
acclimation of agoutis to human presence.
I had hoped to compare the effectiveness of the different baits and their
influence on sample type, but the rainstorm tainted the only trial using the sardine
bait. The influence of different baits on the sample size and type should be given
more attention in future studies.
Culture Study
Guaymi
The Guaymi myth “El Tibi y los cuatro ngäbes, The Tibi and the four
Guaymi” (IETSAY, 1997) concerned the consequences of over-harvesting forest
resources. The four Guaymi of the story took too many “Nogwata” trees, the bark
of which makes soft clothing. The “owner of the trees” yelled at the Guaymi, and
sent a monster, Tibi, to chase and kill them. The “Tibi” story reflects a certain
fear and reverence for nature. It is difficult to perceive the same emotions from
the Guaymi interviews.
Although none had heard of the Costa Rican National Park system, with
the possible exception of Guaymi 3, who showed a vague recognition, both
Guaymi 1 and Guaymi 2 had a fair amount of knowledge of their immediate
natural environment, as evidenced by their recognition of local fauna. They did
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not maintain western views on conservation, but all interviewees stated
unequivocally that it is important to preserve and protect the land. The husband
of Guaymi 1 said that the Guaymi had been conserving the land around the
reservation for over 2000 years, and that more should be protected; I did observe
that much of the land was still wild, but extensive areas had been converted to
agricultural uses.
Crops were planted in small mono- and bi-cultures. I was surprised to see
fields placed on steep slopes without any means to prevent erosion. Guaymi 2
mentioned that many men still hunt local game. There is no running water, and
water used comes directly from the rivers and streams which run through the
valleys of Coto Brus. The Guaymi rely directly on their local environment for
many resources.
The husband of Guaymi 1 was proud to work for the Asociación
Desarrollo de los Guaymi (Guaymi Development Association), an organization
which is responsible for the construction of roads and new houses, “los
movimientos de la gente”, among other community responsibilities. He was
especially proud of the dirt road that had been built to their house two years
earlier.
The husband of Guaymi 1 also spoke of water pollution (“echan veneno al
río”, they poison the river) and the resulting decline in fish populations, with
negative implications for the community. He said that if society does not
conserve the land, it will all turn to desert, and that they must let depleted areas
grow back. Additionally, he spoke of a reciprocal relationship with the
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environment. “¿Si no cuidas a la tierra, quién te va a cuidar?, If you don’t care for
the land, who is going to care for you?”.
Guaymi 2, in an apparent contrast, seemed to actually connect
conservation with progress, rather than see the two as opposite poles as is more
common in western ideas of conservation. At the same time, her views and those
of the husband of Guaymi 1 were not in complete disagreement. The preservation
of pure, untouched land did not appear to be a priority for the Guaymi as they
tried to improve their quality of life, but they did strongly believe in the
importance of protecting the land from abuse and keeping it healthy as they
continued in their “progress” (Bromberg et al., 2001).
Boruca
In the Boruca myth “La poza del niño” (Pacheco, 1996), nature was
treated only as the place where humans interacted. As in the story, the Boruca
lifestyle and belief system was not centered on the environment.
Boruca 3, approximately 40 years old, spoke of times in her youth when
her father used to take her hunting, but hunting was no longer practiced by current
residents. Hunting is a tradition, which the community seems to have lost due to
modernization and local extinctions. All four informants mentioned declining
mammalian populations.
All informants obtained some of their food from the local store. Boruca 1
was dismayed at the amount of imported meats that the community has come to
consume regularly. There appeared to be a fairly recent shift away from locally
grown and locally bought food, opening up Boruca as a market for commercially
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produced food. Inevitably, this will probably lead to a less agriculturally based
economy and, by extension, a diversification of careers in the community. In fact,
it appears that this diversification has already begun: Boruca 3 told us that since
she was a child, when the community had a single store, the number of businesses
in town has increased to four or five (one of which is run by Boruca 2). This
transition to a market-based economy has practically broken the community’s tie
to the land, and a resultant loss of environmental values and decline in
environmental conditions was perceived.
Boruca 1 deplored some of the changes she has seen over her lifetime.
She noted an increase in cancer in the community, and cited the cause of the
problem as the increased consumption of non-traditional, imported foods.
Additionally, two of the women we interviewed mentioned that asthma has
become increasingly common in the community, especially among children. It is
interesting, although inconclusive, to note that both cancer and asthma are often
associated with environmental problems.
Boruca 3 and 4 informed us that there was not enough water for the
community for the whole day, and Boruca 3’s youngest son pleaded with us for a
drink because he was thirsty and there was no water available at his house.
Boruca 4 attributed this lack of water to the diversion of river water for irrigation
purposes. However, despite this and other significant environmental problems,
the interviewees did not seem passionate about conservation. Boruca 3 said that it
is important to protect the land for the sake of the animals, a presence that she had
enjoyed when she was a child; Boruca 2 told us it was important to protect nature,
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not because of any concrete benefits, but because it is pretty. It seemed that to
some extent the Boruca people had lost the ties to their land that, according to
Boruca 1 and Boruca 3, previous generations possessed (Bromberg et al., 2001).
Bribri
Bribri 1 ran an iguana farm, raising iguanas in captivity to use as food and
leather in the surrounding Bribri communities, as well as to release into the wild,
where the population is dwindling. Iguanas are important to both the culture of
the Bribri as well as the natural environment, where they serve as food for many
top predators. According to the sister of Bribri 1, the Bribri iguana farm is the
only one of its kind.
Moreover, profits from the iguana farm and money made from selling indigenous
crafts are given to Asociación Nacional Asuntos Indigena (ANAI) and other
groups that fund conservation efforts in the area. Banana plantations once
dominated the Bribri land, but, with the help of these organizations, community
members have begun reforestation. Other community conservation projects
include attempts to gain more territory to be protected for their use in the
reservation and a study of migratory birds in the area.
In some areas, the Bribri have cleared land to grow corn. The farmers use
the slash-and-burn method in order to eradicate rats. Bribri 1 regretted that this
process kills other small endangered animals as well as the rats, but maintained
that it is a necessary evil in order to cultivate the tropical soil. They fallow plots
of land for two years at a time to reduce the high clay concentration of the soil.
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Bribri 1 and 2 expressed strong environmental ethics; they are naturalist
guides and are involved with the community’s conservation organization. Bribri
1 spoke passionately about the reservation, saying that the land meant more to
him than any amount of money.
Bribri 1 also talked about a medicinal use of a small green and black frog
whose populations are declining. They rub the live frog against open wounds as
antiseptic. He noted that many tourists think the frog to be poisonous because of
its coloring. It is not poisonous, he noted, but he perpetuates the myth because it
makes outsiders leave the species alone.
The Bribri’s value of environmental resources is reflected in their
mythology, and vice versa. In “Los dueños de los animales, The owners of the
animals” (Ferreto, 1997), the Bribri must ask the gods or spirits of an animal
before hunting it, and they must never hunt to excess. In their creation myth, the
Bribri are born of seeds of cacao or maiz, further demonstrating their culture’s
intense connection to the land.
Cuna
The Cuna seemed to be the most environmentally aware of all indigenous
peoples interviewed. A respect for nature is central in their belief system. He
explained the brotherhood they feel with other organisms through the following
tradition:
When a Cuna child is born, the mother wraps the placenta in a leaf. Four
days after the birth, she plants the placenta with the seed of a tree. When the tree
and the child grow older, the mother tells the child, “You and this tree were born
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together. It is your brother. You should care for it like a brother.” Luís Diego
Gómez related to me that the Guaymi have a similar tradition (pers. comm.,
2001).
Additionally, the book Secrets of the Cuna earthmother (Keeler, 1960)
tells of the complex incorporation of nature into Cuna culture and beliefs. They
consider the Earth like a mother, who gives birth to all life. The concept of the
earthmother demonstrates how nature is a major contributor to the circle of life in
Cuna tradition.
Animals hold great significance for the Cuna. Sloths are considered very
smart because they do things slowly, with thought. Tapir, peccary, and rabbit are
used in ceremonies. Animal meat is not eaten when someone is sick or when a
woman is pregnant.
The recent declines in species’ populations have been a strain on Cuna
culture. Archibold claims that the majority of all mammal species are in danger
except the rabbit, agouti, and paca.
Hunting is a way of life for the Cuna and they cannot desist, but they have
established hunting practices that aid in the rebound of animal populations. For
example, the Cuna prohibit hunting of pregnant or nesting animals. They also
teach that hunters should avoid killing young animals. These rules allow animals
to reach a reproductive age and multiply before being killed. However, these
rules are difficult to enforce, and as the Cuna population grows, the demand for
more hunted meat also grows. The Cuna have also passed a law saying that one
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cannot hunt in certain areas of their land from March to July of each year.
Tradition dictates that if one touches this prohibited area, he/she will get sick.
The Cuna do not grow monoculture crops. They use subsistence farming,
growing all that they need in the same plot. This way, a ripe field serves as the
local market, everything required can be obtained from the same place.
Archibold claimed that the Cuna do not believe in conservation by
national parks. He said they are the idea of another culture, and it is that culture’s
fault that they have ruined their land. The Cuna, conversely, have cared for their
land, preserving its resources for their children. Now the gravest problem the
Cuna face is protecting their land from outsiders who invade the reservation to
steal their resources. To protect their territory from these outsiders, they have
instituted park guards.
Conclusion:
I believe the idea of the “ecological Indian” to be a myth. Environmental
health is a low priority for the Boruca people as it is in western society. There is
some truth in the idea that people living directly off the land will be more careful
with their natural resources, but this does not necessarily imply unique
conservation practices or a particular interest in environmental protection. For
instance, the Bribri have begun to take better care of their natural resources for the
sole reason that they depend on them. Oppositely, the Guaymi, who rely equally
on their natural resources, continue to hunt mammals with declining populations,
without any methodical protection of this important resource. Therefore, I
conclude that indigenous peoples are not intrinsically ecological, but rather
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environmental priorities are dependent on a culture’s worldview and commitment
to conservation efforts.
In the case of the Boruca, the community’s environment deteriorated with
increased contact to outside cultures. With arrival of a market economy and
materialism came an overconsumption that the local environment could not
handle, resulting in insufficient food and water resources. However, the Cuna
have opened their communities up to tourism and welcomed interactions with the
Panamanian government, with mostly positive effects on their land. Through
these actions, the community has bonded together to protect their land and
maintain the health of their ecosystems. On the whole, the Cuna exemplified the
most sustainable practices out of all the cultures I studied.
As shown by the 13 mammals on Costa Rica’s endangered species list, the
environment is deteriorating around many indigenous communities, as it is almost
worldwide. Some indigenous communities are have made little concerted effort
to stop the degeneration. Perhaps western approaches to conservation have
aspects that could be helpful to these communities. Other indigenous cultures, like
the Cuna, have practiced conservation methods for centuries, some of which may
be adaptable to the preservation of the environment in western culture. I believe
western society could learn from the Cuna traditions that serve to instill in youth a
love and sense of responsibility for nature. Western and indigenous cultures must
continue to communicate and learn from each other’s mistakes and good ideas.
The environment is a resource that must be shared among all of us, and we must
all cooperate to preserve both culture and ecology.
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This study was completed in a very short amount of time, and follow-ups
are necessary to have more accurate results. It is particularly important for more
animal population studies to be done in Costa Rica, because the most recent one is
from 1998 (www.minae.go.cr, 2001), and we cannot understand our impacts on
the land if we do not know how the environment is responding. A complete
survey of indigenous mythology could reveal different connections between the
Guaymi, Boruca, Bribri, and Cuna cultures and nature. Furthermore, there may
be other indigenous methods of conservation that I overlooked due to my study’s
time constraints.
Acknowledgements:
I would like to thank the communities of Coto Brus, Boruca, and KëkoLdi
for graciously giving me their time and knowledge. Thank you to Luís Diego and
Jesús Gerardo for their tremendously helpful advice. I am especially thankful to
Kristina Brownlee, Alice Teisch, Heidi Zellie, Nicola Kieves, Henri Folse, Paul
Kim, Heather Baker, Elizabeth Willetts, and Rebecca Lutzy for their company in
the field. Finally, I would like to thank Rodolfo Quirós for his patience.
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Works Cited:
Bromberg, K. et al. Field Observations and Analysis from a Visit to the Coto Brus
Guaymi Reservation 25 July 2001. Organization of Tropical Studies. 10p.
Bromberg, K. et al. Observations and Analysis of Visit to Boruca Indigenous
Reservation 26 July 2001. Organization of Tropical Studies. 9p.
Clay, J.W. 1988. Indigenous peoples and tropical forests. Cultural Survival.
Cambridge, MA. 75p.
Ferreto, A. 1985. Historias del buen Sibú y de los Bribris: la creación de la tierra
y otras. Editorial Universidad Estatal A Distancia. San José. 70p.
Gómez, L.D. 2001. Ethnobiology 2001 reader. “Code of Ethics of the
International Society of Ethnobiology.” Organization for Tropical Studies.
pp. 1-4.
IGNCR. 1970. Mapa CR2CM-8. Talamanca. San José. 1:200.000.
IGNCR. 1970. Mapa CR2CM-9. Golfito. San José. 1:200.000.
IGNCR. 1988. Mapa CR2CM-6. Talamanca. San José. 1:200.000.
Instituto de Estudios de las Tradiciones Sagradas de Abia Yala (IETSAY). 1997.
Narraciones Ngäbes: revitalización de la cultura tradicional. Fundación
Coordinadora de Pastoral Aborigen. San José. pp. 77-79.
Keeler, C.E. 1960. Secrets of the Cuna Earthmother. Exposition Press. New York.
352p.
Krech, S. 1999. The ecological indian: myth and history. New York: W.W.
Norton & Co. 318p.
Pacheco, M. 1996. Narraciones borucas. Editorial de la Universidad de Costa
Rica. San José. pp31-33.
Reid, F.A. 1997. A field guide to the mammals of Central America and Southeast
Mexico. Oxford University Press, Inc. New York. plates 1-52.
Smith, E.A. 2001. “On the coevolution of cultural, linguistic, and biological
diversity”. On biocultural diversity: linking language, knowledge, and the
environment. (ed.) Luisa Maffi. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.
pp. 95-117.
www.minae.go.cr. Date accessed: 7/22/01.
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YESTERDAY, TODAY, & TOMORROW
THE STATE OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE IN COSTA RICA
&
THE BRIBRI OF KÉKÖLDI:
TRADITIONS OF THE PAST AND ISSUES OF TODAY
Kristina Brownlee1
1
Department of Anthropology, University of Montana
Abstract: The indigenous communities of Costa Rica have an interesting history. Today, many
problems currently face reservations, including environmental hazards and cultural loss. One
group in particular, the Bribri of the KéköLdi Reservation, have preserved traditional knowledge
in the face of modern pressures, and indigenous religious figures still remain intact. The fate of
indigenous groups is unknown, and there is much work to be done to ensure the preservation of
cultural heritage.
Key Words: BriBri, KéköLdi, Sibö, Costa Rica
Introduction
Costa Rica is a land of incredible natural, as well as human, diversity. In terms of
physical landscape, this country is a land bridge between North and South America, and,
historically, has served as a crossroads for many biological and anthropological activities.
When the Spaniards arrived in the sixteenth century, they found several indigenous
groups that were culturally diverse and displaying traits similar to those peoples to the
north and to the south. Upon colonization, many native peoples took refuge in the
highlands, and today roughly nine thousand indigenous descendants inhabit the
mountainous region of Talamanca in southern Costa Rica.
Today, indigenous communities, as well as their forest ecosystems, are
endangered. These people have been severely affected by not only conquest, but disease,
social assimilation and loss of traditional systems, as well as environmental degradation.
Only one percent of Costa Rica’s total population is considered to be of aboriginal
descent. Approximately 25,000 individuals currently maintain a semblance of a cultural
connection to one of the eight recognized indigenous groups.
YESTERDAY: History of Indigenous Reservations of Costa Rica
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The 1970’s were a time of great activity and legislation within the realm of
indigenous issues. In 1973, the Costa Rican government established the National
Commission for Indigenous Affairs, or CONAI. In general, the purpose of CONAI was to
promote beneficial projects on behalf of indigenous peoples. The main goals of this
institution ranged from general improvements such as social, economic, and cultural
issues, to more immediate short-term projects, such as the creation of new health centers.
In1976, President Daniel Oduber Quiros signed an executive decree (No. 5904-G) which
outlined the reasons for the establishment of Reserves. The following list is a summary of
this Decree:
1. Indigenous people in Costa Rica are being dispossessed of their lands at an
alarming and accelerating rate.
2. Indigenous people have no legal backing to their claims on lands that they have
occupied since time immemorial.
3. Indigenous people themselves, alone, have not been able to defend themselves
against invasion of their lands.
4. Indigenous people have been petitioning the government for some time to create
inalienable Reserves where their property rights will be guaranteed.
5. The culture and social organization of indigenous communities are profoundly
different from those of non-indigenous communities, and they should be
respected and supported.
6. The agricultural methods of indigenous people are less destructive of forest
resources than those of non-indigenous farmers; creation of indigenous Reserves
will help to protect valuable watersheds and forest cover in regions which are not
suited for agriculture.
7. It is the duty of the State to assure the security of its citizens and to prevent
injustices and abuses, especially among its indigenous minority.
Executive Decree No. 6036-G called for the formation of a number of indigenous
Reserves, among them the Talamanca Indigenous Reserve, which includes the KéköLdi
indigenous community. The Legislative Assembly ratified the establishment of the
Indigenous Reserves with Indigenous Act No. 6172. This law states that the government
of Costa Rica gives indigenous people full control of their land and the right to selfgovernment, but in reality the land titles are withheld. As a consequence, very little land
is actually in the hands of indigenous people and this has caused tremendous problems.
The Act also declares that land area of reserves cannot be decreased unless a law is
adopted. However, one source, a Costa Rican non-governmental organization (NGO),
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suggests that the Costa Rican government has violated this law, and has, in fact, reduced
a number of reservations in size.
TODAY: The Current State of Affairs
With regards to the success of CONAI, the outcome has been somewhat
disheartening. It is believed that CONAI is an excellent example of the failure of the
Costa Rican government to develop any effective cultural protection. Supposedly,
CONAI is responsible for all of the governmental policy regarding indigenous people,
but it lacks adequate funding and is subject to the usual government neglect. Though it is
the official institution for the handling of indigenous affairs, CONAI is fragmented and
not very effective. One informant states that it is a “fake” governing body, with no
funding and no actual political power to enact change. (Luís D. Gomez, personal
communication August 10, 2001). He also believes that CONAI is only in existence so
the Costa Rican government can say that they have an commission for indigenous people
and appear reputable to the international community. According to one informant,
CONAI has betrayed indigenous people and has become corrupt and a bureaucratic
travesty.
To make up for the limitations of government appointed commissions, a growing
number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have sprung up to assist the
disillusioned natives. Asociación Cultural Sejekto de Costa Rica (Voice of the Indian)
and the Fundación Iriria Tsochok (Foundation for the Defense of the Land) are two such
organizations in Costa Rica. These organizations help assist indigenous communities in
Costa Rica with legal disputes, and in general operate at the local and community level.
NGOs are more effective than governmental agencies at actually solving problems and
addressing real concerns, and are usually much more accessible to reservation
communities than governmental offices.
?? Land
According to a local NGO, land issues are the most pressing problem currently
facing indigenous people of Costa Rica. The rapid encroachment of non-Indigenous
people on large areas of indigenous lands is a disturbing situation and the government,
though aware of the issue, has done little to help the situation. According to the
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Indigenous Act, non-indigenous people that were already situated on the land before it
became a designated reservation shall be moved and properly compensated. Others who
have moved onto the land after it was decreed a reservation have no such rights. The Act
contains provisions regarding the removal of non-indigenous people who were not living
on the land prior to it becoming a reservation, but these rules have not been enforced and
non-indigenous individuals continue to settle reservations at an alarming rate. According
to the NGO Sejekto, on some reservations more than 80% of the territory is in the hands
of non-Indigenous people. Another example of diminishing lands on reservations is the
possible granting of contracts for extraction of natural resources. According to the Costa
Rican government, there is no distinction between reservations and the rest of Costa Rica,
so consequently, indigenous people have no say whatsoever about the exploitation of
their territories, by outside interests such as mining.
?? Health
In terms of governmental action, it has been suggested that the biggest
improvement in the quality of life of indigenous peoples has been in the realm of
healthcare. A number of new clinics have been built, although in general doctors are only
accessible one or two days a week, or the location of clinics is far and over rough terrain.
However, death rates of indigenous people are much higher due to disease as compared
to the rest of the Costa Rican population. Alcoholism and drug-abuse are other afflictions
affecting indigenous groups. Severe diarrhea leading to dehydration is the primary cause
of death among indigenous children. In interviews using standardized questionnaires of
three indigenous communities concerning the folk taxonomy and various other social
issues, every household interviewed stated that a hospital or a clinic was somewhat
accessible and part of their answers to managing health problems. In general, the first
response to major illness was to go to clinic or hospital. This suggests that some type of
healthcare is somewhat accessible to reservation inhabitants.
?? Education
It appears that governmental implemented improvements have had a marginal
effect. Evidence suggests that a few new elementary schools have been built in the last
few years, as observed at one reservation located in Abrojos, in the Province of
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Puntarenas. Unfortunately, there has been very little attention paid to the implementation
of bilingual curriculum. While some schools are trying to teach indigenous language with
outdated material, other schools do not even bother. There appears to be no universal
mandate in the country that states that indigenous schools teach indigenous language,
which is disappointing and culturally dangerous. Not instructing traditional language in
school means that the full responsibility of indigenous language preservation falls
entirely on the home environment, which may not always be successful. In the words of
one informant, “Education systems must be modified to place more of an emphasis on
cultural heritage or indigenous people will be doomed to extinction,” (Luís D. Gomez,
personal communication, August 10, 2001). This presents quite a problem because one of
the indicating factors in determining the cultural survival of a group is whether or not the
language is still relatively intact and spoken by most people or if not at all. Also, a related
concern is the lack of indigenous teachers in schools for reservation children. To maintain
preservation of traditions, it is vital that indigenous children are taught by indigenous
teachers. As stewards of the future, local teachers are better able to communicate values
and cultural beliefs than other educators in most cases. Funding for indigenous students
for scholarships is limited and insufficient, so higher education possibilities are usually
non-existent.
?? Economics
Steady and reliable employment is a fundamental and pressing concern for many
indigenous groups since, in most cases, it is no longer feasible to live solely off the land.
Many reservation inhabitants produce handicrafts to be sold in larger cities and for
tourists. Some agricultural products are sold to the public, but this is on a very small
scale. One recent economic breakthrough was the opening of the first indigenous bank in
the Talamanca region in 1994.
With the help of the Interamerican Development Bank,
this very important and necessary development has allowed many reservation inhabitants
to acquire credit where previously not permitted from other institutions. It has been
suggested that reservation inhabitants must organize and learn how to profit from their
environment in a sustainable way, such as culturally sensitive tourist activities, in order to
ensure future survival and adequate funding for reservation communities.
TOMORROW: An Unknown Fate
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It remains to be seen what the future holds for the indigenous people of Costa
Rica. There is much advancement to be made in field of indigenous rights, at the both
national and local level. It appears that some groups are becoming more socially aware
and organized, but other groups seem to have lost most of their customs and community
atmosphere. The lack of land titles in the direct hands of communities is a serious
problem and until this is remedied, indigenous people will always be at risk for
exploitation, displacement and possible annihilation. Another serious concern is the
perception of indigenous Costa Ricans by other members of society. One informant
suggests that young people know do not know anything about them, and through
ignorance, may look down on indigenous communities. The NGO Sejekto indicates that
many ticos think that within a few years there will be no more indigenous people, so it is
a waste of time and money to fight this impending loss. Another concern is the
development schemes and activities of large, multilateral groups such as the World Bank,
who often engage in ill-planned, culturally insensitive projects that result in catastrophe.
The impact of the massive tourist industry in Costa Rica and the subsequent influx of
western ideas is another force to be reckoned with. Only time will tell the fate of these
communities and their traditional knowledge and heritage.
A COSTA RICAN CASE STUDY: THE BRIBRI OF KÉKÖLDI
Background of the Bribri
The BriBri are one particular indigenous group of Costa Rica. They are divided
into three clearly established territories: Talamanca BriBri, Salitre and Cabagra. They are
part of the Chibchen language family, and are indigenous to the highlands of the
Talamancan mountain range. General agriculture activities include the cultivation of
corn, beans, rice, and tubers. Animal husbandry includes the small scale raising of cattle,
pigs, horses, and poultry for family utilization. There is a small amount of hunting and
fishing. With regards to religious affiliation, 90% are Catholic, 2% protestant and
traditional BriBri religious activities constitutes 8%.
In general, the Bribri are considered to be a somewhat well preserved indigenous
group. Many cultural practices, such as language, customs, myths and stories, and finally
handicrafts, have remained relatively intact. The Bribri are one example of a group that
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has insisted on preserving their culture in teaching their native language and customs
alongside official education programs of the Costa Rican government, which does not
address these issues.
Current problems facing the Bribri are deforestation and consequent erosion,
encroaching tourism, expanding banana plantations, and squatters on their reservations.
We will now take a closer look at the KéköLdi reservation, which I visited and
interviewed using a standardized questionnaire on August 7, 2001. Using a standardized
questionnaire, a group of student researchers interviewed one household and gained
valuable insights into current issues facing these people.
YESTERDAY: Bribri Traditional Beliefs
The Bribri have a strong heritage of traditional myths and stories. Many varied
and fascinating world of spirits and deities and the adventures, lessons to teach. Many
stories revolve around Sibö, the central deity, or god figure in Bribri culture. As varied as
the colorful characters and spiritual beings interacting with the Bribri, many versions of
the creation of the Bribri people. The general story is that Sibö made the first people by
planting seeds of corn, and the story differs from there from varying sources. Here is one
version:
Sibö 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. From there Sibö
brought corn seeds of all different colors: black, white, yellow and purple. That is why
indigenous people have different skin colors and tones. Sibö brought the seeds to this
world by night. We were not born in the day; we were born by night.
-Juan Vargas
Then, the clans of indigenous people were created.
In the beginning, Sibö kept the corn seeds in a basket, and he gave different
names to the different seeds. Those are the names of the clans. Later he divided the seeds
into two groups, and he warned that people should not marry others of their own group.
-Juanita Sánchez
TODAY: The Bribri of KéköLdi
The KéköLdi Indigenous Reservation is located on the Atlantic side of eastern
Costa Rica, high in the western Talamanca mountain range in the province of Limón. The
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Bribri share the KéköLdi reservation (also known as Cocles) with another, distantly
related indigenous group called the Cabecar, also a part of the same language family.
This lush reserve consists of around 200 to 250 inhabitants including 50 families. Many
people speak Spanish and one source notes that 50% speak BriBri as well, but actual
statistics are not clear. The BriBri language is not taught in the local school and the
teacher is not of indigenous heritage.
Along with the immediate concerns facing the Bribri groups and indigenous
communities in general, other issues specifically face the KéköLdi community. Squatters
continue to trespass Reserve boundaries, recklessly cutting down many hectares of forest.
Poachers illegally hunt animals of the forest that once were abundant but now dwindling
in numbers. Agriculture is suffering due to the loss of nutrients in the soil. In terms of
economic concerns, the cultivation of marijuana is becoming an issue. Due to the lack of
employment opportunities, people are seeing that they can make more money with the
tourist town of Puerto Viejo nearby.
Initially, my research was in how traditional myths are surviving in the context of
indigenous groups of today. But upon studying the myths of the Bribri and then visiting
the KéköLdi community, I became interested in this specific reservation. They appear to
be extremely well organized and remain culturally intact, despite the lack of language
education in school. A few of the motivated and consciences locals seem to make up a
core group of community leaders. Upon our visit to one household, we were shown two
cultural heritage educational tools, first a calendar of traditional stories, and then a comic
book type of story book intended for children. Compared to other indigenous groups
previously visited, this material was a breakthrough in terms of cultural preservation.
What is the link between survival of traditional values and the activity and organization
of a reservation? Why is this community so ecologically aware and sensitive to the
negative changes? These are questions that cannot be answered in a short period of
research and a much more in depth study is required to reach any conclusions. Could this
reservation serve as a possible model for other, less organized communities in Costa
Rica? In any event, it became clear to me that Sibö was alive and well in the KéköLdi of
Bribri.
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Environmental Awareness
“Por respeto a nuestra cultura cuidemos los bosques y a los animales para que no
desaparesca,”. This is a quote from one of the conservation education material posted up
around the reservation, warning others to respect the forests and animals to ensure their
survival. Another example of the Bribri sentiments on conservation is the sustainable
iguana farm present at the entrance to the KéköLdi Reservation. This thirteen year old
project is attempting to preserve these commonly hunted animals to replenish populations
in the wild and to serve as food sources for community members.
Another aspect of ecological consciousness is depicted in the Bribri myth “Los
cazadores y los Dueños de los Animales” (The Hunters and the Owners of the Animals)
(Ferreto, 1985) where strict hunting rules are proscribed for the people to obey. There are
many specifications in the Bribri culture for the proper use of natural resources. These are
two views of Sibö’s laws concerning the use of natural resources from the people of
KéköLdi:
Sibö is the Owner of indigenous people. He takes care of us like an owner takes
care of his possessions. Animals and plants also have owners that take care of them, just
as Sibö takes care of human beings. The Owners of plants and animals are supernatural
beings, and they are very powerful. They don’t like to see us mistreat their possessions,
and in fact they punish us if we abuse their animals and plants. That’s why we have to be
sure to obey Sibö’s laws. He taught us how we should live with all the things on Earth.
-Gloria Mayorga
Sibö gave us this law to the indigenous people: we are not to misuse or abuse the
animals. When we go out to hunt, it is a sin to leave an animal wounded. We have to kill
it quickly so it won’t suffer. And if you hunt an animal knowing you’re not going to be
able to eat it all, eventually you will be punished. You will go out to hunt and you you
won’t get anything because Sibö is hiding the animals from your sight. I have known
cases like this.
If we sell the meat of wild animals, Sibö punishes us. When indigenous people kill a wild
animal, it is to eat the meat, not to sell it. We have pigs and chickens and cows to raise
and sell, but if we sell the meat of wild animals, we will die sad.
-Rodolfo Mayorga
Cultural Survival: The Bribri View
Pertaining to the topic of traditional myths and stories among the Bribri, and
whether or not they remain significant today, I spoke with José Feliciano, a middle-aged
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Bribri man, although not originally from the KéköLdi reservation and also a teacher. We
spoke about the general knowledge of myths within communities and whether or not
traditional tales were remembered. He stated that in places of much outside influence,
people do not remember much, but if grandparents tell the people, they remember some.
In some places, shamans of the community tell stories to the children to preserve cultural
heritage.
When asked if traditional stories are dying out, José answered yes, and that when
young people lose the language and traditional dances to the modern world. In his
opinion, traditions are dying out due to western influence. “It all starts with losing
language, then stories, then other cultural traditions,” (José Feliciano, personal
communication, August 9, 2001). I was curious as to how Christianity, the predominant
religion of the reservation, fit into the original myths of the people, and he replied that the
Catholics permit and accept local traditions, such as the drinking of the traditional
alcoholic beverage chicha. To the Bribri, Sibö is another name for Jesus Christ, just
another way of viewing God. To him, creation stories such as those in the Bible and
traditional stories are basically similar stories and are just written differently.
José was very adamant about the fact that, although it is important to preserve
myths and legends in written form, it is more important to remember them in the oral
tradition, the original context of stories. According to him, also, about half the people
care about remembering traditional myths, and people today are much more interested in
academics. However, he concluded by saying that once the young people become
educated, they want to learn about their own culture and ensure its cultural survival.
At the KéköLdi the household I visited, the family discussed the fact that
everyone knows the myths, it is almost common knowledge among this group. The
grandparents of one woman told them to their grandchildren, and now this young mother
is telling them to her young children. The preservation of cultural heritage here was
evidenced by the beautiful calendar of traditional stories and illustrations.
TOMORROW: The Future of the Bribri of KéköLdi
No one can predict the future cultural survival of a group of people. The
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Bribri of KéköLdi, though their language is not currently taught in the local school, have
managed to remain traditionally intact. It is possible that the household I interviewed is
the exception and not the rule. However, there are many signs pointing to a positive
destiny. There seems to be a definite atmosphere of community involvement here, with
the presence of the sustainable iguana farm enterprise and the dedicated and motivated
local people of the community, such as Juana and Gloria. Even if there exists only a few
organized citizens, they have the power and ability to accomplish much and educate
many. This is illustrated in the publishing of several cultural survival texts, such as the
calendar and the book, “Vías de extinción Vías de supervivencia,”. Local community
cultural survival projects are key to preservation and it seems that this reservation has a
recent history of such activities, such as the cultural school and its publishing
“Costumbres y Tradiciones Indigenas,” in 1993. As long as a few key players within the
community continue to be involved in local issues, then hopefully some traditional
knowledge will be preserved. Other examples of a positive future outlook is the NGO
situation in Costa Rica, that exists to assist indigenous groups with pressing issues and
rights. Outside individuals and groups, such as Rafael Ocampo, who is working with the
traditional plants of the community, assist the reservation in being active today and taking
responsibility for their own future.
The prospects for cultural survival within the current situation of blundering and
blind development schemes, technology and the tourist invasion are grim. How does
traditional knowledge and wisdom sustain itself under such pressures of present times
and future adversity?
Despite the lack of indigenous language education and the myriad of other
problems associated with reservations in general, this community has remained at least
somewhat traditionally and culturally intact. Whatever the reason, be it the organization
and involvement of some community members or the enduring ties of the Bribri to their
oral traditions and myths, the present situation is hopeful. Possibly, the eternal connection
with the ancient teachings of Sibö have guided the survival of traditional knowledge of
the Bribri here at KéköLdi. Hopefully, the knowledge will continue to thrive and stories
of the past will continue to address the uncertainties of tomorrow.
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Acknowledgements
I would like to thank Juana Sánchez and the indigenous community of KéköLdi
for sharing such wonderful knowledge with our group, along with José Feliciano for his
informative interview. Special thanks also to Aruna Venkatesan for her assistance as a
translator, and Adulia, Inocencia, and Nancy Joann, as well. Finally, thanks to Luís D.
Gomez for his support and advice during this project.
References
Ferreto, A. 1985.La Creación de La Tierra y Otras Historias del Buen Sibú y de Los
Bribris. Costa Rica: Editorial Universidad Estatal a Distancia.
“The KéköLdi” [www.utexas.edu/depts/grg/ustudent/gcraft/fall96/dawson/costarica/indigenous.html ]
Palmer, P., Sánchez, J., and Mayorga, G. 1992. Vías de Extinción Vías de Supervivencia.
Costa Rica: Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica.
Schulting, G. “Indigenous Peoples in Costa Rica: On the Road to Extinction”
[www.ucimun.org ]
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Shades of Blackness:
A Look at Afro-Caribbean Culture in Costa Rica through the Eyes of AfricanAmericans
Sadiqa Edmonds, S.1 and Elizabeth. Moye2
1
Department of Chemistry, Spelman College,
Pennsylvania
2
Department of Biology, University of
Abstract
The province of Limón, Costa Rica is home to over 90% of Costa Rica’s black
population, historically and to this day. Most of the black community is of Jamaican
descent, and many aspects of Afro-Caribbean culture are still present in the language and
music. As people of African descent, we wanted to know how we would relate to and be
different from the Afro-Caribbean people. We interviewed four residents of African
descent and made observations in the market place of Puerto Limón in order to learn
about the current state of the Afro-Caribbean community and culture. Through our
inquiries and observations about hair, food, religion, racism, family history, and other
subjects, we were able to come to some conclusions about the state of the Afro-Caribbean
commu nity in Costa Rica. This community maintains a lot of its culture as a result of
isolation and the community support provided by the Universal Negro Improvement
Association. However, Afro-Caribbean culture in Limón is now being influenced by
African-American culture. This finding can lead to further research in the influences of
cultural subgroups on other cultural subgroups of the same origin.
Key words: Afro-Caribbean, Limón, Ethnology, Costa Rica, Jamaica
Introduction
The Afro-Caribbean community of Costa Rica is mainly located in the province
of Limón, Costa Rica. The Limón province is located on the Caribbean coast of Costa
Rica. It contains a short sweep of beaches, mangroves, and a coastal swamp forest. The
entire Caribbean coast, which borders the Mar Caribe (Caribbean Sea), is part of the
Limón province. The province covers 18% of Costa Rica, but is the least populated and
second most sparsely inhabited province in the country. It has about 250,000 inhabitants,
one third of whom are blacks of Jamaican descent. In the past there has been only very
slow growth of the Limón province because of the discrimination against blacks in the
area (Blacks were legally discriminated against until the constitution of 1949) as well as
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its low population. This began to change somewhat in 1987 with the opening of the San
José-Puerto Limón highway.
The capital of the Limón province is Puerto Limón, which is located at 10º00’N,
83º00’W. For the duration of the paper, we will refer to Puerto Limón as simply Limón,
as is Tico custom. Its altitude is about five meters and its average temperature is between
20ºC and 30ºC. It averages 21ºC at night and 30ºC or higher during the day. The San
José-Puerto Limón highway ends at Limón, so there is still limited access to Limón from
the south.
This limited access has helped to isolate and therefore maintain the Afro-
Caribbean culture in the area.
Afro-Caribbean culture has a long history in Limón, beginning in the late 1800’s.
The first direct bridge of communication between Jamaica and Costa Rica was
established on December 20, 1872, when the first ship traveled from Kingston, Jamaica
to the port of Limón.
This ship held 123 Jamaican immigrants who were moving to
Limón to work on the railroad. Between the initial voyage in 1872 and May of 1874,
about 700 Jamaicans immigrated to Limón. In November of 1873, it was said of the port
of Limón, “El numero de habitantes que hay consta próximamente de unos ochocientos,
siendo casi todos negros.” (The number of inhabitants reveals that there are
approximately 800, almost all blacks.) However, in March of 1874 the railroad went into
financial crisis. This crisis affected all of the Jamaicans who were working on it, and a
large number of them lost their jobs.
The number of Jamaicans immigrating to Limón thus decreased and then
remained constant until 1911, when Costa Rica became the principal producer of the
world for bananas. This growth in the production of bananas created more jobs, and the
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number of Jamaican immigrants increased greatly to fill the job positions. The census of
1927 revealed a total of 19,136 Jamaicans in Cost Rica.
An incredible 18,003 of the
Jamaican immigrants in Costa Rica lived in Limón, 94.1% of the total black population in
Costa Rica. In 1950, the census revealed that although the number of Jamaicans in Costa
Rica had decreased (15,118), Limón still had 91.8% of the total population.
In 1963,
approximately 25,389 people of Jamaican origin were estimated to be in Costa Rica,
predominately in Limón.
The number has continued to increase, and presently Limón’s
mainly black population is about 76,000.
We traveled to Limón in order to conduct an ethnological assessment of the AfroCaribbean culture in Costa Rica. As African Americans traveling in Costa Rica, we felt
that it was important to learn about the culture of blacks in Costa Rica. Since Limón has
the only concentrated population of blacks, it is the perfect place for us to study. We
made general observations and conducted informal interviews to consider several topics
including hair, food, clothing, Marcus Garvey, Jamaican cultural influence, American
cultural influence, family history, religion, and racism.
Many of these subjects are
significant to us as members of the young adult generation of African Americans, so we
wanted to find out if they are pertinent to the Afro-Caribbean community in Limón. This
information will provide insight into the unique culture that has evolved in Limón, and
will give us a basis for our ethnological analysis.
Materials and Methods
We traveled to Limón on the morning of August 7, 2001. The location of the city
was found using the map IGNCR (1988) Limón CR2CM-6. Our first stop was the central
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market in Limón, called the Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market). At the market we
made observations of the type of food being sold, and the type of clothing and hairstyles
of black people.
We watched to see if their has also been an American influence on
Afro-Caribbean culture, and if so what that influence is.
We randomly approached
people who appeared to be of African descent, preferably women, and conducted
informal interviews with their permission (as according to the Society of Ethnobiology
Code of Ethics). Our second stop was Puerto Viejo, a small village within the Province of
Limón about 50 kilometers from the city of Limón. We used the same methodology as
we did in the market to obtain data.
Questions were asked and observations were made concerning hair, food, Marcus
Garvey, Jamaican influences, family history, religion, and racism.
We performed the
interview in conversation form, allowing it to flow naturally from subject to subject.
A
standardized questionnaire was not used in order to avoid a rehearsed, unnatural form of
communication between the interviewer and interviewee.
At the end of the day we
compared and contrasted our observations from the day and compiled the answers of
each informant. The results were used to analyze and then draw conclusions about the
current culture of the Afro-Caribbean community in Limón.
Results and Discussion
We spotted Informant One in a corner of the market, at the end of a narrow
corridor. She was wearing an African-style headdress and a matching dress, and had a
young lady that appeared to be seventeen years old and of African descent next to her.
The informant appeared to be about forty years old. She was wearing gold earrings in the
shape of the letter ‘K’. As we approached Informant One to ask if we could interview
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her, we noticed that she was selling black hair products and other self-care products. She
was friendly and had a quiet manner. We conducted the interview in Spanish, however
we later found out that she also speaks French and English. We also learned that she has
three children, including two young girls and a boy of about two years old were sitting
near by. Informant One was extremely helpful because she recommended that we speak
to our second and third informants.
Our second informant was down the connecting hallway from the corner where
our first informant was standing. There were two women behind the counter of a small
diner, one cooking and the other observing. Informant One recommended that we go to
this diner stand because there we could find typical local food, and the women would be
friendly and answer any questions we had. We sat down on two of the five stools in front
of the diner and ordered mashed potatoes, plantains and fish. We conducted the interview
in both English and Spanish, as both women are bilingual and seemed equally
comfortable speaking both.
Informant Two A looked about 40 years old, and Informant Two B told us that
she is 45 years old and has seven children. Informant Two B had the same style of gold
earrings as Informant One, only she had them in the shape of her first initial and she had
a matching ring. They both had relaxed hair pulled back into a ponytail. The diner stand
seemed to be a social environment because all of the other customers that visited it
seemed to be regulars, friends or family. They were particularly kind to us and the food
was excellent and inexpensive.
Our third informant was located on the corner of Fifth Street and Fifth Avenue,
three blocks from the market. As mentioned, Informant One recommended that we speak
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to him to learn about Marcus Garvey. She did not give us a name or an address, she
simply told us to find the barber at Black Star Line. We asked several people on the
streets of Limón how to find Black Star Line, and just as we were about to give up, we
found the two-story turquoise building marked by a sign hanging on the balcony that
reads “Black Star Line, Poder 25, todos los sabados ¢500 damas entran gratis”(Black
Star Line, Power 25, every Saturday, 500 colones, women enter free). There is a CocaCola sign attached to the building jutting out over the street corner that reads on the
bottom, “Restaurante Black Star Line”(Black Star Line Restaurant). The building is
decorated with pink and white trim and has a tin roof. When we entered the building we
saw that a restaurant was located on the first floor, and we were told we could find the
barber next door. When we approached the barbershop there was a crowd of elderly black
men sitting around the barber. When we walked in and requested to speak with him, the
men dispersed and the interview began.
Informant Three is 85 years old and has eighteen children. We asked how many
grand children he has, and he simply replied, “I don’t do no checkin’!” The interview was
conducted in English, as he is fluent in both English and Spanish. Throughout the
interview men walked into the barbershop and asked Informant Three for instructions on
various matters in Spanish. He told each of them what to do and they left. A little boy of
about three years old ran through the shop at one point, and Informant Three informed us
that boy was one of his great-grandchildren.
The barbershop has old-fashioned chairs and was decorated throughout with
pictures of Informant Three and various leaders of Jamaica and Costa Rica, along with
pictures of him in a parade, his barber’s license from the United States, and a picture of
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an old singing group he favors. There were four or five large kittens resting under the
bench we were sitting on, and he sat in a barber’s chair while we talked. In the
background Black Entertainment Television (BET) was playing on a television mounted
into the wall.
We came back the next day and spoke to him with a group of eighteen students.
He took us all to the second floor of the turquoise building where there was a large room
full of small tables and chairs. There was a stage with large speakers colored yellow, red
and green, and a sign similar to the one hanging from the balcony outside.
We saw our forth informant sitting on a bench in front of the beach in Puerto
Viejo. She was sitting with two elderly gentlemen who refused to be interviewed. She
said she would be willing to talk to us because she had nothing else to do, so we followed
her to her home and conducted the interview on her front porch. She spoke both English
and Spanish, and we conducted the interview entirely in English.
Informant Four gave us interesting information on medicinal plants, a subject that
was not approached with any of the other informants.
She informed us that she finds
plants, usually on the side of the road, which she uses to treat common ailments. She also
remarked that she is able to find less plants now than she could in the past, because many
have been cut down recently. At the end of the interview, Informant Four gave us some
wonderful homemade banana bread.
Foods:
Informants One, Two and Four said rice (Oryza sativa) and beans (Phaseolus
vulgaris) first when asked about common foods people eat in Limón. Rice and beans is
the Jamaican version of gallo pinto, and as gallo pinto is a staple in the rest of Costa Rica,
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rice and beans is a staple in Limón. The difference between the two, according to our
second informant, is that rice and beans are cooked with coconut (Cocus nucifera),
whereas gallo pinto is cooked with oil. The people speak of the Jamaican version in
English and the Costa Rican version in Spanish, which makes sense because English is
the primary language of Jamaica and Spanish is the primary language of Costa Rica. All
informants agreed that other common foods include yuca (Manihot esculenta), rondon,
chicken (Gallus gallus), fish (Actinoptenygii sp.), banana (Musa acuminata), beef (Bos
sp.), and plantains (Musa balbisiana).
Hair:
Because the hair of people of African descent is unique to our race, the way we
wear our hair is highly indicative of our cultural state. If the majority of the people wear
their hair naturally, then we can conclude that, in general, pride is taken in the natural
appearance as a person of African descent. If the majority of the people wear their hair
straightened or with extensions, we can conclude that, in general, the black community is
somewhat detached from their roots, and has accepted a more Euro-centric concept of
beauty.
We asked three of our four informants about hair, and two of them told us that
women mainly have their hair chemically relaxed. Relaxing the hair is a chemical process
that straightens naturally kinky hair. The majority of the black women we observed in the
marketplace had straightened hair. One of our informants was selling chemical relaxers
and other black hair products. Another of our informants responded that women typically
wear their hair naturally, like her. Her hair was obviously relaxed, so we drew the
conclusion that she believes that to relax the hair is to have it in its natural state. We
313
found that locks are generally not an acceptable hairstyle among those we spoke to.
Informant Two spoke of those who wear locks as having unnatural hair, while Informant
Three spoke of young people who wear locks as imitating Rastafarianism without
knowing anything about the religion.
Along with straightened hair, we also observed people with micro-braids,
extensions, cornrows, braids, locks and short natural hair. Mainly men and older women
have natural hair, while younger women have straightened, micro-braided and extensions
in their hair. We observed young men with cornrows, braids and short natural hair. The
few people we observed with locks were middle-aged and young men.
From these findings we can conclude that the overall the people of this AfroCaribbean community have a somewhat euro-centric concept of beauty. Although this
detachment from their African heritage is unfortunate, it does not indicate a deviation
from their Caribbean heritage.
Marcus Garvey:
Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica in 1887.
During his early 20’s, he worked
for an Afro-Egyptian publicist named Mohamed Effendi and studied at night at the
Universidad de Londres (University of Londres).
There he learned about the plight of
many Africans, and the problem and oppression of colonialism. In 1914, Garvey formed
the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) with the purpose of suppressing
the imperialism in African and organizing a central defense of blacks throughout the
world.
In 1917, he reorganized it with a new objective of creating a strong nation in
Africa, an alliance between blacks throughout the world, and the establishment of schools
and branches all over the world where there was a black population. As part of this plan,
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Garvey created the Black Star Line, whose purpose was to transport blacks to Africa.
However, in 1923 Garvey was judged in federal court for mail fraud, and he was
sentenced to five years in prison. In 1927, Garvey was deported to Jamaica. The Black
Star Line ended up as a loss of money, however it was still a spiritual gain for the black
people of the world. Because of the powerful influence of Marcus Garvey all over the
world, we asked questions to find out how he had affected Limón and the largely
Jamaican population there.
Three of our four informants said they did not know much about Marcus Garvey,
however Informant One told us to visit the barber at Black Star Line, who became our
third informant.
Informant Three is president of Universal Negro Improvement
Association (UNIA) and he had much to tell us about the UNIA and Marcus Garvey.
From Informant Three we learned about “Garvey-ism”, which is the popular name for the
school of thought that Marcus Garvey began in the early 1900’s.
He told us that Marcus Garvey believed in the uplifting of the black race. He also
showed us one of his personal Marcus Garvey books to which he frequently referred, one
of three volumes of the book Philosophy and Opinion: Africa for Africans.
Informant
Three also informed us that the common misconception of the Black Star Line, is that it
was to take all black people back to Africa. He advised us that this was not the case. The
purpose of the Black Star Line was to provide a mode of transportation for those blacks
who wished to relocate to Africa or to visit.
The barbershop and restaurant that Informant Three owns are named “Black Star
Line” after the group of ships under Marcus Garvey. He informed us that the building
was built in 1922, one year after Marcus Garvey visited Costa Rica and instated the
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UNIA there.
The new building was originally called “Liberty Hall”, though the name
was eventually changed to “Black Star Line”.
Currently, the Costa Rican chapter of the UNIA consists of about 250 members.
There are fifty-seven branches in the world, and the headquarters are in New York City,
where Marcus Garvey’s eldest son is now president general.
United States Cultural Influence:
We often think of and notice the globalization of American white culture, but we
do not often consider the effect of African-American culture on other communities of
African decent. We were surprised, therefore, to find the same hairstyles, fashion trends,
and even Black Entertainment Television (BET) as is present in current AfricanAmerican culture. Because of their style of clothing and hair, a lot of the black people in
Limón look as if they could be from any large city in the United States.
The black hair products for sale by Informant One are African-American
products, and we recognized them immediately. She had for sale Pink Oil Moisturizer,
and TCB and Just for Me relaxers among other products.
The fashions that we saw in the young men’s clothing stores in Limón are hot
items among young metropolitan African-Americans. Shiny, baggy jeans are the trend
among young African-American men, and we saw them for sale at three different
locations close to the municipal market in Limón. Another clothing trend we noticed is
multicolored pants and shorts with one color on top, another color on the bottom, and a
merge of colors in the middle. This style is popular among both young African-American
men and women, and we found several stores with this style of pant for young Costa
Rican men and women. Several of the black young men that we saw were dressed in the
316
same way one would find in the United States: baggy pants, a jersey or sports shirt,
designer tennis shoes, accessories such as a chain or necklace. We saw familiar popular
brands such as FuBu, a clothesline started by young black men in the United States. The
name FuBu means For us By us, and it is a clothing line designed for the young AfricanAmerican. We also saw several men wearing t- shirts with ‘New York’ written across the
chest.
We did not hear any rap music, but we saw the name of a popular AfricanAmerican rap artist, Snoop Doggy Dogg, written on the side of a bus stop in black marker
as ‘Snoop Dog,’ the shortened version of his name. This vandalism lead us to believe that
rap music is present in the culture, however to what extent we do not know. While we
were in the barbershop of the third informant, we noticed that the television was playing
hip-hop music videos. Eventually Cita appeared, the familiar host of Cita’s World, a BET
video show. We both looked up immediately when we heard her voice, and were
surprised to find that BET is broadcast in Limón. One possible explanation for the large
amount of United States influence might be the presence of BET. Through this medium,
the people of Limón are able to see the latest trends in fashion and hair and hear the latest
releases in hip-hop and rap music. As much of the world has shaped its view of the
United States based on television, the people of Limón may also be shaping their views
of African-Americans based on BET, the nation’s African-American television network.
Unfortunately, BET programs only focus on one aspect of African-American culture, that
of hip-hop music and crude comedy (neither of which is positive image of AfricanAmericans). Informant Three expressed the view that it is such shows that has led many
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of the black youth of Limón away from church and towards the abuse of drugs and
violence.
Jamaican Cultural Influence:
Not surprisingly, there is a large Jamaican influence on the culture of Limón. The
English spoken by all of our informants had a Jamaican acent. Our fourth informant used
the word ‘vexed,’ which is a Jamaican colloquialism meaning to be upset. The foods
eaten are of Jamaican origin, such as beef patties, rice and beans, and rondon. We
observed quite a seletion of reggae, a classic Jamaican music, in the music stores in
Limón. There was traditional reggae such as Bob Marley, as well as various selections of
Spanish reggae.
Rastafarianism and Bob Marley seem to have a large influence in
Limón, as we saw red, green and black (Rastafarian colors) on banners and T-shirts with
Bob Marley on them. We also saw a few men with locks, which is probably also a result
of the Jamaican Rastafarian influence in Limón. When asked about Rastafarianism, our
informants gave varied answers, and one of our informants said that the religion is not in
practice. However it is obvious that Rastafarianism has influenced the Afro-Caribbean
population of Limón.
Family History:
The informants we spoke to knew their family history only as far back as one or
two generations. All of their families are from the Americas or Jamaica. Informant One’s
parents are from Panama and Columbia. Both the parents of Informant Two A are from
Nicaragua. Informant Two B’s mother is from British Honduras.
Informant Three’s
parents are from Jamaica, and Informant Four’s parents are from Jamaica and British
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Honduras.
There is obviously of mix of Latin and Caribbean family history in the
people.
Religion:
As recently as the early 1970’s, the religions practiced in Limón could be
categorized in three principal groups:
Protestantism, Catholicism, and African based
religions such as Obeah and pocomía. Pocomía, a religion similar to vodou, utilizes in its
celebrations sacred songs and portions of the scriptures.
Negative perceptions of
pocomía have labeled it as the work of the devil. Obeah is an African word that means
power. This spiritual power is utilized to protect and defend the worshipper from harm,
as well as to attack an enemy.
All of the informants mentioned the presence of Catholicism, Evangelism, and
Christianity in Limón.
Adventists.
They also mentioned the presence of Baptists and 7th Day
Informant One seemed to think that a lot of people still practice pocomía,
however no other informant agreed.
Both Informants Two A and B mentioned that
pocomía and Obeah were practiced in the past, but are now obsolete in the area.
Informants Three and Four agreed that pocomía was present in the past, but had different
ideas of how it disappeared.
Informant Three said that it died with the elders who
practiced it. In contrast, Informant Four said that the people who practice it now live in
Panama.
Racism:
All informants agreed that racism is still present in Limón. However, they all had
very positive attitudes about how they deal with it. Each expressed that although racism
319
is still present, they lived their lives interacting with others regardless of race, and let it be
the problem of others if they felt hate toward others because of color. We thought that it
was interesting that although each informant was cognizant of the racism, he or she did
not let it make him bitter or angry.
Conclusion
Afro-Caribbean culture developed as a result of the African presence in the
Caribbean created by the slave trade. This culture has proven its tenacity, as the Jamaican
influence in Limón has remained strong for over one hundred years. This influence is
evident through the music, language, foods, and presence of Rastafarianism. The people
of Limón have been able to maintain this culture through the isolation of the community.
A large reason for the maintenance of the culture may also be the cohesiveness created by
the influence of Marcus Garvey and the presence of the UNIA.
As African-Americans, we wanted to see how we would relate to and be different
from Afro-Caribbeans. Through our interactions with people in the community we
learned that not only do we have many commonalities, but our subculture of African
descent in the United States is influencing the subculture of African descent in Costa
Rica. Through this observation we learned that it is possible for one subgroup within a
culture to affect the same subgroup of another culture. This topic could be the subject of
further investigation.
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Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the city of Limón for its hospitality, and Jenny, Rose, Melinda
López, Alfred King Kristina Smart-Taylor, and Gabriela Demergasso for their valuable
assistance with this project.
We would also like to thank Luis Diego Gómez for his
support.
References
IGNCR. 1988. Limón CR2CM-6. Limón. 1:200:000.
Duncan, Q. and Meléndez, C. 1972. El Negro en Costa Rica. San José: Editorial Costa
Rica. 71-87, 121-122, 197-200.
Rachowiecki, R. and Thompson, J. 2000. Costa Rica. Melbourne: Lonely Planet
Publications. 21, 358-369
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Techniques of Quantitative Ethnobotany and the Useful Plants
of Las Cruces Biological Station, Costa Rica
H. Folse
Dept. of Applied Mathematics, Harvard Univ.
Abstract: The literature on quantitative ethnobotany in Economic Botany
and Conservation Biology since 1987 is reviewed. A transect study was
conducted at Las Cruces Biological Station, Costa Rica. Guaymí, Kuna,
and local Costa Ricans were interviewed on the names and uses of plants
along the transect. The results are analyzed using techniques of ni formant
use value indexing and diversity indexing. 78.3% of genera were found to
be useful and Aracaceae was found to be the most useful family. Finally,
the implications of quantitative ethnobotany to conservation are discussed.
Key Words: Guaymí, Kuna, Costa Rica, Quantitative Ethnobiology,
Indigenous, Las Cruces, Diversity Indices, Use Value Indices
Review of Literature
Common ethnobotanical methods have been criticized as “unscientific.” Data are
often anecdotal and without multiple informants are not scientifically valuable (Johns et.
al. 1990). Informants are often contradictory and unreliable (Johns et. al.1990).
Ethnobotanists rarely state the criteria they select for reporting data, the number of
informants who reported a particular use (Johns et. al.1990), or define falsifiable
hypotheses (Philips and Gentry 1993). Oliver Philips and Alwyn Gentry challenge
ethnobotanists to pay more attention to methodology not only to improve the quality of
their science but also to raise the image of ethnobiology among other scientists (Philips
and Gentry 1993).
Before 1993, a few scientists were already meeting this challenge. In 1987, G.T.
Prance, W. Baleé, B.M.Boom, and R.L. Carneiro coined the term “quantitative
ethnobotany” in a seminal paper in which they sought to present quantitative data on the
use of trees by indigenous people and to quantify the value of these trees for
conservation. They conducted interviews in plots in which they had previously tagged
322
and collected all trees > 10 cm dbh. They classified plants into 6 categories of use:
edible, construction, technology, remedy, commerce, and other. They note that these
categories are artificial constructs of the scientist, but consider them useful anyway for
simplifying data. Plant uses are furthermore classified as major (worth 1 count) and
minor (worth 0.5 counts). For each plant they calculated a use value which was a simple
sum of their uses. The use value for each family was the sum of all its members.
Johns et. al. (1990) suggest a more mathematically complex analysis than the
simple additive one of Prance et. al. They applied a log-linear model to data collected
from Kenya in order to establish criteria for evaluating the efficacy of specific remedies.
They then calculated an interaction effect for each remedy in order to measure its degree
of confirmation. They found that their data was highly random and inconsistent. They
required that uses for plants be confirmed by at least 3 informants. However, this method
is biased because more common plants are more likely to be confirmed. The purpose of
the log-linear model was to establish a measure of confirmation independent of the
abundance of the species. They stress that the high level of randomness and
inconsistency in the data does not necessarily imply that the data is unreliable. However,
it does suggest that indigenous people’s use of plants is a dynamic process involving
experimentation and exploration. They see quantitative ethnobotany as a way to
understand this dynamism.
In 1993, Philips and Gentry put quantitative ethnobotany on firm ground with a
concise summary of the methods that had been previously applied. Furthermore they
suggested a new methodology of calculating use indices that is more complex than
Prance simple use value. They demonstrated the usefulness of this technique by applying
323
it in a study on Tambopata, Peru in a 2-part paper. Like Prance et. al. they interviewed
randomly selected informants on plants of 10 cm dbh in previously tagged plots. They
also defined general use categories: edible, construction, commerce, medicinal, and
technology and crafts (they do not fail to mention the arbitrary nature of these
categories). Unlike Prance et. al., they calculate use values from the frequency with
which a plant is mentioned rather than an arbitrary value assigned by the researcher. The
calculation of the use value (UV) of a species is a two-part process. First they calculate
the UV for each informant:
UVis = ? Uis / nis = average number of uses for informant i
where Uis is the number of uses mentioned by informant i and ni is the number of events
for species s with informant i. “An ‘event’ is defined as the process of asking one
informant on one day about the uses they know for one species.” If on the same day the
same species is encountered twice and given the same common name, it counts only as
one event. After finding UVis for each informant, they then calculate the overall use
value of a species:
UVs = ? UVis / ns = average use value over all informants
where n is the number of informants.
Like Johns et. al.’s log-linear model, this average eliminates the effect of the
abundance of a plant on its value. The advantage of this technique over Prance et. al.’s is
that given enough events and informants unimportant (infrequently mentioned) uses and
mistakes become negligible. Secondly, it highlights the inconsistency of the data, even
from a single informant over different events. The accuracy of this technique increases
with the sample size, thus providing insight into the relationship between sample size and
324
the reliability of ethnobotanical data. Furthermore, they show that while working with
several informants is important, the rate of increase in confidence diminishes as the
number of informants increases. They proscribe that: “given limited time, researchers
seeking to quantify the utility of a fixed number of species to an ethnic group will
maximize statistical confidence in their data by spreading their research effort as equally
as possible across all the species.” Use indices differ from assigned use values as used by
Prance et. al. in that they are more objective, more reproducible, and allow for statistical
comparisons both between uses and between species.
Philips and Gentry demonstrated the power of use indices in two follow up
articles on Tambopata, Peru (1993, 1994). In the first, they statistically test the
contribution of eight different factors in predicting plant usefulness, compare the degree
of knowledge between informants, and investigate the relationship between informant
age and knowledge. In the second, they rank different forest types for usefulness based
on plants > 10 cm dbh. They show that while calculating the raw percent of plants that
are useful shows little variation, informant use indices show significant differences
between different forest types and their usefulness for different use categories. They
make recommendations for conservation based on these findings.
Since then, there have been several quantitative studies published in Economic
Botany. Alpina Begossi applied ecological techniques of diversity analysis to
ethnobotany, specifically the Shannon-Weaver diversity index and rarefaction curves.
For purposes of conservation, diversity indices are useful in determining the minimum
amount of area needed to support indigenous human populations. She suggests these
methods as useful for answering questions such as: “Does the diversity of plant use
325
represent the diversity of plants available?” “Are the same plants used by most
individuals?” “Are there differences in the diversity of plant use correlated to categories
such as gender or age?” “Is the sampling effort sufficient?” Begossi applied diversity
analysis to published studies that included information on the number of informants who
sited each plant use. She, like Johns et. al., stresses the need for ethnobotanists to collect
quantitative data because they make such “macro scale” studies possible. She comments
that very few studies do so.
Anita Ankli et. al. conducted a quantitative study on the relative importance (for
medical use only) of different taxons among the Yucatec Maya. They use 4 main
categories of medicinal use: gastrointestinal, dermatological, respiratory, gynecological,
bites and stings, eye problems, pain and fever, urological, and other. Unlike Prance et. al.
and Philips and Gentry, they tried to make these categories coincide with indigenous
classification. They interviewed only specialists in medicinal plants. They ranked
species by how often they were mentioned, but did not assigned them use values or apply
statistical analysis.
Saara DeWalt et. al. evaluated the use of trees > 10 cm dbh by the Tacana in two
plots in Bolivia. They interviewed older men and women known to be knowledgeable
about plants, but only one was a specialist healer. Like Prance et. al. and Philips and
Gentry, while acknowledging their arbitrary nature, they use general categories:
construction, fiber, technology and crafts, firewood, edible, medicinal, hunting and
fishing, commerce, and other. Like Ankli et. al., they calculate percentages of use but
neither calculate use indices nor apply statistics. However, they are able to show that the
326
biodiversity and the uses of the forest at the Bolivia site was comparable to other parts of
the Amazon and quantified the usefulness of the forest to the Tacana.
Gloria Galeano conducted a quantitative survey of plant uses by Afro-Caribbean
people on the Pacific Coast of Columbia, using 3 plots and trees > 10 cm dbh. She used
the same methodology as Philips and Gentry. She makes the criticism that there is no
qualification of the value of uses (all uses are considered equal, which is misleading).
Like Philips and Gentry, she interviewed her informants multiple times. She points out
that in this methodology, independence between interviews is questionable, although it is
assumed in the statistical analysis. Unlike Philips and Gentry, she selected informants
based on their authority on plants rather than randomly.
Introduction
On the afternoon of Tuesday July 24, 2001 we, the Organization for Tropical
Studies undergraduate ethnobiology class, entered the forest in Las Cruces Biological
Station in the province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica, to set up a transect and walk our
indigenous informants through. It rained very hard for the duration of our project. We
had one scientific informant, one Guaymí informant, one Kuna informant, and two Tico
informants who walked together and who we counted as one informant. The Guaymí are
a local indigenous tribe, and our informant was a professional herbal healer. The Kuna
are from northeastern Panama, so while our Kuna informant knew many of the plants, he
was not in his native land. He currently works as a teacher and for an indigenous NGO,
although he had worked in the past as a healer. The two Tico informants were not
medicinal specialists. The purpose of the project was the gain quantitative data on the
use of forest plants.
327
Materials and Methods
A 25 meter transect was laid out using a chord that stretched in a nearly straight
line through the forest at breast height. Every plant that laid above or below the chord
was tagged and numbered with a piece of bright orange tape. In groups of three or four
students, we walked the transect with each of the informants. The first was our scientific
informant, who identified the scientific names of the plants. He was followed the
Guaymí informant, the Kuna informant, and two Tico informants who walked together.
We asked for the names of the plants in Guaymí, Kuna, and Spanish, respectively, and
for any uses that the plants had.
The Shannon-Weaver diversity index was calculated for the generic diversity
using the formula exp (S –pi ln pi) where pi is the proportion of individuals of genus i out
of the entire set of individuals. To calculate S-W indices for use, the number of
individuals was replaced with the number of informants who cited it as useful (0 – 3 in
this study).
We divided the uses into six arbitrary categories: medicine, landscaping (which
includes gardening, shade, and water retention), thatch, construction, firewood, and food.
Use values were calculated using the method of Philips and Gentry described in the
review of literature, with one difference. Philips and Gentry count multiple encounters of
the same plant given the same name on the same day as one event. However, since we
had only one afternoon in which to do the project, we count all encounters as separate
events. Family use values were calculated by simply summing the use values of each
member genus.
328
Results
Because so few of the plants were identified to the species level, I use the genus
as my basic level of analysis. 23 different genera and 17 different families were
identified. Of the 23 genera, 18 (78.3%) are useful and 8 (34.8%) are useful medicinally.
The Shannon-Weaver effective generic diversity was 17, effective use diversity was 16.8,
and effective medical use diversity was 7.5 (Table 1). The Tico informants used 47.8%,
the Kuna used 39.1%, and the Guaymí used 65.2%, averaging to 50.7% (Table 2).
Table 1
Table 2
Genera Richness
Genera Diversity
Use Richness
Percent used
Use Diversity
Medical Richness
Percent used medically
Medical Diversity
23
17
18
78.26
16.81
8
34.78
7.54
Informant
Percent
Used
Tico
Kuna
Guaymí
Average
47.8
39.1
65.2
50.7
Of the uses given, 24 % were for medicine, 28% for landscaping, 21% for thatch,
12% for construction, 9% for firewood, and 6% for food (Fig. 1). Out of the total use
value, 28 % is from medicine, 23% from landscaping, 23% from thatch, 11% from
construction, 8% from firewood, and 7% from food (Fig. 2). Out of the 23 genera, 5 had
uses in no category, 6 were useful in 1 category, 9 useful in two categories, and 3 useful
in 3 categories (Fig. 3).
329
Fig. 1
fire
9%
food
6%
Fig. 2
Fire
8%
med
24%
Food
7%
Med
28%
Const
11%
const
12%
Thatch
23%
land
28%
thatch
21%
Land
23%
Number of genera
Fig. 3
10
8
6
4
2
0
1
2
Number of uses per genus
3
330
The family with the highest total use value was Arecaceae, followed by
Marantaceae, and Rubiaceae. Arecaceae, Rubiaceae, and Costaceae tied for the most
important source of medicine. Arecaceae was the most important for landscaping.
Melastomataceae and Araliaceae were most important for firewood. Rubiaceae,
Myristaceae, and Moraceae were the most important for construction. Arecaceae was the
most important for thatch. Arecaceae and Marantaceae are the most important for food
(Fig. 4). Use values for all genera and families are located in the appendix.
Fig 4
Arec
Marant
Rubi
Laur
Medicine
Landscaping
Firewood
Construction
Thatch
Food
Myristicaceae
Cycl
Pter
Mor
Melast
Cost
Aralia
Arac
0
1
2
Total Use Value
3
331
Discussion
The Shannon-Weaver effective diversity of use, 16.8 for all uses and 7.5 for
medical uses, is not very useful in this context. Diversity indices are useful in large-scale
studies such as Begossi’s. In this study, indices are calculated for different sites around
the world, and then compared statistically. With only one site, no comparisons can be
made. However, were this study only a part of a macro study, the diversity index would
be useful.
We do have data from other sources on the raw percentage of uses for different
cultures, and we can make comparisons between Las Cruces and these other sites. The
total use percent for Las Cruces (78.3%) is higher than 62.8% for the Afro-Caribbeans of
Columbia (Galeano 2000) but lower than 87.2% the Amazonian groups studied by
Philips et. al. (1994). Prance et. al. found 76%, 61.3%, 78.7%, and 48.6% for various
Amazonian groups (1987), which are about the same as our data. The validity of these
comparisons is questionable, however, because the more informants will provide more
uses. This accumulation is seen by the fact that on average our informants only used
50.7% of the plants, whereas collectively they used 78.3%.
We can also make comparisons between the three informants. That the Guaymí
had the most uses and the Kuna the fewest is exactly as should have been expected.
Because the Guaymí informant was a professional healer, it is not surprising that he
knows more than the Tico informants did. The Kuna, on the other hand, was far from his
home, so one would expect the local Ticos to know more than him. Furthermore, the
Ticos had two people pooling their knowledge compared the one Kuna. In order to make
any meaningful comparison between groups, it is necessary to select informants more
332
systematically. Informants should be chosen either randomly (Philips and Gentry 1993)
or consistently as plant specialists (Galeano 2000). Each informant should be
interviewed separately and interviews should be repeated with as much time between
interviews as possible to minimize the effect between interviews. They should also be
interviewed in areas near their home where they will presumably be most knowledgeable.
Most importantly it is necessary to have as many informants as possible in order to
average out the large amount of inconsistency in ethnobotanical data. No meaningful
comparisons can be made with only one informant per group. Also because we had only
one informant per group, in order to find the use values and diversity of uses, I had to
combine the data for all three informants. However, combining information between
completely different groups is somewhat misleading.
These problems acknowledged, we can still gather some information regarding
plant use. Destructive uses (construction and firewood) were much lower than medicine
and landscaping. This suggests the optimistic conclusion that most of the use that people
make of the forest is non-destructive. This is the opposite of the Colombian AfroCaribbeans, whose most important uses involve destructive harvesting (Galeano 2000).
Arecaceae proved to be by far the most useful plant family. Prance et. al. also
found that Arecaceae was exceptionally useful in the Amazon. They suggest that for this
reason Arecaceae should be of high priority for conservation. Arecaceae is followed by
Rubiaceae, and these two families are also the most diverse. They are the only two
families with three genera. They also are more abundant: Rubiaceae has 7 individuals
and Arecaceae has 6 individuals. This suggests that there may be an association between
the diversity and abundance of families with their ethnobotanical importance. Much
333
more research would be required to test this hypothesis. Arecaceae and Rubiaceae also
tied with Costaceae as the most useful medicinally. Costaceae had only one individual,
so one cannot generalize to the family as a whole. However, this does suggest examining
the phytochemistry of the genus Costus. It is also possible that the exceptional usefulness
of Arecaceae and Rubiaceae is unrelated or only partially caused by diversity and
abundance. To test this hypothesis would require more research into the biology and
biochemistry of these families.
Conclusion – Quantitative Ethnobotany and Conservation
Quantitative ethnobotany is a useful tool to direct the efforts of conservation. In
Prance’s original paper, he stresses the importance of quantitative ethnobotany to
conservation. He concludes that “endemism combined with high indigenous utility”
suggests that small blocks of forest are capable of preserving many useful species of
trees. This means that many small reserves are the best way to save the greatest number
of useful species for a variety of ethnic groups, a conclusion at odds with the
conventional wisdom of conservation.
Philips et. al.’s 1994 paper also applies quantitative ethnobotany to directing
conservation in showing that some forest types, mature forests of floodplains in
particular, are most important for use by indigenous people. These forests are also the
ones disappearing fastest in Amazonia, so a strong priority should be placed on their
conservation. On the other hand, other forest types have uses that are not provided for by
the floodplains, so it is important for communities to have access to all forest types
Galeano (2000) noted that those families that are used most by non-indigenous
Afro-Caribbean communities are also the rarest families. She suggests that this is
334
because the people have been practicing non-sustainable use of these families and have
decimated them. If this trend were to continue, they would eventually drive them to
extinction. She does not have enough data to confirm this hypothesis, but suggests it as
an important avenue for further research.
Quantitative ethnobotany also stresses the important link between biological
conservation and cultural conservation. Use indices allow you to tap the collective
knowledge of a community rather than simply the knowledge of isolated individual
healers. However, this collective knowledge is rapidly dying out. Just as the genetic
information of a single individual is not sufficient to save a species, the knowledge of a
single healer is not enough to maintain the healing art of a culture. A population is a
dynamic entity, as is cultural knowledge (Johns et. al.). Simply recording the knowledge
of a healer and entering into a database is not valuable if the cultural knowledge is lost to
the community. This corroborates the conclusion of Agrawal (1995) that ex situ
conservation is not a valid solution to the loss of indigenous knowledge. In situ
conservation is the only effective way to help preserve the cultures of indigenous peoples.
Shamans can play a crucial role in this process. A shaman is far more than an
organic encyclopedia of pharmacology that can be copied into a database. Quantitative
ethnobotany stresses the importance of the shaman not only for his knowledge, but also
as a teacher and leader of his community. In order to preserve ethnobotanical
information, it is necessary to work with shamans in the context of their community,
rather than simply recording their knowledge.
335
Acknowledgements
I would like to thank most of all Rodolfo Quirós for his assistance both in the
library and the field. I would also like the thank José González with his help identifying
plants. Finally I would like to thank Guillermo Archibold, Alejandro Palacios, and the
Tico informants for sharing their knowledge.
References
Agrawal, A. 1995. Dismantling the divide between indigenous and scientific knowledge.
Development and Change 26: 413 – 439.
Ankli, A., O. Sticher, M. Heinrich. 1999. Medical ethnobotany of the Yucatec Maya:
healer’s consensus as a quantitative criterion. Economic Botany 53 (2): 144 – 160.
Begossi, A. 1996. Use of ecological methods in ethnobotany: diversity indices. Economic
Botany 50 (3): 280-289.
DeWalt, S. J., G. Bourdy, L. R. Chávez de Michel, C. Quenevo. 1999. Ethnobotany of
the Tacana: quantitative inventories of two permanent plots of northwestern
Bolivia. Economic Botany 53 (3): 237 – 260.
Galeano, G. 2000. Forest use at the Pacific coast of Chocó, Colombia: a quantitative
approach. Economic Botany 54 (3): 358 – 376.
Johns, T., J. O. Kokwaro, E. K. Kimanani. 1990. Herbal remedies of the Luo of Siaya
District, Kenya: establishing quantitative criteria for consensus.
Philips, O., and A. Gentry. 1993a. The useful plants of Tambopata, Peru: I. statistical
hypotheses tests with a new quantitative technique. Economic Botany 47 (1):
15 – 32.
Philips, O., A. Gentry, C. Reynel, P. Wilkin, C. Gálvez-Durand B.. 1994. Quantitative
336
ethnobotany and Amazonian conservation. Conservation Biology 8 (1):
225 – 248.
Prance, G. T., W. Baleé, B. M. Boom, R. L. Carneiro. 1987. Quantitative ethnobotany
and the case for conservation in Amazonia. Conservation Biology. 1: 296 – 310.
Appendix
Family
Genus
Marant.
Arec.
Myristic.
Arec.
Arec.
Cost.
Laur.
Melasto..
Mor.
Pterido.
Rubi.
Cyclant
Ar.
Arali.
Cyclant
Rubi.
Laur.
Rubi.
Fab
Malv.
Meli.
Mor.
Piper.
Total
Calathea
Geonoma
Otoba
Bactris
Chamaedorea
Costus
Beischmeldia
Miconia
Pseudolmedia
Cyathea
Psichotria
Cyclanthus
Syngonium
Dendropanax
Edodianthus
Hoffmania
Ocotea
Elaeagia
Mucuna
Urera
Guarea
Sorocea
Piper
x
uses
3
2
2
2
2
1
2
2
2
2
2
3
3
1
1
1
1
1
0
0
0
0
0
x
Total
1
0.9167
0.7778
0.6667
0.6667
0.6667
0.6667
0.6667
0.6667
0.6667
0.5
0.4167
0.3333
0.3333
0.3333
0.3333
0.1667
0.1111
0
0
0
0
0
9.8889
Medicine
0
0
0.4444
0.3333
0.3333
0.6667
0
0
0
0
0.3333
0.1667
0.2222
0
0
0.3333
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
2.8333
Landscaping
0.3333
0.25
0
0
0.3333
0
0
0.3333
0
0.3333
0.1667
0.1667
0.0556
0
0.3333
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
2.3056
Firewood
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0.3333
0
0
0
0
0
0.3333
0
0
0
0.1111
0
0
0
0
0
0.7777
Construction
0
0
0.3333
0
0
0
0.3333
0
0.3333
0
0
0
0.0556
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1.0556
Thatch
0.3333
0.6667
0
0
0
0
0.3333
0
0.3333
0.3333
0
0.0833
0
0
0
0
0.1667
0
0
0
0
0
0
2.25
Food
0.3333
0
0
0.3333
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0.6667
337
Family Use Values
Family
Fabaceae
Malvacea
Meliaceae
Piperaceae
Araceae
Araliaceae
Costaceae
Melastomataceae
Moraceae
Pteridophyta
Cyclantaceae
Myristicaceae
Lauraceae
Rubiaceae
Marantaceae
Arecaceae
Total
Total
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.3333
0.3333
0.6667
0.6667
0.6667
0.6667
0.7500
0.7778
0.8333
0.9444
1.0000
2.2500
9.8889
Medicine
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.2222
0.0000
0.6667
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.1667
0.4444
0.0000
0.6667
0.0000
0.6667
2.8333
Landscaping
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0556
0.0000
0.0000
0.3333
0.0000
0.3333
0.5000
0.0000
0.0000
0.1667
0.3333
0.5833
2.3056
Firewood
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.3333
0.0000
0.3333
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.1111
0.0000
0.0000
0.7778
Construction
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0556
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.3333
0.0000
0.0000
0.3333
0.3333
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
1.0556
Thatch
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.3333
0.3333
0.0833
0.0000
0.5000
0.0000
0.3333
0.6667
2.2500
Food
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.0000
0.3333
0.3333
0.6667
341
Animals and Spirits
1
Rachel Hart1 and Emily Loggins2
Dept. of Microbiology, Univ. of Tennessee 2 Dept. of Biochemistry, Univ. of Tennessee
Abstract
In indigenous communities, ancient traditions are still present. However,
pressures to modernize and outside influences have caused these traditions to fade. One
of these traditions is the perception of animals and whether or not they are seen as
spiritual beings. The Bribri, Baruka, and Guaymi communities still hold some traditional
beliefs regarding animals, but level of modernization seems to have a direct negative
effect on the prevalence of these beliefs. This paper explains how traditional beliefs
regarding animals could have arisen through history and then become altered because of
domesication and modernizing influences. Indigenous communities’ views of animals
are then explained within this context.
Introduction
Indigenous communities are remnants of antiquity—they represent time capsules
of ancient customs and language. Despite some change caused by outside influences,
these societies are still shaped by culture and traditions from a distant past. Among these
traditions are man’s relationship with and perception of animals. The interrelationship
between man and animal has been a pivotal factor in all societies, which is evidenced by
the permeation of animals into cultural practices. In hunting and gathering societies,
humans depended greatly on the life cycles of animals, which is indicated by the fact that
much of hunter-gatherer culture focused on animals. Domestication and agriculture,
however, has allowed man to alter these life cycles for their own benefit and has thus
affected their relationship with animals and altered his perception of them. Because they
are a window to the past, indigenous cultures still retain many ancient perceptions of
animals but have also been affected by modernization and outside influences. This paper
will examine the relationship between animal and man though time and how this may
shape indigenous’ peoples current perceptions of animals.
342
Hunting and Gathering
Man’s earliest relationship with animals was that of hunting and gathering.
Hunting and gathering societies obtained food by hunting wild herds for meat and then
supplementing this with gathered plants. The process of the hunt depended largely on the
movements and behavior of wild animals, and man often had to “follow” a herd in order
to hunt it. This produced a dynamic in which the survival of humans was directly
correlated to the survival of animals. Because an understanding of animals was so
necessary to hunters and gatherers, animals make up much of hunter/gatherer mythology.
In hunter-gatherer societies, animals are gods, shamans, and symbols. They also
permeate creation myths and stories, and the ever important hunt has its own set of rituals
and stories.
The following are examples of spirituality assigned to animals and possible
explanations of why this occurred:
Creation Myths
The Bribri story of “Por Qué No Somos Todos Iguales” is an example of
symbolic roles of animals in creation myths. The god/birds in this story are
anthropomorphic, supernatural beings who bestow man with characteristics similar their
own features. This story is a potent example of the importance of animals in huntergatherer societies and the interactions between humans an animals that were present.
The Hunt
There are also many beliefs associated with the hunt. Important to the hunt is the
renewal of animal life. A belief in the “rebirth” of “group animal soul” justifies the
killing of animals. Each type of animal stems from a group soul, and when one is killed,
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another is “reborn” from the group soul in the realm of the supernatural. Other rituals
surrounding the hunt must also be performed correctly to avoid upsetting the balance
between human and animal life. In many hunting and gathering societies, the blood and
entrails of a slain animal must be covered so that while the body dies, the animal’s
“essence” or soul is preserved and can then return to the spiritual realm. (Primitive
Mythology 124).
The Animal Master
The “animal master” is often in charge of this rebirth and allowing animals to
leave the spiritual realm. The animal master is described as “a manifestation of that
point, principle, or aspect of the realm of essence from which the creatures of his species
spring” (Primitive Mythology 292). In the mythology of the Tukano Indians of the
Amazon, who are largely a hunting/gathering society, the animal master is called Vaimahse and is a humanoid figure. The Paye or shaman of this community must ask
permission from Vai-mahse so that he will release animals from the spiritual realm so
that they can be hunted. If this is not done correctly, the Vai-mahse will take revenge by
sending disease to the animals.
Also, the large sexual organ of the Vai-mahse is also signifies that the fertility of
animals and humans is interrelated. Vai-mahse, besides controlling the realm of animal
spirits, has a voracious sexual appetite; Vai-mahse shows the interconnectedness of the
life cycles of humans and animals (The Amazonian Cosmos 197). Another example of
the merging of human and animal reproduction exists in an Eskimo legend about the
woman of the seals. She, like the Vai-mahse, “looks after the souls of animals and does
not like to see too many of them killed.” An animal “not returned to life by the proper
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hunting ritual” will cause her to have an abortion. (Primitive Mythology 224).Then, her
shaman-lover has to come to her in order to renew the life of the animals. Hunting and
fertility rituals to ensure renewal of animal life are demonstrative of conservation. The
maintenance of animal populations was a necessity for hunter-gatherers, and the above
rituals assigned a sacredness to the hunt and limited the number of animals killed.
The following are more examples of animal spirituality in culture:
Art
Primitive Mythology (Campbell 1991) contains an account in an African tribe in
which, before the hunt, warriors must draw the animal to be killed and then simulate the
act of killing by shooting an arrow through the animal’s neck. Other plentiful evidence
of drawing as a part of the ritual associated with hunting exists in prehistoric caves.
Thousands of drawings of animals pierced with spears, shamans involved in hunting
ceremonies, and bands of hunters decorate cave walls previously occupied by
hunter/gatherer societies. These drawings, states the author of Primitive Mythology, were
almost certainly not done for simple aesthetic value; they played an important role in the
ceremony of the hunt and are evidence of the spiritual value assigned to animals.
Language
Language is also an indication of the symbolic and spiritual value of animals in
hunter-gatherer societies. Names for animals serve to identify the animal but also often
carry a spiritual connotation. The Chewa indigenous group of Malawi, for example, use
animals names with spiritual significance. “Chirombo,” for example, means “any hostile
wild animal” but is also associated with masked dancers who impersonate animal spirits.
The Chewa also notably use different names for domesticated animals Animals, then,
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were an extremely important part of hunter-gatherer life and are assigned both spiritual
and cultural value (Ethnobotany: A Reader 70-72).
Domestication
The domestication of animals, however, gradually altered man’s perceptions of
them. Agriculture and the domestication of animals took place at the beginning of the
Holocene period about 10,000 years ago. Some scholars believe domestication
originated at several locations and then spread around the world, and others believe in the
“Eureka” effect, in which domestication began in one location and then spread.
One theory for the impetus behind domestication is that, because of crowding and climate
detirioration, humans were forced to intensify means of food production. Another
proposed reason that is quite relevant to this paper is: “Wild cattle are large and fierce
beasts, and no one could have foreseen their utility for labor or milk until they were
tamed—tamed for ritual sacrifice in connection with the lunar goddess cults”(The Human
Impact on the Natural Environment 11-15, 89-125). This implies that the great spiritual
significance assigned to animals in hunter-gatherer societies eventually led to their
domestication.
Domestication, over time, has led to changes in animals according to human
desire. Selective breeding has altered the fundamental biology of domesticated species,
specifically seasonal cycles. Domesticated animals have gained the ability to produce
milk, wool, etc. throughout the year. This means that the following of animal life cycles
by humans was no longer necessary; this aspect of hunter-gatherer society was no longer
necessary. Domestication also breaks down regional separations between species by
dispersing more adaptable animals that subsequently wipe out native populations. This
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altered the natural dispersal of animals and thus allowed humans to exert artificial control
over them (The Human Impact on the Natural Environment 175-190).
This control could mean that animals seemed less mysterious, easier to replace,
and lose some of their spiritual meaning. Domestication and agriculture led to a more
rigid structure in society, according to the Human Impact on the Natural Environment..
Agriculture depends much less upon “chance” than hunting and gathering in that it is
stable and must be maintained through regular and defined practices; this same principle
applies to domesticated animals. Farming also requires a structured, cooperative effort
by communities. Agriculture and domestication then, brought nature under “control” and
allowed it to be regulated by man.
Agriculture led to the structuring of other aspects of human life. In Primitive
Mythology, the order brought by agriculture led to order in religion. In agriculturallybased societies (current society), religion is a social phenomenon in which believers are
part of a whole that follow the same doctrines. Followers also have specific social roles
to play; for example, a Catholic priest has certain obligations in the context of his church.
In the animistic/shamanistic societies of hunter-gatherers, however, shamans received
their status not because of assigned social roles but because of individual revelations that
allowed them to see into the spirit realm. Hunter-gatherer societies, as they used more
agriculture, gained more control over animals for food and also began to have
“controlled” religious practices. This caused a gradual decrease in the view that animals
were mysterious, supernatural beings that must be worshipped—instead, they became
tamed beings valued for food.
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Materials and Methods
Materials included a microcassette tape recorder, field notebooks, cameras, and
rain gear. We also used A guide to the birds of Costa Rica (1989), Neotropical rainforest
mammals (1997), and Guia de las aves de Costa Rica to obtain folk taxonomy
information. We also used a previously prepared general standardized questionnaire and
several specific questions about animals and spirits to guide our interviews.
We randomly approached houses and requested informal interviews at the
Guaymi, Boruca, and Bribri reservations and the Zancudo beach community. We
obtained informed consent to conduct and record each interview as per the guidelines
stated in the Code of Ethics of the International Society of Ethnobiology (1998).
Results
In the Guaymi community of Abrojos, nine informants were asked to name
mammals and birds in their native language from pictures. Informant 1 knew 76% of the
mammals and 79% of the birds. Informant 2 knew 60% of the mammals and 76% of the
birds. Informant 3 knew 80% of the mammals and 66% of the birds. Informant 4 knew
80% of the mammals and 3% of the birds. Informant 5 knew 76% of the mammals and
69% of the birds. Informant 6 knew 76% of the mammals and 90% of the birds.
Informant 7 knew 96% of the mammals and 76% of the birds. Informant 8 knew 76% of
the mammals and 55% of the birds. Informant 9 knew 92% of the mammals and 76% of
the birds. When an average was taken of the percentages of known animal names, the
informants overall knew 77% of the mammals and 66% of the birds.
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In the KéköLdi community, only two informants were questioned about their
know of mammal and bird names in their native language. Informant 1 knew 17% of the
mammals and 34% of the birds. Informant 2 knew 57% of the mammals and 60% of the
birds. The average of percentages of known animal names was 37% of the mammals and
47% of the birds.
In the Brunka community nine informants were interviewed but due to lack of
time Informants 2,3, 5, and 6 were not asked to identify animals. Informant 1 identified
67% of the mammals and 79% of the birds. Informant 4 identified 50% of the mammals
and 75% of the birds. Informant 7 identified 33% of the mammals and 11% of the birds.
Informant 8 identified 29% of the mammals and 18% of the birds. Informant 9 identified
96% of the mammals and 79% of the birds. After taking an average of known names, the
informants overall knew 55% of the mammals and 52% of the birds.
There were several types of domesticated animals present in all the communities,
including dogs, pigs, chickens, cats, cows, and horses. The animals roamed relatively
freely around the houses, and the inhabitants of the communities used the animals for
food, simple companionship, and transportation.
At the Guaymi community one of the brothers in the first family specifically
cared for and knew how to treat the animals for illness. The first informant in the
KéköLdi said that she took sick animals to the vet and also mentioned a treatment for sick
chickens involving coconut and lemon. The second informant in the KéköLdi said that
when his animals are sick, he tries to treat them with plants, takes them to the vet, or kills
them if necessary. No information was related about how the Brunka people cared for
their animals.
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All of the informants from the Guaymi community interviewed were Christians,
with most of them attending church regularly as well as following traditional Guaymi
beliefs. All the families in the Guaymi interviewed agreed that animals do have spirits.
Informant 1 believed this because animals “obviously love and are loved.” Informant 3
agreed, saying “animals draw breath, so they must have souls.” Also, informant 1 said
that the animals have their own god. This god can become angry if more animals are
killed than necessary. Once the hunter has angered the animal god, then it sends the
hunter bad dreams in which the roles of the animal and hunter are reversed. The hunters
are supposed to ask the animal god for permission before killing an animal. However,
not all of the Guaymi informants were in agreement whether animals have souls or not.
Informant 5 believes that animals have a spirit, but not necessarily a soul. Therefore there
are no prayers or offerings made before killing them.
The first informant in KéköLdi community was not religious and did not believe
that animals had spirits. The second informant in KéköLdi said that he was not religious
but did believe that animals had spirits. He said that “animals breathe, animals eat,
animals drink… so they must have spirits.”
In the Brunka community, informants 1 and 2 were both Methodist Christians.
Due to time constraints, informants 3 or 7 were not asked about their religion. Mostly,
the informants saw animals as sources of food and not as spiritual beings. Informant 6
mentioned that there was a ‘spirit of the mountains’ who was somehow related to animals
but no longer existed because there were too many lights in the community.
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Discussion
The indigenous communities interviewed were based on agriculture with some
hunting and fishing. In the Guaymi community, some families had their own gardens and
a variety of animals, including pigs, chickens, ducks, horses, dogs, and cats. The families
kept the animals not only for companionship but also to use them for food and
transportation. Animals seemed like they were an integral part of Guaymi society.
The Guaymi identified the greatest percentage of birds and mammals, still used
herbal medicine on their animals, and also conveyed the most spiritual beliefs about
animals. The Guaymi informants identified an average of 77% of the mammals and 66%
of the birds; this ability to identify animals could have stemmed from traditional
knowledge of animals still present in the community. Also, the Guaymi stated that they
still use medicinal plants to treat animals, and one of the brothers in the first family
specialized in treating the animals with plants.
The use of medicinal plants to treat
animals is evidence of traditional practices associated with animals, and implies that the
Guaymi still hold traditional beliefs regarding animals.
The Guaymi also related the most spiritual beliefs regarding animals.
The first
family stated that animals had their own god, and that this god will become angry if
animals are over-hunted.
They also said that a hunter should ask permission before
killing an animal in order to please this god. The first Guaymi family also mentioned a
traditional religion, MamaTata, that included these beliefs about animals. Although all of
the informants were Catholic, they still held traditional Guaymi beliefs about animals.
The Brunka community was more affected by modernization than the Guaymi,
and this is evident in their beliefs and practices regarding animals.
The Brunka had
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considerably less knowledge of surrounding fauna than the other communities.
Most of
the animals in the Brunka community were dogs and cats; they did not own as many
animals for food and often went to the supermarket to purchase meat. Some Brunka still
used plant medicine to treat animals but this knowledge seemed quite limited. They
mentioned taking sick animals to a nearby veterinarian. None of the informants believed
that animals had souls.
In the Bribri community of KéköLdi, households had animals for companionship
as well as utility. They did own their own stocks of animals for food, and the third family
preferred using his own animals to the supermarket. The KéköLdi were intermediate in
the identification of animals; they knew more than the Brunka, but less than the KéköLdi.
Significantly, the Bribri were promoting conservation and sustainability within their
community. Related to this, the Bribri do not hunt and instead the support the survival of
wild animals.
Conclusion
Traditional beliefs in which animals are assigned souls and spiritual value stem from
hunter-gatherer society. Hunter-gatherer perceptions of animals were animistic; animals
were seen as supernatural beings, were worshipped and sacrificed, had their own gods,
and were inherent in hunter-gatherer culture. Domestication of animals, however,
gradually caused the fading of these beliefs. When animals were tamed, their spirits were
also tamed.
In the Guaymi, Brunka, and KéköLdi indigenous communities, animals were
given a limited amount of spiritual value.
In the Guaymi community, which appeared
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retain the greatest amount of its tradition and language, animals were viewed in a
“hunter-gatherer” manner.
They were assigned spirits, had their own god, and hunters
had to ask permission to kill animals.
In the other two communities, however, this
“hunter-gatherer” perception had faded into the “domesticated” and modern view of
animals. These two communities saw animals largely as sources of food and valued them
for their utility, not their supernatural powers.
The view of animals in indigenous
communities was complex synthesis of ancient and modern beliefs.
The degree to which
indigenous communities retained traditional beliefs about animals appeared to be directly
related to level of modernization.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the members of the Guaymi, Brunka, and KéköLdi communities
along with Luiz Diego Gomez, Henry Lou, and Gabriela Demergasso.
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Reichel- Dolmatoff, G. 1971. Amazonian Cosmos: The Sexual and Religious Symbolism
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355
Healing from the Forest: An Ethnobotanical and Chemical View of
Guaymi Medicinal Plants
1
1
Huang, R., 2 H. Baker
Dept. of Biology, Duke Univ. 2 Dept. of Biology, Univ. of Missouri
Abstract: This study examined the uses of the Guaymi of Costa Rica´s medicinal plants
and their chemical components. In addition, a brief history of herbology and healing is
discussed to complement how the world has viewed the subject. After cross-referencing
thirteen specimens gathered by a Guaymi informant, we compared the Guaymi medicinal
uses of these plants to uses in other Central and South American indigenous
communities. We also researched medicinal properties of chemical compounds in these
plants. A thin-layer chromatography analysis of the Rubiaceae plant, Hoffmannia
longipetiolata, was done to ascertain the presence of alkaloids. A subsequent bioassay of
this extract was done on the snail, Olivella sp., to determine the biological activity of the
plant chemicals. It was found that alkaloids are present in Hoffmannia longipetiolata, but
the bioassay did not reveal bioactivity.
Key Words: Ethnobiology, Costa Rica, Guaymi, chemistry, medicinal plants, thin-layer
chromatography, bioassay
History of Herbology:
Since 1500 B.C., man has documented the use of plants for medicine. The
earliest surviving example of written testimony is from an Egyptian papyrus, discussing
the use of myrrh (Commiphora molmol), castor oil (Ricinus communis), and garlic
(Allium sativum). During this same time in India, the Vedas, a series of epic poems, were
written, containing rich information on herbal lores. In this period, herbal medicine was
used as much for ritual magic as for healing properties. In some cultures, plants were
considered to have souls. Even Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, in the fourth century
B.C., believed that plants had a “psyche.” Hindus believed that many plants were sacred
to many divinities. The bael tree (Aegle marmelos) is said to shelter Shiva, the god of
health, beneath its branches. British farmworkers would not cut down the elder tree for
fear of angering the Elder Mother. Native peoples in the Andes of South America
believed that the coca plant (Erythroxylum coca) is protected by Mama Coca, a spirit who
must be respected if the leaves are to be harvested and used.
Shamanism played a large role in continuing this idea that plants have spirits.
Followers believe that health is shaped by good and evil spirits. They think that evil
spirits cause illness. The shaman connects with the spirit world to bring about a cure if
someone becomes ill. He enters the spiritual realm by aid of hallucinogenic plants or
fungi, such as Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi). This knowledge is handed down orally.
In 500 B.C., medicinal plants began breaking away from the spiritual and magical
realms, as evidenced by Hippocrates (460 – 377 B.C.), the “Father of Medicine.”
Hippocrates believed that illness was natural as opposed to supernatural or spiritual. The
Chinese wrote the Yellow Emperor’s Classic in the first century B.C. This work stated
that when treating illness, one must examine the entire context, observing both emotions
and attitudes. Continuing in this century, plants with known properties began to be
catalogued. The Divine Husbandman’s Classic, a Taoist text from the first century A.D.,
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has 364 entries of plants, 252 of which are medicinal. This text laid the foundation for
the development and refinement of Chinese herbal medicine. For example, bupleurum
(Bupleurum chinense) and coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) are included, which are common
in the U.S. even today.
In the second century B.C., trade between Europe, the Middle East, India and
Asia was well-established. These trade routes opened up new commerce for medicinal
and culinary herbs. As an example, clove (Eugenia caryophyllata), native to Phillipines,
was seen in China in the third century B.C., in Egypt in the second century A.D., and in
Europe in the eighth century A.D. These cloves were used for their antiseptic and
analgesic properties.
As trade routes brought people together, a cornicopia of influences began to affect
the concepts of healing and medicine. European scholars slowly absorbed the lessons of
Arabic medical teachings from classical Greek, Roman and Egyptian texts. These
lessons were being filtered back to European citizens through hospitals and medical
schools.
Herbal medicine was unaffected by the fall of the Roman Empire. Knowledge of
herbal medicine remained large through apprenticeships, practice and making use of
locally-grown herbs as a natural pharmacy. In Medieval Europe, the Doctrine of
Signatures stated that there was a connection between how a plant looked and how it
might be used as a medicine. For example, molted leaves of lungwart (Pulmonaria
officinalis) were thought to resemble lung tissue, these plants are still used to treat the
respiratory tract.
Marco Polo’s travels to China in the fourteenth century opened up Asian
knowledge of medicine to Europe. During the unification of Asia by Genghis Khan,
natural medicine was reinforced, keeping this tradition strong as the rest of the world
changed. From the fifteen century onward, there were many new herbs becoming readily
available in Europe, now from the Americas, Asia and Africa. Columbus’s journey to the
Americas in 1492, followed by the colonization of the area by the Spanish, brought native
American medicine to Europe. One downside to this trade process was the spread of
diseases such as the plague and syphillus.
With the expansion of medical knowledge in Europe came an increase in
medicinal plant prices. Rural populations were now unable to afford the new exotic
plants coming from the trade routes. Thus, these populations were left with the medicinal
plants that they themselves could cultivate, either from home or from afar. For example,
garlic, native to Asia, was now cultivated in Europe and used for its medicinal properties.
The first herbal publication in North America, The English Physician, was
published in 1700 by Nicolas Culpeper (1616-1654). He championed the needs of
ordinary people who could not afford the services of physicians nor expensive herbs.
Culpeper drew upon Dioscorides, a first century A.D. physician who wrote the first
European herbal book, De Materia Medica, and Arabian physicians in order to develop a
medical system that blended astrology with sound, personal experience in the use of
plants. The printing press in the fifteenth century allowed herbal books to be brought into
the home.
Between the 1700s and 1900s, extremist ideas of health, taken from Hippocrates’s
idea that the most desperate cases require the most desperate remedies, came into
existence. Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) stated that only bloodletting and calomel, a
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mercurous chloride compound, were the only things required for any medical treatment.
As a result, many people died of mercury poisoning. It is clear that in this new climate,
herbal medicine was becoming increasingly irrelevant. Up until the sixteenth century,
nearly all medical traditions had been based on the tradition of working with nature.
Herbal medicine nearly disappeared after that time.
In 1858, the British Parliament was asked to ban the practice of herbal medicine
by anyone who had not been trained in a conventional school. This proposal was rejected
in the U.K., though France, Spain, Italy and the United States followed through with this
legislation. It suddenly became illegal to practice herbology. Because of this threat in
Britian, The National Institute of Medical Herbalist was founded in 1864. This was the
first professional body of herbal practitioners to ever practice this type of medicine.
In conlusion, medicinal plants have been used for ages in cultures around the
world. Currently, we still rely on plant curative properties for 75% of our medicines. It
is estimated that 10-20% of patients in the West are in hospitals due to side effects of
conventional medical treatments. Herbal medicine used with allopathic medicine for
chronic illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome
have become more popular in western societies. Herbal medicine must be used with
respect though, as they still have side effects, such as ephedra (Ephedra sinica). In the
1990’s, biomedicine still relies on plants rather than the laboratory for at least 25% of its
medicines.
The information for this history was extrapolated from The Encyclopedia of
Medicinal Plants.
Guaymi Medicinal Plants:
With Alejandro Bejarano, our Guaymi informant, we gathered information about
medicinal plants used in the Guaymi community for various ailments. This information
included the Guaymi names of these plants. José González provided the scientific names
for these plants, allowing us to validate Alejandro’s stated uses of these plants through
literature.
Ñono kridoi (Alternanthera costaricensis), which belongs to the Amaranthaceae
family, contains mostly saponins, cyanogenic compounds to a limited extent, and
nitrogen-containing proto-alkaloids (Schultes and Raffauf, 1990). Alejandro suggests
that the leaves of this plant aid in regulating menstruation. In Belize, a member of the
same genus, Alternanthera falfogrisia, is used for flus, urinary conditions, and postpartum tonics (Arvigo and Balick, 1993).
Ñedeuko (Gouania lupuloides), in the Rhamnaceae family, is used to maintain
immunity when well according to Alejandro. In Jamaica, the stem of this plant is used to
heal and harden gums (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis, 1977).
Nwiging (Codonanthe sp.), in the Gesneriaceae family, is used to promote
immunity when sick according to Alejandro. In this family, flavinoids and cinnamic acid
derivatives have been reported, though little is known of the chemistry. The genus
Codonanthe is used by the Tikunas as a poultice of leaves to heal wounds and infections
(Schultes and Raffauf, 1990). Blutang, the Guaymi name for another plant within the
family, is in the genus Kohleria. This plant is used to treat vomiting blood and bloody
noses.
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Hio (Aristolochia pilosa), in the Aristolochiaceae family. The roots and vines are
used for menstrual problems, according to Alejandro. This family contains
nitrophenanthrene derivatives, berberine-type alkaloids, etheral oils and lignins. A
review of aristolochic acids, other compounds contained in this family, have been
published (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis, 1977). Within the same genus, Aristolochia trilobata
is one of the most popular herbal remedies in Belize for flus, colds, stomach aches, scanty
or late menses (Arvigo and Balick, 1993).
Kuruma (Prestonia sp.) is in the Apocynaceae family. The sap is used for
menstrual problems, according to Alejandro. This family received more attention for its
phytochemicals than any other family; it is rich in alkaloids of several types, steroids,
cardenolides, lignins and terpenes. Ayahuasca is in the same genus as this plant (Schultes
and Raffauf, 1990). The genus contains plants that are hallucinogenic in large doses
(Lewis and Elvin-Lewis, 1977).
Kugruma (Asclepias curassavica) is in the Asclepiadaceae family. According to
Alejandro, it is used to alleviate fevers and snake bites. This same plant helps in the
relief of toothaches, treats intestinal parasites. Flowers are used to stop bleeding and treat
diarrhea. The plant contains cardiac glycosides (Castner, Timme and Duke, 1998). The
family contains saponins, flavinoids, alkaloids and steroids. The plant, desite its toxicity,
is used by the Tikunas to alleviate aching molars, and the latex extracted from the leaves
is mixed with water and given to children to expel intestinal parasites (Schultes and
Raffauf, 1990).
Kenangui, in the Asteraceae family, is used for diarrhea, laryngitis and body pain
according to Alejandro. The Asteraceae family contains chicle latex, which is used in
chewing gum and tooth coloring (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis, 1977). Noroba (Decachaeta
thieleana), another plant within the Asteraceae family, is used to treat stomach aches by
drinking an infusion of the leaves, according to Alejandro. Mwigin kuidor blutan
(Gongrostylus costaricensis), another plant within the family, is used to treat pressure in
the ears and leg pain, according to Alejandro. It is used by drinking an infusion of the
leaves or taking a bath in it.
Ibiagrodime (Arthrostemma ciliatum) is in the Melastomataceae family. Its
flowers are used to prevent vomiting, according to Alejandro. Little is known about the
chemistry of the Melastomataceae family, but polyphenols, possibly carcinogenic
compounds, and a few positive tests for alkaloids have been recorded in a few genera.
The flowers of a wild, unidentified species are used in Chinese medicine as a hypotensive
and an antiparetic (Schultes and Raffauf, 1990).
Ñonokoita (Psychotria sp.) is in the Rubiaceae family. According to Alejandro, it
is used for diabetes. Iridoids, several types of alkaloids, triterpenes and their glycosides,
and tannins are found in this family. In the genus, phytosterols and dimethyltryptamine
have been reported to be found (Schultes and Raffauf, 1990). Plants from the genus are
used with Ayahuasca. The root of Psychotria acuminata is used to help control excessive
urination in children (Castner, Timme and Duke, 1998).
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Chemical Compounds in Guaymi Medicinal Plants:
Alkaloids are nitrogen-containing, physiologically-active metabolites (Lewis and
Elvin-Lewis, 1977). They are often colorless, crystalline, basic quaternary ammonium
salts (Ikan, 1991). Alkaloids are found in the seeds, roots and bark of a plant, are used
for cancer treatment, relieving body spasms and drying up bodily secretions (Chevallier,
1996). Additionally, they may be used as narcotics or local anesthetics (Ikan, 1991).
These compounds are found in plants such as Madagascar periwinkle (Vinca rosea) and
deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) (Chevallier, 1996).
Flavonoids typically occur in plants as glycosides in which phenolic hydroxyl
groups are attached to surgars (Ikan, 1991). They are found in the fruit, pollen, roots and
heartwood of a plant. They have anti-inflammatory properties and are good for
circulation (Chevallier, 1996). Additionally, highly hydroxylated flavonoids are diuretics
and act as antioxidants for fats (Ikan, 1991). Flavonoids are found in plants such as
buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) and lemon (Citrus lemon) (Chevallier, 1996).
Muselage is found in leaves, bark, stems and roots. It protects the digestive tract
in addition to soothing and protecting the mucus membranes of the throat and lungs.
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) and mullein (Verbascum thapsus) both contain muselage
(Chevallier, 1996).
Tannins are found in the bark and leaves of plants. They aid in contracting body
tissues to help resist infection. Oak bark (Quercus robur) and black catechu (Acacia
catechu) are examples of two plants that contain tannins (Chevallier, 1996).
Volatile oils include terpenoids, hydrocarbons with multiples of five carbons that
are widely distributed in the plant kingdom (Ikan, 1991). They are found in the leaves,
wood and flowers of a plant. Volatile oils have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory
properties. Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) and tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
contain an abundant source of these volatile oils (Chevallier, 1996).
Analysis of Chemistry and Bioactivity in Hoffmannia longipetiolata:
Materials and Methods:
Preparation of Extract:
A full extract of the leaves of the Rubiaceae plant Hoffmannia longipetiolata was
made. About ten leaves from this plant were added to 30 mL CH2 Cl2 (dichloromethane),
30 mL distilled water and a small amount of NaHCO3 (sodium bicarbonate) and blended
in a kitchen blender for approximately one minute. Dichloromethane was used to
dissolve nonpolar compounds, water was used to dissolve polar compounds, and sodium
bicarbonate aided in dissolving alkaloids by creating a slightly basic solution. This
mixture was subsequently refrigerated for two days and left at room temperature for one
day. The mixture was then filtered by funnel filtration until a 30 mL extract was
obtained. Part of this extract was used for chromatographic analysis, while another
portion was dried and used for a bioassay.
360
Chromatographic Analysis:
The extract of Hoffmannia longipetiolata was analyzed using thin layer
chromatography (TLC). The mobile phase was created using a mixture of 70% C2 H5 OH
(ethanol) and equal amounts of dichloromethane and water. The chamber used for the
analysis was rinsed with this mobile phase solvent before pouring the solvent in for
analysis. Drops of extract were obtained by dipping a Drummond ® Hemato-Clad
Heparinized Mylar® Wrapped 75 mm Hematocrit Tubes into the extract, filling the tube
with extract through capillary action. One drop of extract was placed on each of five
locations on a TLC plate containing silicon layered over aluminum and set aside to dry
for 30 minutes. The TLC plate was subsequently placed in the chamber containing
solvent for 30 minutes to allow the chemicals to separate, after which the plate was left to
dry. Dragendorff reagent was used to stain any alkaloids on the TLC plate by pouring it
in a chamber containing the plate and letting the solvent front move up the plate for two
hours. After staining, the TLC plate was left in a Precision Scientific drying oven
overnight. Spots on the TLC plate signifying the presence of alkaloids were noted.
Analysis of Bioactivity:
An analysis of the bioactivity of the Hoffmannia longipetiolata extract was done
through a bioassay with Olivella sp. snails found on Playa Arco (Arch Beach) near Finca
Tres Hermanas (Three Sisters Farm). A portion of the extract was dried in a Precision
Scientific drying oven overnight to evaporate the ethanol, dichloromethane and water. 1
mL sea water from Playa Arco was added to this dried extract to reconstitute it. 20
specimens of Olivella sp. of approximately the same size were collected, and ten were
placed in each of two Petri dishes containing 20 mL sea water from Playa Arco. Discrete
quantities of reconsituted extract were added to one of these Petri dishes at specific time
intervals using Drummond “Microcaps”® micropipettes (refer to Table 1). The other
Petri dish was kept as a control. The numbers of moving snails in each Petri dish were
noted (refer to Table 1).
Results and Discussion:
The chromatographic analysis revealed that there were indeed alkaloids, most
likely caffeine and purines, present in Hoffmannia longipetiolata; when dried, the TLC
plate revealed various orange spots indicated the presence of alkaloids at those locations.
The presence of alkaloids in this plant, with their narcotic and anesthetic properties,
correspond to the pain-relieving properties that Alejandro mentioned of this plant.
However, Dragendorff reagent also stains other non-alkaloid compounds, so perhaps
some of these stains were due to these other compounds. Using modified Ehrlich reagent
would have resulted in greater selectivity, staining only alkaloids, though this reagent is
much more expensive and would have been unfeasible for this project. Mayer, Wagner
and Bertrand reagents may also be used for detecting alkaloids; along with the
Dragendorff and Ehrlich reagents, these are all classified as precipitants (Ikan, 1991).
The fact that the pH of the extract was 7.5, slightly basic, further indicated the presence
of alkaloids.
361
Chemical compounds were separated by way of a polar mobile phase, with
ethanol and water being the polar compounds, and a nonpolar stationary phase, with
silicon being the nonpolar compound. Those compounds that were most polar tended to
move fastest up the TLC plate, while those that were most nonpolar moved slowest.
Most of the alkaloids were located rather low on the TLC plate, indicating that many of
them were relatively nonpolar. There were 28 spots on the plate, with the lowest having
an Rf value of 0.03, the highest having an Rf value of 0.59, and the mean Rf value being
0.27 (refer to Table 2).
Separation and elucidation of other chemical compounds may be done similarly
through TLC. Other chromatographic methods, including vapor-phase chromatography,
high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), gas chromatography (GC) and paper
chromatography, are also used. TLC is generally the first step in analysis of plant
chemicals, however (pers. comm., Luís Diego Gómez, 2001). Nuclear magnetic
resonance (NMR), infrared spectroscopy (IR), ultraviolet spectroscopy (UV), X-ray
crystallography and mass spectrometry may also be used. Further elucidation of specific
alkaloids in this experiment may be done by scraping off the alkaloid-containing silica on
the TLC plate, analyzing it with NMR spectroscopy, and sending the spectrum to an
online library (pers. comm., Luís Diego Gómez, 2001).
Analysis of bioactivity revealed that the plant extract had no molluscicidal effects
nor any visible biological activity in Olivella sp. The snails in both the control and
extract dishes behaved similarly at all concentrations of extract. However, this is not to
say that the compounds contained in Hoffmannia longipetiolata have no biological
activity. It is known that alkaloids are physiologically active and have anticariogenic
properties (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis, 1977). Using mosquito larvae might have provided
evidence of bioactivity, though due to time constraints, this was unfeasible. Additionally,
more trials with separate dishes for each concentration of extract would have been
desireable, though time constraints also made this unfeasible. It was interesting to note
that some of the snails would turn around or retract when extract was added near them.
Many of the snails moved rather suddenly, stopping and then starting again. When
moving, most traveled in relatively straight lines or arcs at constant speeds. Table 1 lists
observations at a specific moment before the addition of extract; many snails stopped or
began moving just after the moment of observation. Thus, any patterns observed in Table
1 must be taken with caution.
Bioassays may also be done using other organisms, including brine shrimp
(Artemisia salina), yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), or bacteria. To use yeast or
bacteria, they must be spread onto an agar plate. The diameter of the plaque formed by
placing a spot of extract at a given concentration onto the plate gives a rough quantitative
measure of bioactivity. This bioactivity may be compared to that of an antibiotic, such as
penicillin, by comparing plaque sizes formed by both (pers. comm., Luís Diego Gómez,
2001).
Quantitative measures of bioactivity may be taken a step further by using cell
lines exposed to the extract. Specifically, one may count the number of cells that die
from exposure to the extract. Alternatively, the extract may be titrated with short-lived
radioactive isotopes and subsequently exposed to the cell lines. The amount of
radioactive isotope incorporated into the cells gives a quantitative measure of bioactivity
(pers. comm., Luís Diego Gómez, 2001).
362
An e-mail was sent to Napralert, an online database of plant species, to find out
more about the chemical and bioactive properties of Hoffmannia longipetiolata.
However, a response was not sent back in time for completion of this project.
Time (h)
0
2
4
6
8
10
16.5
18.5
20.5
Extract Added Total Extract No. Snails Moving No. Snails Moving
(µL)
(µL)
in Extract Dish
in Control Dish
2
2
2
2
10
10
10
10
2
4
6
8
18
28
38
48
48
6
7
0
0
0
2
6
0
6
5
0
3
0
0
0
0
Table 1. Effect of Hoffmannia longipetiolata Extract on Movement of Olivella sp.
The Hoffmannia longipetiolata extract had no noticeable effect on the movement of Olivella sp. These
results should be taken with caution as the stopping and starting of snail movement in each dish was rather
random.
Spot #
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
Rf Value
0.03
0.04
0.04
0.07
0.07
0.09
0.09
0.16
0.18
0.19
0.19
0.21
0.22
0.26
Spot #
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
Rf Value
0.26
0.28
0.29
0.29
0.31
0.32
0.34
0.35
0.46
0.50
0.50
0.54
0.56
0.59
Average Rf Value = 0.27
Table 2. Experimental Rf Values of Alkaloids in Hoffmannia longipetiolata.
The Rf values determined through chromatography indicate that most of the alkaloids contained in
Hoffmannia longipetiolata are rather nonpolar.
363
Conclusion:
Through literature research and speaking with Alejandro Bejarano, we found that
many plants within the same genus have multiple uses. For many of the plants we
researched, we found that the medicinal properties listed did not correspond exactly to
those stated by Alejandro. It is difficult to conclude anything since the literature we used
only provided information about plants within the same genus. Understanding the history
of herbology gave us a reference to world views on the subject. Allowing plants to have
both medicinal and spiritual or energic value perhaps explains why Alejandro’s plant uses
differ from our references.
Chemical analysis is useful in determining the chemical make-up of plants.
Together with a knowledge of what individual chemicals do, this type of analysis is
useful in determining the active components contributing to the medicinal effects of a
given plant. However, adding up individual chemical effects to give an overall view of a
plant’s medicinal effects does not always work; chemicals often have a synergystic effect
on biological systems. For this reason, it is important to do a bioassay in conjunction
with chemical analysis, as bioassays measure the synergistic effect of all chemicals
present. One caveat is that an appropriate organism must be chosen. As was evidenced
in the experiment, some organisms will not visibly respond to an extract known to be
biologically active. Additionally, as with all experiments, many trials should be done to
ensure accurate results.
364
Acknowledgments:
We would like to thank Alejandro and Maria Bejarano of the Coto Brus Guaymi
community for all of their knowledge on medicinal plants. We also thank Luís Diego
Gómez for his assistance with the experimental portion of this project and José González
for his help with the identification of the plants.
References:
Arvigo, R. and M. Balick. 1993. Rainforest Remedies: One Hundred Healing Herbs of
Belize. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press. 221 p.
Biesanz, M.H., Biesanz, R. and K.Z. Biesanz. 1999. The Ticos: Culture and Social
Change in Costa Rica. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 307 p.
Castner, J.S., Timme, S.L. and J.A. Duke. 1998. A Field Guide to Medicinal and Useful
Plants of the Upper Amazon. Hong Kong: Feline Press, Inc. 154 p.
Chevallier, A. 1996. The encyclopedia of medicinal plants. New York: DK Publishing
Inc. 336 p.
Geissman, T.A. and D.H.G. Crout. 1969. Organic Chemistry of Secondary Plant
Metabolism. San Francisco: Freeman, Cooper and Company. 592 p.
Ikan, Raphael. 1991. Natural Products: A Laboratory Guide. San Diego: Academic
Press, Inc. 360 p.
Lewis, W.H. and M.P.F. Elvin-Lewis. 1977. Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Man’s
Health. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 515 p.
Napralert. 2001. Natural Products Alert Database. College of Pharmacology and
Pharmacy. Univ. Illinois. Chicago.
Porter, R. 1997. The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity.
New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. 831 p.
Schultes, R.E. and R.F. Raffauf. 1990. The Healing Forest: Medicinal and Toxic Plants
of the Northwest Amazonia. Portland: Dioscorides Press. 484 p.
365
When Anthropologists See, The Gods are There
Nicola Kieves1 .
1
Dept.’s of Environmental Studies and Biology, Middlebury College
Abstract:
Western ideology has a difficult time being able to accept that the extensive
botanical knowledge of shamans can come from plant-induced hallucinogens. We
demand a scientifically based explanation of how such a phenomena can occur. In
The cosmic serpent (1998), Jeremy Narby draws a comparison between the prevalent
imagery of cosmic serpents, twins, and axis mundi in creation myths around the
world to DNA and its descriptions and characteristics. In an analysis of these
connections and the molecular function of hallucinogens, he is able to hypothesize
how shamans can, through plant induced hallucinations, gain knowledge from the
world around them. His theory is that hallucinogens, such as ayahuasca, allow
information to be transmitted from one life form’s DNA to another’s. With this
scientifically grounded theory, it is possible that we can finally reconciliation
shamanism and western ideology.
Key words: Shamanism, DNA, ayahuasca, Amazon, Jeremy Narby, Terence
McKenna, Daniel Quinn
IntroducingThe Problem
We live in a world dominated by cultural values that have abandoned any
semblance of connection to the natural world. We live in concrete buildings separating
ourselves from the environments that surround us. We have cheated the system, so to
speak, and taken ourselves out of the natural selection loop. So many express sentiments
of restlessness, dissatisfaction, and discontent in forums ranging from book to personal
preaching to TV specials; and those sentiments are echoed by followers around the world.
Some who express such feelings have offered solutions. Terence McKenna, in
Food of the gods (1992), demands a shift from our current “dominator” culture back to a
“partnership” culture; to do this, he prescribes a return to the Archaic where psychotropic
drugs are used to re-establish a connection to the “wholly Other.” Daniel Quinn, in
Ishmael (1997), maintains that while most cultures belong to the Taker way of life, there
remain scattered Leavers cultures that have been tested through time and “work” for the
people who live that way. How to shake the restlessness? Abandon the values Mother
Culture has whispered into your ear for so many years. When I say “we” I refer to people
of the dominator, Taker culture. The constant, hugging notion that we are somehow lost
is unique to this lifestyle; Leavers, partnership cultures, are somehow still content…
In our society today (by “our” I of course refer to Takers and dominator cultures),
we are coming to the crossroad of needing to find a better way to live. We have an
insatiable desire and drive to find a meaning in our lives that has been missing for so
long. What has been suggested by a handful of those who have pursued a knowledge that
relieves the nagging discontent is that the use of hallucinogenic drugs might be the long
sought answer. Ah, but our culture is not ready to accept such a notion. “Western
ideology” cannot support any such thought. We can be satisfied by creating more
technology that is bigger and better and stronger and faster. A lack of connection to the
universe, a search for the meaning of life and the origin of knowledge, cannot possibly be
the solution to our problems. Amazonian and Aboriginal shamans cannot possibly lead
366
more content lives than Bill Gates simply because they have a connection to the wholly
Other; these shamans cannot possibly learn more by “speaking” to plants than one learns
in the process of gaining a doctorate from Harvard University. Why must we have this
narrow sighted point of view?
First one must have some knowledge of shamanism to understand why this
reconciliation is so difficult. In many cultures, the world of the shaman is accessed
through the use of hallucinatory plants. Through the use of such plants, a shaman can
access the source of knowledge, an “Other” world. In The flowers of Wiricuta (1995),
Tom S. Pinkson, Ph.D. writes of the loss of connection to the natural world that once
allowed people to live contently.
It is my firm belief that in order to go forward in this gardening work
of healing our shattered relationships within ourselves, with others,
and with others, and with the environment, we need to first go
backward to the nature-based shamanic heritage that underlies all the
world’s religions and is humanities oldest relationship to spirit. In this
time of cultural crisis, we desperately need to rediscover what we have
forgotten: our ancestors’ sacred relationship with the awesome powers
of creation (Pinkson, 1995, p. 7).
The question is, can we, Takers, find a way to accomplish this? Can we reconcile our
western need for an explanation of facts with the numerous accounts of shaman figures
learning from plants.
Narby, in The cosmic serpent (1998), proposes that it is precisely the highly
focalized, narrow-minded way that western scientist, and all members of our culture for
that matter, operate in our daily lives that has brought us to the point where we are so
utterly dissatisfied, discontent, and antsy have been telling us all along, we can find a
reconciliation between shamanism and what it encompasses and western ideology. We
can, in western terms, explain what has been long discredited as being grounded in
intuition; there is a scientific explanation for why a shaman under the influences of
hallucinogens, such as ayahuasca, can learn from the spirits of other beings. Perhaps
with this western, scientific explanation, we will be able to, as a Taker culture, as a
dominator society, be able to reconcile our struggle and inability to turn to proposals,
such as a return to the Archaic, that are as of now beyond our capacity to accept.
The Reconciliation
Narby, when working towards a doctorate in anthropology, worked with the
Ashaninca Indians of the Peruvian Amazon. His thesis was to demonstrate the rational
nature of resource use in their culture to ensure the people’s property rights during the
age of development. With this goal in mind, “fanciful” tales of the use of ayahuasca to
allow people to learn from spirits about topics from medicinal plants to how to weave
would not be of interest. Yet during his stay, Narby used ayahuasca once and recounts
the following:
Deep hallucinations submerged me.
I suddenly found myself
surrounded by two gigantic boa constrictors that seemed fifty feet
long. I was terrified. ‘These enormous snakes are there, my eyes are
367
closed and I see a spectacular world of brilliant lights, and in the
middle of these hazy thoughts, the snakes start talking to me without
words. They explain that I am just a human being. I feel my mind
crack, and in the fissures, I see the bottomless arrogance of my
presuppositions. It is profoundly true that I am just a human being,
and, most of the time, I have the impression of understanding
everything, whereas here I find myself in a more powerful reality that I
do not understand at all and that, in my arrogance, I did not even
suspect existed. I feel like crying in view of the enormity of these
revelations. Then it dawns o me that this self-pity is a part of my
arrogance. I feel so ashamed that I no longer dare feel ashamed”
(Narby, 1998, p. 7).
It was not until years later that Narby returned to thoughts of how to reconcile what his
western teachings told him was simply not possible with countless tales of the use of
hallucinogenics by shamans to gain access to a world where plant-induced hallucinations
provide a people’s extensive botanical knowledge. The hallucinatory knowledge of
indigenous people was an ever-present dilemma that could not be accepted by Takers and
dominator cultures.
Narby set out to do what no one had done: find a way to reconcile shamanism and
western ideology. His approached his goal to explain the phenomena of shamans gaining
access to a world that was unknown to him with the motto “Look at FORM,” and he
began by re-examining his notes from his doctoral work. After months of work and a
realization that he must “relax” and be less focused in his gaze, he stumbled upon the key
to what became the basis of his reconciliation between shamanism and western ideology.
In 1968, Michael Harner published the first subjective description of an ayahuasca
experience by an anthropologist when he related his personal experience. In his full
account of the experience, Harner placed the following footnote: “In retrospect one could
say that they were almost like DNA, although at that time, 1961, I knew nothing of
DNA” (Narby, 1998, p. 55). This thought sparked the beginning of Narby’s path to
reconciliation between two life approaches.
Throughout the world, the theme of twin creator beings is common. In the
Ashaninca creation myths, the creator of life is Avíreri who has a twin sister. Avíreri is
“the one who had the idea of making people appear.” In addition to Avíreri there are
maninkari, “those who are hidden,” who are invisible spirits in all things that teach the
Ashaninca. Avíreri is the most powerful of the maninkari. His malicious twin sister
attempts to kill him by pushing him into a hole in the ground. He attempts to escape by
tunneling to the underworld. “He ends up in a place called ‘river’s end,’ where a
strangler vine wraps itself around him. From there, he continues to sustain his numerous
children of the earth” (Narby, 1998, p.26). The Yagua of Peru believe that their most
distant ancestors lived on another Earth and all living beings were created by twins. In
the Aztec culture, the mythical Quetzalcoatl and his twin brother, Tezcatlipoca, are
children to cosmic serpent Coatlicue. “Coatl” can be translated to both “serpent” and
“twin.” Thus Quetzalcoatl can mean both “plumed serpent” or “magnificent twin”
(Narby, 1998).
368
After having won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the double helix shape of
DNA, both Watson and Crick wrote their own books. In Life itself: Its origin and nature
(1981), Crick calculates the probability of a single protein arising fortuitously from
random collisions of disorganized molecules as 10260 . Comparably, the number of atoms
in the observable universe is 1080 . Crick suggests that DNA must have come to the earth,
been brought there, by some other form (a hypothesis called directed panspermia). Narby
suggests that it is the cosmic serpent found in so many cultures creation myths around the
world that brought DNA, and life, to Earth. Why? Because there are so many
similarities between DNA and the cosmic serpents of creation myths (Narby, 1999).
Consider the following: the image of a double serpent is common in culture’s
creation myths. Often the cosmic serpents of these myths are variable being both small
and large, single and double, and masters of transformation and metamorphosis. These
characteristics fit DNA strikingly well: at different phases DNA is both small and large,
single and double, and DNA is certainly a “master of transformation.” In addition, the
mythical serpents of creation are often associated with water in some way just as DNA is
surrounded by water in a cell. Shamanic people often use imagery of ropes, vines, and
ladders as linking heaven and earth in place of or in addition to the image of a cosmic
serpent when discussion the creation of life. This concept was termed axis mundi by
Mircea Eliade. Traditionally this axis mundi is reserved for the dead to pass into a new
world. Shamans however, are able to navigate this rope, vine, ladder, while still alive;
they can travel to the other world and return with knowledge that is not accessible to
people in their daily lives. Often the passageway to the other world is described as being
guarded by a serpent or dragon (Narby, 1998).
Access to this other world, through the axis mundi, is often gained by the use of
ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a is a mixture of several plants and is a hallucinogen. The main
ingredient has traditionally been Banisteriopsis caapi a vine that, oddly enough, often
grows in the shape of a double helix (Narby, 1998). While B. caapi contains the
hallucinogenic compounds harmine, harmaline and related beta-carbolines, it is generally
agreed that dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is the main active ingredient in ayahuasca and
comes from other plants that are added to the drink. Both tryptamine derivatives and
beta-carbolines have been detected in the human brain as endogenous metabolites
(Pennanen, 1999). Beta-carbolines are vital to the ayahuasca mixture because they
interfere with the brain’s mechanisms that would normally depotentiate hallucinogens
such as DMT (McKenna, 1992). DMT, psilocybin, and psilocin are very similar in form
to serotonin which occurs naturally in the human brain (Narby, 1998). Serotonin
functions as a neurotransmitter activating neurons by accessing receptors on they nerve
(Society for Neuroscience, 1997). If monoamine oxidase (MAO), a serotonin receptor, is
blocked by an inhibitor (i.e.: harmine/harmaline) serotonin can be converted to
psychedelic tryptamines (e.g. DMT, psilocybin, psilocin) (Pennanen, 1999).
Furthering a connection between the wholly Other realm that shamans are
familiar with, is the link between the language used by shamans and that of DNA. Often
when drinking ayahuasca shamans will use a language/dialect that is not their everyday
tribal language. The language of the Peruvian Yaminahua shaman is called tsai
yashtoyoshto that translates to “language-twisting-twisting.” Interestingly enough, the
root of the English “twist” is the same as that for “two” and “twin.” Thus “jaguar”
becomes “basket” to a Yaminahua shaman. Often several words in a shamanic dialect
369
will translate to the same word in everyday language. The same parallel of many
translating to one can be seen in DNA. Several different sequences of nucleotides, a
codon, will translate to the same amino acid. The everyday used molecular language of
amino acids in proteins use a language that is utterly different from that of DNA; yet the
ability to translate from one language to another is easily accomplished just as shamans
can readily move from the everyday language of their people to the language of the
spirits that they use when drinking ayahuasca. The similarity of DNA as a doubly double
language wrapped around itself like the twisted language of the spirits of nature is
striking (Narby, 1998).
Conclusions
What has been suggesting in the preceding discussion is that the many creation
myths of the origin of life that begin with a serpent and tell of life coming from outside of
the Earth and of all beings on the earth harboring the same form of spirit speak of DNA.
DNA is in all beings and can be transposed from one life from to another and still
function. It is a language of its own that is common to all of us. And the probability that
this language arose by chance is incredibly low. Perhaps the spirits that Amazonian and
Aboriginal alike speak of, the cosmic serpent that so many cultures around the world
have in common, is DNA.
Is this possibility able to be reconciled by western science? If it is, then there
must be some scientific based explanation as to the ability of drugs used to "summon
spirits" to somehow affect the human brain in a way that allows one to "communicate"
with DNA. In the Ashaninca culture tobacco is used, as well as ayahuasca, to attract
Maninkari spirits. Much research has been done exploring the effects of nicotine on the
human brain. In this research a connection between nicotine and the DNA of brain nerve
cells has been found. Nicotine is structurally similar to the neurotransmitter
acetylcholine and will fit into the same receptors on certain neurons. Thus the more your
neurons are exposed to nicotine, the more the construction of nicotine receptors is
activated by the neurons DNA. Does this same connection hold true for the active
ingredient of ayahuasca? As it turns out, yes, there is a connection between
dimethyltryptamine and DNA in human brain cells (Narby, 1998).
Going on his promise to himself to take what ayahuasqueros said literally, Narby,
in his book, thought about the following statement from his Ashaninca informant, Carlos
Perez Shuma, in a new light: “Once you turn on the radio, you can pick them [Maninkari
spirits] up. It’s like that with souls; with ayahuasca and tobacco, you can see them and
hear them” (Narby, 125). With this though, the last connection between the phenomena
of shamans speaking with the universe to learn its secrets can be made in a manner that
allows the idea to be reconciled with western science and ideology. DNA emits photons
that are between the spectral distribution range of 900 to 200 nanometers (infrared to
ultraviolet); this corresponds to the spectral range of visible light. Because of this
correspondence, the three-dimensional images seen when taking ayahuasca and
luminescence of the hallucinatory images one sees can be attributed to DNA’s highly
coherent photon emission (Narby, 1998).
It is interesting to note the predominate use of quartz in biophoton measurement
experiments. Quartz is a crystal and thus has a very regular arrangement of atoms. This
370
structure allows the quartz to vibrate at a very stable frequency. The combination of
these characteristics make quartz a superb receptor and emitter of electromagnetic waves.
When one attempts to find a parallel between this scientifically based idea and
shamanism it is there; throughout the world, shamanism is associated with the use of
crystals. DNA itself is a crystal. Its double helix form is slightly irregular because of the
nature of nucleotide base pairing. But in long stretches of “Junk DNA” where no genes
are coded for and long sequences repeat, the double helix of DNA forms a regular
arrangement and is a periodic crystal. This is the last link in tying together Narby’s
argument. “What if DNA, stimulated by nicotine or dimethyltryptamine, activates not
only its emission of photons (which inundate our consciousness in the form of
hallucinations), but also its capacity to pick up the photons emitted by the global network
of DNA-based life?” (Narby, 1998, p. 131).
The implication here is clear. There is a very plausible scientific explanation for
the long questioned phenomena of shamans using hallucinogenic drugs, traveling to
another world/being connected to the universe, and returning with knowledge told to
them by non-human beings. This explanation is that the active ingredients of drugs used
by shamans alter the capacity of the human brain; in this altered state, DNA – the one
constant and universal component of all living beings – is able to cross species lines and
one life form’s DNA can gain access to the information contained in another life form’s
DNA. The “fanciful” descriptions from shamans of learning from the spirits what plants
to use in a cure are no longer so fanciful and improbable. It can be explained in the realm
of science that western ideology so desperately needs in order to understand and accept a
concept (Narby, 1998).
Going Further
What are the implications of this? They are many. For one, if we can
communicate with the universe, there is a vast wealth of knowledge that can be tapped
into. But more so, on a spiritual level, perhaps we can find a way to cure our Taker
culture’s restlessness and angst. Perhaps this is why McKenna sees the revival of the
Archaic through the use of hallucinogenic drugs to connect with the wholly Other as the
solution to our modern problems. It is precisely this scientifically explainable connection
to the entirety of the universe that we seek out. It is a reconnection to nature and our
surrounding environment where we may find our peace at last.
As Narby points out, shamanism does not only encompass the ingestion of
hallucinogenic plants to reach a state of ecstasy, a harmony between spirit and body, as
described by Eliade; around the world, it also encompasses isolation in wilderness,
controlled dreams, hypnosis based on a repetitive drumbeat, prolonged fasting, neardeath experience, or a combination of the any of these. Perhaps with this knowledge, the
ability for a science-based, western oriented explanation of how shamans communicate
with the wholly Other, we will, as Takers, as a dominator culture, be able to reconcile
what have traditionally been unexplainable facts of Leaver and partnership cultures. And
perhaps with this reconciliation, we will be able at last to return to a time that mimics that
last sane moment that we had as a culture and finally quell the restlessness,
dissatisfaction, discontent, and utter feeling of being lost that so many of us must turn
around and admit to having…
371
References
McKenna, T. 1992. Fruit of the gods. Bantam. 311 p.
Narby, J. 1998. The cosmic serpent: DNA and the origins of knowledge.
Tarcher/Putnam. 257 p.
Pennanen, P. Accessed 9 August 2001. Last updated July 1999. Tryptamine Carriers
FAQ. URL: http://www.deoxy.org/trypfaq.htm.
Pinkson, T.S. 1995. The flowers of Wiricuta: A journey of shamanic power with the
Huichol Indians of Mexico. Destiny Books. 287 p.
Quinn, D. 1997. Ishmael. Bantam. 273 p.
Society for Neuroscience. Accessed 10 August 2001. Last updated 1997. Brain
Briefing. URL: http://www.sfn.org/briefing/serotonin.html.
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A Look at the Funerary Rituals of the Bribri
Paul Kim1
1
Department of Biology, Cornell University
Abstract
The Bribri are an indigenous people of Costa Rica, residing on state
reservations. Over the years, with modernization, the Bribri have set aside much of their
culture. Many of their rituals have disappeared. The lost ritual that I will focus on is the
funerary ritual. The ritual is complex, involving four separate narrations for the
deceased. In comparison, the Maleku, Kuna, and Yanomami have quite different rituals
concerning their dead.
Keywords: Bribri, death, funerals, funerary rituals, Kuna, Yanomami, Maleku
“In SuLa’s place there is a big house, and those found there are
purified. Those are the ones who had a funeral with the singers, or the
sermon recounting their life was properly done. And some who have left
in that way that some leave nowadays, without the singing and without
purification, those are not well; those are on the edge; toward the corner.
There are benches, and Sibö sits them there to wait until they are properly
purified, and if they are not, there they remain […]. He who was not sung
to, or his funeral was not right, remains in one of the corners, delivers an
incomplete errand to SuLa. The more he is missing the farther away from
SuLa he has to sit; the better his package, the better the compliance with
SuLa’s request, the closer to SuLa, inside, where there are good
hammocks, good little individual seats. […] … those of us who have not
been purified, remain outside, those are /ña/ SuLa scolds them if they
touch anything : /be’ rö ña!/ (You are ña!). […] Those who have not been
buried properly are there wanting to return, those suffer greatly.”
A Bribri shaman
(Bozzoli 1975: 127-9)
Introduction
The Bribri are an indigenous people of Costa Rica, residing on both sides of the
Talamanca mountain range in the territories of Talamanca-Bribri and KéköLdi in the
Province of Limon, Cabagra and Salitre, and in Cantón de Buenos Aires (FUNCOOPA,
31). These lands are a part of the state reservations set aside for the various indigenous
groups of Costa Rica. From what was seen at the Kéköldi reservation, the Bribri hold
dearly onto their culture and love the environment they live in. A part of the Chibchan
language group, the Bribri share a common language and cultural heritage with their
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neighbors, the Cabécar. Because of this close relationship, there are many intermarriages
between the two indigenous groups.
My Bribri informant had Cabécar relations from
both sides of her family. After the Cabécar, the Bribri are the second largest ethnic group
of Costa Rica, with approximately 8000 people (FUNCOOPA, 31).
The Bribri, sadly enough, have lost many of their cultural rituals and practices
from their past. A generation ago, the Bribri started losing their language. Realizing the
decline of their language, they started teaching the Bribri language, as well as culture, in
their schools. Listening to the informants, it seems that the young Bribri of today have
once again become strong in their culture. Another of the major losses in their culture
has been the decline of their social structure, characterized by matrilineal clans and
shamans.
With the loss of these traditions, a large number of organizations and
associations have appeared, to provide leadership in specific areas (FUNCOOPA, 31).
I have decided to focus on the funerary ritual of the Bribri. Death is an important
aspect to culture because in all cultures and belief systems throughout the world, people
celebrate deaths with some sort of ritual.
Though all have different reasons for such
rituals, they are preparing the way for the deceased to make it in the afterlife. In general,
people are buried with some sort of ritual, prayers, or some artifacts, to safeguard them.
For example, in the ancient Chinese dynasties, slaves, treasures, and weapons were
buried with the body to help in the journey to the afterlife.
In others, such as the
Yanomami tribe of the Amazon, the body is cremated and then ingested by relatives, so
that the soul continues to live on.
Of the many losses the Bribri culture has experienced, the most noticeable is the
loss of rituals. From interviewing the informants, it appears that rituals are no longer an
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integral part of their culture.
No longer are funerals celebrated with elaborate rituals
preparing the body, delivering orations for the person, or assemblages of funerary
bundles, but rather, with simple burials in cemeteries. However, I will go back to the past
and investigate the Bribri funeral rites.
Funerary Rituals
The Bribri funerary ritual was composed of four separate, distinct orations of a
person’s life: each oration more elaborate and lengthy than the one before.
The many
rituals were necessary in order to comfort the soul of the deceased, and to show that the
living still cared for the deceased.
Additionally, the four narrations of the person’s life
would serve to purify their soul, allowing them entrance into heaven with Sibú, their god.
The whole funerary process spanned a period of approximately nine months, during
which time the family gathered materials and prepared for the four celebrations.
With the ritual, there are specific roles that must be filled for completion of the
ceremony.
Not only must shamans be present, but other specialists, such as body
handlers, funerary chanters, and orators, must also attend to the ritual. The following is a
list of several important members of the ritual.
Awápa
Óköpa
Bikàklapa
Stsököl
Sini’pa
-medicine man, holder of oral tradition
-in charge of manipulation of corpses in funerary ritual
-masters of ceremonies
-funerary chanter
-funerary chanter’s assistant
It was important that only óköpa touch the body, because it was believed that the
corpse was unclean.
The bikàklapa was called upon, following death, to make all the
preparations necessary for the funeral.
He would take care of the preparation and
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distribution of meals and drinks, as well as organizing the ceremonies. The stsököl and
sini’pa sang funeral chants to comfort the soul of the deceased. (Cervantes, 27).
The first narration
The first narration occurs immediately after a person passes away.
Because a
body is considered unclean upon death, it is necessary to remove the body as soon as
possible.
However, because of the haste needed in removing the body, few provisions
could be provided for a feast, resulting in a small gathering of only the closest members.
Before the actual narration, a small ritual fire, called a bö’kuala, was lit. The narration
was performed in a recitative tone, and detailed each important event in the deceased’s
life. With each important event recited, a seed, or a wood shaving, was placed on a flat
piece of cotton. Called a stë páùte, this bundle of seeds, or wood shavings, symbolized
the deeds of one’s life. This bag of deeds would be taken along on the journey to the
afterworld, where it would be shown to the serpents on the path, to show that the
deceased had lived their life correctly. (Cervantes, 28).
Immediately following the narration, the oköpa prepared the body for burial. In
the right hand, red feathers from the bird ôs (Scarlet-rump tanager, Ramphocelus
passerinii) were placed to serve as a lantern in the travel to the underworld. The stë páùte
was placed underneath the right armpit, and then the whole body was wrapped with
leaves of mulùsik (Calathea insignis). Then the body was attached to a pole at three
points: the ankles, wrists, and neck. Very early the next morning, the oköpa would carry
the body to the forest and place it in an enclosure, set above the ground. The body was
oriented with the head towards the east. Only the oköpa were involved in this part of the
ceremony. Family members did not come to view this part of the ritual. (Cervantes, 30).
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The second narration
The second narration takes place one week after the first. Because of the haste in
which the first was performed, the second narration is much more elaborate, with a large
banquet for family members and neighbors. All the animals prepared for the feast were
killed by hanging them. From each animal, little pieces of liver were taken and placed by
the bö’kuala, along with chicha (an alcoholic beverage made of corn) and cocoa, for the
soul of the deceased. The food, along with the bö’kuala, were thought to attract the soul
to the ceremonies. (Cervantes, 31).
The second narration was also performed in a recitative voice, but in much more
detail than the first.
Cervantes wrote that “The narrator had to be a person who had
known the deceased very well, and he/she had to be of the same status as the deceased: if
the deceased was an awá (medicine man), the narrator had to be one too; if the deceased
was a child, the narrator had to be a child too, etc.” The narrations could last more than
eight hours.
They were recited in the first person, indicating that the narrator was
speaking for the deceased. (Cervantes, 32).
The third narration
Performed three or four months after the second narration, the third narration was,
once again, even more elaborate. Such ceremonies were needed to comfort the souls of
the dead. A stsököl could also be called upon to chant a song for the deceased. They
were usually only called on if they were available in the area, and if the family of the
deceased could afford to pay the stsököl and sini’pa. (Cervantes, 33).
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Preparation for the fourth narration
The bones of the corpse were prepared six to nine months after the first narration,
corresponding to the time it took for the flesh to completely decompose. The oköpa went
into the forest and cleaned all of the bones. The bones were then arranged from bottom
to top in a funerary bundle: feet bones, leg bones, hip bones, ribs, etc., and finally the
skull. The arrangement was then placed on a piece of bark cloth, which was painted with
symbols depicting the cause of death (Gabb, 1875:500). The oköpa then constructed a
shelter from bark and palm leaves, to protect the bones from any animals. Then, leaving
the funerary bundle in the shelter, the oköpa returned to the village. At this point, the
widow’s mourning for the deceased came to an end, and it was permissible for her to find
another partner. This may be because of the fact that all the flesh had been removed from
the bones, signifying a physical departure from the present world. (Cervantes, 34).
“The time to carry out the feast for the final burial of the bones was decided
depending on the availability of several skeletons to be buried in the same ossuary, and
the accumulation of enough provisions for the feast” (Cervantes, 35). During this period,
the bikàklapa was very busy arranging for the burials, food preparation, and gathering of
people.
The sulár (funeral feast) could be at any time, but for convenience, usually
occurred during the dry season.
After the fourth narration of the deceased’s life, the corpse was buried in an
ossuary, with the other bodies. Along with the body, ritual meals, spiders (Arthropoda:
Aracnidae), and the stë páùte packet. The spiders were buried with the body to assist in
the crossing of the great river in the sky by building a rope bridge across. A macaw (Ara
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macao) was also buried with the body, because it was believed that the soul of the macaw
would protect the soul of the deceased.
Folklore
The funerary ritual is also present in the folklore of the Bribri culture.
In the
creation myth “Por qué no somos todos iguales,” a description is given of what happens
when a person dies. It describes the fact that everyone has two souls: one, which resides
in the right eye, and another, which resides in the left eye.
These two souls are the
manifestations of good and evil, serving to balance out one’s desires.
However, with
death, these souls depart the body to return to Suré, where Sibú (the god in Bribri creation
myths) lives.
‘when we die, the soul of the right eye goes first. It goes with the
ceremonies, the songs, and incense; it goes on the road. For nine days, it
goes searching for Sibú, who waits in the country on the other side of the
sun.
But wimbrú, the other soul, remains with the body. It is capricious
as a child, it likes travesties, badness, and frightening people. It has the
same figure as the dead person. It goes in the evening, in the fog, and
makes noise, scaring the people. After nine months, with the ceremony of
the bones, when the bones are buried, wimbrú leaves as well (Ferreto, 28).
The nine months described in this creation myth correspond to the nine months in which
the body decomposes.
Wimbrú remains in the vicinity of the community, in the spirit
form of the deceased, tricking the people. He is drawn to the food and celebrations of the
different narrations, where he can know that he is still appreciated. After decomposition,
when the bones are placed in a bundle and taken to the ossuary, wimbrú is finally
appeased and returns to Suré, to join the other soul.
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Other Indigenous Groups
Different methods are used in the funerals of different cultures.
Kuna, and Yanomami are given below as examples.
each, in relation to length and method.
The Maleku,
There is a marked difference in
The Maleku keep the corpse close to their
residence, the Kuna bury their corpses in a cemetery, and the Yanomami ingest the
bodies of their dead.
The Malekus buried their dead beneath their houses, if the death had been a
natural death.
The face was covered with mastate (a bark cloth) and painted with tint
from the Aljuco plant. Then chicha, cacao (Theobroma cacao), and yuca (Manihot
esculenta) were placed in a net bag and buried with the body. The body was wrapped in
suita (Calyptrogne ghiesbreghtiana) leaves and placed on a platform 1.5 meters beneath
the ground, then covered with another platform, thereby, totally separating the body from
the earth.
The following day, little rolls were made from the leaves of the suita. The
family members would then beat at the buttresses of the palm, while the children grabbed
the rolls and deposited them in the tomb.
The funeral rituals were considered solemn
affairs, without any dancing, singing, or other loud activities. Anyone doing so would be
looked upon as an enemy. (Margarita, 75-76).
With the Kuna, the deceased would be sewn up in a hammock with personal
belongings.
A funeral chanter sings to ensure safe journey to heaven.
members mourn for the dead throughout the day.
The family
The day following the death, the
deceased is buried in a cemetery. “The hammock is slung on two stakes in the grave”
and then the grave is filled up. (Steward, 263).
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In the Yanomami culture of the Amazon, the body of the deceased is cremated.
Several weeks later, the bones are ground up and mixed with a banana stew. Then, the
bowl would be passed to each family member.
The Yanomami did this because they
believed that their souls should be returned to their family members, upon death.
(NOVA).
Conclusion
The Bribri funeral rite described above is no longer in practice. Over the years,
they have lost many of their rituals. One of the most important contributors to this loss is
the disappearance of the awápa and stsököl. There are no longer any stsököl alive, and
very few sini’pa.
Now that the cultures are finally realizing the value of their cultures,
they have no way of reclaiming such rituals because there are no longer any shamans to
teach or perform the rituals. Westernization also plays a large role in this, as more and
more indigenous cultures set aside their cultural beliefs and strive towards modernity.
For example, the Brunka have lost almost all of their culture and language, with the
building of the InterAmerican Highway through the middle of their reservation 40 years
ago.
They did not realize this until it was too late, and are now in the process of
reclaiming some of this lost heritage.
work of Christianity.
Another contributor to the loss of rituals is the
The Guaymi and Brunka families that I interviewed were all
Christians, and I believe that this leaves little room for their cultural beliefs.
stated that they no longer knew any of their cultural creation stories.
They all
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Acknowledgements
I’d like to thank the members of the Guaymi, Boruca, and Bribri communities for
their cooperation and willingness to explain their culture.
Cervantes, to whose thesis I referred extensively.
Special thanks to Laura
And finally, thanks to Luís Diego
Gomez, Gabriella Demargasso, José Gonzalez, and Rebecca Lutzy.
Bibliography
Bozzoli, M.E. 1975. Birth and Death in the Belief System of the Bribri Indians of Costa
Rica. Ph.D Dissertation, University of Georgia.
Cervantes, L. 1990 Sulár: Playing for the Dead. A Study of Bribri Funerary Chants as
Speech Acts. Abstract of Master’s thesis, State University of New York at Albany.
Ferreto, A. 1985. Historias del buen Sibú y de los Bribris. Editorial Universidad Estatal a
Distancia. San José.
FUNCOOPA. 1999. Los Pueblos Indigenas de Costa Rica. San José, C.R.
Gabb, William M.
1875. On the Indian Tribes and Languages of Costa Rica.
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 14:438-602.
Margarita, P. 2000.
Pastoral Aborigen
Narraciones Malekas.
José C.R.
Fundacion Coordinadora de
NOVA. 1996. Warriors of the Amazon. WGBH Educational Foundation.
Steward, J.H. 1963. Handbook of South American Indians, Vol. 4.
Publishers. New York.
Cooper Square
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The Ultimate Guide to Medicinal Plants for Pregnancy and Childbirth
Monica L. Ruiz
Dept. of Microbiology, Univ. of Maryland at College Park.
Abstract The project began with the intention to interview indigenous peoples of the
Guaymi, Brunka, Bribri, and Meleku communities in Costa Rica, regarding medicines,
foods, and rituals associated with pre- and post-natal care. The topic of interest changed,
however, with the little information uncovered by the informants. The focus moved
towards creating a compilation of medicinal plants or natural products that can be used
during pregnancy and childbirth. By combining the knowledge of Costa Rican botanists
and herbalists with literature sources, this guide was generated. It was thus concluded
that further investigation within the indigenous communities, as well as, amongst the
medicinal herbalists would reveal more medicinal products that could serve pregnant
women, mothers, and their babies.
Key Words: pregnancy, delivery, pre-natal care, post-natal care, medicinal
guide, Costa Rica
Introduction
German Chamomile or Matricaria recutitia means womb having a fresh or new
skin (Hoffmann, 1994). Matricaria is Latin for matrix, another word for womb, and
recutita is the Latin meaning for recutitus, which means having a fresh or new skin. This
Latin derivative is suggestive of its medicinal use in pregnancy, and provokes the
possibility that other natural products exist that can ease the labor process. In essence, I
have compiled a report of medicinal products, which can be used during pregnancy, those
that should be avoided, those that can be used before and after delivery, and those which
enhance delivery.
The report in question was initially designed to find natural remedies used by
indigenous peoples of Costa Rica that aid in the process of carrying, delivering, and
breastfeeding a child. The medicines under study were those derived from plants. The
information presented in this project was obtained from interviews of people involved in
specific botanical and medicinal research of plants, such as Rafael Ocampo and Sandra
Jiménez. María Bejarano and José Feliciano Elizondo Orriguerroa provided some
information on specific rituals and medicinal practices utilized by the Guaymi and Bribri,
respectively.
Results
My first visit to an indigenous community, the Guaymi, yielded limited results in
regards to specific foods or medicinal products utilized for pre- and post-natal care. The
first woman said that she tried to eat chicken soups when she was pregnant. She gave
birth to all 9 of her children in the house with the aid of a midwife. Unfortunately, no
questions were asked about any rituals associated with the births. In the Brunka
community, two of the three female informants had all of their children in the hospital.
The third Brunka informant had 3 at home, and the last 2 at the hospital. The first Brunka
384
informant commented on the fact that there used to be midwives, but they were no longer
around. In essence, no one could provide any information about specific medicinal
products used. Therefore, it was necessary to consult herbalists and literature sources to
gather a concrete knowledge about natural products used during the carrying, delivering,
and breastfeeding of a baby.
James Duke (1999) suggests using partridge berry (Mitchella repens) and
raspberry (Rubus idaeus) to prevent miscarriages and morning sickness. He claims that
black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) produces the same effects as partridge berry and
raspberry, and also soothes the uterus (Duke, 1999). Folic acid is an essential vitamin for
pregnant women. Thus, jute (Corchorus olitorius) and lentils (Lens culinaria) are
recommended to eat during pregnancy because they have a high content of folate (Duke,
1999). Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is also a source of folate, however, it can induce
an abortion (Duke, 1999). This is why pregnant women should eat parsley only within
the last 2-3 weeks of gestation (Duke 1999). Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) should also be
eaten during pregnancy for its high zinc content (Duke, 1999). Sandra Jiménez stated
that plantas frescas like linaza (Linum usitatissimum) and mozote (Triumfetta sp.) should
eaten, too.
By gathering information about medicinal herbs, which promote the health of the
mother and child during pregnancy and after childbirth, I also discovered the existence of
several abortive-inducing drugs. Interestingly, many of these abortive-inducing drugs are
typically used as insect repellents. For example, mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is used to
keep fleas away, but also induces labor and abortion (Ark Herb Farm, pers.com). In
combination, Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), Pennyroyal (Mentha pulgium),
and Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) are used as an insect repellent which can also cause
miscarriages (Duke, 1999). Additionally, Ruta (Ruta graveolens) induces abortion when
used in the primary stage of pregnancy (R. Ocampo, pers.com). Furthermore, Cucaracha
(Zebrina pendula) is ineffective to cause abortion by itself (L.D.Gómez, pers.com). In
conjunction with avocado seed, corn husks, and other ingredients, this concoction will
induce abortion (L.D.Gómez, pers.com).
With the onset of labor, blue cohosh (Caulophylum thalictroides) can be used to
promote uterine contractions and stimulate delivery (Duke, 1999). St. John’s Wort
(Hypericum perforatum) soothes the perineum during labor and possesses antiinflammatory properties (Duke, 1999; Hoffmann, 1994). Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella
bursa-pastoris) stops the bleeding after the labor process (Duke, 1999). German
Chamomile or Manzinilla (Matricaria recutitis) and Rosemary or Romaro (Rosmarinus
officinalis) are given to the mother after giving birth (Jiménez, pers.com.). The both
possess anti-inflammatory properties, however, German Chamomile can also be used to
reduce morning sickness and acts as a relaxant, while rosemary restores vitality, and
increases blood circulation (Chevallier, 1996).
I also researched medicinal products which enhance lactation in nursing mothers.
Rafael Ocampo informed me of a plant called Hierba lechera (Euphorbia lancifolia) or
Ixbut in Mayan and described its use, “Empleada las hojas en cocimiento para aumentar
la cantidad de leche en madres lactantes” (Ocampo, pers.com). Sandra Jiménez
described this same usage of the Milk Plant or Planta lechera; by soaking it in hot water
for a long time, the toxin is released. Then, it can be taken by the mother to produce
385
milk. Jiménez also stated that Avena (Avena sativa) con leche or Masa (corn meal) will
also promote lactation in nursing mothers.
There was also other information provided by Rafael Ocampo such as the
medicinal plant, liana (Serjania sp.) which is utilized by some indigenous groups to avoid
pregnancy. Ocampo also mentioned that lemon grass is cooked by some indigenous
groups and used as a bath for babies, as a means of cleaning them and protecting them
from spirits. José Feliciano informed me of another bath used by the Bribri. If a child
seems nervous within the first 4 months of life, a smoke bath is prepared of Dicranopteris
pectinata, in which the leaves are burned to create a type of incense and the baby is
passed through the smoke. María Bejarano of the Guaymi also explained a ritual in
which immediately after birth, the baby is given fluid from the skunk in order to prevent
it from getting asthma.
Discussion
I would like to see scientific research to determine whether there is a similar
molecular component within St. John’s Wort, German Chamomile, or Rosemary due to
their anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, it was interesting to discover that insect
repellants also serve as abortive medications. This would also be another area of research
to uncover a particular compound, which is responsible for this unique characteristic.
Thus, determining the biological functions and chemical properties in these medicines
would also be interesting to research.
Further investigation should also encompass topics concerning specific childbirthing practices and methods of abortion using herbal medicines. A detailed report on
how these medicines are prepared and any rituals associated with the medicines and
rituals associated with child birthing in general should be discussed.
Conclusion
Based upon the research I compiled, it appears that the average indigenous person
possesses little knowledge about medicinal plants related to pregnancy and childbirth. It
seems people with a specialized interest in this field are more knowledgeable. However,
further investigation must be performed in order to assess the accuracy of this conclusion.
It is possible that my lack of sensitivity and lack specific questions related to my topic
may have contributed to the lack of informative responses from the interviews with the
indigenous peoples. Furthermore, a better knowledge of Spanish could have provided
more information; I could have asked more questions and possibly have received less
evasive answers.
Acknowledgements
I greatly appreciate the information provided by Rafeal Ocampo, Sandra Jiménez of
MUSA, María Bejarano and José Feliciano Elizondo Orriguerroa. I also want to thank
the obliging communities of Guaymi, Brunka, Bribri, and Meleku. Additionally, I must
give thanks to Luis Diego Gómez, for without his help with the scientific names, I would
not have been able to write this report.
References
Duke, J.H. 1999. The Green Pharmacy. Roselaer, Md.
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Hoffman, D. 1996. The Information Sourcebook of Herbal Medicine. Freedom, CA:
Crossing Press. 305 pp.
Chevallier, A. 1996. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. New York: DK Publishing
Inc. 336 pp.
Appendix--Natural Products to Use During Pregnancy
Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)
??Prevents miscarriages and morning sickness (Duke 1999).
Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
??Alleviates morning sickness (Duke 1999).
??The leaves encourage an easy labor by strengthening the longitudinal muscles
of the uterus, increasing the force of contractions and thereby hastening
childbirth. Raspberry tea should not be taken medicinally in the early stages
of pregnancy (Chevallier, 1996).
Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium)
??Produces the same effects as Partridge Berry and Raspberry, but also soothes
the uterus (Duke 1999).
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
??High zinc content (Duke 1999).
Jute (Corchorus olitorius) and Lentils (Lens culinaria)
??Recommended to eat during pregnancy because they have a high content of
folate (Duke 1999).
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
??A source of folate, however, it can induce an abortion. This is why pregnant
women should eat parsley only within the last 2-3 weeks of gestation (Duke
1999).
Linaza (Linum usitatissimum) and Mozote (Triumfetta sp.)
??Plantas frescas (Jiménez, pers.com)
Natural Products to Use Before and After Delivery
Blue Cohosh (Caulophylum thalictroides)
??Promotes uterine contractions and stimulate delivery (Duke, 1999).
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
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??Soothes the perineum during labor and possesses anti-inflammatory properties
(Duke, 1999)
??Possesses anti-inflammatory properties (Hoffmann, 1994)
Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
??Stops the Bleeding following labor (Duke, 1999)
German Chamomile or Manzanilla (Matricaria recutitis)
??The mother can use manzinilla after giving birth (Jiménez, pers.com.)
??Possesses anti-inflammatory properties and acts as a relaxant. German
Chamomile can also be used to reduce morning sickness (Chevallier, 1996).
Rosemary or Romero (Rosmarinus officinalis)
??The mother can use romaro after giving birth (Jiménez, pers.com.)
??Possesses anti-inflammatory properties, restores vitality, and increases blood
circulation (Chevallier, 1996).
Natural Products that Enhance Lactation
Milk Plant/Planta lechera/Hierba lechera/Ixbut (Carduus María nus)
??By soaking milk plant in hot water for a long time, the toxin is released.
Then, it can be taken by the mother to produce milk. (Jiménez, pers.com.)
??Empleada las hojas en cocimiento para aumentar la cantidad de leche en
madres lactantes (Ocampo, pers.com)
Oats/Avena (Avena sativa)
??Avena con leche promotes lactation in nursing mothers (Jiménez, pers.com)
Masa or Corn meal
??Maza or corn meal is also useful in enhancing lactation (Jiménez, pers.com)
Natural Products to Avoid When Pregnant… i.e. Abortive-Inducing
Ruta (Ruta graveolens)
??Induces abortion when used in the primary stage of pregnancy (Ocampo,
pers.com)
??Combined with rubbing alcohol and used in drops for ear aches (Goméz,
pers.com)
Cucaracha (Zebrina pendula)
??Ineffective to induce abortion by itself. Must be combined with avocado seed,
corn husks, and other ingredients to be potent. This concoction is typically
used when menstruation is delayed (Goméz, pers.com).
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
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??Induces labor and abortions (Ark Herb Farm, pers.com).
??Keeps fleas away (Ark Herb Farm, pers.com).
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
??Induces miscarriages (Duke, 1999).
??Keeps fleas away (Chevallier, 1996).
Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)
??Used as an insect repellent which can cause miscarriages (Duke, 1999).
Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus)
??Used as an insect repellent which can cause miscarriages (Duke, 1999).
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Reception of Contraceptives And Other Aspects Of Family
Planning
Among Indigenous People In Costa Rica
1
Alice Teich
1
Dept. of Environmental Studies, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Abstract
This report contains the study of various aspects of family planning and contraceptives
among the Guaymi and Boruca indigenous communities of Costa Rica. In regard to the Guaymi,
they maintain their beliefs in a traditional, ritual sterilization method. However, the youth are
embracing modern contraceptives. Western birth control will play a significant role in the future
of this community.
The Boruca communities are much more acculturated than the Guaymi in many regards.
One important manifestation of this is the use of modern contraceptives among Boruca women.
They utilize various forms of birth control and also display other aspects of social progress.
Keywords Rey Curré, Guaymi, Coto Brus, Abrojos-Montezuma, Neilly, Boruca,
Ethnobiology, family planning, birth control.
Introduction
The intentions were to examine the methods and social manifestations of birth
control and family planning in the Boruca communities at Rey Curré and the Guaymi
communities at Coto Brus and Abrojos. The information gathered from interviews
comes from these three communities as well as information from experts on the
indigenous people of Costa Rica.
There are many factors that influence the overall state of family planning in Costa
Rica and specifically the country’s indigenous communities. These factors also manifest
themselves as differences within respective communities. Specifically, there is contrast
in the utilization and socialization of birth control between the Boruca community at Rey
Curré and the Guaymi communities of Coto Brus and Abrojos-Montezuma. The
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Guaymi are still very ambivalent about this aspect of modern health care and trust more
in their traditional beliefs. However, the Boruca utilize modern contraceptives and are in
this regard highly acculturated and removed from their traditional beliefs.
Not so long ago, birth control was entirely frowned upon in Costa Rica, an
overwhelmingly Catholic country. It was not until the 1970’s, following a population
boom of nearly three decades, that birth control and family planning became part of the
national agenda. Luckily, the Catholic Church has been very lenient, effectively turning
the other cheek (J. Rodriguez, pers. comm. 2001).
Costa Rica has a socialist health care system, so all of its citizens, including the
indigenous populations, have free access to health services and medicines, birth control
included. In regard to the indigenous people, there are hospitals or clinics within an hour
drive from each of the reservations.
Non-indigenous Costa Rican women are generally well informed and accepting of
birth control. The ones I have spoken with about birth control were casual, not at all
rattled by my probing. However, just because it is technically accessible to everyone
does not mean it will be socially acceptable to everyone. Initiating dialogue with
indigenous women clearly is a delicate matter, and does not come quickly or easily
among the indigenous communities.
Methods
Faced with some difficulties, I have insightfully, but unavoidably inferred a great
deal in this study. For one thing, the sample size was very small. The information
included comes from 9 different informants. Three of them are Guaymi and three of
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them are Boruca. The other two informants are Costa Rican social scientists. To be more
confident, I would need to speak to a larger demographic sample, which I have not done
in this study.
Also the sensitivity of the subject was immediately apparent. This certainly
inhibited the process. I received many short, incomplete responses, and in some cases, no
response at all, especially among the Guaymi. This led me to reevaluate and change the
nature of my questioning so that it was appropriate throughout the study.
This abruptness in itself was very interesting for my study. In many ways, the
people’s silence spoke more than words. Birth control and family planning are sensitive
and private issues, even more than I originally thought. Nevertheless, had I known, I
would not have chosen this hushed topic for such brief analysis.
Guaymi
After a woman has birthed her last child in that she does not want any more
children, she cuts off a tiny piece of the last child’s placenta. She takes the placenta to a
place in the forest far from the birth site. She digs a hole, the depth of her forearm. She
digs the hole even deeper, if this is possible and places the placenta piece into the
ground. Refilling the hole with dirt, she then seals it with a rock. After this, she need not
worry, because she will not have any more children.
Confirmed by all of the Guaymi interviewed, this traditional, ritual procedure
from here on referred to as the Placenta Legend for simplicity’s sake, is taken seriously
in their communities. For example, while most families in a particular Rey Curré
neighborhood have 9 or 10 children, one Informant said that there are only 6 children in
his household. This is because of the Placenta Legend practiced by his mother (P.
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Montezuma. pers. comm. 2001), (M.Bejarano-Montezuma. pers. comm. 2001) (P.
Montezuma-Montezuma. pers. comm. 2001) (L.Gómez. pers. comm. 2001).
Another informant, a woman in her early forties, is the midwife and expert on
women’s affairs in the Guaymi community of Coto Brus. While the she and all of the
women interviewed affirmed the Placenta Legend, she says that the ‘young’ Guaymi
women are embracing more modern sterilization techniques, such as Laporectomies and
Vasectomies. She says that they also practice contraception in the forms of pills,
condoms, and injections. She says this is because the young people have lost their faith
in the Guaymi beliefs and practices. They have also lost their faith in her (M. Bejarano.
pers. comm. 2001).
A third informant said that she also believes in the validity and efficacy of the
Guaymi myth. She has nine children.
All of the above women who believe this Placenta legend have more than forty
years in age. While they believe in this Guaymi method, they also recognize that the
younger generation is turning in another direction. These women seem from the old
school in the face of a culture in transition. While it is not clear at what stage, a transition
is taking place. Some of the factors creating the current status of family planning and
birth control among the Guaymi are easily observable.
These days, the hospitals or clinics are no further than an hour from each of the
respective reservations. The Neilly hospital is close to Abrojos, the San Vito hospital is
near Coto Brus, and the Buenos Aires clinic is close to Rey Curré.
Additionally, as mentioned, free birth control along with other health care is extended to
each of the indigenous communities in Costa Rica. But the Guaymi community,
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sheltered and shunned from most national prerogatives anyway, clearly remains
somewhere in the dust and chaos of the relatively recent status of birth control. While
they may technically have access, it appears that they do not have education about
contraceptives, family planning, or any incentives to participate. And what little they do
know seems antagonistic to their traditional conceptions of health, and spirituality.
Another interviewee was a Guaymi man in his late twenties. He spoke about the
state of birth control and family planning in his Abrojos-Montezuma community.
For one thing, many women are afraid of the pill. They don’t like or accept the
changes that it creates in them; there are associated symptoms of contraceptive hormones.
The pills change women’s moods and menstrual cycles. The Guaymi belief that God
manifests itself as both the sun and the moon may explain their distrust in a substance
that alters menstruation, a natural lunar cycle. Confirming the sentiments of what was
said by the Guaymi midwife, this informant thinks that many Guaymi view birth control
as imposing on their culture and belief systems. It seems to them like an intrusion of
outside cultures already pushing them around, such as the Costa Rican government.
Another aspect to consider are the purported ideals of ‘planned families’,
themselves. They are very middle class and Eurocentric, and therefore alien for the
Guaymi, furthering their distrust and disapproval. The tenant popularized by groups
such as Planned Parenthood, that additional children are more expensive appeals logically
in many societies. Yet, it may be irrelevant for the Guaymi, who are almost solely
agriculturally based. Additional labor and helping hands, in their case, are plausibly a
valuable resource. Therefore, it is presumptuous and possibly counterintuitive to insist
that more children are a burden. They may be ‘planning’ to have large families.
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After explaining reasons for the negative reception of birth control in his
indigenous community, the young interviewee, aforementioned, shared some of his
opinions. He was visibly relieved, a grin twitching at the sides of his mouth as we moved
onto speaking about Guaymi youth and the future. He expects great changes. He thinks
that birth control is catching on. Young people will have more opportunities, without so
many babies, he thinks. They will be able to study at colleges and universities. In this
way, they will enhance the Guaymi community, something that he feels is sorely needed.
Lack of opportunity and marginalization of the Guaymi are at the root of the problems for
the community and having children will lessen these.
He said that changes, while slow, are taking place among the Guaymi. For example,
when he was a child, his mother also told him the Placenta Legend, a family secret. This
contrasts greatly to the state of education these days, where information about birth
control is beginning to surface in the local Guaymi schools. And since the reservation
schools’ only go through the eighth grade, they are starting relatively early.
He said that a nurse comes around a few times every school year to speak with the
students about birth control and to warn them of the consequences of sex, especially
premarital sex. And to some degree, this is producing effects. There are less young
women pregnant. He says that it used to be common for girls to get pregnant at the ages
of thirteen and fourteen, but now, this is less common. This is due to information about
contraceptives and the fact that girls are being scared into abstinence.
The “sterilization” belief in the Placenta Legend as first told to me by the
Guaymi is a secret. It is a sacred legend that mothers pass down to their children and that
grandmother’s pass down to their grandchildren. It is recounted in hushed tones, few
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words, and yet it is the most prevalent method of family planning or birth control that I
encountered when talking to the Guaymi. While there is talk of progress and evidence of
change, young mothers, and bitter opposition reveal that modern birth control and family
planning methods are not yet home among the Guaymi.
Boruca
The Boruca at Rey Curré lead very different lives from the Guaymi. This may
have to do with the Inter-American Highway built beside the reservation in the 1950’s.
The Barunca are much less secluded from greater Costa Rica. They have much more
interaction in terms of trade and transportation than the Guaymi. They are visibly
wealthier and more acculturated. Also they are much more familiar and comfortable with
family planning and modern birth control.
One Boruca woman lives in Rey Curré. She has two children now and would like
more eventually, but currently she is on birth control. She takes the pill every day. When
I asked, she did not go into detail about where she gets it, or who educated her about birth
control from (E. Rojas. pers. comm. 2001). However, as opposed to encounters with the
Guaymi, at least it is not a secret. During this interview, the television blared in the
background, an actress in a smart business suit bustling at some intense business-related
activity, and it seemed strangely appropriate at the Boruca reservation.
Another Boruca woman has three children. She informs me that she is taking the
shot, I assume it is something like Depo-provera but she does not know the exact name.
Her shots are administered in a clinic in the nearby town of Neilly. She doesn’t want to
have any more children, as they are expensive to raise and provide for. As she made this
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comment, I noticed a fancy gold enamel clock on the wall, a large television and nice
stereo equipment (M. Castro Vargas. pers. comm. 2001).
Another Boruca woman, in her late forties has five children. Recently she had a
Laporectomy. She seems knowledgeable and comfortable talking about birth control and
the use of it in her community. She says that she doesn’t know any specific women, but
many young Boruca are on the pill. But while she is receptive to these topics, her mind is
elsewhere.
She would rather talk about the problems in Rey Curré. The Costa Rican
government is hurting the Boruca. They want to build a dam that will flood out the
cultivated farmlands of their reservation. To fight against this and to fight for other
indigenous rights, she goes to San Jose twice a month as part of a women’s organization.
These are the types of ‘women’s issues’ that she wants to engage us with (F. RojasMorales. pers. comm. 2001).
Discussion
The subject of conversation with the Boruca woman was social activism, and it
brings up an interesting point. When the young Guaymi man said that women would
have more opportunities if they had fewer children, maybe this is what he means.
He spoke about a group operating in Costa Rica, A.C.O.N.A.M.I.C. La Associa de
Mujeres Indigeneas Costariccenses. This is a group of indigenous women who travel to
reservations teaching women farming and livestock techniques to improve their economic
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situations. They also promote women’s rights and speak to the general need of
improvement in indigenous communities.
While the older generation of Guaymi believe in the Placenta Legend and strive
to maintain these traditional beliefs, they also recognize the increasing popularity of birth
control, and modern ways in general. For example, according to my informant, the
Guaymi women love A.C.O.N.A.M.I.C. They are very excited and supportive when the
representatives come to the reservations.
While ideology is fundamental, it is the people that ultimately comprise a culture.
The traditions and beliefs of even the most well preserved cultures fail if they lack the
practice and support from the people. Culture as enacted by a community is living and
breathing.
The Guaymi midwife, along with many other women, clutch to the traditional
methods of birth control. However, she is past her childbearing years, which means that
her beliefs do not translate into anything more than just beliefs. The youth are embracing
a different doctrine, which is the advice of outside cultures. The Boruca have effectively
transitioned in this way some years ago. Not only do they use modern contraceptives and
have smaller families, a sign of family planning, they are also visibly more acculturated.
They have televisions, stereos, and even cars where the Guaymi remain separated from
these and other amenities of contemporary Costa Rica.
There is much discourse about how remote cultures are affected by encroaching
acculturation and modernity. But are these changes enhancing the quality of life, or are
they degrading the communities of indigenous cultures? The presence and ramifications
of birth control and general family planning provide an interesting point for related
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studies. Currently, the Guaymi maintain a stronger semblance of their traditional culture.
They speak their indigenous language, they use traditional herbal medicines, and they
remember their legends. Also they are poor, and very disenfranchised and margnialized
from the rest of Costa Rica. The Boruca, on the other hand, have integrated relations
with other indigenous groups. They are aware of the impact that greater Costa Rica has
on their lives, and they are trying to adress this, such as the proprosed-damming project.
However, they are not as strong in their traditions as the Guaymi. They don’t speak
Boruca and they don’t remember their legends. It is no coincidence that the Boruca also
utilize western family planning while the Guaymi do not. However, in this tradeoff, with
the pros and cons of ‘progress’ flying through the wind, that which will be ultimately
beneficial to these cultures remains to be seen.
From the findings of this study, I suggest that popular family planning and birth
control will play increasingly important roles in the indigenous communities at AbrojosMontezuma, Coto Brus, and Rey Curré. How this acceptance will affect their individual
lives and also in terms of lasting culture is a very interesting theme worthy of further
investigation.
Acknowledgements
I would first like to thank the generous and obliging Guaymi and Boruca
communities of Rey Curré, Coto Brus, and Abrojos-Montezuma. Additionally I thank
friends, Maria Bejarano, Max Bejarano-Montezuma, Elsa Rojas, Miriam Castro Vargas,
Pelipa Montezuma-Montezuma, Flora Rojas Morales, Luís Gómez and Jose Rodriguez.
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The Language of Health
1
B. Tschannen-Moran1
Department of Biology, Duke University
Abstract: Interviews and investigation into the preventative medicine tactics of
different cultures in the Chibchan language group suggest that these societies
share more than just a language base. Understandings of health and disease
were similar across the group as well as common practices of preventing illness.
It is uncertain as to whether the commonalties between the different Chibchan
cultures are derived from a common ancestry or whether their common language
base facilitated communication of beliefs and practices within the group.
Key words: Preventative medicine, Chibchan, medicinal plants, indigenous
health
Introduction:
As defined by someone from the United States, a preventative health regime includes
getting adequate amounts of sleep and exercise, eating a balanced diet, and occasionally
taking vitamins and herbs meant to maintain health. Given these preconceptions about
preventative medicine, I assumed that my investigations would lead me to ritual herbs and
medicines taken by indigenous people based on their biological properties. I found a regular
practice of this sort to be nearly absent among the indigenous peoples of the Chibchan
language group. Instead, I learned that the largest part of their preventative medicine is based
in the assumption that malignant spirits cause illness. Nearly all of the indigenous
preventative medicine practices revolve around preventing afflictions by these spirits. These
practices seem to be shared by members of the Chibchan language group, but are not
endemic to indigenous groups worldwide as shown by the comparisons made in this paper.
Materials and Methods:
I conducted four hour-long interviews in researching this topic. Interviewees
included: Guillermo Archibold (1), a native Kuna from Kuna Yala in Panama; Alejandro
Palacios (2) and Maria Bejerano (3), native Guaymís from the community of Coto Brus,
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Costa Rica; Luís Diego Gómez (4), a native Costa Rican and ethnobiologist; and José
Feliciano (5), a Bribri native to KéköLdi in Puerto Viejo, Limón. For readability purposes, I
reference each of these interviewees by the numbers they are given above. In addition to
these longer interviews, I briefly inquired about the subject of preventative with a total of
seven indigenous people and one other ethnobiologist, Rafael Ocampo. The prior are
referenced by community to protect anonymity while the latter is referenced by name. I also
obtained some of my information from the presentations of book reviews on August 4th and
5th , 2001. This information is referenced by the name of the presenter as opposed to the book
title. Finally, I found much of my data about the practices of cultures outside of the Chibchan
language group through research of written materials.
Forms of Preventative Medicine
Two of the most common forms of ingesting medicine are teas and baths. Teas are made
from sweet medicinal plants while baths are made from bitter medicinal plants (1, 2).
Additionally, vapor baths are a means of medicinal application, in which a bath is prepared
and the vapors inhaled to give medicinal benefits (Bribri informant). Two other forms of
medicinal application include smoke ingestion and drops of tincture. In this first method,
medicinal plants are burned, and the smoke ingested to give medicinal benefits (5). In the
second, a tincture is made and applied either externally or internally. This method is used
primarily for babies (2, 5). All of these forms are used in the ingestion of preventative
medicine as well as recuperative treatments.
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Spirit-Caused Disease
Most indigenous Chibchan groups view spirits as the root cause of disease (5, Ocampo,
pers. comm. 2001). These can be human or animal spirits. Regardless of the nature of the
spirit, however, certain rules must be followed in everyday life and during spirit encounters
to prevent afflictions (4). Another cause of spiritual affliction is sorcery, a belief and practice
in many indigenous cultures (5). To prevent sorcery, the indigenous peoples take part in
cleansing ceremonies to rid them of the internal evil spirits and protect them from further
spiritual affliction (1, 2, 5).
The belief in spirit-caused disease is not universal among indigenous peoples. The
Navajo, for example, believe that disease is caused by disharmony with nature, while
Polynesians believe that excessive solitude and disrespect of the community hierarchy cause
disease. On the other hand, the Melanesians, as well as most South American indigenous
groups, follow a belief system that includes evil spirits and sorcery as the root cause of
disease (Cox and Banack 1991). A belief in spirit-caused disease, therefore, seems to be a
distinctive characteristic of Central and South American indigenous groups.
Shamans versus Medicinal Plants Healers
There is allegedly little or no competition between shamans and healers because they
cure very different diseases (1, 4). Because of this, neither do they work together or
collaborate for medicinal purposes (1). Shamans are used to cure psychoses and epilepsy in
Kuna culture (1), while shamans in Bribri cure rheumatism and arthritis (4, Bribri informant).
These diseases are believed to be caused by certain evil spirits. For example, rheumatism is
caused by a combination of the spirit of the monkey and the spirit of the squirrel (4). Because
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of their focus on diseases of the spirit, shamanism is considered a specialized practice for
specialized diseases (1). In Kuna and Bribri cultures, the shaman also has the ability to talk to
dieties and direct the community in what they must do to please the gods and remain in his
favor (The Kuna 1999).
All people interviewed indicated that they would take medicinal plants of their own
knowledge or go to a healer for the most common diseases that afflicted them and a
community (Bribri, Boruca, Guaymí informants, pers. comm. 2001). Medicinal healers use
both plants with biological activity and with magical properties for healing (5). Additionally,
they independently developed a Doctrine of Signatures similar to that used in the middle ages
in Europe. In this system, plants that have certain physical properties (appearance, color, and
smell) like a certain body part are used to cure disease in that part (5, Ocampo, pers. comm.
2001). Despite a popular belief held among Westerners that shamanism is used to maintain
healthy spirits, my indigenous informants were adamant in insisting that shamanism was only
for use by those who were already ill (1, 2, 4). All preventative medicine explained to me
could either be performed by a healer or was a part of the popular repertoire of medicinal
knowledge.
Age-Specific Practices
I offer these lists of age-specific preventative medicine techniques as a means of
comparing practices of Chibchan societies within themselves and contrasting them to other
indigenous people around the world. This is not an exhaustive list of practices; rather, a basis
from which I can start to make general conclusions about the shared aspects of the Chibchan
language group with regard to their preventative medicine techniques and belief systems.
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Prenatal and Postnatal Practices:
In nearly all of the Chibchan cultures, a pregnant woman is given special care so that
she can have a successful pregnancy and that the baby inside her can grow strongly and
healthfully. In Guaymí culture, a pregnant woman is given medicinal plants and “yucitas” to
give her vitamins so that she can be strong enough for pregnancy. She is also given the fat of
animals such tepezcuintle (Dasyprocta punotata) to strengthen her (2). Kuna culture has a
similar method of giving pregnant women certain plants and foods to give her vitamins for
pregnancy (1). One such plant is called Igar obured in Kuna culture (1, Ventocilla, J. et al
1995). Another, Euphorbia lancifolia, is used as a galactagogue and promotes milk
production in the woman (5).
In addition to this physical treatment, the Kuna make “nuchus” which are effigies of
the unborn child made of Balsa wood (1, The Kuna 1999). These nuchus are used to prevent
the “poni”, the group of malevolent spirits that cause sickness and disease (The Kuna 1999).
Similar in nature to this practice is that of the Bribri in which a pregnant women is given a
special ceremony by her husband or by a shaman to induce certain qualities in the unborn
child (4). For example, the leaves of a parakeet, parrot or macaw are waved around the
mother’s head to make the child intelligent. Additionally, a “manojo”, a collection of
feathers, skins and shells, is used to expel bad spirits from the unborn child (4).
When a baby is newly born in Guaymí culture, he or she is given several drops of
soup made of skunk skin to prevent asthma and respiratory problems (3). Also, drops of the
gallbladder of a freshly killed tepezcuintle to prevent cataracts (3, 5). Then, at eight days old,
the baby is given half a spoonful of soup made of howler monkey (Allouatta palliata)
combined with other foods (2, 3). Similarly, the newborn child is given half a spoonful of
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fish soup every day from birth until three months old in Guaymí culture (2, 3). In Bribri
culture, a nervous child is passed over the smoke of burning Dicranopteris ferns (5). These
practices, like others, have both biologically and magically active components.
Vaccination:
There seems to be a schism within indigenous cultures with regard to vaccinations.
The Minister of Health mandated all newborns to receive vaccinations as well as those adults
who have not yet received them (4). These vaccinations are free and readily available, even
for individuals living in a reservation (Guaymí, Boruca, Bribri informants, pers. comm.
2001). According to informants, doctors actually come to the communities on occasion to
give vaccinations (Bribri, Boruca informants, pers. comm. 2001). This availability and
suggestion have meant that nearly all of our interviewees in indigenous and non-indigenous
communities view vaccines for children as an effective preventative medicine technique.
This positive sentiment about vaccines is not universal, however. I met several
individuals who were opposed to vaccinations in the Guaymí reservation of Coto Brus. They
informed me that a child’s immune system could be boosted solely with plants found in the
mountains and that vaccines were not necessary (2, Guaymí informant, pers. comm. 2001).
Alejandro furthered this statement by telling me that a lot of people were afraid of vaccines
because they made the child swell and could make the child sick for up to a week (2). To
reduce these problems, Maria informed me that she only sent a child to the hospital for
vaccinations if he or she was healthy (3). Our Bribri guide also commented that despite the
free availability of vaccines, people who lived high in the mountains frequently omitted the
trips to the clinic to get a vaccine (Mayorga, pers. comm. 2001). Guillermo Archibold echoed
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this sentiment by informing me that children and adults alike often skipped follow up tetanus
vaccinations (1).
Childhood Practices:
Childhood is the time when most preventative medicine occurs. Ritual cleanings are
an integral part of the preventative medicine systems of the Kuna and the Guaymí, among
other groups (1, 2, 5). The plants used for these baths have both pharmacalogically and
magically active components (5). In Kuna culture, children are given a month of baths three
times a day to prevent disease and promote strong growth . The first of this bath rituals takes
place before the age of two, the second between ten and twelve, and the last around the age
of fourteen. The medicinal plants for a healer provides the baths every four days. This healer
goes to find the plants and prays for them that they might heal their recipient, and then gives
the plants to the child’s mother who administers the baths (1). Plants given to children are
usually “softer” plants and generally fall into two categories: the first are plants from the
shores of the rivers that are used to prevent fevers and flu; and the second are aromatic plants
and ornamental trees that are meant to prevent colds (1, 2). In Guaymí culture, children are
given medicinal baths twice a day for eight months and are given at times of weakness in the
child’s life (2). These baths are now being disregarded because they cost time and money and
many younger people regard them as purely superstition (1).
The only preventative medicine that José Feliciano mentioned for children was the
use of red necklaces or bracelets to prevent preadolescent girls from getting a condition in
which they run to the forest hearing their parents call them from there. This condition is
caused when a boy likes the girl and employs a shaman to afflict her with this condition. It
can only be reversed by a cure from a different shaman, so prevention is very important (4).
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Polynesians describe a similar condition called “musu” in which a girl feels increasingly
estranged from her family, but do not healers do not seem to view the disorder as spiritual
possession as much as psychological unrest and do not have any preventative medicine
practices (Cox, P., S.A. Banack 1991).
Adult and Life-long Practices:
Nearly all of the indigenous informants interviewed claimed that they did not have
specific practices in adulthood meant to maintain health. Everyone asked adamantly told me
that there were no specific exercise regimes meant to maintain health, even in the more
acculturated Boruca community (Indigenous informants, pers. comm. 2001). Despite the lack
of a concerted exercise regime, the physical nature of their lifestyle and work kept them in
good health, so they were able to maintain good form and good health through their work (1,
4). Similarly, food is not chosen specifically for health benefits, but most people had an idea
that eating a well-balanced diet of rice, beans, bananas, meat, etc. was beneficial for health
(Indigenous informants, pers. comm. 2001). This is in contrast, for example, to the
Polynesian belief system in which improper diet is viewed as an important disease source
(Cox, P., S.A. Banack 1991). In Guaymí culture, it is recommended that people avoid certain
foods and only eat chicken and eggs after they are sick to prevent further illness (2). Several
informants across cultures mentioned special diets after illness (Indigenous informants, pers.
comm. 2001). In addition, according to Luís Diego and Henry Folse, many of the indigenous
cultures are animistic and give certain animals special significance to a person or group. This
group may have special dietary restrictions based on their totem so as to respect its spirit and
receive its blessings (5, Folse, pers. comm. 2001).
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Daily practices to maintain health within the Central American indigenous peoples
we interviewed seemed to be sporadic and individualized. This is in contrast to the common
practice used by South American indigenous peoples in which an emetic is taken at the
beginning of each day before breakfast to purge the evil spirits of the night. This practice
leaves them with clean, healthy stomachs as well as free of evil spirits (5). Of my longer
interviews with informants and short interviews with people in indigenous communities, only
two men claimed that they had a daily preventative health practice (2, Boruca informant,
pers. comm. 2001). The first man, a Borucan, drank a tea of plant leaves and “armadillo” root
every morning before breakfast so that he might maintain his health. The second, Alejandro
claimed, one should be taken everyday to clean the veins and bones his or her whole life and
especially after having been sick to regain health (2). This tea, he explained, is made of
“Curarina” (an aromatic, orange vine) and “Nwigin blutain” (a fern-like plant with fine
leaves, a green petiole, and a red flower). In addition to these teas, people are occasionally
given the white latex of Fichus insipida, which has biologically active components that
prevent and expel intestinal parasites. This is followed by rich soup to recuperate electrolytes
(5). Also, adults can take the baths whenever they deem it necessary (1, 2). Adults generally
use harder plants such as palms to strengthen them (1).
Guillermo explained that those who wished to take small amounts of herbal remedies
in Kuna culture could do so and those herbs would act as preventative medicine (1).
However, he did not indicate that he used this practice and did not offer information as to
how common it was. He did indicate that people were more apt to use these techniques if
they had a family history of a certain disease. This practice is allegedly common among
indigenous groups (5), however, Alejandro took a very different approach to taking small
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amounts of herbal remedies for prevention. He told me multiple times that taking remedies
when someone is not sick could be very poisonous and should always be avoided (2). José
Feliciano made a similar statement that teas should only be taken when people are sick (4).
In Bribri culture, red is used to prevent injury by spirits. It is unwise to attempt to kill
or capture an animal with an evil spirit because the spirit can come after you and that one
should not act scared in front of a spirit for the same reason (4). A respect of the spirits of the
mountain and knowledge of how to prevent their afflictions is used in everyday activities for
many indigenous peoples. For example, when the men go hunting, they rub themselves and
their dogs with plant leaves such a piper to give them good luck. They may bathe themselves
in the smoke of tobacco and other plants to prevent Evil Eye (a spell) and decease (5). Rafael
Ocampo reflected this statement, but José Feliciano’s description of the use of red was the
only indigenous description of a practice related to those described by Luís Diego.
Discussion:
Analysis of these results yields the following list of commonalties within the
Chibchan language group:
1. Pregnant women are given spiritual and physical treatments so that they might
have a healthy pregnancy and child.
2. Newborn babies are given special, biologically active and magically active
remedies early in life to prevent later disease.
3. Modern vaccinations are now incorporated as an important part of their
preventative health regimes.
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4. Most utilize a bath cleansing ritual to prevent both biological and spiritual disease
afflictions.
5. Certain individuals in each community retain a knowledge and regular use of
medicinal plants including descriptions such as hard or soft and bitter or sweet.
6. Respect of a personal or group totem is seen as a manner of upholding respect for
its spirit and therefore preventing maladies that disrupting its spirit might invoke.
7. Belief that spirits cause disease is widespread and many daily practices are
constructed to prevent their afflictions.
8. Though preventative health options are available and, at times, recommended,
life-long preventative health regimes are followed on an individual basis rather than
as a cultural norm.
Conclusions:
The above discourse attempts to draw similarities between societies of the Chibchan
language groups. Inside this large group probably exists a large degree of individual variation
as to the specifics of most health practices. Each of these groups has developed an intricate
medical belief and healing system. This paper is not meant to negate their important
individualities, but to seek commonalties among these groups. The large number of
similarities regarding preventative medicine techniques within the Chibchan language group
suggests that their common language base either had a common medicinal base as well, or
that it facilitated the communication of medicinal knowledge between groups. However,
regardless of origin or causation, these similar practices suggest a commonality between
members of the Chibchan language group with regard to preventative medicine techniques.
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Acknowledgements:
Special thanks to Guillermo Archibold (Kuna), Maria Bejerano (Guaymí), José Feliciano
Elizondo (Bribri), Luís Diego Gomez (Ethnobiologist), Rafael Ocampo (Ethnobiologist), Lucas
Mayorga (Bribri) and Alejandro Palacios (Guaymí) for their time and valuable information.
Additional thanks to the communities of Coto Brus, Boruca and KéköLdi for their kindness and
willingness to share pieces of their culture.
References:
Cox, P., S.A. Banack (eds). 1991. Islands, Plants and Polynesians: An Introduction to Polynesion
Ethnobotany. Dioscorides. 228 p. pp. 147-68.
The Kuna. 1999. http://public.cup.net.pa.
Castner, J.L., Timme, S.L., J.A. Duke. 1998. A Field Guide to Medicinal and Useful Plants of
the Upper Amazon. Feline. 154 p.
Ventocilla, J. et al. 1995. Plants and Animals in the Life of the Kuna. Texas. 150 p.
407
Who Owns Nature?
The Bioprospection of Indigenous Knowledge and
Potential Solutions for Protecting Traditional Resource Rights (TRR)
Aruna Venkatesan
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Duke University
Introduction to Field Ethnobiology
11 August, 2001
408
Who Owns Nature?
The Bioprospection of Indigenous Knowledge and
Potential Solutions for Protecting Traditional Resource Rights (TRR)
Venkatesan, A. 1
1
Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, Duke University
Abstract:
Pharmaceutical companies’ recent interest in biological
resources of rainforests and other biodiversity havens has created many
problems for indigenous groups. Traditional Resource Rights (TRR) are being
compromised as companies attempt to use indigenous knowledge for their
own economic benefit. Called bioprospecting, this economic venture has had
a significant impact on the preservation of indigenous knowledge. Many
companies are attempting to devise systems for compensating indigenous
groups, but in general, current instituted plans are not sufficient protection
for traditional indigenous knowledge. In the following paper, bioprospecting
is explained through examples, the indigenous view of bioprospecting is
examined, and solutions are proposed concerning how to best protect
indigenous rights to give groups the power to control their own knowledge.
Through current Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) tools or novel
frameworks such as Traditional Resource Rights (TRR), indigenous rights
have the potential to be protected in the future if all people actively fight
for human rights.
Key words: Traditional Resource Rights (TRR), Intellectual Property Rights
(IPR), bioprospecting, medicinal plants, indigenous knowledge
Introduction
In ancient times, medicine began from the earth. The earliest medicines
were herbs, roots, and other natural materials. However, the last century has been
a period of significant development of synthetic drugs for worldwide health
problems, as herbal medicines have been termed “alternative” and “non-scientific.”
With the emergence of more deadly diseases such as AIDS and increasing rates of
other diseases such as cancer, corresponding with a lack of viable, synthetic drugs,
chemicals in nature are seen as the next frontier for therapeutics. Pesticide and
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insecticide companies are also attempting to learn natural alternatives that kill
insects and other pests. Recent pharmaceutical interests in the medical wealth of
the rainforest have created a whole new field of ethical study—who owns the
rainforest?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 80 percent of the
populations of developing countries use traditional plant-based medicine as their
primary health care—a whopping four billion people (Moran 1999). Indigenous
groups using plants and other natural substances as their only source of medicine
and pesticides for thousands of years are the prime targets, if you will, for
pharmaceutical companies in quest for a “magic cure” for such ailments as cancer,
Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, and even other less grave illnesses. But who has the
right to gain money from this exploration? It seems that the native people who
hold a respect for the plants and know what plants are effective against certain
ailments should profit the most from this, yet it is the companies that will
eventually make the most money from these natural substances.
I explored this topic in depth by analyzing how companies have entered this
market by questioning native groups in Costa Rica and other tropical nations over
their herbal medicine and pesticide practices.
Other aspects I explored include how the medicine men feel about their
great knowledge: do they feel it is their own property, property of only their
people, property of all indigenous people who practice herbal medicine, or property
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of all living people? How does this affect their willingness to cooperate with these
companies in pursuits of natural cures? Have indigenous people, initially uncertain
of such corporate pursuits, changed their mind in order to bring in more money for
their people? How does the privacy of these people affect their willingness to
share this knowledge even for the non-profitable pursuit of knowledge, such as our
inquiries to them about medicinal herbs? I analyzed these issues through literary
research, interviews with indigenous informants, and interviews with various
members of different indigenous communities we visited. I discovered how deeply
involved companies are here and how native people feel about this intrusion through
these modes of research. Finally, I explored different methods proposed on how to
protect indigenous property rights.
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)
Intellectual property has been defined as “intangible personal property in
creations of the mind” (Stephenson 1999). Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is a
recent term applied to a field of study dating back to the 15th century, when the
Republic of Venice enacted the first patent law (Brush 1993). It was created to
ensure that credit and economic rights are given to the people who originally held
knowledge or resources that may be commodified and sold through the economy.
IPR was reapplied in the early 20th century in regards to genetic variations used in
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agriculture, and IPR is now being applied to tradition knowledge of indigenous
people.
In today’s technological era, ideas and information have become property of
individuals and collective groups. Although this has been a part of the world
economy for many years, this idea is novel to many indigenous groups. Indigenous
knowledge has traditionally been disregarded by the Western world and their
contributions to fields of study have been ignored. Thus valuable knowledge of
these people is gradually disappearing, as people are not focusing on the
preservation of indigenous cultures. On another level, recent interest in “natural
chemicals” to serve as pesticides and medicines is making traditional knowledge
valuable again. As Posey writes, ”Indigenous peoples are profoundly worried by the
globalization of trade and the commodification of common property that ignores
existing, local values. ..Present laws do not adequately protect the rights of their
communities, nationalities, lineages, or families that hold resources and knowledge
for all generations-past, present, and future” (Posey 1996).
The term Intellectual Property Rights, as previously stated, was given as a
name for tools used to control the “commodity of knowledge” in this technological
and industrialized age. A recent aspect of this large field has been the protection
of indigenous knowledge and resources from exploitation by businesses. Although
many scientists write about the importance of the protection of indigenous
knowledge simply for the sake of conservation of biodiversity, my analysis will focus
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on protecting indigenous knowledge for the sake of the human rights of the
indigenous people (Swanson 1995).
Bioprospecting: Introduction and Test Cases
Bioprospecting is the principle factor that has revived the issue of
traditional knowledge ownership in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Defined in
1993 as “the exploration of biodiversity for the commercially valuable genetic and
biochemical resources,” bioprospecting by large companies is having an influence on
the land, namely rainforests that are particularly appealing to companies searching
for high biodiversity. This type of activity is not a “new industry,” although the
interest in biological materials has had a resurgence in this age of biotechnology.
Organizations and companies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
the National Institute of Health (NIH), Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo
Wellcome, and Shaman Pharmaceuticals have initiated many plant sample-collecting
projects. In general, these projects avoid the use of traditional knowledge to guide
investigations because it provokes many legal issues, such as how to compensate
indigenous groups. Technological advances in this century have made it fairly simple
for companies to collect a large number of plants and perform the same tests on
them for many types of bioactivity, therefore indigenous knowledge of plant uses
seems obsolete. However, some companies such as Shaman Pharmaceuticals
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purposefully employ the use of traditional knowledge to guide their research of
natural substances that have a history of medicinal uses (Zerner 2000).
Possibly the most well-publicized bioprospection venture occurring today is
the INBio-Merck agreement within the Costa Rican government. The government
established INBio, El Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, as a research
organization composed of scientists working on biodiversity inventories and the
investigation of biochemical activity of natural compounds, among other
investigations. On September 19, 1991, INBio and Merck & Co., a U.S.
pharmaceutical company, formed an exclusive agreement in which Merck was given
all manufacturing rights to any genetic resource they deem ‘useful,’ as obtained
from samples provided by INBio. This exclusive agreement of sample exchange
lasts for two years. In return, Merck awarded the government an up front fee of
one million dollars plus the commitment of paying royalties on all commercial
products that result from this bioprospection. Ten percent of these million dollars
goes to Costa Rican national parks, while the rest is allocated to different aspects
of the inventory program (Aylward 1995).
INBio was created by the government in order to focus on the generation
and use of information on biological resources. Aylward believes however, “INBio is
intended to generate not only this information, but to play a brokerage role
between biodiversity and a range of potential users of biodiversity and biodiversity
information” (Aylward 1995). Although Merck’s role in biodiversity conservation is
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controversial, it does show an intact legal contract that gives Costa Rica
reimbursement for biological knowledge and resources.
In the U.S. National Cancer Research Institute’s (NCI) quest for cancer
treatments, it has developed a random plant-screening method for bioactive
compounds. Through an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
samples were collected from 60 different countries to be analyzed in the lab
through various methods. Interestingly enough, the NCI originally considered a
collection strategy guided by indigenous knowledge but did not pursue this for
various reasons. These included: 1) cancer typically afflicts the elderly and
indigenous communities tend to have few elderly members and 2) major cancers
afflicting the world population as a whole are slow growth tumors that are difficult
to diagnose without modern technological tools. Thus the NCI decided against using
this strategy to aid in their discovery of medicinal plants (Aylward 1995).
More pertinent to indigenous knowledge use is Shaman Pharmaceuticals’
strategy of actively utilizing indigenous knowledge to direct their search for
medicinal plants. Thus by focusing on a traditional context, Shaman expects to
have a higher chance of finding bioactive compounds in plants that have a history of
human medicinal use. Shaman has demonstrated that 74% of all natural samples
that initially show chemical activity have corresponded to the original
ethnobotanical use (Sheldon and Balick 1995). Although there are still problems
concerning how to most effectively reimburse indigenous people for their
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knowledge, Shaman has attempted to address these ethical issues through their
non-profit company called The Healing Forest Conservancy. This organization
attempts to address the rights of indigenous people in which Shaman conducts
ethnobotanical research (Sheldon and Balick 1995).
The Indigenous Viewpoint
If companies are directly or indirectly accessing traditional knowledge, how
do the indigenous people feel about this intrusion? I interviewed two indigenous
informants, a BriBrí from Costa Rica (José Feliciano) and a Kuna from Panama
(Guillermo Archibold), to analyze the general consensus of indigenous people
concerning bioprospection of their knowledge. These interviews complemented each
other well, as Guillermo appeared to know more of the intellectual discussions
surrounding IPR while Feliciano gave more personal accounts. Although not
conclusive, these two interviewees gave important insights into the feelings of
indigenous people in regards to this issue.
Guillermo enlightened me on the indigenous perspective on knowledge of the
natural world before Western influences changed this view. Originally, indigenous
people in general did not feel they owned the earth or medicinal plants; the earth
was for the entire world to share. This indigenous view shows that the first plant
was not ‘discovered’ by anyone; it belonged to earth and was used by all. However,
once the concept of IPR and bioprospecting companies began to enter these
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communities, indigenous people began to claim ownership of their own knowledge. In
fact, both Guillermo and Feliciano stated that it was politics and international ideas
that initiated these changes. Once companies began to search for traditional
knowledge, use it to manufacture products, and sell these products without a simple
acknowledgement to the indigenous people, these people began to change their
views on the ownership of knowledge. Thus the Western views that “knowledge can
be sold as a commodity” and “the world revolves around money” have been
transferred to indigenous thought. Many indigenous people believe they can receive
money from their own knowledge and use it in a world where Westernization is
constantly threatening their survival.
Paranoia is prevalent in communities where traditional knowledge was
previously shared freely with seemingly ‘innocent outsiders,’ only to discover that
these Westerners sold or published their knowledge without reimbursement or
even acknowledgement. Thus many healers will now refuse to share their
information with all outsiders, even students. Francisco, a healer in the Coto Brus
Guaymi Community, explicitly stated that if we had been students planning on
publishing our results, he would not have shared information with us because his
knowledge has been robbed in the past (Feliciano, personal communication. 2001).
Even if a deal is proposed where an informant will be given money in exchange for
knowledge, many healers will not accept because they do not trust that they will
eventually receive reimbursement.
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Guillermo believes that the sharing of knowledge between outside scientists
and indigenous healers can alleviate these problems, because information will not
simply be taken from one source and given to another. Rather, this communication
can be a redistribution of knowledge so that everyone can become more educated.
When questioned if shamans or healers within a community will sell medicinal
plants to other indigenous people or outsiders, Feliciano answered with a unique
perspective. Feliciano explained that many shamans will not sell services, and the
few who do will only sell services sparingly that include the use of medicinal plants.
These shamans will only make a small amount of money, about 3000 colones per
healing ceremony, and this money is shared with the shamans’ immediate family for
food and other goods. Neither informant knew of a single shaman who has become
wealthy as a result of these services.
The Kuna community appears to be the most organized indigenous group in
regards to property protection. It has created a legal system through which
outsiders can obtain permission to set foot on Kuna property to uncover traditional
knowledge. This legal institution was put in place to safeguard the community from
the exact problems explained above. In this system, the cacique (chief) receives a
proposal from a company, scientist, or other organization concerning what
information is desired to be obtained and for what purposes. The cacique then
decides whether or not to give permission to these people and presents them with a
physical document of proof. The outsiders are then required to show this
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document to each Kuna person that they question, showing proof that the cacique
has approved of their intent. Although not foolproof, this system is an excellent
start for indigenous people to actively protect themselves from outsiders that have
the potential to take advantage of their knowledge.
Ultimately, these two informants seemed to come to the conclusion that
problems appear when money enters the picture of traditional knowledge.
Therefore if money has to be involved, the indigenous people should be controlling
the sale of their knowledge and should have the rights to determine what happens
with traditional resources (G. Archibold and J. Feliciano, personal communication.
2001).
Proposed Solutions
In this paper, current bioprospecting projects have been analyzed along with
the impact they are having upon the indigenous people. The next area to assess is
proposed solutions to the issue of property rights of indigenous communities.
Traditional IPR tools are being used by many experts in application to indigenous
issues, while other researchers propose novel tools to address the unique aspects
of property rights of traditional knowledge.
Trademarks and trade secret licenses have been proposed as the two
intellectual property tools already in existence that are most applicable to
traditional indigenous knowledge. Trade secrets have potential utility to indigenous
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people for two main reasons. First of all, these tools are “perhaps the easiest and
least expensive” so they are very accessible to groups that do not have much legal
expertise or money. Secondly, trade secrets can “provide them (indigenous people)
with a means of obtaining compensation for the substantial savings in time and
materials that Western multinational corporation derive from indigenous knowledge
and resources.” Therefore, traditional knowledge can be given in exchange for
monetary compensation.
Trademarks are also useful in the protection of indigenous rights, because
indigenous people can receive part of the profits for manufactured products that
refer to their indigenous group. For example, many blue corn products produced by
Western companies include the name “Hopi” in their names. Theoretically, the Hopi
Indians could receive part of the profits because their name is used in products not
produced or endorsed by them. Both trademarks and trade secrets are especially
attractive because, unlike patents, they are not subject to duration limitations
(Stephenson 1999).
However, the use of most IPR tools is not adequate enough to protect
indigenous knowledge because of the unique attributes that traditional knowledge
has in comparison to Western intellectual knowledge. Stephenson has grouped
these problems into four different dilemmas: the general knowledge problem, the
group identity problem, the legal status problem, and the market problem.
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The general knowledge concept addresses the fact that traditional
knowledge appealing to bioprospecting companies is usually not evenly distributed
within a group, therefore it is unclear as to who should receive monetary
compensation. The group identity problem questions which groups can claim rights
and control over knowledge. If many different indigenous groups use the same
plants for similar uses, as explained by Rafael A. Ocampo, director of El Jardín
Bougainvillea, then who should receive compensation? Surely a company will not
reimburse every ethnic group using this substance for a particular purpose. For
example, Arislolochia spp. is a plant used by many indigenous people in Argentina,
Panama, and Costa Rica to alleviate the symptoms of snakebites. If a company
gains knowledge of this plant from one indigenous group, do the others have the
right to receive compensation because they also share this knowledge (R. Ocampo,
personal communication. 2001)?
The legal status problem is the third obstacle associate with IPR tools.
Most indigenous groups are not politically recognized in their own country, holding
inferior political status to citizens, therefore how can they claim rights over
property and resources if they are not even given political recognition? The market
problem focuses on the relationship between indigenous value of a substance and
commercial value of the same substance. For example, if one plant is used by a
group for stomach ailments but a company discovers that it can fight cancer, should
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these people be compensated for providing this plant to the pharmaceutical
company? What makes indigenous knowledge valuable enough to deserve
compensation? As stated earlier, Shaman Pharmaceuticals is combating this
dilemma with short-term, medium-term, and long-term compensation (Stephenson
1999). Another problem encompassed by the market problem is the occurrence of
pharmaceutical companies paying for only a few samples of a specimen, finding a
bioactive compound in that specimen, and synthesizing this compound in the lab. In
many companies’ eyes, there is no need for indigenous people to be compensated in
these cases since the original plant will not be used in the final marketable product.
These are just a few of the many problems that occur when Western IPR tools are
used to analyze the compensation for indigenous knowledge (Parry 2000).
Darrell A. Posey, the late leading expert on IPR for indigenous people,
explains in details a novel approach to indigenous compensation. Titled Traditional
Resource Rights (TRR), his model proposes a sui generis framework on how
indigenous rights can be protected in this era. This model can be divided into four
main processes. The first, called ‘bundles of rights,” focuses on the numerous
human rights issues that need to be addressed in order for indigenous people to
have political power. These issues include: self-determination, prior informed
consent, land and territorial rights, environmental integrity rights, religious
freedom, cultural heritage rights, and the right to privacy.
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The second process, ‘soft law,’ emphasizes the necessity for non-legally
binding declarations and agreements, rather than one single model or treaty.
Declarations of principles, many which are pursued by NGO’s and business interests,
emphasize morality and state ethical behaviors for companies and researchers to
follow. Thus soft law is an intermediate step to forming international laws
concerning TRR.
‘Harmonization,’ the next process, emphasizes the lack of unity between laws
and declarations of various different countries. International forums in general are
not aware of what other organizations have already discussed and proposed in
relationship to TRR. Therefore, there needs to be a focus on uniting all state
inventories that address traditional knowledge to obtain a cohesive set of
international standards.
Finally, ‘equitising’ appeals to me as the most important process in TRR.
Ultimately, indigenous communities need to rally together through the aid of proactive efforts of the government so that indigenous peoples can have the monetary,
legal, and political tools to obtain safeguards for their traditional knowledge (Posey
1996).
Rafael Ocampo believes that steps need to be taken at the local level to aid
indigenous communities. First of all, traditional knowledge needs to be valued by all
people as a part of indigenous cultures. Secondly, companies working in conjunction
with indigenous people should explain their research findings and implement these
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discoveries into the communities. Finally, business should be carried out at a local
level (R. Ocampo, personal communication. 2001).
There are a few prime examples to date of this proactive work within
indigenous communities. Social action originating with the indigenous people and
traveling upward through the government has been labeled a bottom-up strategy
for applying IPR to traditional rights (Brush 1993). A prime example of this
bottom-up approach is exemplified by the actions of the Council of Traditional
Indigenous Doctors and Midwives from Chiapas (CMPITC) against the U.S.
bioprospecting project known as Maya International Cooperative Biodiversity Group
(Maya ICBG). While Maya ICBG claims that it obtained informed consent from 50
communities in the Highland Chiapas in Mexico, the CMPITC demanded the
suspension of a Maya ICBG bioprospecting project because it is acting without
consent from the native people. The Council, organized from 11 separate indigenous
organizations, requested a moratorium on bioprospecting activities in Mexico
because Maya can secure access to selling these materials and obtain patents for
the processing of native plants. For two days in Mexico City, these demands were
announced at a seminar titled “Bioprospecting or Biopiracy?” Over 100 indigenous
peoples, farmers, and organizations supported it, in addition to the CMPITC. This is
an excellent example of how the organization of a group of native people can change
the actions of a company involved in their native area (Maya ICBG 2000).
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The Kari-Oca Declaration and Indigenous Peoples’ Earth Charter is another
example of indigenous action. This declaration demands that indigenous knowledge
be respected and acknowledged, and seizing this from indigenous groups should be
considered a crime against all people. Clause 102 of this declaration is particularly
profound. “As creators and carriers of civilizations that have given and continue to
share knowledge, experience, and values with humanity, we require that our right to
intellectual and cultural properties be guaranteed and that the mechanism for each
implementation be in favor of our peoples and studied in depth and implemented.
This respect must include the right over genetic resources, gene banks,
biotechnology, and the knowledge of biodiversity program” (Posey 1999).
Breakthrough summits like this are imperative to securing property rights for all
indigenous people, with their own involvement.
Conclusion
Basic human rights have been deprived from indigenous people throughout
history. In most cases, bioprospecting with traditional knowledge is another
activity where rights are being compromised. Legal frameworks existing today can
help indigenous people to regain their rights if they are also active in this fight. I
have given an introduction to bioprospecting, the indigenous viewpoint of this
phenomenon, and some proposed solutions to preserving the rights of indigenous
knowledge. There are numerous more proposed solutions in the literature—this is
just an introduction to some of the most influential frameworks to date. It is
425
important to remember that the purpose of IPR and TRR in this context is to
preserve the rights of indigenous people, so that companies will not exploit their
knowledge without compensation. In the future, it will take dedication of scientists
and professionals to morality in the world market and the willingness of indigenous
groups to fight for their rights in order for Traditional Resource Rights to become
a reality in the 21st century.
426
Acknowledgements
Many thanks to Guillermo Archibold, José Feliciano, Rafael A. Ocampo, and
Luis Diego Gómez for their generosity in sharing valuable knowledge for this
research.
References
Brush, S. 1993. Indigenous Knowledge of biological resources and intellectual
property rights: the role of anthropology. American Anthropologist 95 (3):
653-671.
Hersh-Martinez, P. 1995. Commercialization of wild medicinal plants from
Southwest Puebla, Mexico. Economic Botany 49 (2): 197-206.
Maya International Cooperative Biodiversity Group. 2000. Fact Sheet.
Nazarea, V.D. 1999. Ethnoecology: Situated Knowledge/Located Lives. Arizona.
pp. 215-270.
Posey, D.A. 1996. Traditional Resource Rights: International Instruments for
Protection and Compensation for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
IUCN. 219 p.
Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). 2000. “Stop Biopiracy in
Mexico!”
Swanson, T. M. 1995. Intellectual property rights and biodiversity conservation.
Cambridge. pp. 199-254.
Zerner, C. (ed.). 2000. People, Plants, & Justice: The Politics of Nature
Conservation. Columbia. pp. 374-403.
427
Cultural Interactions of Researchers and Communities in Costa Rica
1
Elizabeth Willetts 1
Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania
Abstract: The subject of ethnobiology includes the ethnobiologist him or herself, as culture is not a static
entity at any point. But how much do the ethnobiologists contribute to the changes seen within a developing
country? The transitional status of Costa Rica makes it very available to study this phenomenon. Opinions
gathered from indigenous communities, other Ticos, and American students visiting Costa Rica formulate
interesting perceptions of impacts of the interaction. Overall, what was discovered is the disparity between the
natives and the visitors and the general changes in the country. Further research and time is needed to evaluate the
specific effects of ethnobiologists.
Key words: ethnobiology, culture, cultural interaction, psychology, Costa Rica, United States, gringo, foreigner
Introduction
The work of ethnobiologists is to study the relationship of culture to the environment. The methodology
of this work though involves the interaction of the ethnobiologists with the communities, something in itself that
presents an interesting dynamic to the culture. Because culture is not static, the effect of the ethnobiologist on his
or her work, the actual ethnobiology, is inevitable. An effect such as this, where mere observation of a
phenomenon introduces change to it, is termed the Hawthorne effect (Biesanz ix). But, how do ethnobiologists
exactly influence the cultures with which they interact?
Using Costa Rica as a template for study, this project investigates the physical and also more
psychological ways that cultural change due to ethnobiologists occurs. In the past, drastic alterations of
indigenous tribes by foreigners have received substantial media attention. The most recent is the decline of the
Yanomami people of the Amazon. Other cultures have likewise undergone changes that bring about their
extinction or dilution, but literature containing a historical index of these remains to be found. Although Costa
Rica does not appear to possess any stories of such exploitation, its great biological lure has provided a flock of
scientists and researchers who have been pecking the country for information for decades. At the same time Costa
Rica has bordered the precarious state between dependence and self-sufficiency on the economic podium. In this
vulnerable position, rapid changes have developed throughout the country as a whole in the past centuries.
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428
This theoretical study of Costa Rica will discuss the past, present, and consequently future impacts of
visitors, from the perspective of a United States college student. Observations, general and standardized
questionnaires, and interviews provide the only guide to obtaining information and results.
Observations
Observations of the geography of the country indicate clear divisions in the culture, primarily due to the
differing lifestyles of the countryside and cities. Visiting over ten cities or towns provided a perspective of many
different lifestyles, climates, and affluence of people, which can reflect in the affects of foreigners. In general, the
changes taking place are ascribed to the economic effects of tourism.
By their nature, study abroad students are ethnobiologists. But often people regard these sorts of trips as
merely a vacation, and consequently take on a tourist feel. Time spent living with families as a language student1
revealed several things. The most important was the oscillating relationship I maintained with my families. In one
homestay I was the thirty-fourth student to be hosted in their home. Although I often was prepared separate meals,
at the same time I was welcomed to gather with the family at times to watch the national soccer games on the TV
in the parent’s bedroom. However, in the same light, the characteristics that the family developed because of the
students seemed not to reflect their adoption of newer cultural characteristics. Instead, their experience enabled
them to better provide for more tourists or students, as evidenced by the construction of two new more western
style bed and bathrooms for students. In fact, the first thing that my Tica mother said to me when I arrived late on
a Sunday night was that they were building a new kitchen and to please pardon the older one which was small.
Neither did this family possess knowledge of many English words despite the number of students they had hosted.
In a second family, in which I was only the second student to have been hosted, the family was very much
interested in everything I had or did, wanting me to do everything with them. In this sense they were family. But
nearby beach tourism clearly was affecting this family, permitting the enlargement of their tienda and the
purchase of a new modern house, as well as supporting the modern clothing shops in the neighboring community.
At the same time community culture was very strong, and the weekend gatherings at the local salon attracted over
a hundred people, just as they had for decades.
1
My first month in Costa Rica was spent studying in a language program and living in homestays; the homestays were
located in Santa Elena, Lejos (near Playa Flamingo), and San Jaquin de Flores
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429
But, pertaining to all the families that I stayed with is that the money provided to the families through the
language program per day was equal to the typical daily income of the families, and thus I was providing a
doubling of the income 2 . Interestingly, I found that whereas student families who hosted students were wealthier,
evidenced by constant TV, bicycles, cars, processed snack foods, toys, house-craft hobbies, their general interest
in school, books, the news, and my own culture, was not any greater than other Ticos that I met. This is
interesting, because the progression of the culture, at least across the western part of the country, would then seem
to be directly fueled on capitalistic and consumeristic concepts, instead of via education means.
Interviews with Ticos
With these general trends of the changing country in mind, I sought direct opinions. Most Ticos reflected
these changes in their responses. And characteristics of their current occupations all validated their replies.
An interview with one worker at a biological station revealed several examples to how scientists directly
affect the environment. The disregard for conservation and general disrespect for the nature of biology was
mentioned as a common trait of many of the scientists who visited. Either by disregarding uncontrolled growth by
non-native species, or by cutting or trampling many plants, or by experimenting on the local wildlife, did
scientists disturb the environment. But this was a characteristic of scientists and did not really differentiate
between any country, including visitors from other parts of Costa Rica. This particular informant had attended a
University in the U.S., and said that in his own work, made the littlest influence as was possible to the
environment around him, and keeps an open mind towards all the different people who come to his station.
The country also has been affected anthropologically. In another interview, an indigenous Bribri
informant revealed that several decades ago a graduate student had purchased the sacred ritual stories of a
shaman, which the informant himself did not even know. This work then employed the informant as a transcriber
of the language, something he still does today. The Bribri language is now being studied through published
workbooks written by this informant, who no longer works on the reservation. Two-fold this introduced a new
kind of work to the community, and also conceptions that rituals could be valued and thus bought. When asked
2
This information was indirectly told to me by another student who had been informed by a teacher at the school, and may be
questionable information. But based on the status of the houses and possessions of those people, who hosted students, and
that the language schools were by far the nicest businesses other than hotels in the towns, it seems to be quite true.
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what the sukias had done with the money received, the informant said the money had just been used within the
shamans’ family. He also indicated that there are currently no shamans left in the community.
Ticos are also affected on an individual scale. In one example, I spoke with a cook, who for the past
twenty-one years had been preparing meals for visiting scientists and other researchers at the same biological
station. I inquired about the atypical Costa Rican spices in his kitchen, and he said that some of them he adopted
into his own family’s food at home. But in discussing how his city was constantly developing, he cited the
increase in visitors, the popularity of the English language, and the acquirement of money as large changes. His
general impression is that “mucha plata” makes “mucha mejor la forma de vida.” He did indicate a very open
mind about the foreigners coming, stating that they were merely “normal persons”, and stated that he would also
like to travel.
Overwhelmingly, prevalent in these interviews was the idea of money. People emphasized its importance,
but there is no evidence confirming that these opinions reflect a great change in the affluence of the people. There
is more reason to suggest that the idea of wealth, as a new concept, is something corresponding to the United
States influence, and is the cultural characteristic we Americans leave behind.
One taxi driver, who voluntarily started began the conversation, informed me of his travels to the U.S. to
work for three years at a New Jersey supermarket. Here he made enough money to return to Costa Rica, and buy a
house and a car, and establish a family with various new possessions. He described the gambling town of Atlantic
City as a very beautiful place that he had loved visiting and experiencing. This idea of development through
money and not education reflects the same opinion I gathered from my homestay families.
These opinions of money, the perceptions of money, are something that is causing an economic change as well.
The interaction of the U.S. culture seems to be delivering an impression so strong that many people look at the
idea of traveling to the U.S. as a personal ‘Mecca’ of sorts. On a second occasion a different taxi driver informed
me of his own trip to the U.S. in 1987. He went with a group of important townspeople in order to observe the
“culture, agriculture, and the cost of things.” At the same time that a trip to the U.S. is something that one has to
do, it is also unquestionably the intent to return to Costa Rica, indicating a strong cultural bond that people don’t
feel is changing
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431
Discussion of the indigenous groups
The next step in the research took me into the indigenous communities, where change in culture not only
is obvious to all, but also is a potentially threatening concept. Through the ethnobiological course, I spoke with all
four of the remaining communities: Guaimi, Boruca, Bribri, Maleku. See Table 2 for questionnaire data, which
indicated varying degrees of knowledge about the U.S., but a general consensus that foreigners were having a
large impact on the culture.
The four indigenous groups visited each listed a perceived change arising from visitors, when asked about
the effect of foreigners and scientificos visiting their culture. From a Guaimi family, it was confirmed that they
did not enjoy researchers coming and trying to investigate medicinal plants, using tape recorders, and not sharing
any scientific knowledge of their own. This same Guaimi informant was hesitant at first to our presence, but
became visually more physically and mentally relaxed as the interview progressed, as he understood our
intentions. He also mentioned a change in the agriculture, and in the schools where the teachers do not teach the
indigenous language, nor are indigenous themselves. At any rate he appeared to be steering his family away from
these current trend, as evidenced by his efforts to teach all of his five plus children some Guaimi. He appeared
very knowledgeable about worldly affairs, showing us his radio with which he listened to the news. Seemingly
with dislike he mentioned that our culture in the U.S. focused too much on plata and had a strange preoccupation
with outer space, in which we also put a lot of economic resource. His family did not possess many western items
or styles, similar to the rest of the community.
The Boruca people resided in a community obviously much more in contact with typical daily life outside
of their reservation. The town itself seemed focused on tourism and many people were not shy towards the student
visitors. Even in a comparably poor home the mother of the house was interested and inquired as to the cost of
several of the items that the students possessed, such as the boots and the nature books. But the entire family was
also interested in showing us their Brunka language books. At a second interview, the mother was an artisan, and
also inquired as to the cost of items we possessed. She wanted to know because she wanted to “know how much
effort and time she was putting into the crafts she made,” suggesting she also considered gringas to be so
concerned with money. Upon seeing us approach the door and hearing that we were U.S. students she looked very
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happy that we were there, saying with emphasis “con MUCHO gusto.” This house was clearly affected by life
outside of the reservation; a washing machine, radio, and TV and sound system were in plain view. She indicated
that she welcomed very much the increasing number of foreigners to the area, but we assumed she meant tourists.
She indicated that her goal was to build a tienda to sell her goods, rather than selling them from the porch of her
home. She did not indicate any knowledge of English.
A third interviewee from the Boruca reservation happened himself to be an aspiring anthropologist. He
displayed the work of his father, a map of the community displaying houses, and a manuscript for a book3 on the
history of the Boruca people, written in order to preserve the culture. It was also interesting to note that the
Boruca community had a small museum giving insights into the cultural history. It appears that the change caused
by tourists is welcomed, even actively, but that the Boruca people want to be in charge of their own culture in the
present and future. In relation to this, the informant also revealed that some healers had been telling
anthropologists the wrong information, a response similar to what the Guaimi informant has given.
The Bribri community gave very direct answers that outside culture did not affect them, and the fact that
to reach the community a several kilometer walk through the forest was necessary, supported this statement.
However, the house of two interviewees did have chainsaws, bicycles, and generators, as well as running water,
and in one case a stove. Although the village appeared to be very self-contained, taught Bribri in the schools, and
Bribri was spoken among families, there were many non-reservation possessions, like plastic toys, batteries,
spices, and some clothing. Interestingly, in the mud paths of both houses, and around the houses, colonés could be
seen randomly scattered. On a prior instance when talking with a Bribri informant, very proud of his job, I was
told that interest in the Bribri culture by others increases the communal pride in being a member. But he also
indicated that the culture was changing rapidly, due to the explorative nature of the youth.
The youth of the Maleku culture, however, seemed to be still greatly integrated into the community.
However, this was mostly based on the popularity of the model Maleku house built for tourists, which enabled
many Maleku to be employed as guides in costume, or otherwise to work at the tourist Ecolodge. The guide
indicated that many visitors come each week, and the crafts for sale were expensive. This was an interesting
situation however, because the model house was not located on the actual Maleku reservation, and therefore, real
3
potential title : Curre: de Principios del Siglo XX Hast Los Anos Cincuenta
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evidence of life there can not be assumed. The seventeen-year-old guide did indicate that three languages were
being taught in the schools and that he was still given an additional Maleku name, as well as tribal knowledge.
The fact that we were students did not appear to influence his opinion of the student group.
In summary, the indigenous communities were affected exclusively by scientists for medicinal and other
plant knowledge, anthropologically for their plant knowledge, and economically for their crafts by all visitors.
Behaviorally, the communities, which were visited more often, possessed different attitudes towards the students.
The general affects of students on cultures, according to a Tico scientist who had been working with the
Bribri community for twenty years, was in three different ways. In positive ways, the interaction validates the
culture as important to the outside world, and secondly, teaches the community something about the outside
world. However, in a negative way, when the community starts to try to provide services, such as the outside
bathroom at the Maleku site, is not beneficial to the community, especially if they are doing it to encourage more
visitors and not necessarily out of need. (Rafael Ocampo pers. comm. August 7, 2001). These seem to be the
general positions of the reservations. Tourism seems to be a greater affect on the value system of the indigenous
peoples than the interrogations of the students.
Table 2: Data obtained from questionnaire of indigenous people
How much do foreigners affect the
Indigenous Community
community (0-10)
Guaimi
Much: 7
Boruca
Bribri
Maleku
Much: 8
Not much: 1
much: 8
What do you know about the
U.S.A
Some politics, religion, culture,
economics, science
Some economics, culture
Nothing
some economics, culture
* The scale of 0-10 was broken down into groups of 0-2, 3-4, 5-8, and 9-10, corresponding to not much, little, much, and very much categories for the effect. These
were generally divided by the emphasis in language and body language. Data represents an average for all families visited.
Discussion of the American subjects
After compiling data on the perceptions of Ticos and comparing them to the actual changes within the
community and their actions, I turned to the American population. I used observations from students in the
language schools, the ethnobiological course, as well as some who I encountered along the way. The
ethnobiological students were given a questionnaire.
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The ethnobiology student population was an average age of 21 and had, were going to, or currently
attended a college or university, and were additionally over 50% female. The economic backgrounds were mostly
upper middle class, experiencing no significant economic hardships, as evidenced by attending this class. All
were involved in some manner in an ethnobiological project, and were interacting directly with the native people.
About half considered themselves different from tourists, but the other half considered their actions to be partly
touristy. The non-native subjects indicated that 72 % considered their visit to have a definite impact on the native
Costa Rican culture. 17 % were unsure if they contributed to an impact, and the remaining 11 % considered their
visit to have no impact on the native culture. It is interesting to note that although there were 17 % people who
were unsure if their visit was having an impact, they indicated concerns that their visit might negatively reflect on
the U.S. Additionally, all but one of the nineteen participants had been out of the country before at least once, and
general opinion from personal communication indicated that this would not be the last travel experience. Data
does not support if this is a general trend of U.S. citizens, or rather reflects on the class background of the
subjects. Perhaps supporting the former, 7 of the 19 distinguished U.S. culture from their own specific
geographic, religious, or families ethnicity culture within the U.S.
Overall, the perception of the students indicated that the U.S. population in general would probably have
a superior attitude over the Costa Ricans, and other countries in general. Specific ways cited were manners of
dressing, technological possessions, questions asked during academic interviews, feigning inferiority during
interviews, exposing, professing, or using wealth (such as in minor gifts to families and interviewees), inequality
in the natives not knowing English while students know at least some Spanish, and presuming that an interview is
not rude. In particular, one student noted that it might seem that our studies are conducted merely to find out more
information about the community in order to help them, “patronizing” them.
But interestingly, the actions of the students did not quite reflect these opinions. An introductory group
meeting of the ethnobiology students held to learn about each other revealed U.S. cultural traits. Most students
wanted an experience in order to in general help themselves. None of the students indicated that they hoped for a
mutually beneficial experience, or hoped to ‘help’ any of the natives that they would meet, although these were
the feelings mentioned on the official questionnaire. See Table 2.
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435
Ironically, the students expressed negative views of the same U.S. characteristics to which the Ticos held
positive views. Despite the personal indication that they were remaining open minded, the student’s overly
‘American’ attitudes, expressions, and perceptions were not discreetly maintained. In every new location the
students were drawn to the souvenirs or crafts, reflecting a preoccupation with material culture, either in
themselves, or in the family and friends who would be receiving the gifts. In addition, many students used their
cameras to capture every situation. In a sense, this can also be a reflection of material culture: the need to possess
things, such as memories, materially. Additionally, a camera is another possession not very common amongst
Ticos in general. In another way, the student group was also preoccupied with food; at several locations obtaining
chocolates and peanutbutter was almost a necessity. Prices for these items are generally higher than other Tico
goods at the supermarkets, and this demanding nature to have certain additions or portions or diets also
emphasized characteristics of the U.S. culture. Because of this behavior, it seems that many Ticos learned to
expect such characteristics. For instance, in an open-air market, when students were inquiring as to what certain
edibles were or what they tasted like, they often received the price as a response. In some cases it took several
questions to figure out exactly what the item was. This data gives evidence that in action, the students are not
considering their actions to be pivotal to the culture, although they are, although in reflection or philosophy they
do understand the nature of change.
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436
Table 1: Survey data from U.S. students
Age of first
experience of
another
culture
had visited
another culture
before this trip
(y/n)
Most known culture
Perceived a
cultural
interaction
(y/n)
Kind of impact considered
Birth
Y
U.S./Chinese
N
-------
Birth
N
Afro-American
Y
+: mutual learning experience
Birth (within
the U.S.); 18
(outside U.S.)
Y
Afro-American
Y
-: flaunting the idea of a “successful
American”
Ethnobiology
student
1
Y
U.S.
N
3
Y
Indian
Unsure
4
Y
New Orleans, U.S.A
Unsure
Assumption that the tourists
contribute all of the impact
Hopes that it will not label the U.S.
culture
No comment, because no data
available
6
Y
U.S.
Y
Ethnobiology
student
Ethnobiology
student
Ethnobiology
student
Ethnobiology
student
7
Y
U.S.
Y
8***
Y
N/a
Y
9
Y
Jewish
Y
~: mutual learning experience
11
Y
U.S.
Y
+: mutual learning experience
13
Y
Jewish
Y
+: introduced vegetarianism/
mutual learning experience
13
Y
U.S.
Unsure
+: mutual experience
None given
~ psychological; our representation
of ourselves shows importances of
the U.S. culture
+: helps the economy
~: affects psychology
+: “gives a face to the huge United
States”;
-: might cause future reluctance
towards interviewers
+: benefits conservation; -: tourist
population increases
+: mutual learning experience;-:
possible negative opinion of the
U.S., and possible favoritism in the
villages
14
Y
None
Y
15***
Y
N/a
Y
16
Y
U.S.
Y
17
Y
U.S.
Y
+: mutual learning experience
18
Y
U.S./Latin American
Y
-: language barrier might be
connoting the wrong emotions
* 19/20urveys were collected, only three of which were from males.
** ‘+’ indicates a positive impact, likewise ‘-‘ indicates a negative impact, and ‘~’ indicates neutral
*** ‘N/a’ indicates interviews, which revealed some answers pertinent to the questionnaire, but to whom were not given the actual questionnaire
436
Purpose in country
Ethnobiology
student
Ethnobiology
student
Ethnobiology
student
Internship researcher
Ethnobiology
student
Ethnobiology
student
Ethnobiology
student
Ethnobiology
student
Ethnobiology
student
High School summer
program student
Ethnobiology
student
Ethnobiology
student
Ethnobiology
student
437
Conclusions
In general, the evaluation of the Costa Rican culture reveals that the changes taking place are overly
influenced by the concept of a material culture. In homestay life, Tico interviews, and indigenous communities, it
did not appear that the change in affluence was either caused by or influenced much of a change in intellectual
culture. In general the Ticos held a very high opinion of the U.S. On the other hand, the U.S. population as
represented by the students, had an opposite opinion of the U.S., but reflected hypocritical behavior.
So, does ethnobiology affect the ethnobiology of the culture?
Definite biologic, anthropologic, economic, and psychological effects were seen. These changes were
definitely seen attributed to student populations in the indigenous communities, but overall, all visitors seem to be
contributing the same.
A problem with the information collected concerned the population of subjects. Many of the Ticos
interviewed randomly were males, and none of them were younger than thirty years old. The U.S. population was
also, of course, only young students of similar background. My own perspective must be noted as biased. Lastly,
because the effects of interaction are attributed to all visitors, obtaining opinions of persons from other
nationalities would also be helpful.
But this research demonstrates that Costa Rica is changing because of interactions with its visitors,
including ethnobiologists. Further research is definitely needed to define the effect of ethnobiologists, and such a
project would require a long stay in the country.
The purpose of this paper was to hopefully elucidate the disparity between cultures, elucidate the changes
that were taking place within the culture presently, and generally show awareness of the ethnobiological
relationship of researchers and students themselves.
****This study was conducted as a student project for the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) program, July 14-August 14 2001, visiting designated
sites and communities for one month in various parts of Costa Rica. The assessment also includes much personal experience from one month of travel and
homestay and language schooling in the Western part of Costa Rica, general interviews and conversation with Ticos, other students, and other acquaintances.
Quantified data comes from a standardized questionnaire created near the end of my stay, and anonymous student responses from another questionnaire
make up a strong part of the opinions presented. Data was also taken from group questionnaires of the other students. Interviews were conducted both
privately and in conjunction with other student’s projects. They were conducted in either Spanish or English depending on the ease of the situation. No audio
tape recorders were used for my project. The OTS course consisted of 18 students, who researched indigenous communities in groups of three or four, using
standardized interviews and nature books to learn about indigenous language names. Reference to ‘we’ or ‘the students’ or ‘the books’ refers to this group
effort.
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Acknowledgements
I would like to give thanks to the Villegas family, the Obando family, and the Barrantes family, several
Ticos I have met in passing, the people at OTS Las Cruces, the Guaimi, Boruca, Zancudo, KekoLdi, Maleku, and
Afro-Caribbean communities, Jen, Adolfo Constenla, Jose Feliciano Elizondo Figueroa, Francisco Rodriguez
Attencia, Guillermo Archibold, the Labor-Rodriguez family, Rafael Ocampo, Feliciana, Rodolfo G. Quiros,
Roger Attencio, Anna, Jessica, Esteban and Benito, Juan, Martha and Daisy, and ethnobiology students in my
course.
References
Biesanz, Mavis Hiltunen et al. The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica.Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Boulder, CO 1999.
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Biological Corridors and Indigenous Populations:
Can Conservation and Indigenous Interests be Reconciled?
Katherine. Williams 1
1
Department of Environmental Studies, Tufts University
Abstract: Biological corridors have both positive and negative aspects, but on the
whole appear to have an important role in preserving biodiversity. The proposed
Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC) will greatly affect indigenous populations in the
region, and dealing with the issue of indigenous autonomy on their ancestral lands is essential for
the MBC to succeed. Indigenous land use must be environmentally sound in order to use
reservations as a part of biological corridors, and indigenous rights and conservation issues must
be reconciled to effectively fight destructive development in the tropics.
Keywords: Costa Rica, biological corridor, conservation, indigenous groups, agroforestry,
Mesoamerica, agroforestry, ethnobiology
Introduction: What is a Biological Corridor?
The idea of biological corridors between wilderness areas was developed from the
equilibrium theory of biogeography, which hypothesizes that the number of species in a specific
area is in an equilibrium between local extinctions and immigration of new species (MacArthur
and Wilson 1967, as cited in Simberloff and Cox 1987). Thus although the specific species
present may change from time to time, the total biodiversity of the area remains more or less
constant. In the island theory of biogeography, an island close to a mainland area will usually
have a greater number of species-- and in greater numbers-- than a more distant island of the
same size. To apply this theory to “islands” of wildlife habitat-- forest fragments in a sea of
disturbed and human-populated areas—these reserves should be as close as possible to each
other to facilitate diffusion and lessen mortality in the areas between fragments. If these reserve
sites would, without human disturbance, be naturally connected, then ideally there should be a
connection, a corridor of wildlife-friendly land, between them to create an approximation of the
natural habitat for native species (Grumbine 1994). Most wildlife reserves are not large enough
to survive as entire ecosystems, and in the long term cannot retain viable large animal
populations or ecological or evolutionary processes (Grumbine 1994). Connecting such
reserves with corridors allows the populations of both reserves to disperse or migrate as
necessary, and facilitate natural metapopulation dynamics (Grumbine 1994). An ideal corridor
would link two hotspots with high biodiversity levels, which were at one time naturally
contiguous; such a corridor would increase immigration levels of species that might go locally
extinct in one of the reserves, due to demographic stochasticity (chance variations in birth and
death rates, sex ratio, and other variables) (Simberloff and Cox 1987). This is called the
“rescue effect” (Grumbine 1994). In addition, many animal species need large ranges to meet
individual food requirements; the minimum viable population (MVP) which can be supported in
an area is heightened dramatically when it is connected by corridors to another refuge
(Simberloff and Cox 1987). Corridors between habitats, since they often link two sub-
440
populations of the same species, would also reduce inbreeding depression; each smaller
population might have an insufficient population to maintain a healthy gene pool, but if movement
between the two populations can be encouraged, this genetic inbreeding could be alleviated
(Grumbine 1994). Sometimes corridors, in addition to connecting fragments of habitat, can
provide important habitat on their own as well, as is the case with riparian habitat. This
possibility depends on the particular organisms that would use the corridor and the quality of the
matrix, the habitat surrounding the corridor (Simberloff and Cox 1987).
However, corridors also have the potential to cause problems for organisms in the wild.
Since they connect distinct habitat areas, they could potentially assist in the spread of fires and
contagious diseases, and facilitate the spread of exotic introduced predators (Simberloff and
Cox 1987). Since they are narrow areas with a large ratio of edge, individuals who use the
corridors become more vulnerable to regular predators, human poaching, car collisions, and
other causes of mortality (Simberloff and Cox 1987). Contagious diseases will also spread
more easily between fragments, especially as the corridors (depending on how heavily the
surrounding matrix has been affected by humans) can expose wildlife to domesticated animals
who will cause disease in wild populations (Grumbine 1994). Another potential problem is
outbreeding depression, which can cause extinction in small populations (Noss 1987), and the
related issue of destruction of distinct subspecies. From a practical aspect, many proposed
corridors would necessitate road closures to make areas safe for dispersal, particularly for large
mammals, which may not be economically feasible.
Perhaps the biggest problem is simply a lack of concrete information-- the rates at
which existent biological corridors are used by wildlife are difficult to establish, in part due to
insufficient experimental data (Simberloff and Cox 1987). On the whole it appears that the role
of biological corridors in maintaining biodiversity outweighs the potential negative influences, as
long as the ecosystems and population movements are extensively studied and the corridors are
judged and implemented on a case by case basis to limit edge effects and other problems. The
issue with this recommendation, of course, is that most proposed corridor projects are intended
to just preserve regional biodiversity long enough to study; there is no time left, due to
encroaching development and population pressure, to study the ecosystems before planning a
corridor project.
Mesoamerican Biological Corridor: Naturally United (Carias 2000).
One of the most ambitious corridor plans that have been proposed is the
Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC), which would extend from Calakmul, Mexico, to El
Darien, Panama. The MBC would link biological refuges in the eight Mesoamerican countries
to create one huge, international area devoted to preserving biodiversity; such a plan is essential
to preserve these tropical ecosystems, which according to some estimates has 10% of the
world’s biodiversity (Carias 2000) in about 0.5% of the world’s landmass (Metrick 2000).
The proposal was made through a collaboration of various groups, including the Honduras State
Forestry Agency, the German Cooperation (GTZ), the United Nations Development Program,
the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the Central American Commission of Development and
Environment (CCAD), who is responsible for environmental and sustainable development in the
region (Metrick 2000). Financing is being provided in part by the Global Environment Fund
441
(GEF), the World Bank and GTZ. Local offices have been established in each of the countries
involved in the proposal, and a regional office has been established in Nicaragua. Many of
these nations are trying to combine conservation with development and economic values; some
nations want to develop areas outside the planned corridor to attract their citizens away from
fragile or protected ecosystems. Others want to promote alternative economic activities to
people who are living in the proposed corridor area, and this second goal is especially important
in relation to the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica.
Indigenous Groups and the MBC: A Meeting of Indigenous Rights and Conservation
In the past governments have imposed restrictions on the use of native lands, like the
establishment of protected areas, and have provoked anger, lawsuits and controversy. In an
attempt to avoid past mistakes, several provisions in regional and national branches of the
Corridor project have been developed to increase the role of indigenous peoples in the planning
process (Metrick 2000). Activities that include indigenous participation and knowledge, like
participatory mapping exercises, bioprospecting and the sharing of benefits, traditional
agroecosystems, and ecotourism, are becoming increasingly important aspects in the progress of
the MBC (Metrick 2000). Assessments are underway to determine the exact locations,
population sizes, and economic and cultural situations of the indigenous groups that could be
impacted (Metrick 2000). A movement in recent years has also gained momentum to allow
indigenous peoples legal claim to their land, if they do not already have legal land rights (as do
many groups in Costa Rica and the Kuna in Panama). Indigenous rights movements are not
necessarily detrimental to conservation movements, however; indigenous reservations, because
they are often left mostly wild, already serve as important forest fragments and corridors
between national reserves.
The potential conflict between indigenous groups and conservation groups is not in the
uses of the land, in which to some extent they agree, but in the autonomy (or lack thereof) of the
indigenous reservations to be included in the corridor. Indigenous groups, once they have legal
rights to their land, are loath to give up their autonomy; as Kuna conservationist Guillermo
Archibold said, the idea of national parks is not part of indigenous culture. He said that his
people do support conservation, and have taken care of their land and provided for their
children, but that if others have not it is their own fault (Pers. comm.). Conservation groups, on
the other hand, tend to be insensitive to the ancestral land rights of indigenous peoples and to
economic pressures on these groups, and want binding legal agreements about the future uses of
their land.
Individual indigenous people are often extremely supportive of conservation, at least in
the abstract. Every indigenous person we interviewed from the Guaymi Coto Brus, Boruca,
and Bribri KéköLdi communities said that it was important to protect the land, although they
gave different reasons. One Guaymi woman said it was important to protect the animals, and
that national parks were a positive development because of this protection. A Boruca woman
connected development to health problems within the community, and lamented that people
today bought so many useless things and created garbage that harmed the environment. The
Bribri seemed especially sensitive to environmental changes, and had stopped cutting down
trees without special permission or hunting so that they would not overtax fragile natural
442
resources. A small group within the Bribri community was especially environmentally conscious,
and had started growing iguanas (one of their traditional foods) so that they would not have to
kill the increasingly rare wild iguanas in the area. However, there sometimes seemed to be a
strange dichotomy between what the indigenous people we interviewed said about
environmental protection, and the state of development in the community. While the indigenous
groups seem to value the land, and want to protect it, they also have to deal with economic
pressures that influence them towards agricultural development. Collaboration with
conservationists in the future to develop more environmentally sound agricultural practices could
help to resolve this issue.
Indigenous and conservation groups do not need to be polarized: the needs of both are
at least partially compatible, and in the ongoing struggle in Mesoamerica between the various
groups advocating indigenous rights, western-style development, and conservation, indigenous
and conservation interests must unite if they are to successfully fight destructive developmental
practices.
Regardless of the future of the MBC, conservationists and indigenous people must learn
from each other. Conservationists must come to accept sustainable indigenous methods of living
with the land, even if those methods are not necessarily western in conservation style.
Conservationists must recognize that indigenous groups want the same thing that they do—the
long-term, healthy survival of the land and the organisms therein—and help to change those
practices which sacrifice conservation for economic considerations (or vice versa).
According to Jared Clay, indigenous groups often use an “integrated system of land
management” (1988)—they have an understanding of interrelated aspects of the environment
because they are connected to and dependent upon reservation land in a way that nonindigenous, modernized cultures can no longer understand. There are many different sustainable
agricultural methods used by Central and South American indigenous groups. One example is
the use of “forest fields”—the semi-domestication of native plants, in which they are planted in
specific areas, but integrated in the rest of the forest. In this system, which is good for
economically attractive hardwoods and palms, the trees are not harvested in a destructive
fashion (Clay 1988). The creation of apêtê, as by the Kayapó of Brazil, is another method of
using naturally occurring elements to improve the quality of life without destruction of habitat
(Clay 1988). To make the apêtê, the Kayapó pile sticks, leaves, and branches together, let
them rot, and beat the results into mulch. They transfer the mulch to depressed areas in
grasslands where water collects, and mix it with soil from ant nests and termite mounds. These
mulch piles grow over time and the Kayapó use them as gardens for native tree species; they
can create a hectare of healthy, fertile land every ten years with this method, according to D.A.
Posey (1985). This apêtê method could potentially be used for reforestation by conservation
and other indigenous groups.
Other environmentally friendly agricultural practices, though not necessarily indigenous in
origin, are reforestation and natural forest management. In natural forest management, 2-5
commercial trees are taken per hectare of the stand every rotation (usually about 20 years) by
environmentally sound methods. This damages about 15% of the forest, as opposed to 4050% in traditional logging practices with heavy machinery. Natural forest management has
lower startup and maintenance costs than monocultural practices, and very low environmental
443
impact; however, it also has much lower gross revenues than monoculture. Thus, though it may
not be viable as a primary source of support to indigenous groups, it could be used in addition
with other types of agriculture. Reforestation, on the other hand, can actually be considerably
more profitable than cattle ranching or some other land uses, and should be encouraged among
indigenous populations (Chase and Thacher). Again, however, there are disadvantages to the
system; in this case, reforestation takes 20 years to produce a return on the investment, an
option that is not necessarily feasible for subsistence-level farmers who need to feed their
families.
Probably the most essential adjustment needed in agricultural practices would not be by
indigenous peoples at all, but by economists in conservation groups. Economists need to reevaluate the long-established idea that selling a large amount of one crop is more cost-effective
than selling a little of many different crops (Clay 1988). This traditional idea does not
necessarily apply in the tropics, where environmental destruction is a high, but unacknowledged,
cost of monocultural agricultural practices (Chase and Thacher). The agricultural focus must be
shifted from monoculture of exotics to reforestation and sustainable use of native resources.
Conclusion: The Mesoamerican Future
Corridors in general, and the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor in particular, can have
very positive effects on regional biodiversity, and I believe that the advantages to such corridors
outweigh their disadvantages. In the case of the MBC, however, it is questionable whether the
proposed corridor will ever be implemented; the success of the MBC program will depend on
many different factors, including the success of international cooperation efforts, continued
funding by organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the reinvestment in park
management and natural resources protection. In addition, the indigenous peoples must accept
the program, and decision-makers have to follow through on various promises to indigenous
groups about their participation and the sharing of information during the planning stages. Even
if the MBC does not succeed, the development of more sustainable and environmentally friendly
agricultural practices will help in the creation of smaller corridors. New practices must come
from a mix of indigenous and conservationist agricultural methods, and the two groups need to
cooperate more fully in order to conserve the natural landscape for both biodiversity and for the
sake of future inhabitants.
Acknowledgements
I would like to gratefully thank my gracious indigenous informants from the Guaymi Coto Brus,
Boruca, and Bribri KéköLdi communities for their help, as well as Luis Diego Gómez and
Keryn Bromberg. I am especially grateful to Rodolfo Quiros, resident worrier of Las Cruces,
who provided us all with a lot of laughter and me with valuable aid.
References
Carias, S. 17 July, 2000. The Mesoamerican Corridor is Formally Established.
http://www.marrder.com/htw/special/environment/72.htm.
444
Chase, L., and T. Thacher. Socio-Economic Description of Coto Brus and the Proposed
Corridor Area with a Benefit-Cost Analysis of Alternative Land Uses.
Clay, J.W. 1988. Indigenous Peoples and Tropical Forests: Models of Land Use and
Management from Latin America. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 116 pp. p.51-73.
Grumbine, R.E., ed. 1994. Environmental Policy and Biodiversity. Washington D.C.
p.68, 238-254.
Metrick, C. 2000. The Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC).
http://users.erols.com/gjs6/Corridor.htm.
Noss, R.F. 1987. Corridors in Real Landscapes: A Reply to Simberloff and Cox.
Conservation Biology, Vol. 1, No. 2. p. 159-164.
Posey, D.A. 1985. Indigenous Management of Tropical Forest Ecosystems: The Case of
the Kayapó Indians of the Brazilian Amazon. Agroforestry Systems Vol. 3, No. 2. p.
139-158.
Simberloff, D., and J. Cox. 1987. Consequences and Costs of Conservation Corridors.
Conservation Biology, Vol. 1, No. 1. p.63-71.
451
The Threads That Bind:
An Ethnobiological Assessment of Indigenous Art
1
Heidi Zellie 1
Dept. of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Penn. State University
Abstract: Indigenous cultures are characterized by the traditions they
keep. Often these traditions are tangibly represented through the native
arts and crafts. The materials and illustrations they use give the onlooker a deeper glance at the customs, beliefs, and social life of the
culture. This paper researches three native tribes of Costa Rica, the
Guaymi of Coto Brus, the Brunka of Boruca, and the Bribri of
KéköLdi.
They all share similar artwork and connection to their
ancestors, the Amazonian aborigines. Yet, the knowledge of the deeper
significance appears to have been lost. Nonetheless, each tribe holds a
unique segment in the thread of tradition.
Key words: Guaymi, Coto Brus, Brunka, Boruca, Bribri, KéköLdi,
Guianas, Costa Rica, Ethnobiology
Introduction:
Art is a visible, tangible representation of expression. Individual expression varies
from person to person. Each person is often a product of her cultural upbringing. Culture
influences art. The artwork of a culture with intact traditions represents its values and beliefs.
The culture of the United States is as varied as the heritages of its inhabitants. The direction
of this culture is change and progress. Sometimes a general theme is set and the artist spins
endless variations on these themes testing her ingenuity (Roe, 1995). The art follows this
reality. It would be difficult for a foreigner to become intimate with United States tradition
solely by viewing its art.
That which characterizes indigenous societies is their traditional art. Not that native
artists are dull with no creativity, but they stay connected to their land and their ancestors by
recreating these artifacts. But, everything changes. It is not so much that the individual
branches out to totally alter the ancestral customs, but with time, the rhythm moves and
changes occur.
Living in a balanced relationship with their surroundings, native persons used locally
grown medium to fabricate their tangible arts and crafts. Often, they designed this art with
representations of spiritual, animistic significance. Some modern Indians still use traditional
symbols and designs. South-Amerindians continue to devise their twill-weave baskets in
452
patterns of anacondas, summoning the spirit of these life-creating creatures as they bless the
plant for its benevolent wealth (Roe, 1995).
Travelling to indigenous societies afforded me the opportunity to see native artwork
firsthand. It was interesting to notice what materials they utilized when constructing these
crafts. I expected to see utilization of all natural materials, which I thought would make them
feel more connected with the natural world and their heritage. But, as Roe stated in Arts of
the Amazon, he saw glass beads, traded from Europe, taking the place of seeds to construct
women’s aprons in the Guianas, I saw synthetic goods. Thus, the Western world has entered
their culture, literally making it more colorful.
But, has the Western world colored the indigenous of Costa Rica more beautiful?
Have they abandoned their cultural heritage and adopted Western customs as well as
clothing? Or have these indigenous societies preserved their integrity and persevered within
this multicultural world?
Materials and Methods:
To answer these questions, I gathered information from three different indigenous
communities in Costa Rica, including the Guaymi of Coto Brus, Brunka of Boruca, and Bribri
of KéköLdi. I made use of both observations and personal interviews when inquiring the
informants about their materials and significance of their arts and crafts. In accordance with
the Ethnobiological Code of Ethics, I obtained informed consent to record their responses and
to audio-tape our conversations. These meetings were held between 24 July and 7 August,
2001. I compared this exploration with Arts of the Amazon, by Peter G. Roe.
Results:
Each of the three interviewed societies are descendents of the Chibchan language
group. Formerly originating from the same Amazonian lineage, these communities are now
dispersed throughout Costa Rica.
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Guaymi of Coto Brus
The first experience I had with an indigenous artisan was at La Estación Biológica
Las Cruces (Las Cruces Biological Station) when I had the opportunity to speak with a native
Guaymi (Guaymi 1). As I spoke with her, she knit bags. She explained that she made them
from “pita,” or Panama Palm (Cyclanthaceae carlodovica). This plant grows on the Coto
Brus Guaymi reservation, where Guaymi 1 lives. Naturally tan, each fine strand is hand-dyed
various colors via the use of local plants.
These bags are both traded within the community and sold at the nearest town to
tourists and ticos (Costa Ricans). When I asked Guaymi 1 if there was a significance to each
color, she did not provide a reason. After she described the designs on each purse, usually
abstract butterflies and birds or geometric patterns of diamonds and triangles, I delved into the
significance. Her only reply was ‘for aesthetic value,’ and ‘these creatures are seen around
the village.’ Much of the decoration include serpentine stitchings. Thus, I questioned if she
weaves snakes in her crafts; Snakes were too difficult, she answered. When I asked the
significance of the aforementioned beings to another Guaymi (Guaymi 2) who was present
during the interview, he replied that only the shaman would know the meaning.
Besides the bags as a cultural symbol, the Guaymi women wear unique dresses.
These ankle length garments are monochromatic except for the brilliant diamond-patterned
stripes around the hips and shoulders. Solid color ribbons are sewn on the bottom hem and
sleeves. The material is all store bought, but home-sewn. Guaymi 1 explained that stitching
by hand takes too long so they use non-electric, push-pedal machines to complete the outfit.
These dresses can be purchased in San José, the capital of Costa Rica.
When I visited the Coto Brus-Guaymi village, I noticed these hand-bags in the
homes. The women and young girls wore the traditional dresses. Besides these handiworks, I
also noticed wall hangings of hammered bark of a Peach Palm or pejivalle tree (Bactris
pejivalle). These all have illustrations of more concrete animals and birds in addition to other
geometrical designs.
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Brunka of Boruca
The second community’s ethnic identity was more closely connected to the arts. A
tienda, or general store, welcomed visitors at the entrance of the Boruca village. This kiosk
displayed and sold the arts and crafts of the Brunka people, including the same bags as I had
seen the Guaymi construct, bows and arrows, drums, masks, and jícaras (Crescentia cujete),
or hollowed gourds. The woman who was selling these native goods explained that all the
material is locally harvested and fabricated.
I was able to interview a local artisan, Brunka 1, at her home. She and her husband
had personally constructed their home from caña blanca (Gynerium sagittatum) for the walls
and palms (Arecaceae) as roofing, which need to be replaced every few years because the
extreme amount of rain makes them grow thin. She wove tejidos, or weavings, for tourists
and ticos. She was very excited to explain how she braids and dyes the pita fibers. Each
strand is originally a light tan color. To alter the color, the artist boils a plant in water. The
fibers are then placed in this liquid for a few hours to a few days. Each color comes from a
different indigenous plant. Table 1 details this information.
Brunka 1 was proud that Amarillón (Terminalia lucida) was endemic to her
community. Not only does it dye the threads dark grey, but when used as a tea, it can help
cleanse the kidneys and alleviate pain, she explained. To temper these colors, she places them
in a solution of saltwater. This curing can take a few days, making the whole dying process
last from a few hours to a few days.
She was teaching her daughter, Brunka 2, this trade when I entered the house. This
process was demonstrated to me. The weaver sits in a chair with the tejido strapped to the
wall in front of her. A leather belt is wrapped around the back of the chair. Three wooden
bars hold the threads, and a process of weaving occurs. I was not able to acquire this talent in
the few minutes in which it was explained. It seemed to be an arduous process and indeed a
learned talent. Brunka 1 showed me a free-standing loom that was utilized for larger projects.
455
At the time, Brunka 2 was weaving the body of a purse for her aunt. I asked if she
had any extra straps that I could purchase; she eventually, albeit benevolently, sold me the
straps she had constructed for her aunt’s bag. Interested in the significance, I questioned what
certain colors or designs meant. She relayed that her aunt liked blue and green, hence the
straps were of those colors. After continual probing of the meaning and importance, I
received only answers of “aesthetic value” and “because the tourists like butterflies.” Again,
no deeper meaning or historical reference was made to the patterns.
Although a farmer, Brunka 1’s husband also made bows and arrows. They were still
made from native pejivalle wood (Bactris pejivalles), the same his ancestors used. He also
sold these from his house and at the local store.
I followed the live music to the second informant’s house. Brunka 3 was playing a
hand-made drum constructed from local balsa wood (Ochroma lagopus) and hand-made
mallets from another local wood. He explained that he harvests these trees from “the
mountains.” Besides being a musician, Brunka 3 was also an artisan, more specifically, a
mask-maker for El Celebración de los Diablitos (celebration of the little devils) or, recently
called, Juego de los Diablitos (Game of the little devils). This informant explained that this
mask-wearing ritual, held between 29 December and 2 January, is in observance of the
deceased grandparents or elders in general. However, the actual historical reason why the
Brunka have this ceremony is to remember their first encounters with the Spanish. The
Spaniards wanted to oppress them and make them deny their heritage. Thus, they wore masks
in this ritual to symbolize the obscuring or repressing of their native race. Only recently have
they been fabricated to resemble devils or frightening beings.
Historically, they were untreated; now, they are commonly painted. “What is the
significance of these colors?” I asked. “They give more presence,” was his reply. “What is
the symbolism of the devil in this custom?” “Es la máscara,” ‘It’s the mask,’ is all he replied.
I concluded my trip by entering the Brunka museum. This gallery displayed the
Brunka’s cultural history and the change of traditions. Tables 2-4 elucidate information I
received from posters.
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Bribri of KéköLdi
Similar to the Brunka, the Bribri have a tienda near the entrance of their village.
Within this market, they sell their traditional crafts. Like the previous two cultures, they sell
handbags made from pita and dyed from local plants. Also among their crafts are the
hollowed gourds that the Brunka sold, locally called jícaras, maracas and baskets. I spoke
with a young member of the community, Bribri 1, who said that he did not make any of the
crafts. However, he did know the materials from which they were fabricated: the same as the
Brunka and Guaymi articles. He was unsure of the maraca medium, yet he informed me that
the baskets were made from a palm (Arecaceae), like the other weavings.
The gourds read “KéköLdi,” the name of the reservation, along with various birds and
plants. Bribri 1 said that the birds were local inhabitants and the artists must have a
connection to the plants to draw them on their craft. Both older Bribri that I spoke with about
this subject said that each artist receives the direct profits. For the most part, however, they
tend to use this money for the conservation, preservation, and reforestation of their newly
found village. Although the use of profits is directed differently in this community, the crafts
and their materials are similar to the Guaymi and Brunka.
Discussion:
“Researchers have shown that those Indian groups who continue to make multiple
references to their ethnic identity in art and rituals preserve their integrity and survive as a
part of the multicultural world. Distinctive ornaments and unique styles expressing the
group’s own symbolism and meaning, which are inspired by ancient Indian culture,
cosmology, mythology, and ecological knowledge, help maintain their power structure and
reaffirm cultural and linguistic traditions” (Roe, 1995).
457
Indeed these three native groups have preserved their artwork even though western
influence has entered their communities. As the poster stated at the Bribri museum, they now
need to sell their goods. Moreover, they need to design for external consumption, not just for
personal use. This art provides these Indians with financial independence, providing them
with what they cannot personally produce. (Those goods most often include food, such as
rice, beans, salt, and sugar (pers.comm.)). Because they make illustrations that are
aesthetically pleasing to outsiders, it seems that they have lost the deeper significance to their
art. No one could explain what the significance of the bird was, the color red on the mask, or
the diagonal patterns.
Of course, not all symbols might have a deeper meaning. I could not imagine every
symbol imprinted on all American clothing has a purpose. But that is America; traditionally
Amazonian artwork has a connection to the natural world, where every seed and stitch is
believed to be blessed from its intrinsic guardian spirit. In brilliant arrays of feathers, the
elaborate headdresses of the Amazonian Jívaro tells ecological patterns of canopy levels and
moon phases that has been passed down through generations. Though they might add some
non-native traded string, they keep to their traditions; they remember. A Yekuana Indian
said:
“It’s always the same, now as before. The way we ate once, we
do over and over again. We obey. We remember. The old ones
sing beautifully. We just repeat.”
Though they seem to be disconnected to their ancestral heritage, the three native
groups that I interviewed are still connected to the land. These artists knew the names of the
plants that they used to make their crafts: the gourds, the bows and arrows, the weavings,
drums. I was even explained how to dye the pita threads. More importantly, all artists were
excited and proud that they know the uses and names of these native materials. They
harvested these materials from their land, the mountains or the reservation in general. Thus,
with their art, they have yet to resort to buying the goods (or at least too many). The only
458
exception is the Guaymi who buy the material for their dresses. But when they are only
afforded a certain amount of land, it is a necessity.
But is it? What is it that forces these once totally sustainable societies to give in to
acculturation? Or perhaps the question I should ask is what makes a people hold true to their
traditions, resisting change?
Some questions cannot be answered with only a one day visit to each village. These
questions can only help me to focus my continuing research on the effect of time and space on
indigenous art.
Conclusion:
Art transcends time and space. Tejidos stretch from the south of the American
continent through Central America, to the homes of tourists in North America. They have
been made from natural materials by the ancestors of the modern Indians: a tradition that
continues. The patterns are essentially the same, but the force behind them has changed.
Even though the natives may not know the spiritual significance of the serpentine stripes of
the pita-woven satchels, the tradition continues. The mere preservation of these artifacts has
enabled us to deeper understand the cultural richness of these people, a unique color in the
web of Life.
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Table 1. Plants and colors used to dye pita threads
COLOR
Orange
Peach
Grey
Black
Yellow
Blue
Green
PLANT
Spanish name
Nance
and Café
Chayote
Teca
Amarillón
Cebolla
Hoja Azul
Cebolla
and Hoja Azul
Table 2. Change in significance of Brunka artwork
PAST
More knowledge of
color combination significance
Intrinsic artwork
Weaving to clothe the village
Clothing washed in natural soaps
Clothing and masks unpainted
All natural material
PRESENT
Less knowledge of
color combination significance
Commercial artwork
Weaving to sell
Clothing washed in synthetic soaps
Clothing and masks painted
Mostly synthetic material
Table 3. Significance of Thread
NATURAL
Less stiff
More laborious
Less practical
Sewn when the sun is hot
Sewn by hand
Less pretty
Duller colors
SYNTHETIC
More stiff
Less laborious
More practical
Sewn any time
Sewn by machine
Prettier
More brilliant colors
Table 4. The relationship of clothing with Brunka identity
PAST
More valuable
More authentic to Boruca
Deeper ancestral origin
Traditional
Cultural salvage
"Our own"
Proud
PRESENT
Less valuable
Less authentic to Boruca
Little ancestral origin
Modern
Simply commercial
Outside influence
Little pride
Scientific name
Byrsonima crassifolia
Coffea arabiga
Sechium edule
Tectona grandis
Terminalia lucida
Allium cepa
Justicia tinctoria
Allium cepa
Justicia tinctoria
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Epilogue:
The Threads That Bind
Another side of this enthnobiology tapestry.
From researching about the art and its cultural and spiritual significance of three
different indigenous societies, I have been feeling very creative. So this is my project, my
ARTwork. My own traditional art is poetry and storytelling. So I’ll share with you my art.
Simple. Simplicity. I’ll tell it to you simply—one step at a time—up the ladder
(helix, helical, como la heliconia) of chakras: energy centers, patterns: ARTWORK,
como mi proyecto, una mescla de culturas,
cultures and art:
sembra las semillas
from the beginning,
grow as a culture—
taught at a young age—
THE TRADITIONS,
their artwork—
a tangible representation of culture,
signifying the tradition itself,
the connection to the past.
much of this art is made with natural materials,
so it can be recycled back into the earth,
from which it came,
so i used their material,
to connect to their culture
as their art connects cultures:
this belt dangles between two spaces,
the two times,
antes y ahora,
that really are not separate,
for they are linked—
and thus connecting
the two,
joined as one
y todavía único.
ARTE- de idioma, de medicina, de cultura,
which passes through the spaces BETWEEN THE THREADSand chakras, (now the East enters).
Root chakra: Home
the last village i visited is the first picture on this portion of the ladder.
Bribri build walls of caña blanca--(Gynerium sagittatum) y techos de palma
(Arecaceae). Ecological Indians, they use their talents, their arts to rescue the land. Only a
26-year old community, there is reforestation to be accomplished, for it was once owned de
los campesinos afro-caribeños. Sustainably, using local, native products as the medium, and
461
sometimes bamboo (Guadua longifolia)—because sometimes the fruit-eating murcielagos
drop foreign seeds and the Brunka eat those fruits, said Lucas, so they will use bamboo to
construct roofs-- adding an Eastern art to their tradition.
This picture shows a daughter of Bribri and Guaymi descent, yet originally from the
Amazon and Chibchan language group, who now learns both Bribri and Guaymi languages
along with Spanish and English at her home in KéköLdi. This community sold jicaras
(gourds), baskets, canastas de pita y maracas.
The house, Root, is strongin manufacture
in style
in tradition,
multidimensional,
from the land
where were are born,
we grow —
as Lucas said,
“Nací aquí. Estoy enamorado y quedo.”
he guides tourists through the village,
the jungle of KéköLdi.
From Root to Reproduction,
como un raíz de Quercus alba a un hongo—Amenita,
and like the second chakra,
a picture of the first visit a los indigenos,
the Guaymi of Coto Brus.
Una niña wears the gown,
serpentine stitchings:
but no one can tell me WHY they use these patterns they share.
WHY keep the patterns?
WHAT DO THEY MEAN?
NO ONE has told me the significance;
Alejandro, Guaymi, told me that the shamans would know,
and maybe the this child’s father,
“un hombre de medicina,” dice liliana, “una blanca de la ciudad.”
she invited me to stay with her;
she will teach me how to cook and weave;
AND she will pass on the traditions she learns from the villagers,
the ART of the forest and its healing,
as she mixes indigenous and spanish,
as we mix spanish and english,
indigenous and American.
a new world enters:
movement,
reproduction,
to the Third chakra, the SELF,
with Alejandro and Maria, both Guaymi.
His ART is plants.
Her ART son los tejidos, woven from pita.
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as SELF, she does this to sustain her financial independence:
because these communities are not totally self-sustainable.
they evolved away from their ancestors en ese modo.
so WHY is it that some art remains, sustains through the centuries?
ART IS THE THREAD THAT BINDS
held tightly to that which is loved—
through the threads,
up the ladder of evolution, helical,
to chakra 4—LOVE,
of the art,
like this Brunka family,
artisans who made tejidos de pita, bows and arrows, and masks made for a ritual:
Celebración (or currently) Juegos de los Diablitos where they hide from acculturation—
perhaps not precluding su destino.
But in heart chakra,
they enjoy la fiesta, la música, los juegos a los ceremonios.
PERHAPS THE LOVE CARRIES THE TRADITION.
Feliciana’s niece, in this picture, shows her learned talent of weaving—
as she makes her aunt a purse.
but she sold to me the straps.
So now i have a section of the rope, the ladder of their evolving tradition,
climbing up to chakra five—Throat—
a picture of Felic iana, explaining to me how to weave her art,
and how to dye the naturally tan threads:
To make orange: use nance and coffee: Byrsonima crassifolia and Coffea arabiga,
For peach, use chayote: Sechium edule
For brown, use teca: Tectona grandis
For grey, us e amarillón: Terminalia lucida, which she was proud to tell me that it is endemic to
this reservation.
For yellow, use cebolla, onion: Allium cepa
Blue, use hoja azul: Justicia tinctoria
To dye the thread green, mix yellow and blue dye.
To keep colors, they soak the thread in salt water.
To keep these traditions, they pass this knowledge on to their children.
But, what is the significance of these designs? I questioned.
Why do you hold tight to these patterns?
For some patterns change,
By a person affecting the blueprint,
Until the whole culture evolves,
Evolving, slithering, curling
Up the rungs
To the 6th Chakra, Third Eye:
The knower,
Who sees without seeing,
Knows without knowing—
Instinctual.
These natives know their tradtions have changed.
463
Posters in the Boruca museum read:
“Amamos la naturaleza, por eso conservamos prácticas y creencias relacionados con ella
como nuestras prácticas de cultivo y nuestra artesania.”
Below this quote, changes that have occurred
entre antes y ahora
were stated:
antes: more knowledge of color combination significance, ahora: no;
weaving to clothe the village, ahora: to sell;
all natural material, ahora: synthetic;
sewn when the sun is hot, ahora: less valuable’
but their energy still runs deep.
to the final energy center, the crown, the flight:
the roots of the Guaymi, Bribri, Brunka:
the Amazonian Indians.
Here, a representation of a Trumaí headdress,
Clad with feathers,
The most valued good,
Due to their color energies
And emulation of spirits.
The Guianan sport these macaw feathers
in hopes that the Sun will emulate the shaman’s changing of crowns—
and arrayed in distinct order,
from ground bird
to canopy flyer.
These modern ancestors of the Bribri, Brunka, Guaymi
Are still highly connected, with deep spiritual respect,
To their land and heritage.
But everything evolves up the intertwined ladder —
From root to crown,
The indigenas sustain these within their threads,
Weaving a fiber,
Passing over a new one,
Through another thread,
Mixing,
Como yo con esas palabras.
For Spirit,
For Beauty,
For Creativity,
For Newness,
This tradition
Connects roots
To feathers,
Grounded and soaring
To new dimensions
De arte
Y de cultura.
464
Acknowledgements
I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the following indigenous communities for
their sincere hospitality:
Coto Brus—Guaymi, Boruca—Brunka, and KéköLdi—Bribri.
Thanks to Francisco Rodriguez Atencio, Liliana, Maria, Alejandro, Feliciana, Alicia, Lucas,
and Alex for their valuable insights.
Thanks to Jose González, Rebecca Lutzy, Gabriela Dermergasso, Henry Lou, Guillermo
Archibold, and Rafael Ocampo for their assistance in the field.
Much appreciation to Luis Diego Gómez for all his guidance.
Reference
Roe, Peter G. 1995. Arts of the Amazon. London. 128pp.
?
BOOK REVIEWS
~Baker
~Bromberg
~Brownlee
~Edmonds
~Folse
~Hart
~Huang
~Kieves
~Kim
~Loggins
~Moye
~Ruiz
~Teich
~Tschannen-Moran
~Venkatesan
~Willetts
~Williams
~Zellie
?
465
Plants and Animals in the Life of the Kuna.
Jorge Ventocilla, Heraclio Herrera and Valerio Núñez.
1995. University of Texas Press, Austin. 150 p.
The Kuna of Panama are an indigenous group struggling with the same effects of
globalization as the rest of modern society. In the early 19th century, colonists invaded
Kuna territory with large banana plantations, rubber tappers, turtlers, gatherers of ivory
nuts and official programs to suppress the indigenous culture. Finally, in 1925, the Kuna
fought the invaders and regained their territory. Kuna territory became the Comarca de
San Blas in 1938, known today as Kuna Yala.
For the next 40 years, invaders from every side fought to colonize Kuna Yala.
Mestizo peasants from the west and south cut down forests, converting the land to
pasture. From the east, Colombians crossed the to pan for gold and colonize the land.
Finally, in 1980, with teams of volunteers and international funding, the borders of Kuna
Yala were turned into a forest reserve. The Kuna managed the reserve themselves with
international help and take pride in this accomplishment.
Recorded interviews by different authors, translated from Kuna language, are
compiled in this book. The authors Heraclio Herrera and Valerio Núñez were born in the
Kuna Yala, which adds essential respect for the subject matter. Author Jorge Ventocilla
was born in Panama and worked in the planning of the PEMASKY project, the
international group working to preserve the borders.
The first chapter, “Baba’s Creation”, starts out with “the earth is the mother of all
things” (Núñez, pp.1).
This is the essence of the Kunas’ connection with the
environment. This chapter explains the history of the Kuna in regards to
the Spanish
invasion; Núñez describes how the nelegan, their traditional doctors, knew that one-day
466
the white man would come to the area. The elders told them that there would be “men”
who would come and offer money and promises for their resources.
Chapter 2, “Ready to Change”, covers the concerns the Kuna have with their loss
of resources. The chapter summarizes their concerns with: what are the Kunas’ real
needs, how are they satisfied and what is the availability of natural resources. The lobster
and turtle eggs that once were plentiful are over consumed now, stressing the daily
routine and income of the community. “There are innumerable signals that indicate that
we have very little time left to accomplish an urgent necessity.”(Ventocilla, pp.8)
Chapter 3, “The Kuna”, gives an historical review of this indigenous culture.
Most Kuna communities live on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, while a large population
lives in southern Panama, area of Darién, and northern Colombia. All inhabitants have
similar customs, sources of income, and views about the environment. “The Kuna way of
life”,(Ventocilla, pp.13) simply expresses the importance to be in balance with nature and
that she has the power to heal the people with her gifts.
The bulk of the book presents the reader with the local fauna and floral of Kuna
Yala. The importance of natural resources for the Kuna is emphasized. Again the peril
of over consumption is highlighted. Main staples in the diet and other marine life have
been exhausted, changing their daily living. Hunters are proudly respected in the
communities, but because of roads being built and other expansions , game is pushed
farther into the mountains.
Following the explanations of natural resources, all three of the authors state the
significance of the Uaga, foreigner. The “white man” comes into Kuna Yala and pays
large amounts of money for lobster, turtle eggs and other marine life. The Kuna, who
467
have to feed their families, are forced by the Uaga to change their standards of living for
the future. Hence the Kuna are loosing their culture, as a result of wanting to feed and
care for their families.
The remaining chapters focus on medicinal plants and palms. According to the
Kuna way of thinking, all plants are medicinal from the forest. The nelegan and botanists
in the Kuna Yala express the importance of plants to fight off disease and evil spirits.
Drawings of some of the plants are included, and a list in the Appendix gives both Kuna
and scientific names.
For someone interested in the Kuna way of life, this book is an excellent source.
The writing is simple and easy to follow, with a thorough explanation of what plants and
animals influence the Kuna. The hopes of the authors were to bring awareness to how
modernization is effecting this community and the importance of not loosing your culture
to these pressures. They were successful in reaching this reader.
Heather Baker
University of Missouri
Biology Department
Columbia, Mo. 65203
469
Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing. Michael
Taussig. 1986. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL 60637. xix + 517 (paperback). ISBN
0-226-79013-4.
Often, our memory of historical events is different from true history. One such example
is the Spanish conquest of Latin America, an event celebrated by Westerners for its successful
colonization and development of primitive, savage peoples. The horrible labor conditions and
persecution of the South American Indians during the early 20th century is well underrepresented in texts, as is the modern relationship between white men and indigenous healers in
southern Colombia. Through primary sources, interviews, and analysis, the author reveals the
true terror of the late colonial and industrial periods, and the spiritual healing which followed.
The author, Michael Taussig, did this anthropologic study at an ideal place and time. He
chose the Putumayo River Valley, a sub-basin of the Amazon River, on the border between
Colombia and Peru, for his study site. It has a complex history of conquest, slavery, savagery,
and spiritual healing. He interviewed victims of the rubber boom as well as esteemed shamans,
both of which are dying breeds.
The book is divided into two parts. “Part One: Terror” discusses the atrocities committed
by the Spanish and English colonists during the rubber boom of 1900-1920. During this time,
indigenous people were indentured into the rubber trade by a system called debt-peonage. In the
debt-peonage system, rubber patrons forced the Indians into debts which could only be paid off
by labor. According to European accounts, Indian chiefs were enticed to accept material gifts in
exchange for labor commitments from the tribe. Other accounts tell of “Indian hunts,” where
indigenous people were hunted down like prey and either brutally slaughtered or enslaved.
Indians in tribes hostile to those that were peons were entrusted as “muchachos”, armed guards
often ordered to torture the peons. “Debt-peonage” was little more than a euphemism for
470
slavery, and, in many cases, treatment of the peons was worse than slaves.
Although the indigenous people were the only labor source for the rubber traders and
should have been valued for their commercial worth (if not for their humanity), they were treated
as though completely dispensable. According to Roger Casement, a Irish, pro-Indian activist,
and testimonies of black slaves from the region, men who did not fill their rubber quota were
punished by being shot, put into stocks, hung by their wrists, or whipped. Indians were burned
alive for the amusement of rubber station managers. Meanwhile, the colonists justified their
actions to European governments by claiming to have nobly civilized the savage indigenous
communities. The use of brutal force was described as necessary to respond to the attacks from
the savage, cannibalistic tribes of the Putumayo. “Part One: Terror” makes it painstakingly clear
who is the true savage.
“Part Two: Healing” considers the role of the shaman in late colonial society. Many
white colonists approached Indian healers to be cured and protected from sorcery (magia) or bad
spirits (mal aires). It is ironic that after 400 years of apostolic attempts to convert the indigenous
tribes to good Christians, many Christians turned to “pagan”, indigenous methods for remedies
and purification.
The author also brings to the reader’s attention the Christianization of shamanic practices
during this time. In the visions brought on by the sacred, hallucinogenic drink yagé, many
people claimed to have seen God, the Devil, and various saints, or to have ascended a stairway to
heaven. In contrast, other characters commonly present in the visions were indigenous spiritual
figures, such as animals that morph in and out of human forms and spirits of the deceased. These
contradicting images demonstrate the position of shamans at this time, caught between partial
assimilation, preservation of indigenous culture, and commercial marketing of spiritual healing.
471
Further evidence of the commercialization of shamanic practices is evidenced by the tension
between shamans of the lowlands, who considered themselves more spiritual and honest, and
the supposedly swindling, wandering shamans of the highlands.
The book questions the very idea of “magic”. As in many stories of New World saints
from the same region, the real and the super-real combine in the Putumayo Valley to weave a
complex and magical history. It is often difficult to distinguish between the suffering inflicted
upon the Indians during the rubber boom, which led to terror, and that suffering which begins a
yagé session, which leads to spiritual healing. Both types of suffering, personal and communal,
lead the sufferer into what the author calls the “space of death”, a place where death is real and
imminent. According to the author, the space of death can be a very magical place. However, it
is occasionally difficult to understand the author’s concept of magic, due to his multidimensional, abstract opinion of it.
The book poignantly describes the relationship between the white colonists and the
indigenous people of the Putumayo Valley. With great irony, the author shows the colonist to be
the true savage, persecuting the Indians in ways much more horrific than the supposed
cannibalistic practices of the Indians. Also, the author proves the colonist to be heavily reliant on
the healing of Indian shamans. Thus, the white colonists have returned to the very wildness that
they originally tried to expel. Unfortunately, the “wild” indigenous communities of the
Putumayo Valley have been forever changed; their culture has been nearly destroyed by the
colonization of whites.
Keryn Bromberg
Biology and Environmental Studies Department
Tufts University
Medford, MA 02155
473
Entheogens and the Future of Religion
Edited by Robert Forte. 1997. Council on Spiritual Practices, Box 460065, San Francisco,
CA 94146-0065. v + 183 (paperback). $15.00. ISBN 1-889725-01-3.
Entheogens, or “the plants and chemicals which facilitate awareness of the
presence of the divine,” (165) is the subject of this short collection of essays, speeches,
articles, and interviews all relating to the utilization of plants or chemical substances in
activities pertaining to the mystical, sacred, or ceremonial experience, both past and
present. Robert Forte, the editor of the text, has an extensive background in the history
and psychology of religion and has been president of the Church of the Awakening since
1985. In the Introduction, Forte prefaces this intense subject matter by discussing the
sanctity of entheogens as compared to “drugs” while also addressing the current issues of
the “war on drugs” and its effect on entheogen access and use in contemporary American
society. It is Forte’s goal to focus attention to the “distinctly sacred nature of these
substances,” (p.4) with the hope that religious associations, lawmakers, and the receptive
public honestly and thoroughly examine the material presented. Additionally, he hopes
that both the “historic and modern significance of entheogens,” (p.4) be considered for
present day spiritual ailments and not simply as tools for recreation, as recently dictated
by popular culture.
The list of esteemed contributors for this collection include some of the leading
authorities in the field of religion, psychoactive substances, scientists, scholars and poets.
Albert Hofmann, who authors two pieces, “The Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries for
Today’s World,” and “Natural Science and the Mystical World View,” was best known
for his serendipitous (p.178) discovery of LSD and for his research of the chemical
compounds of the sacred mushrooms of Mexico. His works continue to be a vital source
of critical information regarding psychedelic substances and his contribution to modern
society, whether interpreted as positive or negative, is a lasting one. R. Gordon Wasson, a
colleague of Hofmann’s, whose invaluable interview is included in the text, was a banker
by profession but devoted his life to the study of mycology, and more particular the use
of fungi for religious and spiritual practices all over the world. He, along with Allan
Richardson, was the first foreigner to participate in the holy velada, or “midnight vigil,”
(p. 72) of the Mazatec peoples of Mexico, which includes the ingestion of sacramental
474
and hallucinogenic mushrooms (Psilocybe spp.). He had several theories in terms of
different entheogenic substances in history, such as in the ancient Vedic brew soma and
the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, and has authored many texts supporting his contentions.
The last of the highlighted contributors is Terence Mckenna, the author of “Psychedelic
Society,”. Mckenna is a prominent author and explorer of the realm of shamanism and
the “ethn-pharmacology of spiritual transformation,” (p.178) and has studied, among
other subjects, the impact of psychotropic plants on humanity and the evolution of our
species. These distinguished contributors are only a taste of the bounty of authors
included in this text.
Before the review of this publication continues, it is imperative to define in depth
what an entheogen embodies. The term was coined in 1979 by a group of scientists and
scholars to refer “to plants or chemical substances which awaken or generate mystical
experiences,” (p.1) as stated by Forte. “Once, when a journalist casually referred to
peyote (a classic entheogen) as a drug, a Huichol Indian shaman replied, ‘Aspirin is a
drug, peyote is sacred,’” (p.1). Wasson, during the interview in the text, elaborates by
remarking that an entheogen is, “those plant substances revered by Early Man for their
potency, for their ability to command respect,” (p.68). A hallucinogen, to Wasson, is
something false, and not real, “a lie,” (p.68), yet an entheogen is much more divine, or
“God generated within you!” (p.69). One is revered as a sacrament, the ultimate vehicle
of holiness and spiritual experience that opens doorways to profound unity with the
Universal Energy. The other is simply a recreational substance taken in a nonspecific
environment, where the results that arrive may not open doors to personal understanding,
but are intended to enhance the delight in daily events. In any case, entheogens are not
elements to be taken to intensify a concert, and hallucinogens are not to be ingested
during secluded sacred ceremonies.
From the text’s eclectic and extensive discussion of entheogenic use, a few major
themes become apparent. These three significant motifs can be divided into uses during
historical time periods, current issues related to access and availability, and finally the
possibilities and prospects for future utilization.
475
In terms of past function of sacred substances, there is much speculation of what
was used and in what time period and for what purpose. Poet Dale Pendall and the
esteemed Albert Hofmann discuss the Eleusinian Mysteries of Greece, ritual ceremonies
and celebrations in recognition of the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone.
Evidence suggests that during the sixth and most secretive night of the rites, a sacred
potion was ingested that may have induced extremely profound experiences of lifealtering caliber. This brew, or kykeon, is believed to have contained a psychopharmakon,
or a “plant extract capable of inducing an ecstatic state,” (p.34) possibly from ergot, a
fungus affecting grain. Interestingly enough, Demeter is the goddess of grain and
agriculture, who bestowed flowers and fruits upon the lands once a year. These rites and
rituals are still a mystery and it can only be speculated what significance they had on
ancient Greek society, and possible implications for our world of today.
The use of entheogens today is much more complicated and disconcerting. With
regards to legal issues, some Native American groups have specific permission to use
sacred substances, but yet people all across the nation are persecuted. The First
Amendment to the Constitution protects religious freedom in this country. However, in
the case of entheogens, it is a complex situation because of the ban on substances that are,
as Jesse puts it, “sometimes used spiritually and sometimes not,” (p. 9). For example, the
Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that the First Amendment does not protect the use of peyote
by Native Americans for religious purposes, as decided in Employment Division vs.
Smith. Religious groups acted accordingly and pressured legislative bodies to enact the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and the American Indian Religious Freedom
Acts Amendments of 1994. The current laws, nevertheless, prohibit all other people
besides Native Americans to use “scheduled psychoactive sacraments,” (p.11). It is
imperative that the public consider these legal issues and whether they constitute
religious discrimination, especially in our country founded on the ideas of liberty and
freedom. Is this situation acceptable or do substances used strictly for religious and
ceremonial purposes deserve special considerations and not to be lumped into the same
category as highly addictive and dangerous drugs such as cocaine and heroin?
Finally, the last major theme of this collection of essays is what the possible
significance and role entheogens can play in the future of our world. It has been
476
suggested that psychoactive substances used in a controlled and deliberate setting can
have therapeutic value, such as with addiction and past trauma issues. Bill Wilson, the
founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, first used LSD in 1956 and felt his experience may
have a positive effect on many people still suffering from addictions, such as alcoholism.
Other substances could possibly, and might be, explored in terms of assisting terminally
ill patients in their last days and within the realm of psychoanalysis. Any use of
entheogens for these purposes must, as declared by the text, occur within a professionally
trained and appropriate environment, and not left up to unknowledgeable individuals.
In terms of entheogenic use on a societal level, it has been indicated that the
general public’s acceptance and utilization of sacred substances in a religious setting can,
possibly, lead to a spiritual revival of profound proportions. This newfound connection
with the universe and its intense energy, may in fact, produce an awareness of the human
race’s delicate relationship with the rest of the physical world, which could hopefully
lead to a more ecological feeling throughout the world. Terence Mckenna discusses, in
his piece, “Psychedelic Society,” that psychedelic usage can reconstruct our society from
within each individual, and people can inwardly change the way they view the external
world and their personal relationship with that environment. Summed up best in Stanislav
Grof’s Realms of the Human Unconscious (1975), he states that, “Experiences of this
kind can result in an enhanced awareness of and sensitivity to ecological problems related
to technological development and rapid industrialization,” (p.56).
It is very clear that entheogens are more than common street drugs. The intake of
sacred substances has had an important impact on societies of the past and could
possibly, if given the opportunity, have a positive and profound effect on societies of
today. This text has only scratched the surface of all the questions and issues that arise
within entheogen utilization, but this publication has done a wonderful job of opening the
proverbial door to further discussion and action. Entheogens and the Future of Religion is
an informative and thought provoking collection of perspectives and sentiments from the
most influential key players in the realm of sacred natural substances and should be
explored by every individual wishing to expand their inner horizons.
Kristina L. Brownlee
Department of Anthropology
University of Montana
Missoula, MT 59801
477
477
Sacred Leaves of Candomblé. African Magic, Medicine, and Religion in
Brazil. Robert A. Voeks. 1997. University of Texas Press, Box 7819, Austin,
TX 78713. xvii + 232 (paperback). Price not given. ISBN 0-292-78726-X.
Sacred Leaves of Candomblé, by Robert A. Voeks, brings a history of a people, their
medicine, and their religion together brilliantly. It is a superb ethnobotanical reconstruction of
Candomblé medicinal and religious practices in Bahia, Brazil.
The Candomblé religion is a set
of beliefs, practices, and cosmology introduced by Yoruba slaves and freedmen to Brazil.
The introductory chapters begin 135 million years ago, when Africa and South America
were joined as a supercontinent.
separated continents.
These chapters describe the surprisingly different flora of the
Of the approximately sixty plant families that are shared in the world’s
tropical regions, only twelve are shared between Africa and South America. The first chapters
also describe the evolution of the landforms, climate, vegetation, soils, and several other
important characteristics of Bahia, the area which would become the home of many Africans
uprooted from their own homes during slavery.
The third chapter, entitled “Indians and Africans,”
gives a detailed description of the
´magic and medicine´ of both the people indigenous to the Bahia area and the imported African
slaves.
It addresses the remarkable similarity between the ethnomedical system of the coastal
indigenous people and the arriving African slaves. The chapter also addresses the negative view
of most Brazilians towards African magic, which has frequently been labeled as a form of
‘deviant science’. Voeks mentions that this label probably stemmed from a fear of the effects of
African magic.
The bulk of the book is an in-depth discussion of the Candomblé religion and medicine,
and the plants used in both. Followers of Candomblé often also consider themselves Catholic, as
478
many are required to be baptized into Catholicism before they can be initiated into Candomblé.
There are several deities, known as orixâs, present in Candomblé, each of whom has a specific
personality with unique characteristics.
Followers believe that spiritual disequilibrium is the
main cause of chronic health problems, numerous health disasters in one family, and health
problems that cannot be cured by Western medicine.
Exu, the deity responsible for
disequilibrium, is integral to Candomblé health and healing. Ossâim, guardian of all the sacred
leaves and medicine, knows all the plants and how to invoke their magical properties, thus
making his medicine curative.
Omolu, who has the knowledge necessary to contain or release
disease, has control of preventive medicine.
There is a correspondence between the gods and the leaves that is fundamental in
Candomblé ceremony and ritual.
Each orixâ possesses his or her own personal healing flora.
However not all plants used in Candomblé are associated with an orixâ. In fact, only 105 of the
140 liturgical and medicinal species identified had god-plant correspondences.
Those not
possessed by a deity are employed in organic medicinal use for the treatment of problems such as
headache, toothache, and obesity.
The last chapter of this book, entitled “African Religion in the Americas,” describes the
evolution and continued resilience of Candomblé.
It states that magical medicine was perhaps
the most potent weapon of the Africans during slavery. Magical medicine was an unknown that
helped to alter the usual one sided dynamic of the master-slave relationship. The chapter also
summarizes how it was possible for a religion of African origin to thrive in a new continent, on
new land, and in a totally new environment; it explains the resiliency through social, economic,
political, and geographical processes.
479
On the whole, this book is an outstanding look into the Candomblé religion. It is not only
thorough about Candomblé, but also gives an in-depth history of the African diaspora, slavery,
and the art of medicine and magic.
It is very well written and does not necessitate previous
knowledge on the subject. Sacred Leaves of Candomblé is ideal for one in any discipline, and is
definitely a book from which anyone can learn something new.
Sadiqa Edmonds
Department of Chemistry
Spelman College
Atlanta, GA 30314
[email protected]
481
Totemism. Claude Lévi-Strauss. Original French edition, 1962. Presses
Universitaires de France. English paperback edition, 1963. Beacon
Press. ISBN:0 -8070-4671-X
Totemism was an attempt by Western anthropologists to “other” primitive people
by making their attitude toward nature seem alien to our own. They imposed an artificial
classification onto the social structures of indigenous peoples that Claude Lévi-Strauss
calls “the totemic illusion.” When a clan claims that they are descended from an animal
they are using a metaphor that makes sense within their own logical system.
Anthropologists were blinded by this illusion because they looked for a too literal
meaning and did not understand the correct logic.
Two thinkers, H. Bergson and J.-J. Rousseau, were able to come to an intuitive
understanding of totemism long before ethnographers were able to do so.
Lévi-Strauss
argues that this demonstrates that the logic that gave rise to totemism, rather than
separating the primitive mind from the civilized, is common to both and comes from
within the structure of the human mind rather than from the nature of the external world.
482
Totemism consists of three factors: organization into clans, the use of plant or
animal emblems as clan names, and the belief in a relation between the clan and the
emblem. In addition, exogamy between clans and prohibitions on food or other uses of
the emblem are common but not necessary. All three of the primary factors can exist
independently or in any combination. It is only their coincidence that is called
“totemism;” thus it is not a natural category, but an arbitrary one placed onto primitive
societies from without.
In Chapter 1, “The Totemic Illusion,” Lévi-Strauss introduces the concept of
totemism and the problem of Westerners misunderstanding of indigenous logic and
metaphor. Totemism actually consists of two problems: the first deals with the
organization of people into clans and marriage classes and the second with people’s
relation to nature. In the succeeding three chapters he examines the ideas of a number of
anthropologists, showing both the merits and the flaws in each one and showing how they
gradually come closer to the solutions of these two problems.
In Chapter 2, “Australian Nominalism,” Lévi-Strauss tackles the first problem of
totemism, clans and marriage classes. Australian clan systems are one of three types:
moieties, sections, and sub-sections. These divide the tribe into 2, 4, or 8 groups,
respectively. Each may exist alone of in any combination of the two. Contrary to the
beliefs of Freud, the purpose of exogamous clans is not to prevent incest. This would be
better achieved by marriage restrictions based on degree of kinship. However, in
matrilineal moieties it serves a useful function as a social mixer. The custom in Australia
is for a bride to move to her husband’s home. This has the function of encouraging
intermarriage between towns and cementing the relationships between them; otherwise,
483
they would rarely come in contact. In patrilineal moieties, which are not exogamous, the
totem serves to strengthen the “solidarity of the hoard.” A. P. Elkin solved the first
problem by realizing that sections serve to categorize individuals rather than to regulate
marriage. They function as a simplified kinship system that is easier to use in large intertribal gatherings, especially those including different dialects. It allows strangers meeting
to quickly know their relationship to each other and the appropriate behavior to adopt.
In Chapter 3, “Functionalist Theories of Totemism,” Lévi-Strauss takes on the
second problem of totemism, the question of how people relate to nature. A number of
anthropologists have proposed functionalist interpretations: interpretations that took the
totem literally and saw it as performing some empirical function. For example, B.
Malinowski saw totemism as an attempt to control nature. First, the relationship to an
animal would be ritualized in order harness its power. Then a clan would specialize in
magic surrounding this animal, and it would become the clan’s totem. Thus, totemism is
“the result of natural conditions” in people’s relationship to animals. Radcliffe-Brown, in
his first theory, proposes a natural explanation following Malinowski. For both of these
anthropologists, animals become totems because they are “good to eat.” However, this
forces Radcliffe-Brown into a frantic search to show a function for apparently
undesirable totems, such as mosquitoes, leading him to develop some rather eclectic
theories. Despite his attempts, there is little or no correspondence between the economic
significance of plants and animals and their totemic importance. Lévi-Strauss attacks
these functionalist theories because if the totemic relation were natural or biological, then
the connection between totem and individual would be reformed every generation, when
in fact they are sustained by tradition.
484
Chapter 4, “Toward the Intellect,” begins with analyses of R. Firth and M. Fortes.
They removed totemism from naturalism by realizing that the totemic connection was
based only on a perception of resemblance rather than on affinity, descent, nature, or
sustenance. However, their theory was only useful for a restricted set of totem-clan pairs.
E. E. Evans-Pritchard came even closer the correct solution. Like Firth and Fortes, he
rejected empiricism and naturalism. He explained the Nuer tradition of calling twins
“birds” by referring to the mythology and cosmology of the people rather than the
natural, empirical characteristics of birds. He realized that this relationship was purely
metaphorical. Unfortunately Evans-Pritchard was not able to generalize this solution
beyond the Nuer.
Radcliffe-Brown accomplished the feat of generalization in his second theory on
totemism. He realized that the underlying philosophy of dualism that is implied by the
moiety system was the key to understanding its logic. He asked the question, “What is
the principle by which specific pairs are chosen as representing the moieties of the dual
division?,” thus opening the way to a structural analysis. He saw that the totems of
moieties could only by understood in pairs, not alone. The metaphor is in the relationship
between two totems and the relationship between two clans. That is, species 1 is to
species 2 as clan A is to clan B. The pairing of totems shows a duality of opposites,
which are reflected in the two clans. For example, one pair of moieties has as their totems
the eaglehawk and the crow. Both are carnivorous birds, but they are opposites in that
the eaglehawk is a hunter, while the crow is a scavenger. However, in some pairs the
opposition is not as obvious and can only be understood through knowledge of the
folklore of the people, the natural history of the animals, and the way in which the people
485
perceive them. For example, in the case of the Kangaroo and the Wombat, there appears
to be a “just-so” story for children that explains the imagery of the totems of two clans.
The story explains why the Wombat lives in a house and the Kangaroo lives out in the
open, which is the dichotomy of opposites expressed by the moiety system. This does
not mean that the clan “Kangaroo” lives outside whereas the clan “Wombat” lives in
houses. Instead, it means that just as the kangaroo and wombat are opposites, the clans
“Kangaroo” and “Wombat” are also opposites.
Lévi-Strauss takes this method further than Radcliffe-Brown himself would have
condoned, penetrating deeper than mere emblems for clans to the fundamentals of human
thought, logic, and language. The most basic human (as distinct from animal) thought is
the logic of oppositions. This gives rise to language and thought, as well as to totemism.
In structural analysis, it is impossible to dissociate form from content, for “if [meaning] is
not everywhere it is nowhere.” Each level of social reality is necessary to understand the
others.
In Chapter 5, Lévi-Strauss steps back in time and deeper into the human psyche.
The philosopher Bergson, writing well before Radcliffe-Brown, argued that totems are
produced by the same logic of oppositions that allowed humans to first differentiate
species, and that clan oppositions are analogous to species oppositions. However,
because species are strictly endogamous, whereas totemic clans are often exogamous, he
came to the conclusion that the emphasis is on the duality of opposites rather than the
animality of the two species. This was the same conclusion that Radcliffe-Brown came
to through careful ethnographic study. Lévi-Strauss argues that Bergson’s achievement
486
was the result of intuition made possible by the similarity between the logic of Bergson
and the logic of primitive people.
Lévi-Strauss then points out the similarity between Bergson and Rousseau.
Rousseau, who sought to describe the transition from animal to human, nature to culture,
and affectivity to intellectuality, concluded that it took place with the beginning of
reason. Reason’s most basic, earliest form was the ability to see differences,
dichotomies, and oppositions between two groups. This logical operation gave rise to all
thought, as well as to totemism. Rousseau also understood the importance of metaphor in
primitive thought. He argued that language began with metaphor, which is the language
of totemism: “the first speech was all in poetry.” While the functionalists had been
unable to see the metaphor in totemism, Rousseau understood its language before the
problem of totemism was even proposed. Levi-Strauss concludes that the fact that
Bergson and Rousseau were able to come to an intuitive understanding of totemism
suggests that, rather than separating civilized from primitive thought, the illusion of
totemism reveals a basic logic that unites us all.
Making his argument intelligible to the lay public is not a concern of LéviStrauss. His style is densely theoretical and for a reader without a background in
anthropological theory, it can be very difficult to read. His formal diction and complex
syntax make it even more difficult. Much of the book is summary and it is often difficult
to discern Lévi-Strauss’s voice out of that of the theorists he is summarizing. Chapters 2
and 3, which deal with obsolete theories of totemism are much less interesting than
chapters 4 and 5, where he discusses the fascinating theories of Radcliffe-Brown,
Bergson, and Rousseau, as well as his own theories. Despite these obstacles in style, the
487
persevering reader is rewarded with a two-fold prize. The book is first of all a concise
summary of the idea of totemism throughout the history of anthropology, but more
importantly it reveals Lévi-Strauss’s insight into the common unity of the human mind.
Henri Folse
487
Sacred Possessions: Vodou, Santeria, Obeah, and the Caribbean. Margaritej
Fernandez Olmos and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, eds. 1999. Rutgers University
Press, Livingston Campus, Bldg. 4161, P.O. Box 5062, New Brunswick, NJ 08903.
312 (paperback). ISBN 0-8135-2361-3
Afro-Caribbean religions are marked by syncretism—they originate from African
religions but have been recast many times due to the cultural upheavals characterizing the
history of the Caribbean. These religions came to the New World with African slaves
and were altered as slaves from different backgrounds were scattered among the islands.
The slaves’ colonial masters also forced Christian dogma into the mix of African
religions, creating the complex syncretism that currently exists. This book is a collection
of essays that each emphasize the African roots of these religions as a connecting thread
among them and all of Caribbean culture. The authors of this book also attempt to
portray Afro-Caribbean religions accurately by putting them in their political, economic,
and cultural contexts.
This book is composed of essays on the three main religions in the Caribbean,
Vodou, Santeria, and Obeah. Vodou ( from “vodu,” or “vodun,” meaning spirit or deity)
is “the folk religion of Haiti that prevades the framework of Haitian culture.” (Leslie
Desmangles, p.4). Vodou originated from the Dahomeden, Congolese, and Nigerian
regions of West Africa. The deities of Vodou are called “loas” and the priests are
“houngans.” There are two pantheons, or groups of gods; those that originated in Africa
(“Rada” of Dahomean or Yoruban origin) and those that originated in Haiti (“Petro”).
Vodou, like other Afro-Caribbean religions, has been seen as culturally inferior, which is
an idea the authors of this book try to dispel.
In order to accurately portray cultural aspects of Vodou, the authors explain the
motivations behind the creation of a Vodou altar. These altars have been described as
488
“veritable junk heaps” because they seem to be composed of random household objects
and images. However, a Vodou altar is far from random; the gods of Vodou require very
specific offerings. Also, the gods of Vodou (and also Santeria and Obeah) are not
“transcendent,” meaning that they interact directly with followers and are treated as
humans with human needs such as food, music, dress, etc. The “junk” on an altar, then,
is a specific collection of offerings required to sustain and please a god.
The phenomenon of possession in Vodou has also been incorrectly perceived as
bizarre, uncultured behavior. Possession involves the temporary usurping of a person’s
consciousness, or “petit bon ange,” by a loa or a spirit of a deceased ancestor. Vodou loa
“mount” a follower, who then takes on the personality and historical character of the loa.
The authors point out that although this phenomenon may appear out of control and even
grotesque to outsiders, initiates to Vodou must undergo intense exercises of concentration
and self-discipline in order to navigate a possession. Possession is also extremely
significant culturally and politically because it allows Vodou followers to “remember”
their pasts and to relive both injustices and past victories. This ties Vodou followers
together and creates strong ties in a community.
Vodou is also not black magic, and vodou does not produce the zombies, for
example, in the music video “Thriller.” In her essay “Vodoun, or Voice of the Gods,”
Joan Dayan asserts that magic is “on the periphery of Vodou.” Hougans have to know
magic in order to combat bucco, Vodou priests who actually do perform evil and use
sorcery. However, as evidenced above, this remains a small part of Vodou religion.
Like sorcery, the phenomenon of “zombification” has also been exaggerated. In
“The Representation of Woman as Zombie,” Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert states that “the
489
zombie tells the story of colonization: the reduction of human into things for capital.”
Although the author describes vague legends about the zombification of helpless women,
she believes that zombification is largely a metaphor for slavery. Wade Davis, in his
book Passage of Darkness, puts forth another theory about zombification; he believes
that defiant members of the culture ruled by Bizango societies suffer the penalty of
zombification. The images of zombie as dangerous, mindless being under the control of
a Vodou priest has largely been proliferated in other cultures because, as the author
states, it gave colonial powers evidence that Vodou was “uncivilized.” Vodou, then, has
often been misrepresented as evil magic; however, the religion possesses a rich cultural
and political background and provides followers with access to this background.
Santeria is the second religion discussed in the book. The African component of
Santeria, like Vodou, derives mainly from the Yoruban region, specifically the Congo
and the Gulf of Ginea. In the New World, Yoruban gods merged with Catholic saints to
form “Santeria.” The authors use the Santerian practice of divination, which is defined as
the interpretation of heaven’s signs on earth, as an example of culture inherent in AfroCaribbean religion. This interpretation is conducted by a babalao, who tosses half-palm
nuts termed “ikines” onto a divining tray or “okpon.” The resulting arrangement
determines the iba to be read, which consist of legends, myths, and instructions for
sacrifice. Divination “demonstrates how social and religious discourse can preserve
order and transmit a unified body of knowledge.”
The third main religion in the book is Obeah. Obeah is described as having a less
community and more spiritual focus than Vodou and Santeria and originated from the
Ashanti tribes of the Gold Coast. The authors use Obeah as an example of how
490
perceptions of Afro-Caribbean religions have been greatly determined by political
factors. In nineteenth century Britain, for example, Obeah carried similar connotations as
Vodou carries today. Britain used Obeah much like America used Vodou, as an excuse
to enslave “savage” people in order to civilize them. The authors also discuss Obeah as a
platform for rebellion among slaves; this is another politically-motivated reason that
Afro-Caribbean religions were portrayed as savage and dangerous.
The religions of Vodou, Santeria, and Obeah were the focus of this book. The
authors attempt to dispel misperceptions of Afro-Caribbean religions by emphasizing
their cultural, economic, and political components and environments. Each of the
fourteen essays in this book focuses on very different aspects of this goal, which made it
difficult to draw connections among the essays. This book was written almost as a
literary criticism of other books on Afro-Caribbean religion and was difficult for
someone with little previous knowledge or study of these subjects to understand. It was
well-written but could have been better appreciated with a more extensive knowledgebase.
Rachel Hart
Department of Microbiology
The University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Knoxville, TN 37916
491
The Flowers of Wiricuta. A Journey to Shamanic Power with the Huichol Indians
of Mexico. Tom S. Pinkson. 1997. Destiny Books, One Park Street, Rochester, VT
05767. xiv + 287 (paperback). $16.95. ISBN 0-89281-659-7.
Dr. Tom Soloway Pinkson, a Jew-turned-Huichol shamanic follower, devotes
much of this book to discussing what he has learned en route to and on the Huichol
medicine path. He illustrates these learned principles with anecdotes, which come from
his work with drug addicts and terminally-ill children, his outdoor adventures, and his
relationships with his family. Additionally, much of his guidance in specific situations
comes from Huichol voices, including the Great Spirit, that he hears in his head.
Throughout the book, one realizes that the author has grown tremendously in mental,
emotional, and spiritual realms through his exploration of Huichol shamanism. This
growth, in turn, empowers the reader to seek his or her own growth. An appendix at the
end, containing information about Huichol ritual practices and the Huichol Medicine
Wheel, serves as a guide to help the reader do this.
The introduction describes one of the author’s pilgrimages to Wiricuta, a town in
northern Mexico, in search of peyote, or hicouri, a psychoactive flowering cactus. Peyote
is used by Huichols to “change channels and access ‘state specific information’” (p. 147)
in order to “get a more accurate reading of the nature of reality” by going into the
“numinous universe underlying the limited, material world of the sensory.” This in turn
may be used “to obtain information, healing, and power, which they can use … to better
their lives and the lives of their people” (p. 148). Peyote also creates a stronger cultural
connection among Huichols through peyote ceremonies, as stated in Edward F.
Anderson’s Peyote. The introduction also gives a short summary of the Huichol creation
story.
492
In the first chapter, the author discusses his youth, which eventually led him to
Huichol shamanism. He proposes that his father’s death when he was just four years old
was a precipitating event. This led him into a period of “shadow possession” during his
teenage years, during which he felt alienated and was aggressive. He had problems with
school truancy and began experimenting with drugs, including LSD. In describing his
experimentation with LSD, the author notes his first interest in God and religion, as he
was largely agnostic up until then, despite his Jewish heritage. This initial interest led to
spiritual explorations during his twenties, which led him to Native American religions
and the realization that he would devote the rest of his life to exploring better ways of
living and helping others to do the same.
Chapters two through five detail the author’s spiritual, emotional and mental
growth. Through his work with terminally-ill children, he learns about forgiveness,
surrender, unconditional love and inner peace. His attempts to start a class on shamanic
quests, his position on the counseling staff of a nearby theological seminary, and his
private practice teach him about patience and keeping faith. By working on improving
his relationship with his mother-in-law, he learns about letting down his defenses and
facing his own negative traits, his dark side. Chapter five discusses the necessity of
“befriending the darkness” in order to fully live out one’s life. By facing evil, suffering
and close encounters with death, the author learns how to truly live from his own soul -to live authentically as opposed to according to others’ expectations. By facing the
darkness, we learn to decide what’s truly important to us. Even though the process may
be painful, it is a necessary evil.
493
Chapter six moves away from the author’s autobiographical accounts to
discussions of peyote, Huichol shamanism, and comparisons of Huichol and Western
culture. Huichols truly value reciprocity; when taking from nature, they give back in a
balanced interchange in order to maintain cosmic balance. This is done by way of
prayers and ceremonies to honor and respect what has been taken. This is especially
important with peyote, whose “channel-changing,” mind-altering properties are accepted
in polyphasic cultures such as the Huichol culture. Monophasic cultures such as U.S.
culture derive their world view from a single cognitive mode, namely, the normal waking
state. This chapter finishes by arguing for the use of psychoactive plants, but only for
those who have been initiated in the proper uses of these plants.
The author shows more of his personal growth and discusses more differences
between Huichol and Western culture in chapters seven through eleven. His shamanic
quests teach him about discipline and responsibility. In addition, a bad rafting incident
with one of his friends teaches him to say “no” to risks when necessary. Healing a
former football player’s lower back, whose pain was caused by over-repression of his
feminine side and over-expression of his masculine qualities, teaches the author the
importance of maintaining a “sacred marriage” by honoring the energies of both the male
and female within a person. The parts work synergistically; with both together, the
possibilities are infinite.
The author is most comfortable and happy living the Huichol way of life. He
argues that Western culture is overly materialistic, taking but not giving back, resulting in
stunted soul growth and the inability to reach our deepest yearnings and highest values.
It is for this reason that many millionaires still feel unhappy or unfulfilled. He states that
494
in order for Western society to be healthier, there must be an emphasis on providing its
citizens with opportunities “to contribute in a meaningful, soulful way that brings selfsatisfaction as well as appreciation and affirmation from others.” By each walking our
own “heart path,” only win-win situations will result, not only among people, but among
all organisms. He discusses the importance of learning from indigenous people about
how to live in ecological balance, though explains that this would be difficult with North
American indigenous people due to years of oppression.
The final chapter discusses the author’s fifth and final pilgrimage and Bull
Ceremony, marking the completion of his apprenticeship in Huichol shamanism. It
struck me as ironic that, in a society that values life so much, killing a bull is the final
step in finishing one’s apprenticeship. He was initially quite reluctant to do this, but
because he had to in order to “graduate,” he surrendered into the experience. As he had
learned to do with all living creatures, he honored and gave his utmost respect to the bull
and its family.
Overall, this was an extremely thoughtful work. Structurally, it was wellorganized thematically, though I would have preferred more chronology to clearly see
how the author matured over time. This book exposes the reader to Huichol shamanism
through Western eyes, allowing Western readers to better relate to it through the author’s
life experiences. His role is that of a bridge between Huichol and Western cultures,
bringing his knowledge of Huichol shamanism into U.S. society to help people. The fact
that he is able to apply Huichol traditions and beliefs into everyday Westernized life
shows that its applicability extends far beyond the realm of Huichol shamanism in
northern Mexico. By appreciating Huichol shamanism, we may learn how to best live
495
our lives and realize that Huichol traditions and beliefs may be the solution to much of
Western civilization’s current problems.
RICHARD HUANG
DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGY
DUKE UNIVERSITY
DURHAM, NC 27708
497
Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original
Tree of Knowledge. Terence McKenna.
Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY
10036. xxi + 311 (paperback). $15.95. ISBN 0553-37130-4.
Many of today’s societies are ridden with a
sense of restlessnes s and dissatisfaction. In his
introduction, the author writes, “This book will
explore the possibility of a revival of the Archaic
– or preindustrial and preliterate – attitude
toward community, substance use, and nature. .
.” (xvi). He feels that through an exploration of
the history of human-plant relationships, we can
discover what has caused our current state of
despair and learn how we can return to the
Archaic, where this sentiment was not present.
In Part I: Paradise, the author establishes that
during the Archaic period, seven to ten thousand
years ago, humans had a partnership with
psychoactive plants that allowed them to be
connected to what he calls the “wholly Other.”
Shamanism is the epitome of this relationship,
which began with humans encountering
psilocybin-containing mushrooms one million
years ago in Africa. He proposes that the
evolution of the human brain is a result of
psychoactive chemical compounds in our diet,
which allowed for the emergence of
consciousness. The first portion of the book
establishes the author’s opinion that human
partnerships with hallucinogenic plants
positively shaped human culture and behavior.
This portion of the book is laden with
historical information that at times gets thick.
However, the author’s argument that Stropharia
cubensis is most likely the “lost” mushroom of
Africa that began a tradition of human-plant
partnerships is well supported and convincing.
The introduction of this phenomenon sets up the
remainder of his argument to be presented in the
later part of the book.
The second portion of the book, Part II:
Paradise Lost, explores human relationships with
natural drugs from the past to the present; human
association with soma, alcohol, and cannabis are
explored. The author conveys his conception
that one must, “think back to the last sane
moment that we, as a species, ever knew and
then act from the premises that were in place at
that moment” (97). This was in the time of
ancient Indo-European cultures when the use of
soma allowed human beings to be a part of the
wholly Other. Over time, existing symbiotic
human-fungal relationships were substituted with
the use of other psychoactive plants. These in
turn were replaced with other stimulants. This
move from the human-fungal partnership was
accompanied by a shift in cultures from a
“partnership” cultural style to a “dominator”
cultural style.
The author’s examination of the soma cults of
the Indo-European cultures is extensive and at
times longwinded. While it is thorough, he
states himself that there is no absolute proof of
the theories he places forth. Unfortunately, the
extended discussion of soma comes at the
expense of more in depth discussions other
topics raised in “Paradise Lost.”
Part III: Hell, explores how human culture
has “progressed” since our transition to a
dominator way of life; we have felt an
“unconscious drive to mimic and thus partly
recapture the lost symbiosis with the vegetable
world was acting as a catalyst to dietary
experimentation and to a restless quest for new
plants and new relationships with plants
including new forms of intoxication” (173). As
human beings lost partnerships with
hallucinogenic plants, we began a search for
substitutes to replace what had been our door to
the wholly Other. These new plants and forms
of intoxication include sugar (accompanied by
the creation of the institution of slavery), coffee,
tea, chocolate, opium, tobacco, and synthetic
drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and television.
This part of the book is a fascinating exploration
of where our culture has turned to in the absence
of true human plant-partnerships.
In the last part of the book, Part IV: Paradise
Regained?, the author provides a summary of
psychedelic drugs including: indole-containing
plant hallucinogens, ayahuasca, mescaline, LSD,
and psilocybin. This part of the book explores
what direction the author believes we must
pursue if we, as a species, are to regain our
ability to associate with the wholly Other and
lead lives that are in tune with the “web of
nature.” As the author stresses: “The situation
that we now must deal with is not one of seeking
the answer, but of facing the answer. The
answer has been found; it just happens to lie on
the wrong side of the fence of social toleration
and legality” (250). The answer he proposes is
renewed human-plant relationships that will
allows us to open our minds and experience the
wholly Other as we were able to do in the
Archaic period: he proposed a revival of the
Archaic.
The book ends with an epilogue which ties
the history and solid facts about drugs into an
argument that leads to the conclusion that if we
498
are to save ourselves as a species we must regain
our symbiotic relationships with hallucinogenic
plants. This epilogue is followed by a fairly
detailed glossary, bibliography, and 11 page
index.
This book is an exploration of the author’s
thoughts of how our species must act in order to
assure our continued presence in the fauna of the
world. What he proposes is not necessarily a
viewpoint that all, or many, would sanction or
even agree with. At times his claims, and line of
argument, are well supported and thought out; at
others, there is a lack of support for his
conclusions making it necessary for the reader to
take one to many leaps of faith. The book is
thought provoking and stimulating, though
wordy at times. The author’s intention of
sparking thought on human relationships with
plants and drugs through history is well
accomplished.
Nicola Kieves
Dept.’s of Environmental Studies and Biology
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753
499
Paul Kim
Ethnobiology 2001
Book Review
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Anne Fadiman. 1997. Farrar, Straus and
Giroux, New York. 341 (paperback). $14.00. ISBN 0-374-52564-1
In “The spirit catches you and you fall down,” Anne Fadiman explores the
dichotomy between two cultures, American and Hmong, in Merced County, California.
Cultural differences are explored, highlighting the importance of communication and
understanding that must exist between different cultures. In addition, the importance of
better doctor-patient relationships is emphasized. Fadiman also describes in depth the
history and culture of the Hmong people.
The book starts out with a description of a Hmong woman giving birth in a rural
hut in the highlands of Laos. Giving birth in the middle of the night, the woman squats
down and receives the baby into her own arms, without making a sound, trying not to
wake the other members of the household. Afterwards, the placenta is removed and
buried underneath the house. This tradition, along with other such rituals and labors, has
been their way of life for hundreds of years. Fadiman uses such an image to create a
contrast to the modernity of a modern hospital, such as Merced Community Medical
Center (MCMC).
Lia, the main character of the book, was the first of the Lee family to be born in a
hospital. Though the experience may have been strange to the Lee’s, they took it in
stride. Fadiman goes on to relates Lia Lee’s return to MCMC with seizures when she
was eight months old. The doctors attempt to treat the epilepsy with the best in modern
medicine. However, the Lee’s “[having] already diagnosed their daughter’s problems as
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the illness where the spirit catches you and you fall down” (28), choose to integrate both
Western and folk medicine in Lia’s treatment. They looked upon the epilepsy with both
pride and dread. Dread for the pain that it caused, but pride because few people become
possessed by spirits, which allows Lia to be elevated to a higher societal level. At the age
of six, Lia finally suffers the ‘big one,’ a seizure that the doctors are not able to control,
which causes the loss of all her higher brain functions: she becomes a ‘vegetable’.
Fadiman attempts to maintain neutrality throughout the book, blaming neither party and
trying to take both viewpoints. From the Hmong perspective, the doctors are at fault for
removing so much fluid for Lia’s spine and veins and not prescribing drugs to fix her.
From the doctor’s viewpoint, the Lee’s are at fault, as failed to give Lia her medicine.
Fadiman also describes the Hmong involvement in the Vietnam War, which
inevitably led to their immigration. Wanting to maintain their autonomy in Laos, the
Hmong sided with the U.S. in order to avoid communism. However, with the American
withdrawal from the war, the Hmong are ravaged by the Vietnamese and forced to flee to
refugee camps in Thailand, with hopes of immigration to other countries. .
With immigration follows the confusion of cultural barriers. The older generation
of Hmong find it difficult to adjust to the changes that America presents to them. In
Laos, the societal hierarchy goes from eldest to youngest. In America, the order is
reversed because the elders of the Hmong community cannot communicate, rendering
them useless in society, whereas the children have soaked in the American culture and
are able to function in daily life. The Hmong suffer from many other psychological
problems as well, including depression and despair.
Fadiman’s presentation of the Hmong as a culture struggling to adapt to their new
culture is admirable. But she presents other more important concepts. Fadiman expands
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on the importance of better learning to understand different cultures. Such understanding
would contribute to more personal doctor-patient relationships. In addition to stating the
problems that are present between different cultures, Fadiman describes the changes that
have occurred. Programs to teach English and medical school classes covering cultural
relationships are two such examples given. The book was a good read, with lots of
information about the Hmong culture, and how important it is that doctors better
understand their patients.
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The Ecological Indian. Shepard Krech III. 1999. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ,
500 Fifth Avenenue, New York, NY 10110. 318 (paperback). $14.95. ISBN 0-39332100-2.
The Ecological Indian by Shepard Krech III is a book about the myth and history
of the Native American Indians. The book deals with the myths behind the image of the
Native American Indians. One of the most cherished present-day myths about the Native
American is the image of them living in perfect harmony with nature. Also, the book
goes through the history of the Native American community starting in the Pleistocene
period to the present. The two main questions the author asks the reader to consider are:
“To what degree does the image of the Ecological Indian faithfully reflect Native North
American ideas through time” and “To what extent have Native North Americans been
ecologists or conservation?” (p. 27).
In the preface of The Ecological Indian, Shepard Krech III traces the beginnings
of his personal interest in ecology, the environment, conservation, and Native Americans.
While growing up, Krech’s father and grandfather taught him to be a sportsman and a
conservationist. Krech mentions his studies, travels, and friendships as important
influences on the book.
The introductory chapter opens with a picture of “The Crying Indian” from Keep
America Beautiful, Inc (1971). The picture is of Iron Eyes Cody, a Cherokee Indian, and
has the words “Pollution: it’s a crying shame….People start pollution. People can stop
it.” The picture is an example of what Shepard Krech III calls “the Ecological Indian: the
Native American as ecologist and conservationist” (p. 16). Next, Krech provides the
reader a definition of ecologist and conservationist that relates to Native Americans and
is distinct from his definition of environmentalist.
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In the second half of the introduction, Krech III discusses the images Europeans
had of the Native Americans. When they arrived in North America, they classified
Indians into two basic categories. The first, the Noble Savage, had a romantic association
promoting them as moral nature dwelling natives. The second stereotype, Ignoble
Savage, conjured a bloodthirsty image of savage life.
In the first chapter, entitled “Pleistocene Extinctions,” Krech III discusses the end
of the Pleistocene time period. At this time, humans had only been in North America for
a short time. Before they arrived, many animal species flourished; however, after their
arrival, these species vanished from North America. The book mentions one opinion
about “man, and man alone, [being] responsible” for the extinction of the animals and
likens the ancient Indians’ assault on the animals to a Nazi war style blitzkrieg (p. 29).
Even though this idea grabbed the public’s attention, Krech explains that the evidence is
circumstantial. A better explanation would be that climate changes also contributed to
extinctions.
In the second chapter, “Hohokam,” Krech discusses the Hohokam, ancient people
from the Phoenix, Arizona area. The disappearance of the Hohokam is a mystery. Three
theories about the Hohokam’s demise are that they caused their own death by over
irrigating land, the environment killed them by flooding, or European caused their death
by introducing epidemic diseases.
In the third chapter, “Eden,” Krech talks about the Europeans landing in North
America. Europeans described North America as breathtaking and pristine. However,
archeologists claimed that the Native Americans were exploiting the land and animals.
Krech explains that this difference in opinion derives from the where people looked at the
505
land. For example, the archeologist’s claim can be seen in the areas where large Indian
populations lived. However, if Europeans only saw the areas where the Indian
population was low, then not too many demands were placed on the land. Over
population of areas caused the land to lose resources, and the people who depended on
that land died. Another reason Indian populations declined was because of the new
microbes the Europeans brought with them.
Chapter four, “Fire," explains some of the effects Indians had on the land due to
their use of fire. Besides using smoke signals for communication, the Indians used fire as
a weapon against the Europeans. Fires were lit so that the Europeans would flee from the
Indians’ land. Also, Indians used fire to clear forests to create grasslands for larger game
animals. Once the animals moved into the newly created fields, the Indians would then
use a blazing inferno to encircle the animals for a mass killing of the herd.
Chapter five, “Buffalo”, begins with the commonly- held belief that white people
wasted too many buffalo, which caused their extinction, while the Indians were skillful,
ecologically aware conservationists. However, this book gives examples of the Indians
wasting buffalo after the herd was chased off a cliff. After reading about how the buffalo
were wasted, the reader might question the Native American Indian as ecologist and
conservationist. The reader needs to remember Krech’s specific definitions of
conservationist and ecologist for the book. For the Indians to be ecologists, the Indians’
belief of homes under the lake for the buffalo needs to be recognized. Indians understood
their environment in their own way, reanimation of animals. As conservationists Indians
were more concerned about utilizing the heard as an economical and spiritual resource
than they were about conserving for biodiversity.
506
The sixth chapter, “Deer,” describes the Indians’ desire to kill white-tailed deer
after the Europeans arrived for trading proposes. The Europeans did not introduce
trading to the Indian; however, they greatly increased the Indians’ want to exchange
common ideas, such as deer furs and skins, for new technology and alcohol. With drop in
white-tailed population, Indians appear to not care about the animals. However,
Cherokee Indians did pray before killing the animal. Even though Indians did ask
permission to kill an animal, no spirits were considered for killing too many animals or
killing animals for their skins. To what extent Indians were conservationists depends on
the how widespread their belief in reanimation was and how all Indians actually behaved.
Chapter seven, “Beaver,” explains the Native Americans need for beaver as food
and clothing before the Europeans landed. After the Europeans arrived in North
America, the Indian still found the beaver necessary for domestic proposes; however,
beaver skins were seen throughout European markets. Although conservation laws were
written to end the rapid extinction of the beaver population, Indians still needed the
beaver for personal uses as well as trade.
In the Epilogue, Krech goes over the past history of Native Americans and their
beliefs. According to origin stories, the Indians did not believe in wide boundaries
between animals and humans. Also, he explains the Indians physical dependence on the
land for resources. Then, Krech III does an overall comparison of the idea of the
Ecological Indian as a conservationist and ecologist verses being wasteful and uncaring.
Finally, the actions of Native American today are discussed. Many tribes have stood
against changes in the land based on religious grounds, while other groups have tried to
507
gain control of their reservation land and stop strip-mining. In addition some tribes permit
waste dumps to be started on reservation land because of economical need for more jobs.
The Ecological Indian is well-written history-style book about the image of the
Native American. The book brings up many thought provoking ideas on the Native
American, past and present. Krech dispels many of the long accepted ideas about Native
Americans. In each chapter, the author illustrates both sides of the story, allowing the
reader to draw their own conclusion. For example, if the Indian hunted buffalo, whitetailed deer, and beaver to near extinction, were they interested in conservation?
The book is very factual, but a little dry. The chapter entitled “Eden” has tables
with dates, tribal names, and European disease names that affected Indians. The book is
supposed to be an overview of the two sides of the image of the Ecological Indian;
however, the overload of facts takes away from the meaning behind the book.
Emily Loggins
Dept. of Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville, TN 37916
509
One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest. Wade
Davis.1996. Touchstone, Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York,
NY 10020. 537pp.(paperback)$16.00. ISBN 0-684-83496-0
One River, by Wade Davis, is about the travels of two generations of Harvard
scholars conducting ethnobiological research, and is a great guide for the aspiring
ethnobiologist. In the 1940s and early 1950s, Richard Evans Schultes spent twelve years
in South America revolutionizing botany and pioneering many aspects of ethnobotany.
This book is about his adventures and the explorations of two students that he sends to
follow in his footsteps. The book switches back and forth between Schultes’ experiences
and those of Timothy Plowman and Wade Davis. In the 1970s, the two students were
sent to investigate the coca plant, which is used to make cocaine and is consumed by
various South American indigenous peoples. The author tells of his and Plowman’s
adventures in first person, and dedicated the book to the memory of Timothy, who died
from AIDS at forty-five years old.
One River is truly a book about ethnobotany, as it describes the scientific study
and classification of plants, such as coca and natural rubber, as well as their importance
in human history and in present day society. For instance,Wade discusses in detail how
Schultes worked for twelve years on the implementation of natural rubber production.
Shultes had found plants that could make strong rubber and these plants were being
grown and artificially selected to yield the most productive trees. The book explains how
bureaucracy of twentieth century society put an end to an effort that would have
generated a large export income for Latin America. Rather than developing a natural
rubber source in Latin America, an artificial source that was lesser in quality was favored
because it could be made in the United States. It goes on to suggest the importance of
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taking large setbacks in stride, as Schultes did. He put just as much effort and zeal into
his next assignment.
The book also makes an argument for the veneration of the coca plant, however it
seems somewhat incognizant of the many negative effects the introduction of cocaine has
had worldwide. Although the historical and current use of the plant by indigenous people
is important to their society and seems relatively harmless, he does not acknowledge the
serious problems that stem from cocaine, and even claims that it is not a narcotic. Coca
leaves are a mild stimulant when chewed in combination with an alkaloid, but the
extracted chemical is consumed through snorting or smoked as crack it is a powerful,
harmful drug that has destroyed many lives in the United States. Davis focuses on
differentiating coca leaves from the chemical extract. Cocaine comes from coca leaves,
and although it is important to differentiate the two, it is also important to recognize that
the plant is a source of narcotics. Nonetheless, he combines scientific data, including the
nutritional value of the coca leaf, with the historical and current relationship indigenous
people have with the plant.
Through the stories relayed in the book, the author sets an example for others
wishing to do similar fieldwork using the experience of himself and of the other two men.
One particularly striking example is when Wade travels to the ? tribe. As soon as he
arrives, they offer him a seat in a circle of people. In the center of the circle there was a
container with cockroaches crawling out. The people were grabbing them, peeling the
wings off, and eating them alive. Without hesitation, Wade joins the meal, and through
this sharing of sustenance he connects with the people in a mutually respectful manner.
511
There are several examples in the book that demonstrate the setting aside of one’s own
ideas and embracing the culture that one is studying.
This book contains a wealth of information regarding the history of ethnobotany
that is useful for anyone looking to pursue a career in this or any related area. A timeless
guide to fieldwork and to life, it successfully conveys the many nuances, hazards and
necessary precautions for such all-consuming research while taking the reader on an
almost surreal voyage through the Amazon rainforest.
Elizabeth Moye
University of Pennsylvania
[email protected]
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Secrets of the Cuna Earthmother: A Comparative Study of Ancient Religions. Clyde
E. Keeler. 1960. Exposition Press, 386 Park Avenue So., New York 16, N.Y. 352pp.
(hardback) $6.00.
Christianity is often perceived as the “civilized” religion, thus making the religion
of indigenous people, such as the Cuna, seemingly quite primitive. In the Secrets of the
Cuna Earthmother, Clyde E. Keeler successfully parallels the spirituality and philosophy
of Christianity, the Cuna, and other worldly religions by introducing the Earthmother
concept as an omnipresent and timeless phenomenon in creation mythology. His method
of comparing the religions is such that the theologies of any two religions become, when
analyzed, nearly indistinguishable. Keeler surmises that the basis of creationism or
religion has evolved out of the desire to explain reoccurring concepts in nature.
Primitive man, whether Christian or Cuna, viewed the creation of life as the
inevitable outcome of any sexual encounter between the female and male forms of a
species. In all cultures, the earth (tierra) is perceived as the womb of the Earthmother,
which is referred to as Olokukurtilisor by the Cuna. This was a natural conclusion, as
women give birth to babies, and so the earth gives birth to all that dwell on her. Thus, a
particular mountain may be a manifestation of her mons Veneris, and the oceans signify
the amniotic fluid of the Earthmother. The Sungod of the Cuna, Olowaipippilele,
fertilizes the earth with his semen-like rain.
Keeler provides another similarity between religions, which is the Tree of Life
concept. The Tree of Life is usually made of cedar or palm because these types of trees
were regarded as essential for life in ancient times. Trees act as an extension of the
Earthmother, giving rise to all the food eaten by people. Thus, the trunk of the Tree of
Life can be seen as the umbilical cord of the Earthmother and the tree’s branches and
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leaves represent the Earthmother’s foetal membranes. The Tree of Life is usually
safeguarded by the Placental Monsters, like the two-headed cherubim in the Cuna
religion. The serpent, a symbol present in nearly all religions, is another representation
of the umbilical cord.
An interesting contrast between the Cuna and Christianity is their differing
perceptions of the omnipotent God, which is viewed by the Cuna as a hermaphrodite who
created the female and male sexes by splitting into two halves. Like the Cuna, many
other religions believe in hermaphroditic God. In contrast, Christians believe in a male
God that created all lifeforms.
Religion also created a mechanism through which the idea of punishment and
cleansing one’s sins became uniquely intertwined. Keeler claims that most religious tales
describe a disastrous event like the Flood, which is attributed as a means of punishing the
people. Once punished, the people are cleansed or freed from their sins. In the Cuna
religion, there are the four great punishments which include: the Great darkness, the
Hurricane, the Flood, and the Fire in that particular order. The Great Flood serves as a
metaphoric baptism: a symbolic cleansing of the Earthmother’s newborn progeny of
original sin as her amniotic fluid rushes over the terrain to fill the oceans and rivers.
The first half of the book is a summation of the knowledge about the Earthmother
that Keeler has acquired through his travels. However, the second half is a more detailed
account of his journeys into the lives of the Cuna and Guaymi peoples. As a medical
geneticist and ethnologist, Keeler offers a brief ethnobiological report of his encounter
with the Cuna and Guaymi peoples, where he describes the uchu dolls used by the neles
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and the inna feasts that serve to ceremonially initiate young adolescent girls into
womanhood.
In essence, the book is well written in verbiage and content, and provides a unique
analysis of creationism and religion among varying cultures. However, it was not so
difficult to understand, but hard to follow all of the stories mixed together. I would
suggest that this book targets an academic audience, rather than someone interested in a
casual read. Although, for a $6.00 hardcover book, I would think anyone could afford to
read it.
Monica L. Ruiz
Dept. of Microbiology
University of Maryland-College Park
College Park, MD 20742
517
The logic of the “Savage Mind” alice add in the stuff
The Savage Mind. Claude Levi-Strauss. 1966. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637.
(paperback). ISBNO-226-47484-4
In the Savage Mind, Levi-Strauss argues that there are structures and legitimate
systems of classification among “primitive cultures”of the world. Levi-Strauss’s book
functions on three different levels. First, it incorporates anecdotal accounts from many
world-cultures. Secondly it provides a critique of contemporary and past ethnographers
and anthropologists. And lastly, it is his personal analysis and validation of
“primitive”thought and classification.
In Chapter 1, The Science of the Concrete, Levi-Strauss critiques the notion of
two parallel systems of science and knowledge in his discussion of prototype
representatives, the bricoleur and the engineer. The essence of a bricoleur, the primitive,
is that he has a limited set of knowledge inherited from past. This knowledge may be
extensive, but nevertheless, it is a “limited repertoire” (17). An engineer, on the other
hand, who represents “modern science,” is always trying to circumvent the restraints of
nature or previous knowledge; he is trying to cheat the constraints of civilization (19). In
many ways, The Savage Mind is Levi-Strauss’s endeavor to dispel this false dialectic.
In his attempt to dispel these misunderstandings about “savage” classification,
Levi-Strauss draws upon the concept of totemism, which is more fully discussed in his
book entitled Totemism, which was published around the same time as The Savage Mind.
Levi-Strauss argues that such a system is illusory. Rather, what anthropologists have
taken as literal totems are merely analogies. For instance, when a group says they are the
descendants of eagles and eagles are their totem, this is merely a metaphor, a part of a
complex structure that uses myths and totems as vehicles to explain the world.
518
“We do not believe that our ancestors were really animals, birds, etc., as told in traditions.
These things are only symbols of something higher”1 . This serves as an example of
previous ethnographers’ fundamental misunderstanding of “primitive” thought.
Levi-
Strauss argues that native structures of classification are much too diversified to brand as
totemic or otherwise similar and discusses the arbitrary nature of classifications. As
important as Latin classifications of Order, Family, Genus, etc. are to ‘modern science’,
they have no bearing on, for instance, a distinct Melanesian culture, where animal
classifications starts by ascribing them as sea or land animals (140). This alternative
system is perfectly legitimate, according to Levi-Strauss. There is no one axiom, no one
model of classification. There is no valued way that they, collectively, classify things as
opposed to how we classify them. We all have our different systems of classification,
which are different semantically, linguistically, spiritually, etc. Strauss believes that the
presence of structure itself is the only thing that unites otherwise disparate models. This
is the point that he feels previous anthropologists, ethnologists, and even Sartre, the
philosopher, have missed.
While Levi-Strauss’s innovative philosophizing on primitive thought is
compelling, it is not flawless. For one thing, the book is dense and fragmented. It is hard
to appreciate his significant, insightful observations when one is caught up in rambling,
frivolous language. In addition, Arun Agrawal, in Dismantling Indigenous and Scientific
Knowledge, has suggested that Levi-Strauss’s views are not a clear departure from earlier
anthropologists and ethnologists. His critique is that Strauss does not successfully
escape using the western microscope and consequently, still imposes pejorative
hegemony on Indigenous Knowledge.
519
However, Strauss’s extensive and comprehensive accounts of localized,
indigenous cultures and classifications are invaluable to Ethnobiology , at any level,
which must try to account for the many actors and prolific plots to make any sense of the
meaning. As Strauss says, “I believe the ultimate goal of human sciences to be not to
constitute, but to dissolve man. The pre-eminent value of anthropology is that it
represents the first step in a procedure which involves others” (247).
Alice Teich
Department of Environmental Science
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
521
Passage of Darkness. Wade Davis. 1988. University of North Carolina Press, Post
Office Box 2288, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-2288. (paperback). ISBN 0-8078-4210-9.
As the sun sets into a greenish sky, the earth starts to shake and the women start to
scream. In a moment of suspense, a rotting hand with bones exposed shoots out of the ground in
an attempt to grab the feet of those passing by. The zombie crawls out of his grave in a wretched
form with the sole desire to kill. Havoc is wreaked in the town by a zombie clan sent to destroy
by their evil master. The movie is finished or the book laid down and most zombies go away.
The scene may not be real, but the stories are exciting enough to be told and retold for centuries.
The fear exists and continues to grow from the vague belief in each person’s head that zombies
could be real. Rumors of real zombies in Haiti only fuel the fear and make the stories more
elaborate. Could it be true that zombies actually exist?
Wade Davis’s Passage of Darkness addresses the Haitian zombie phenomenon and the
difficulties encountered by ethnobiologists trying to understand the cause and pathology of the
zombies. Davis became interested in the phenomenon after being invited to join the Zombie
Project, a study of Haitian zombies that began in 1982, two years after the first verifiable case of
zombification was discovered by Nathan Kline, Lamarque Douyon, and Heinz Lehmann. Davis,
through extensive background research, connections with important informants, and, on
occasion, money given in exchange for information, was able to obtain the formulas for several
shamans’ preparations of the zombie poisons. Through his research, he concluded that the
phenomenon is much more than a pharmacological occurrence; zombification is the result of a
socio-cultural acceptance of the phenomenon. In addition, Davis was able to observe and detail
the role of Bizango secret societies in the process of zombification and in the regulation of rural
Haitian societal expectations and norms.
522
Davis begins the book with an explanation of the “historical and cultural setting” in Haiti.
He describes how the French came to Haiti, conquered the land and implemented an institution
of slavery to drive their massive export economy. He continues by describing how they were
then driven out of the island in the only successful slave revolt in history. The support for the
successful slave revolution was fortified in maroons of slave escapees stationed in the mountains.
Through this brief history, Davis explains the hinterland separation from urban Haitian culture, a
process that nurtured the development of what Davis terms the “Vodoun culture”? in rural Haiti.
After this introduction to the Vodoun culture, Davis recounts some of the many Haitian zombie
legends that are told within the culture and indicates that, in addition to the legends, almost
everyone has a secondhand experience with zombification.
Davis argues that, in the making of a zombie, a poison is administered that reduces the
metabolism to an undetectable level. The person is wrongly pronounced dead and buried. The
“zombie” is then brought back to life by an antidote given by the sorcerer or “bokor” who placed
the spell. To improve the credibility of this argument, Davis details centuries of incorrect
determinations of death thereby making the misdiagnosis of death in zombification plausible.
Given this background information, Davis explains the ingredients he discovered of the various
bokor “zombie poisons” and antidotes. In explaining each of these ingredients, he analyzes both
their ethnobiological use and their pharmacologically active components. To further clarify
zombification in a cultural context, Davis explains the Vodoun concept of death and the soul
including the ti bon ange, the little good soul. In zombification, this is the part of a person that is
supposedly stolen by the bokor to give him control over his zombie. Finally, Davis explains the
?
Vodoun – A word used to describe the theological principles and religious practices of the Haitian traditional
society. The words voodoo, vodu, vodun, voudoun, and vodoun are also used to d escribe these practices and
principles.
523
Bizango secret societies and the joint decisions made by the Bizango members to benefit their
societies as a whole.
Passage of Darkness gives a plausible and holistic explanation for the zombie
phenomenon in Haiti. Its conclusions are supported by both pharmacological and sociological
evidence. However, the book, though very readable and informative, could have been improved
in several aspects. First, one chapter near the end of the book, Zombification as a Social Process,
seems to be a digression into the history presented in the beginning of the book, and includes
information that should have been included in the chapter about the Bizango Secret Societies.
This chapter breaks up the reading without adding much information. Also, Davis has a series of
about five supposedly critical statements that he copies nearly verbatim multiple times
throughout the book. The excessive and exact repetition had the effect of reducing credibility by
inducing the feeling that he had to repeat himself to be heard and believed. Finally, as explained
by Joan Dayan, in her essay entitled Vodoun, or the Voice of the Gods (in Olmos, M.F. and
Paravisini-Gebert, L. 1999. Sacred Possessions), the overall effect of the book is to
sensationalize the Vodoun societies and to leave a very ambiguous distinction between this
culture and the Bizango secret societies within their borders. One finishes the book with an
impression of rural Haiti as a society filled with possessing spirits and ruled by secret governing
bodies that meet only in darkness and night. The book, intended to validate the Haitian zombie
phenomenon, also has the effect of alienating the members of the groups who believe in them by
making such stark distinctions between them and members of modern Western society.
Overall, Passage of Darkness is an informative book that explains a phenomenon of the
world in truly holistic terms, both as a sociologically and as a pharmacologically affected
occurrence. It validates and explains the phenomenon of zombies that has mystified and
524
confused Western societies for decades. Davis’s work made insteppings into a culture that had
previously been kept secret from anthropologists and researchers trying to learn their secrets. His
discoveries and his writings are influential and telling to a reader who, in all likelihood, knows
little about the phenomenon and especially the truth behind it.
BRYN TSCHANNEN-MORAN
DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGY
DUKE UNIVERSITY
DURHAM, NC 27708
525
Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. R. Gordon
Wasson, Stella Kramrisch, Jonathan Ott, and Carl A. P. Ruck. (eds.). 1986.
Yale University Press. i + 241 (paperback). $19.00 ISBN 0-300-05266-9.
R. Gordon Wasson was a Wall Street analyst when he married a Russian woman,
Valentina Pavlovna, who happened to be captivated by fungi. Thus began his fascination
with mushrooms and their role in “enlightenment” in many religions around the world, a
fascination that would become his life’s passion and make him the Father of
Ethnomycology. In Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion, R. Gordon Wasson,
in collaboration with Stella Kramrisch, Jonathan Ott, and Carl A. P. Ruck, describes how his
initial interest in mushrooms led to the discovery of the prominent role that “hallucinogenic”
or “psychotropic” mushrooms have played in many religions around the world.
In the first chapter, Wasson coins the term “entheogen,” literally meaning “god
generated within,” as a new term for those plant substances that are at the core of mysteries
of ancient religions. This term was an attempt to avoid the negative connotations that
“hallucinogenic” and “psychotropic” have, an inheritance from the 1960’s psychedelic era,
when applied to plants used to enhance knowledge in ancient religions. In the course of the
book, Wasson focuses on the entheogen Amanita muscaria, also known as the fly-agaric. He
believes that this entheogen played essential roles in such early mysteries as the Soma of
Vedic India, the Mystery of Eleusis in ancient Greece, and Buddha’s last meal.
In the second chapter, Wasson describes the role of lightning and thunder in
entheogenic mushroom mythology. In many different cultures, entheogenic mushrooms are
thought to have originated from lightning bolts striking the earth; this myth may stem from
the known generation of mushrooms after a heavy rain. Certain linguistic roots in French,
Latin, German, Russian, Kashmiri, and even Iranian dialects reflect this belief, such as
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“mushroom rain” (Russian), “daughters of thunder” (Arabic), and “thunder-aroused
mushroom” (Chinese).
In the remainder of Part I of the book, Wasson focuses upon his well-known and
well-accepted theory concerning the mysterious Soma of Aryan India. His pursuit to
discover the “plant” that was worshiped and used as Soma in the Vedas resulted in the
realization that it is A. muscaria, a hallucinogenic fungus typically found at the base of trees
after a thunderstorm or long rain. This natural substance was believed to help people gain
religious knowledge and enlightenment. Historically, substitutes for the real Soma have been
used for symbolic purposes, as A. muscaria has apparently not been found on the Indian
subcontinent to date. Stella Kramrisch describes the use of one of these substitutes, Putika,
in the Mahavira vessel of Vedic times. Although this substitute does not have psychotropic
qualities, its strong resemblance to Soma made it highly regarded in Aryan traditions.
Wasson uses his Soma theory as a springboard to prove that A. muscaria was also
used in other religions. His presentation of the roles of A. muscaria in the Last Meal of
Buddha and as the “fruit” of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil reveal how
prevalent he believes entheogenic fungi were in early religions. Wasson even proposes the
“question” of why Satan was portrayed as having one foot and referred to as le bot, or “a
mushroom,” in Old French. He puts forth the idea that even Satan could be related to
entheogens, yet another example of the impact entheogens have had on religion, according
to him.
Chapter Five, written by Jonathan Ott, briefly explains the presence of entheogens in
the Mesoamerican world. Disembodied eyes pervasive in Teotihuacan artwork are proposed
to represent the all-knowing eye of a shaman during religious rights. Thus Ott supports
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Wasson’s proposal that the presence of these eyes on architectural works proves that
ceremonial ingestion of entheogens took place in these buildings.
The second part of the book, written by Carl A.P. Ruck, describes how entheogens
explain religious rites in ancient Grecian times, in addition to their role in Vedic traditions.
Ergot, an entheogenic fungus that grows on barley and other grains, is now believed to be
the drug of the Greater Eleusian Mysteries. Ruck also analyzes how wine in ancient Greece
held an entheogenic role, bringing divine knowledge to the people. Visual representations of
entheogens in ancient Greece are explored, including the common theme of one eye and one
foot in classical mythology. For example, the Cyclops, Shadefoots, and Tongue-in-Bellies
are now believed to represent various aspects of entheogenic use in classical periods.
Persephone’s Quest is a fascinating look at how the modern perception of such drugs as
“shrooms” that are used to get high and have fun actually played central roles in many world
religions. Although not all of Wasson’s claims are well supported, his extended analysis of
Soma is persuasive. His assertion that Soma was a fungus seems irrefutable, although
pinpointing the entheogen to a particular species is not as convincing since A. muscaria, as
said before, is not found in modern India. If he used more evidence in his analysis of the
role of entheogens in religions such as Christianity, these parts of the books would be more
scientifically valid.
Ruck, in contrast to Wasson, is more difficult to follow. He attempts to explain so
much classical mythology and tradition that it is hard to get a firm grasp of where
entheogens were used in classical times. However, in the end he concludes that shamanic
rites of entheogens are not isolated to ethnic groups from the Americas; they seem to be
found in all early religions. Perhaps a clearer outline of what he proposes to do at the
beginning of his section could aid the reader in holistically understanding the piece. If
528
Wasson wrote a conclusion to the book, the reader could clearly see the connections found
between each separate essay. As a whole, all authors are able to convey their novel theories
to the general public quite easily— entheogens have throughout history been used as carriers
of divine knowledge.
Aruna Venkatesan
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Duke University
Durham, NC 27708
529
The Nature of Shamanism: Substance and Function of a Religious Metaphor. Michael RipinskiNaxon. 1993. State University of New York Press, State University Plaza, Albany, NY, 12246. 208
(paperback). ISBN 0-7914-1385-3.
The Nature of Shamanism is a very detailed investigation of shamanism around the world. According to
Ripinski-Naxon, past shamanic literature has been scattered or otherwise incomplete, or it is tainted by
personal bias. This book seeks to compile the wide sources of information on shamanism through time.
Ripinski-Naxon proposes that shamanism was the “first systematic attempt to understand and modify
phenomena falling within the domain of human experience (page 9)”, and therefore is almost a trait, or
representation of the ways of man. To substantiate this statement, Ripinksi-Naxon brings the reader from a
broad spectrum of historical examples down to the more specific evolutional workings of the human mind.
He suggests how shamanism might have originated, how biology and geography may have affected the
nature of the shaman, and also how shamanistic cultures have helped to shape biology. Defined as the
“Substance and Function” exploration of shamanism, this book lacks the meanings of shamanistic
symbolism, as Ripinksi-Naxon says himself, but something he reserves for a subsequent edition.
This exploration into shamanism begins with a survey of different shamanic occurrences in literature, art,
and myths, comparing briefly the different roles, differences in rules, social perceptions of shamans, and
the similarities between different geographic cultures. No detail is seemingly left uncovered. He sites many
notable authors, anthropologists and other historians, which give a sense of validation of his work.
Stepping away from these general locational details, the next section of the book discusses the actual
similarities in shamans themselves, encompassing mental and physical characteristics, the idea of the
“calling”, and the manners of rituals. An argument between a “true shamanistic ideology and practice” and
the “religious complex” is drawn (page 70), supplemented with Ripinksi-Naxon’s personal philosophy
which is based on Jungian references. Despite relying often on his favorite shamanic term, “psychopomp”,
Ripinski-Naxon seems nevertheless acceptive of shamantic ways and remains objective and respective
throughout.
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The last part of the book brings the reader within proximity to the mind of the shaman himself. The nature
of drugs and botany are surveyed, and the comparisons between the ethnic and historical use of such
substances and the actual biology and locale as they are found today. Rounding out the readers’
understanding, the book includes some chemistry, and the scientific as well as common names of these
substances.
The numerous and impressive references, terms, and repertoire of scholars makes this book very
intellectual, but hard to follow at times. The book reads slowly because of the verbose style and long
complex sentences; several obvious typos also disrupt the flow. There are a good amount of helpful photos,
but some are difficult to discern.
In my opinion, Ripinksi-Naxon succeeds in creating an unbiased synthesis of worldwide shamanism. He
makes good connections between the biology, history, and anthropology of his information, and explains,
albeit on an intellectual level, the intricate details of each connection, forcing the reader to likewise
maintain concentration the entire time. This book is an excellent resource, but does not read as an
introduction to the subject. It would require a reread to absorb all the material, and may require reviews of
chemistry, history, or botanical information and thus is a good tool to combine them all.
Elizabeth Willetts
Department of Biology
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104
531
Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated
the Amazon. Patrick Tierney. 2000. W.W. Norton and
Company, Inc. 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10110.
xxvii+315+10 (hardcover). $27.95. ISBN 0-393-04922-1.
Napoleon Chagnon’s The Fierce People is one of the most famous anthropological
studies ever written, as well as a definitive source of information regarding the
Yanomami Indians of the Amazon. Chagnon’s portrayal of the Yanomami as a warlike,
violent race, untouched by outside influence, has been immortalized through his
publications and accepted by both anthropology students and the American public.
However, as journalist Patrick Tierney claims in Darkness in El Dorado, which was
eleven years in the making, the Yanomami of Southern Venezuela are not the true “fierce
people” in the saga of their contact with outside civilization. Each subsequent time a
western anthropologist has claimed to be the first to discover these so-called “Stone Age”
people, irreparable harm has been caused in pursuit of personal goals. Since the
Yanomami were originally contacted their history has been full of exploitation and
tragedy.
James Neel and Napoleon Chagnon have been particularly significant figures in
modern Yanomami history. Chagnon, an anthropologist and disciple of the geneticist
Neel, first accompanied his mentor in visiting the Yanomami in 1964. According to
Tierney, the research expedition included Neel, Chagnon, gold miner Charles Brewer
Carías, and physician Marcel Roche. The project, funded by the U.S. Atomic Energy
Commission, involved injecting hundreds of people with an obsolete measles vaccine.
The vaccine had been proven to cause measles outbreaks in immune-compromised
populations like the isolated Yanomami, and was used to study the course of an
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unchecked epidemic. The scientists also neglected basic quarantine and safety
precautions, both in 1964 and over the decades of subsequent visits. In 1964 they
brought measles into the middle of an already severe malaria epidemic; later they carried
the malaria inland to previously uninfected tribes.
Tierney describes Chagnon as “picking up where Social Darwinists left off,” in his
beliefs about natural selection, which were derived from those of James Neel. Both men
believed that violence was part of the natural order and that modern society was
thwarting the evolutionary process with its efforts to support the weak and helpless. This
1960’s anti-hippie, anti-Communist view proved devastating for the Yanomami, who
were seized upon as the perfect subjects for a study of a “pure”—and thus naturally
violent—society.
Tierney’s work is, on the whole, well written, although he covers so many different
times and subjects that the narrative can be difficult to follow. In addition, many of the
graphs and charts he uses to illustrate his points are nearly useless, as they are often
presented without proper labels or context. The way in which El Dorado is organized
also causes some difficulty; although the book is divided into chronological sections,
within each section the chapters are organized differently. The first section, “Guns,
Germs, and Anthropologists,” is organized chronologically by chapter, detailing the years
from 1964 to 1972. The second section, however, “In Their Own Images,” which covers
1972-1994, is not organized chronologically so much as it is by theme. One chapter is
devoted to the reprehensible actions of French anthropologist Lizot during this time
period, while another chapter is devoted to daredevil Charles Brewer Carías, without
regard for chronological order. As the subject of outside contact with the Yanomami is
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already complex, the switch in organizational structure causes some difficulty for the
reader.
Perhaps the most noticeable problem with Tierney’s book, however, is the last
chapter. After spending hundreds of pages on the crimes perpetrated by outsiders against
the Yanomami, in the last chapter of El Dorado Tierney suddenly switches to an exposé
of the actions of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) from World War II to
around 1960. The AEC committed many crimes against the American people, including
injecting citizens with radioactive substances without their informed consent, and funded
Neel and Chagnon’s forays to the rainforest to study the Yanomami. According to
Tierney’s construction of events, the connections between the AEC, Neel, and Chagnon
are vitally important in understanding why the Yanomami were exploited. However,
Tierney makes a poor transition between crimes against the Yanomami and those against
American citizens, and the book’s conclusion suffers as a consequence.
Darkness in El Dorado is a fascinating book, engrossing even for readers who
know nothing of anthropology; however, such ignorance is probably a handicap in
attempting to interpret the author’s statistical analyses and determine the veracity of his
construction of events, which has been widely questioned since the book’s publication.
Regardless, El Dorado raises important ethical issues for field anthropologists, especially
in their interactions with indigenous peoples, and for this reason alone is well worth
reading.
KATE W ILLIAMS
DEPT . OF ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES
TUFTS UNIVERSITY
M EDFORD, MA 02155
534
Peyote: The Divine Cactus. Edward F.
Anderson. 1996. University of
Arizona Press, Tuscon, Arizona,
85721. xvii + 272 (paperback).
To the Native Americans, it is medicine, a gift of the Spirit, a bestower of visions.
To the Catholic Church, it is simply a manifestation of the Devil. To the judiciary of
America, it is a narcotic. Botanists label this plant as Lophophora williamsii, or
commonly, peyote. Due to these various definitions and subjective impressions of this
species of cactus, Edward F. Anderson decided to focus his energy researching many
aspects of peyote. He compiled these into a book entitled, Peyote: The Divine Cactus.
From the title, it is evident that he has taken a position on this often controversial plant.
However, though Anderson suggests it is divine, a gift of the gods, he does not show this
bias throughout the book. All his information is well documented with numerous
sources; moreover, he has had direct experience with a Native American peyote
ceremony.
The book begins with an extensive history of where peyote was first found and its
primary use. First found in the deserts of Mexico, it has since spread to Southern Texas
near the Rio Grande. Thus, it was historical records that proved that the Aztecs first used
peyote, or péyotl in Nahuatl, as medicine, to have visions, face fears and, among other
reasons, to “become complete” (6). Yet, the Spaniards, including Hernández and
Córdenas, recorded their perceptions of this sacred plant as harmful, witchcraft, or only
for “dull stupid ignorant people,” and “attributed to the devil” (7). These perceptions
were taken from hearing of native ceremonies. The natives to whom Anderson refers
would tell a different story.
535
Along with the history of where peyote began, the author uncovered indigenous
myths from the Huichol tribe. They believe that both maize and peyote (hí kuli) came
from deer, which they all revere. To this day, the Huichols still have a Fiesta of the
Peyote to celebrate that it is the plant of life, giving them knowledge directly from the
Great Spirit. An arduous pilgrimage occurs to collect the cactus and concludes with a
highly ritualistic ceremony to share the peyote. Currently, many modern Native North
American tribes practice a variation of this original ceremony, but do not always include
the pilgrimage. In current times, peyoteros “own” fields where peyote grows; they are
allowed to distribute these cacti to members of the Native American Church for their
ceremonies.
Anderson goes on to discuss why this particular species of cactus, L. williamsii,
spread to these North America groups. Ironically, Anderson and others hypothesize that
underlying Christian symbolism has helped its expansion, even though many Christians
eminently disapproved of this drug, seeing it as a way of disconnecting to God. Yet the
Delaware prophet Elk Hair tells the story of the creation of peyote by attributing the gift
from God, given to the people from His son; the same (or similar) story is told by the
Winnebago only using ‘Earthmaker’ as the giver.
Whatever the legend, Anderson illustrates that peyote has enabled the Native
Americans to unite due to the oppression by the Europeans, who did not understand their
practices. Since many were forced to live on one reservation, often with enemy tribes,
they used their rituals of peyote to become friends, create trust and often to “purge
oneself of sins” (45). Among these tribes, many claim to use it solely as medicine,
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sometimes for shamanistic visions, and as a vehicle to connect with the higher realms of
life.
Thus, eating the peyote buttons for Native and many non-native Americans has and
continues to be treated with utmost respect. The book goes on to explain various ceremonies,
past and present, including a Navajo ceremony that Anderson attended; he details that ceremony
from the first bow into the tipi to the last steps out, adding to the ethos of the work. He did not
ingest enough to feel the full effects; yet he both researched and spoke with many who have.
Overall, the experience depends on many of the same characteristics as was outlined by Ralph
Metzner’s Common Elements of use of Hallucinogenic Plants in Shamanism (Abelardo Brenes,
pers. comm., 17 July 2001). The surrounding environment, the intention, and mental state of the
individual allow for a certain series of events to occur while undergoing a peyote trip. Aldous
Huxley wrote, “Space and time distort…you are not your body,” and “everything shone with the
Inner Light, and was infinite in its significance” (90).
Although everyone’s trips seem to differ, there are certain similarities that are
characteristic of taking peyote. Besides beneficial psychological affects, Native Americans can
prove its physical properties; Mexicans have even recently formed the verb “empeyotizarse”
meaning to ‘self-medicate.’ These cures include tuberculosis, pneumonia, scarlet fever, cancer,
broken bones, menstrual disorders, to name a few.
These curative effects intrigue Western scientists and medical professionals who question
their validity. Chapter six is dedicated to the physiological aspects of peyote and its alkaloids, the
main one being mescaline. Although Anderson goes in depth into the dosages, toxicity and
possible hypotheses of what happens when these enter the body, much remains unknown. The
following chapter further dives into the chemistry of these alkaloids. Again, not much has been
proven as to how the chemicals contained in this plant can cure the above and other diseases and
disabilities. The author implies that much is to be said for the psychological effects.
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A later chapter discusses the botanical classification. He states that there is much
confusion regarding the extensive common names for Lophophora; regardless, he goes on to
describe how to classify this plant. These chapters were both researched and written extremely
well. Comparatively to the other chapters, I did not find these as interesting.
However, the concluding chapter of Peyote: the divine cactus held my interest, for it dealt
with an issue about which I have often wondered. Why has the government deemed the ingestion
of this plant illicit? To explain this, the author not only explains the legal aspects, but includes
psychologists’ definitions of a drug. People, in general, use ‘drugs’ for change away from the
ego. He suggests that governments tend to think this as dangerous. Yet medical professionals
agree that other substances, such as alcohol and tobacco, are more lethal than some illegal drugs
that are outlawed.
The subject of Lophophora williamsii, or peyote, is highly varied and encompasses many
topics, from factual information, including chemistry, botany and legal issues, to sensitive
subjects, such as religious ceremonies to personal effects post-ingestion. Peyote: the divine cactus
encompasses all this in a concise manner without much bias. Although the title suggests that the
author, Edward F. Anderson believes it is a “divine cactus,” which he chose over another
nickname such as “devil’s root,” this cannot be detected through his wording nor his research.
Many questions are answered and many unanswered questions are stated. It leaves the reader
interested not only in this special cactus, but in how a simple plant can affect man in so many
manners, often forcing him to change his life in order to walk a path of purity in the name of the
Spirit.
Heidi Zellie
Book Review
OTS Ethnobiology Summer 2001

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