- Posted January 2, 2014 by
Puntarenas, Costa Rica
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Impact Your World
Costa Rican indigenous tribes fight to keep traditions, culture alive
In the mountainous jungles of Costa Rica, people of the Boruca tribe are joined by visitors gathered to watch other members of their tribe reenact their cultural resistance to the Spanish. The dancers wear colorful, handmade wooden masks.
Those outside of this culture may not see the historical significance of this simple ceremony. However, to the members of the tribe this is a historical reenactment. The Boruca Indians are portrayed as devils, fighting off Spanish conquistadors, who are portrayed as bulls, trying to take their land in a festival known as the “Fiesta de los Diablitos.”
The Boruca and many other indigenous tribes are fighting to keep their culture and beliefs alive, and developing small tourism industries to help in the fight.
In an increasingly technological world, indigenous tribes are struggling to blend their traditional lives with modern education and conveniences.
Tribes like the Boruca and the Teribe have land grants guaranteed by the Indigenous Law of Costa Rica of 1977 but they face continuing encroachment from non-indigenous people. The government does little to stop these people or provide assistance to the indigenous, tribe representatives say. In fact, studies posted on the website forestpeoples.org have shown that non-indigenous people occupy 43 percent of the land given to tribes like the Boruca.
Indigenous account for less than 4 percent of the 4.5 million Costa Ricans.
“There is a history in Central America of ignorance of modern things like
governance and land rights being used to exploit native peoples,” said Amanda Sturgill, who teaches communications at Elon University and is in the third year of a partnership between the school and Costa Rican indigenous groups. “As the need to have things like phone service and Internet access has become essential to survival for these groups, these things cost money.”
To get this money, groups like the Boruca and the Teribe are turning to tourism, allowing people to stay with the tribe, visit their sacred sites and see what life is like for them.
“Tourists can hear us talk about our culture and our history,” said Jehry Rivera Rivera, a member of the Teribe tribe who is organizing the new tourism effort among various villages. “We can talk about our use of medicinal plants, and the realities of life in the tribe,” adding that they focus on ethnic tourism: "nature, culture, adventure, community support."
Victor Hernandez, a tour guide and mask painter who studies English and tourism at a special high school to help his people in Boruca, said that he wants tourists to “understand our way of life. What the houses are like, what we cook, what we eat, how our families work together.
"When they understand us, it motivates respect."
Dr. Sturgill is leading a group of students and professors from Elon University to learn more about the struggles of these tribes and their efforts to keep their cultures alive. A website with information on this trip and the tourism in the area (www.tourterraba.com) will be posted on January 28, 2014, while updates will be posted on the group’s Twitter and Instagram accounts.
For more information on the indigenous tribes of Costa Rica, please visit terraba.org. Photos of the tribes can also be found here.