Thursday, October 15, 2015

Provoking Cultures of the Indigenous, Las Cruces by Cindy Wang

The bridge to the residences where the Ngöbe-Buglé cultural advisor lives and met with us. The bridge was built by some of the indigenous people by hand. As scenic as it is, one professor told us that people have died on this bridge; thus we crossed one by one, very carefully.
Driving for hours up one of Costa Rica’s many hillsides, past a hummingbird watch-house, through a cup of hot cocoa rica, and a visit to a Ngöbe (a Costa Rican Indigenous group) EBAIS later, we find ourselves at stop number three: Las Cruces Biological Station. These two weeks at Las Cruces have passed rather quickly, perhaps because of how much work was packed into each day, or perhaps because we’ve been enjoying the beauty of the station itself- settled in a forest of clouds, I’ve never seen a concentration of biodiversity comparable to Las Cruces. Week one was entirely dedicated to preparing IRB proposals for our Independent projects. As a facet of our project, my group was able to meet with a cultural advisor for the Ngöbe-Buglé people. Speaking with her and catching a glimpse of their community was one of the more impressionable experiences I have had so far. The Ngöbe women, without fail, appear well put together in their exquisitely colored, intricately stitched, traditional dresses, yet their residences don’t have sidewalks or roads, house numbers or identifications. I was in admiration of their efforts, although the weight of personal appearance versus sanitation stilled in my mind; is it ethnocentric to wonder why they seem to prioritize dress rather than addressing possible risk factors to the health of themselves and their families? Are they even aware of these risks?
            We also visited the Brunka (Boruca) indigenous group in the second week. One of the things that most struck me was how much these people depend on the economics of “modern” society to support their own. The Brunka people were at a crossroads not too long ago, where they risked losing their culture, their language, their youth, everything. What brought their livelihood back from the brinks was a newfound prosperity in tourism and selling artisanal products. In our visit, members of the community showed us various steps in the production process including woodcarving, painting, weaving, and dyeing; finished products were then sold at surprisingly steep prices. The
One of the artisans in the Bruka community demonstrating the painting process that goes into making the masks and sculptures that they sell to tourists.
Brunka people heavily rely on tourism profits for their sustainability, which for me, was an indication of how increasingly difficult it is for a community today to flourish if removed from all facets of the “developed world”.  What culture thrived before, which I’m sure existed for generations in both the Ngöbe and Brunka peoples alike, now seems to succumb to the pressures of an economizing world founded on monetary gain. In lectures Dr. Ortiz, a CCSS official, discussed the gaps in primary healthcare for these populations leading to increased susceptibility to parasites and disease. So perhaps, as much as development and globalization are given a negative connotation, accepting them at some magnitude becomes necessary for survival whether economic, health-related, or otherwise. 

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