Thursday, November 5, 2015

Neglecting Roots to Tend Branches by Amanda D. Strong

Granada, the first settled town in Nicaragua.
During our stay with VIDA Volunteer in Nicaragua, I found myself attempting to answer a quite controversial question. After traveling to many different parts of the world it seems that every country has its own special history that makes it unique from the rest, especially in the non-Western world. For the first time I began to wonder what Costa Rica’s was. When you “Google” countries in Central America to visit, it is obvious to see that Costa Rica is one of the most internationally sought after travels. After spending a month and a half traveling to different provinces of the country and witnessing vastly different levels of living, I have yet to discover what really makes Costa Rica, “Costa Rica.” I mean, after traveling to Nicaragua and having traveled to Panama in the recent past I can definitely say it’s incredibly different from its neighbor countries.
A cave under Volc√°n Masaya - where tribal rituals took place.
Whilst in Nicaragua and speaking with our VIDA guide, a self-proclaimed historian, I was able to learn in detail about the history of Nicaragua. Not only are there many tales of rich origins of its people, but there are also many discussions based on the history of war and broken government there. That moment was when I began to realize that Costa Rica doesn’t have that type of complex history at all; as a matter of fact, the history of Costa Rica is very simple and consistent. The only controversy that the country has suffered from (and still suffers from) was between the Spanish (now, the government) and the indigenous communities. Even so, all of the indigenous communities combined only make up less than 2% of the population, which makes the problem easy for most of Costa Rica to ignore.
If I could describe Costa Rica in two words, they would be: biodiversity and tourism. There seems to be a lack of native culture, as if Costa Rica lacks its deep roots that remind it of its time before Europe made her mark. I can’t tell if the country changed to appease the world’s tourism or if the tourism came because Costa Rica has always had a sense of isolation from the rest of Central America. In the beginning of our ethnobiology course, we watched a Ted Talk by Wade Davis entitled, “Dreams from endangered cultures” (that I recommend anyone with any worldly sense watch). As an Afro-Caribbean American I immediately related to this lecture. However, I am just now finding myself in a position to realize that Costa Rican culture is truly on the edge of extinction. Other than the indigenous communities, the people of Costa Rica seem to have always been content with the influences of Spain and even take pride in it. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking pride in all that you are, but is it fair to neglect your roots while tending to your branches? Wouldn’t you surely perish?
P.S. A good example of these issues is found in the last paragraph of “Ethno-tourism: Leaving an Unwanted Mark” by Keaton Stoner (October 15, 2015).

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