This week our Book Club shared reports of books about the history and people of Costa Rica. They ranged from an historical novel, by Tatiana Lobo, “Asalto al Paraiso,” which takes place in the 17th century, to present day hunters and gatherers.
“Asalto al Paraiso,” is the story of a young woman who flees Spain during the Inquisition and comes to Costa Rica.
The hunters and gatherers are members of the Cabécar Indians who have been here since before the Spaniards arrived and are living in the the Simiriñak, territorio indígena de Chirripó, in the Talamanca mountains beyond Turrialba, far removed from the modern world.
Martha showed us pictures of the people, mostly of the children who attend the two schools in which she and others are involved. I immediately saw in their faces the beauty and complexion I have seen in Costa Ricans in the city. I asked Martha if the people were healthy because she had mentioned that many of the animals they once hunted have fled to higher altitudes, and they do not cultivate gardens. She said she was told that they have malnutrition, but it is hard to tell because they all seem so happy and active.
Enrique Margery Peña has written a very fat Cabécar-Español dictionary, a copy of which is being given to the 72 children currently attending the two schools that Martha and others visit. Getting the dictionaries and other supplies to the community is a harrowing trip involving car, horses, and hiking and crossing the Río Paquare.
Some Cabécar words have become part of Costa Rican culture. I finally learned the origin of the name of my little cell phone. Kôlbi is the Cabécar word for a little frog that hangs out high in the trees and sings. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is being asked to donate cell phones to the schools in the community. The name Sibû, the organic chocolate made in Costa Rica, is taken from the name of Sibô, the Cebécar deity who, with the help of some animals, created the heavens and earth.
Marguerite told us how the national symphony orchestra originated. (It did not automatically arrive with the Teatro Nacional.)
She has it on good authority that once each province in Costa Rica had its own military and with it, a military band. Eventually, the best musicians in each band were organized into what became the orchestra to perform at the Teatro
Nacional. Today it is a world class orchestra.
Both Ileana and Linda brought Paula Palmer’s book, “What Happen.” It is a compilation of oral histories told by the descendants of the earliest settlers who came from the Caribbean islands to make their homes along the Talamanca coast.
Ana brought us all back to the sometimes ridiculous present. She recently returned to the U.S. to visit the Grand Canyon. (which I was happy to hear because the U.S. is trying to make it easier for tourists to visit the country.) Ana has been a U.S. citizen for 40 years. Her children live in the States.
She is also a resident of Costa Rica.
At the Phoenix Airport immigration line for citizens, the woman official who took her passport, asked, “What brings you here?” Thinking that an unnecessary and silly question, she replied,
“An airplane brought me.”
“That is not an appropriate answer,” replied the customs official stiffly.
Ana thought for a moment and said, “A happy occasion brought me here. After a 25-year relationship, my son finally decided to marry his boyfriend.¨
With an even stiffer face, the officer banged the stamp on her passport, and Ana went through the line, smiling as she usually is.
When she returned to Costa Rica, she again went through the immigration line, at the airport, handing her resident´s card and U.S. passport to the official.
He smiled, stamped it, and said, “Welcome home.”
Costa Rica is a welcome home to a variety of people.