Art For Indigenous Survival

Kokoldi And Bri Bri Of Talamanca, Costa Rica 1993

Costa Rica is a small country in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama. It has had a democratic government since the early 1800's. It is a small green paradise and the following are exerpts from the journal I kept while living at Miraflores Lodge on the southern Caribbean coast.

September 29: Flew down the coast, across Tortuguro where everything was lush and green. Passed a volcano bubbling with one side brown and stripped from the last lava flow. Into San Jose with its red tile roofs nestled in the nooks and crannies of the green mountains which are visible on all sides. Banana trees, Papayas, Bougainvillea, Impatians lining the roads, Coffee plantations, Sugar Cane, Coconut trees, flowers everywhere, cloud forests, rain forests and the Caribbean Sea on our way to Cocles and Miraflores Lodge. I woke in the morning to see out my window - palms, Gingers, Bananas, Papayas, Heliconias, huge Ficus Trees, birds, butterflies and a sloth in the tree. Visited Puerto Viejo and Manzanilla on the Caribbean Coast, then traveled to Sieuro on the Bri Bri Reservation to outline classes.

October 4: Went to the Kokoldi Reservation where the people have begun an Iguana Farm with probably thousands of Iguanas - eggs incubating, hatching, then one week old, one month old, one year, 3 years old, and 5 years old when they are released into the wild, and up in the trees, the wild ones who have come back. We met in a small open rancho which was to become the gift shop since they had become a local tourist attraction. We began sewing by hand fabric Green Iguanas that they could sell to the tourists. Spent the afternoon in Manzanilla on Leatherback Turtles - which the area was famous for but because they are endangered, the local people could no longer hunt them.

October 7: Finished individual Iguanas and started on a giant six footer with one person working on tail, another on legs, arms, pouch, ear bobs, etc. The Kokoldi use to live all along the coast and then the Europeans and Blacks (from Jamaica) came and planted Coconuts and Cocoa and the Indians retreated up into the ridges. Now there are only 120 families left and much of the land has been sold to outsiders although it is "still" the Reservation. They are a gentle people. Spent the afternoon in Manzanilla finishing turtles, Red Snappers, Hummingbirds and starting a historic quilt.

October 13: Started an afternoon class in Puerto Viejo making Hummingbirds, Heliconias and flying Toucans - about 26 women speaking Spanish, English, Kokoldi and Jamaican Patau - many languages and many races - much fun.

October 23: Left early for the Bri Bri town of Sieuro. I packed lots of material, stuffing, patterns for Morpho Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Heliotrope Blossoms and wild Sunflowers into a backpack and carrying bag (decided on small projects for the weekend). We drove to the Sixola River where we were ferried across in a dugout and then met by a truck which serves as the bus for the Reservation. We were dropped off at the school where the women (with their eldest daughters) were waiting for us. We started in on the Hummingbirds and hung them across the ceiling. We were told that we were the first to come in to teach them anything. The chief had to give us permission because the tribe is trying very hard to keep out the western world. They are growing Plaintains for export but are struggling to be self -sufficient. They teach their traditional language as well as the Spanish curriculum dictated by San Jose. When we finished on the 24th, they cooked up a feast for us - rice, meat stew, plaintains, fry bread, hot chocolate and coffee. The cooking was done on a firebox - a raised box filled with dirt and topped with a wood burning fire. There was no electricity or running water at the one room school which educated about 50 students at a time.

October 26: Good-by party at Miraflores Lodge. The women came in bringing their work to show to each other. The Bri Bri and Kokoldi decided to work together since we were Art for Indigenous Survival. Many wanted to stop the cutting down of the Heliconias and Heliotropes after learning how to make them. We had taught 78 people to replicate their natural environment - Iguanas, Hummingbirds, Leatherback Turtles, Red Snappers, Heliconias, Toucans, Morpho Butterflies, and Heliotrope blossoms.