Well, first we took a bus for a few hours to the Costa Rican-Panamanian border. Then, we hopped in some hollowed out trees-turned canoes. Next, we rode upstream on the River Sixaola for about an hour and a half until we reached the village of Yorkin. A local woman guided us up the steps to thatched, open-air buildings past cacao trees holding fruit diseased with the Minolia fungus. The sun was setting so we set up at our cabins quickly. Returning to the central comedor, we ate rice and beans and zucchini and platanos chips by candlelight, as the solar-powered panels did not work that day and this, our next field trip stop, had no running electricity.
Ish be’shke’na. How are you?
Ye’shke’na buaebuae. I am good.
The primary language in Yorkin is Spanish, but it is not the native tongue. That is BriBri, a language only written as of about a dozen years ago but is thousands of years old. In BriBri, there is a word for the collective family of indigenous people around the Americas—yamipa. Only until recent years has the BriBri culture been celebrated and revived in the region; there is an entire generation alive that cannot speak the language. For them, they were not taught BriBri in school, were forced to speak Spanish, and soon enough the language was in danger. Thanks to the linguistic knowledge of the elders in the community, the BriBri is in the process of being recorded and is now revived throughout the culture.
This is only one story of triumph within this community. Twenty-five years ago, the BriBri women saw a drastic shift in attitude toward their native culture. Communities around the area were shifting from their traditional cacao agroforestry models to more lucrative banana and plantain production. With that came the loss of Caribbean lowland forests and pure water for some time. Yet for the entirety of our stay, we were fortunate to have beautiful, naturally purified tap water. One woman in the community took the initiative to receive funding from the United Nations for her education, where she learned management practices and finances. She saw an opportunity to bring tourists to her town and, with some convincing, formed Stibrawpa (meaning Cultural Artisans in Bribri). Stibrawpa is an organization committed to enhancing local livelihoods throughout touristic opportunities while maintaining cultural richness. Soon, her husband learned up-and-coming agricultural methods to preserve agroforestry, and the community saw a turn around regarding both economics and morale.
My time with the BriBri was peaceful. For the BriBri, chocolate is a sacred item, required in traditional ceremonies and sometimes around the dinner table (if you are gringos like us). Trips to the rivers, cleaned on their meandering travels down the Talamancas, will remain some of my fondest memories from my semester abroad. Waking up to the clattering of cicadas and croaking of toads far surpasses the roar of motorcycles and piercing sirens of ambulances rushing by. Learning a few new words in BriBri and making chocolate from tree-to-table gave me a new appreciation that there is still so much more to learn in Costa Rica than I will have time for in these months. Here’s to my final weeks living the pura vida lifestyle.
Miamia. Senisawë, Yorkin. Thank you. Goodbye, Yorkin.