Bribri tour and Bribri village
While we were in Cahuita, a small village on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, we decided to meet the indigenous Bribri community. We bought a tour in the agency Willie’s tours for about 60$. Luis, the head of one of the Bribri families came to pick us up one morning. Luis was married to Ana, a granddaughter of Bribri tribal chief Don Silverio, who died a few years ago at the age of 110.
Luis took us to the Bribri village, not far from Puerto Viejo, which looked like an outlet full of shops with cheap Hispanic clothes. There were a few supermarkets in the village, as well as their “casinos”. “Casino” looked like a room the size of a garage filled with game machines and a cash desk next to the entrance. We also saw orange iguanas “petrified” on the trees of the village.
While we were sightseeing in the village, Luis had a cigarette break with his friends (it seems that he’s pretty popular in Bribri village). When he finished talking with his friends, he simply said “Mishke”, which in Bribri means: “Let’s go”. We sat in his car with a half-naked woman on the sun visor and continued toward the Bribri reservation popularly called Rancho Grande.
Life of a Bribri family
With Luis’s help, we crossed a small river and found ourselves in their backyard. They had many cocoa trees, a few plantain trees, and a Walking Palm Tree. Why walking? This kind of palm tree has roots outside the ground and it follows the sun. As the sun moves during the day, the palm moves with it. It can move up to 1 m! Branches of the Walking Palm Tree are firm and Bribri use it to build their houses.
The house of Luis’s family was a simple wooden plateau, elevated to protect them from poisonous animals (snakes, scorpions, etc.). It had a roof made of palm leaves. They used an empty space underneath the house as a henhouse with numerous hens, gooses, and two roosters.
Ana was preparing lunch in old metal pots on the coal stove in their traditional kitchen. Their daughter relaxed in a hammock with her son, while their older grandsons were playing around the house. There were pictures of Don Silverio and traditional artifacts hanging from wooden walls. On the table, they had barks from different types of trees, giant seashells that they use to announce danger in the reservation, and a few bottles with various liquids.
Bribri alternative medicine
Luis and Ana made us an introduction to alternative medicine. They explained to us the use of various tree barks inside their community. They drink it in the form of a tee and this kind of alternative medicine is carried from generation to generation inside the Bribri community.
We learned that the roots of Sarsaparilla Tree are used for sexual potency, as a cure for rheumatism and, along with a strict diet, they can cure leukemia. Quinine Tree is used against mosquitos and malaria, Cuculmeca Tree eases menstrual cramps. The bark of the “Naked Indian” or the “Tourist Tree” (peeled bark looks like the skin of a tourist who sunbathed a bit too much) fixes the CBC. Cat’s Claw plant helps with the back pain and has positive results in curing cancer and AIDS. A tree called Monkey-Ladder helps with kidney problems, while its seed in the form of a heart is used to cure skin wounds.
A seed of the Achiote plant can serve you as a natural lipstick or a blush. We also put on make-up made of this plant. Its fruit looks like chestnut and it is used as a natural food colorant (for rice, sausages, smoked fish, etc.). After a short “lecture”, Luis started to pour us different healthy drinks – a mix of lemon and ginger, Quinine and even Sarsaparilla. Although we felt healthy after those drinks, we still decided to drink some alcohol in the evening. Just in case. 🙂
The chocolate making process
Bribri are the largest Costa Rican tribe. Its number extends from 10 000 to 35 000 people. Before Columbus’s arrival to Costa Rica, Bribri and other indigenous tribes lived from the cocoa tree and the production of chocolate. It’s traditionally believed that the cocoa tree is a woman turned into a tree by the god Sibu. The tree is considered sacred, spiritual (it’s used in various rituals), and only women are allowed to process the cocoa.
Luis’s family still makes chocolate in a traditional way. Luis’s grandson Jefferson picked up a cocoa fruit, which we tasted first. The cocoa fruit is sweet as candy and we loved it. Luis brought us fried cocoa beans, which we peeled with him. After that, Ana took us to a wooden house in their backyard, where she crushed cocoa beans with a giant rock until she got chocolate.
All this chocolate story made us hungry. It was time for a traditional Bribri lunch – chicken (maybe one of the hens from beneath the house :/) with Costa Rican fruit and vegetables (yucca, plantain, etc.). Instead of a plate, they served us lunch in plantain leaves. We also drank fruit juice from a coconut shell.
We got homemade hot chocolate from a coconut shell as a dessert. The family offered us to buy their flavored homemade chocolate (70% cocoa). A bag with 4-5 chocolate balls costs 3$. We bought fresh mint, peanut, ginger, chili, and coffee flavored chocolates. Delicious!
Swimming under a waterfall
After lunch, we said goodbye to our host family in Bribri language: “Ye miatche, westela!” (“Thank you, goodbye!”). Luis’s family responded: “Ekeke!” (“Goodbye!”). The last stop of our tour was a small waterfall, under which we swam surrounded by nature, peace, and quiet. There was a small bar at the entrance to the waterfall, whose owner offered us a “coco loco” drink, coconut water mixed with rum. Yum!