Report on the State of Affairs regarding Education and Culture in the Indigenous Cabécar Community of Bajo Chirripó

Diego Beamonte Cosín Julia Loraque Goslin 16-XII-2012 Limón, Costa Rica

Abstract: The purpose of this report is to identify and describe some of the factors affecting the development and well being of the Cabécar Indigenous Community of Bajo Chirripó. The information used to complete this report was gathered from the 21st of October to the 29th of November of 2012 living within the community, through observation, a series of workshops and discussions with students at the local high school and daily conversations with members of the community. The structure consists of two main themes, education and culture, which are divided and analyzed in subtopics. Some subtopics include suggestions on how to resolve the issues explained. The last part of the document contains a series of recommendations meant to improve the well being of the community.


Page EDUCATION Institutions Curriculum Student Government Language Youth and Future CULTURE Preservation of Culture Arts and Crafts Nature RECOMMENDATIONS CONCLUSION 3 3 3 3 4 5 7 7 7 8 9 11





At both the High School and Elementary School there is negligence in the administration and fraud in the allocation of funds and resources. We have helped members of the community in the drafting of a letter directed at the “Regional SULA” (re gional education institution) denouncing the aforementioned problems. The letter condemns these supposed crimes and asks for an internal investigation, as well as the appointment of a new principal. The letter also contains more specific allegations and requests. We have included a copy of the letter for further information. We would like to emphasize that we consider this issue to be of transcendental importance to the development of the entire community. II. Curriculum

We have observed that the students do not have many ways in which to occupy their free time. They is a worrying lack of mental stimulation and an epidemic of boredom. They need more positive interests and hobbies, which can be achieved in the classroom as well as through extracurricular activities. Students repeatedly expressed their wish for more courses. These are the subjects the students want to see added to the curriculum:         Music Cabecar Culture Physical Education Art Ethics Technology Critical Thinking Computer Science

In addition, we consider that sexual education, adapted to the specific cultural, social and historical characteristics of the community, should be urgently included in the curriculum, in order to prevent the number of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies amongst the youth. III. Student Government

The current Student Government has achieved a lot, but they could take further strides forward if they were better organized, more empowered and had greater communication with the faculty and administration. A few of the things the students want the student government to achieve are:


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A library More information about scholarships, universities, technical degrees and distance education. More indigenous teachers that speak Cabécar, the local language. Transparency in the school budget. Cinema night (to showcase a film once or twice a month for the whole community to enjoy, given the school is the only institution in the town which has the infrastructure to provide such a service for the community. Culture day (where the members of the community can share stories, traditions, songs, dance, knowledge and values) A bridge across the Zent River at the road entrance near the school. A game room (including foosball and table tennis to enjoy activities during the long rainy season) Fieldtrips to museums, cultural sites, and other indigenous communities. A covered space for P.E. class and to practice sports during the rainy season. A bulletin board in a central location.



a) Cabécar At the Elementary School, the students receive a foundation of written Cabécar. However, it is not continued after sixth grade. Most of the students at the high school know how to speak Cabécar fluently, but find it very difficult to read and write. The discontinuation of Cabécar leads students to consider it as a less important language. The result is an increased preference for Spanish or even English over their mother tongue. We believe this to be a sign of the loss of language threatening the community. b) Spanish The High School and the Elementary School students are being taught in Spanish – their second language – without serious regard for their difficulties in comprehension. In both institutions, students are taking notes without understanding their content completely. Worryingly, the students memorize their notes for the exams but do not comprehend words and concepts which are key to understanding the lessons. In many occasions, the material has many grammar and spelling mistakes, which are seldom corrected by the teachers. Furthermore, there is a fundamental lack of reading which limits their vocabulary and understanding of the language.


c) English Since there is no English being taught at the Elementary School, students encounter the language with fear and lack of confidence when it is first introduced in High School. Moreover, they find it very difficult to learn English because it is taught as a second language, directly from Spanish, when it is actually their third. Recommendations: 1) Cabécar Language and Culture should be taught in High School. 2) Students have expressed that they would learn with more ease in every subject, including English if the teachers spoke both Cabécar and Spanish. Some students remarked that they would be more prompt to ask question in the classroom if this was the case. 3) Teachers should make a point out of correcting grammar and spelling in the students‟ notes, homework and exams. Also encouraging them to use a dictionary when completing their assignments.


Youth and Future.

As the relatively new educational system produces its first class of graduates, there are no real outlets to continue their education. Studying away from home at university is not a valid option to the vast majority, as the price and distance are beyond their resources. Some, such as the many mothers currently studying at the school, cannot afford to be away from their families for long periods of time. Others simply do not want to live in the city and would only pursue a degree provided they could study from home. While there are alternatives to the traditional undergraduate career available in Costa Rica, such as distance education, technical degrees or online education, the students do not receive information regarding these options or scholarships. Below is a list of the many careers and jobs that the students are interested in pursuing:        Veterinarian Doctor/nurse Clothing store manager Hair dresser/beauty salon manager Supermarket manager Engineer Teacher


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Computer technician Football player Singer Lawyer Car Mechanic

It is interesting to note that one student commented, “I am not studying in High School to end up working in the plantations like my father”. There was a common consensus on this matter. Their desire to pursue an education does not necessarily mean that they want to abandon their community and way of living. Many of the students recognized the importance of returning to their homes after receiving a diploma or degree and employing their newly acquired skills to the benefit and development of the community. These aspirations are nonetheless frustrated by the lack of visible opportunities provided for them.




Preservation of Culture.

The community is at a dangerous crossroad. The youth absorbs a new culture both through the media and the classroom. Without undermining the importance of keeping up to date and in touch with the advancements of the modern world, as this new culture becomes a bigger part of everyday life, they begin to forget about their mother culture. Ideally, the youth should learn about both on an equal basis; however, the sad reality is that the Cabécar culture is being left aside. Until recently, Cabécar was not a written language, and the majority of the Cabecars still do not know how to read or write it. In addition, the elders, who have historically served as the path through which tradition travelled forward in time, are not as inclined to pass down their knowledge as they once were. Perhaps because they feel that the youth are not interested, for they have succumbed to the glamour of a new culture. We have found out that this is not necessarily the case, and that the youth is very much interested in their own culture and, they too, fear its disappearance. We have been told about the existence of traditional dances and music. What once were meaningful forms of expression used in everyday tasks are now almost forgotten and never performed. The values, beliefs, and philosophy of the Cabécar culture and encompassed in these art forms as well as the abundant stories and fables transmitted orally through generations. In our workshops with the students, they all shared the same feelings of sadness and regret for not knowing more about these traditions. In fact, only one student was able to tell part of a story. When asked about the meaning of being Cabécar, the students were unable to answer the question, but all agreed that they would love to know more and consider it very important. Nonetheless, they did not seem to fully comprehend the danger and proximity of losing their culture, as they will be unable to pass on any story, song or dance to their children. They understand the need to speak Cabécar and the relation between language and identity, but the whole width of the culture and its importance to the Costa Rican society, as well as to the preservation of indigenous cultures and territories throughout the world, seems to be well beyond their grasp. II. Arts and Crafts.

One of the traditions that is still preserved, after it was resuscitated, is the crafting of dried tree bark (mataste). This long and arduous labor is carried out by the women, who create an incredible variety of figurines, decorations, and accessories, also using seeds and natural


dyes. This work is important both as a tradition and as an incipient economic opportunity. The potential of this craft is waiting to be unleashed, and it will be interesting to see how the new generation leads this resurgent art form in the years to come, while taking advantage of their knowledge of modern technologies. Some of the High School students have shown interest in learning the craft and becoming part of the group of „artisan women‟. Thus, we recommend that the artisan women partake in the afternoon workshops taking place at the High School in the upcoming academic year. Furthermore, in order to maximize the visibility and sales of the art pieces, we encourage the creation of an online store for the sale of these products. The participation of the youth could be increased if they were to create and manage the website. The involvement of volunteers in this task would be an asset which should be strongly considered. III. Nature.

Recycling, the preservation of the environment and the importance of protecting natural resources are themes constantly taught in the classrooms of both the High School and Elementary School. However, we have noticed a lingering lack of consciousness and understanding of the full repercussions of improper waste disposal. The community is well aware of the difference between organic and inorganic waste, and separate their trash accordingly. However, this well intended activity is rendered useless as plastics are burnt and cans and bottles are hazardously buried underground or left uncovered in proximity to their homes, plantations, rivers and animals. The community is by no means at fault for this practice, as consciousness regarding this topic is relatively new, and they have been instructed to follow these procedures. Primarily, the problem resides within the local and national governments, who do not provide a systematic trash pickup service. If the government is unable or unfit to provide this basic service, a private citizen must be encouraged to find a solution to this evolving problem. The lands and territories of the indigenous communities are a massive part of their identity and their subsistence. Given that the products and containers that are polluting their soils are foreign to them and their historic culture, a stronger awareness raising campaign must be launched and an efficient waste retrieval service must be urgently installed.



In this section we would like to include a few recommendations that have not been mentioned in the report because they are related to more than one issue or to emphasize their importance. I. Library.

The community would benefit from having a separate place for the library, as opposed to the current situation, which is a bunch of books unorganized on a few shelves in a classroom. It should include dictionaries, enciclopaedias, and fictional and non-fictional novels for all ages and tastes. The books should be well organized and a librarian or a student should be in charge of the administrative functions. A room could be designated only for studing or reading. The library could also run activites such as workshops, study help, storytelling and a book or poetry club to encourage reading and writing. This could help build a greater interest in reading, which is especially important before the students acquire computers, since these can easily take up all of their free time with distractions rather than reading. II. Young Achievers Group.

Just as there is a group of artisan women who collaborate for their individual benefits as well as that of the community, some students are interested in a group of young males and females who would meet on a regular basis to discuss pertinent topics, propose solutions to problems and resolve them with short and long term projects. Ideally, this group would be externall to the school, but could be greatly enhanced by the guidance and knowledge of a trusted teacher who is well accepted in the community. This group would empower its members by giving them the leadership and teamwork skills, which can help them in their individual futures as well as leading the community in the years to come. III. Waste.

As mentioned previously, it is especially important to find an efficient method of waste disposal and recycling for the positive development of the community and the preservation of a healthy and fertile soil. IV. Undergraduate and technical education.

We cannot emphasize enough the importance of informing the students about real opportunities of continuing their education and the steps to achieve it.




Through conversations with members of the community we have realized their need for a mail box or postal service. Not only would it be useful as a gateway of information, but it could greatly aid the possibility of an online store for the sale of crafts. VI. Veterinarian clinic.

Just as doctors come to the community on a weekly baiss, the locals feel that it is extremely necessary to have an available veterinarian. Otherwise, in their own words, “it is often counterproductive to buy animals as the sickening of one can often damage many, without a way to avoid it.” VII. Microcredits.

Although microcredits can be dangerous, we believe that in the right hands, they could serve as a positive tool in the development of the area. If a member of the community had a well projected idea for a successful business that would benefit the community (veterinarian, bus service from the river to the main road, hair salon, etc.) it would be fruitful for him or her to be able to receive a loan, rather than depending on donations as they currently do. This would nurture responsibility, self-confidence and pride in individuals as well as the group. VIII. Cabécar Cabins.

Leonel, an admirable and dully respected member of the community, has a wonderful idea which we fully support: to install a few cabins on either side of the Zent River. These cabins would have a variety of uses. The main use would be to house tourists who can participate in cultural exchanges with the locals thorugh diverse activities. From horseback riding, hiking and tours around the mountains, through craftmaking and workshops with the students, the tourists would not only learn about the local culture, but would share their knowledge and skills with the local community. Other uses for the cabins would be to give a bed to those unable to cross the river at night, or as a much needed locale where technical courses can be administered. Although this is our last recommendation, it may be the most important, and definitely the most well rounded idea. It would create job opportunities both directly (construction workers, manager, cleaner, tour guides, etc.) and indirectly (those trained at the establishment through the courses). Also, it would diminish isolation through tourism attraction, while preserving the indigenous culture and nature by making them a source of pride and income.



There are undoubtedly a lot of problems and threats facing the community, originating both from within and from outside, luckily these issues can all be resolved if they are handled properly in terms of time and context. The solutions applied must be elaborated in consideration of the specific culture that is being dealt with and in an appropriate time frame. Many of these issues require simple solutions, but if handled improperly, or not at all, could grow into serious problems in the near future. We hope that this brief report can help illuminate these issues and continue, or initiate the forward thinking that is necessary to find long term solutions.


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