Costa Rica’s Bribrí Indigenous Community

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Costa Rica’s Bribrí Indigenous Community has lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years, living in the Huetar Atlantic Region, in the territories of Talamanca and Kekoldi – Cocles, in the Talamanca canton, Limón province, and the Brunca region in Cabagra and Salitre Territories, in Buenos Aires canton, Puntarenas province. At present some 10,000 individuals Bribrís are settled in that territory, being in the Talamanca Bribrí Territory inhabited by the indigenous majority around 6467.

In general, the Bribrís have retained their native language, both orally and in writing. The most important activity is agriculture, especially cocoa and bananas, but also has corn, beans and tubers. As a result of this agricultural society, the community has developed a barter system practiced primarily by women of the tribe. They are also dedicated to raising pigs, hunting birds and fishing. Its most important handicrafts are basketry and musical instruments manufacture, which use a variety of natural elements. Also in the production of various crafts with natural materials like “jícara”, “cabuya”, “pita”, and other natural dyes, are various traditional techniques, designs and shapes that reflect their cultural background and living in harmony with nature.

Because of its isolated situation, in relation to major civilization centers, some Bribrís have opted to take identity cards both Panamanian and Costa Rican, making it easier to obtain medical help in an emergency in both countries. An interesting element of this ethnic group is that their houses (usually on wooden stilts and roofed with leaves) stand far apart from each other, that because the Bribrís appreciate their independence. It is not uncommon that a Bribrí home is an hour’s from the nearest next house.

Because they are virtually the only Indian society in Costa Rica that retains its own identity, but fully integrated to nationality in all its aspects, has attracted special interest by the state, particularly in the areas of health, education and protection to indigenous values. In fact, in theirs region are heard a cultural radio station that broadcasts programs in the Bribrí language and also circulating a newspaper written entirely in their language. The Bribrí folk manifestations are interestingly during the celebrations within their cultural-religious context, preserved by them for centuries. The Bribrís practices an animist religion based on an indigenous shamanism, being one of the oldest religions still practiced in Costa Rica. Their beliefs are based on the cult of Sibú and the Bribrí society structuring in clan.

The University of Costa Rica, through its cultural and linguistic organizations, is concerned for preparing a grammar and spelling text in Bribrí language, which has been an invaluable aid in the preparation of the staff that works with indigenous people. Bribrí language is a tonal language spoken by the Bribrí community belonging to the “chibchense“ linguistic family, that why is related to other local languages such as the Teribe, the Cabécar, the Boruca, the Guaymí and the Maleku. Like many other American languages, the number of Bribrí speakers is clearly declining. According to the national census conducted in 2000, only 60% of the Bribrí population is native speakers of the language, it is estimated that the total number of Bribrís speakers is about 6.000 individuals.

The Bribrí was always an oral language and which did not have writing itself until the U.S. linguist based in Costa Rica, Jack Wilson, began a systematic adaptation of the Latin alphabet (as used to represent the signs of the Costa Rican Spanish) aims to represent primary teaching and research the Bribrí sounds, using authors date back to the late nineteenth century. The Wilson task was completed by the also linguist Adolfo Constenla. The signs of the alphabet plotted to phonemes or part of a phoneme. In Bribrí, as in most languages, phonemes are usually carried out in three different ways together: vowels, consonants and semi-consonants. The symbols used to express graphically the vowels are: a, e, e, i, o, o, u, a, e, i, o, u. Those which are used to express the consonants are: b, ch, d, j, k, l, m, n, n, n, p, r, s, t and the ones used to express the semi-consonants are: w and i. Due to the chosen system for the graphical representation, some symbols can represent different sounds. At the time that this post was writing, the Bribrí is the only Costa Rican indigenous language which is taught at public universities in the country.

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