Eco Blog Guaymí de Osa peek into an ancient culture

Published on February 14th, 2012 | by csaylor


Guaymí de Osa: a peek into an ancient culture

Indigenous group in Osa Costa Rica

With our photographer on a big paint horse synonymous with the mounts of the American Comanche and myself on a small mixed Costa Rican mountain horse, we made the several hour journey through rivers and up mountains to visit the reserve of the only indigenous people on the Osa Peninsula – the Guaymi de Osa.

According to UNESCO, this tribe of Chibcha origin was first discovered in the region of what is today western Panama in the late 1400s.Despite holding off the Spanish conquistadors for years, several tribes were forced tinto the rugged mountains along the border with Costa Rica where they lived isolated. Migrant job opportunities in Costa Rica’s coffee and banana plantations attracted further migration of the border in the 1940s.

The Indigenous Guaymi, or Ngobe as they are commonly known, have five different bands in Costa Rica. The Alto Laguna Reserve is located on 2780 hectares of forested land above La Palma in the mountainous region of the Osa Peninsula. According to Guaymi Luis Quiros Palacio, the Guaymi of Osa decided to open their reserve in 1998 for tours to educate people about their cultural dress, foods, natural medicines, hats, indigenous lifestyle, and the importance of nature.

Quiros made it clear that the Guaymi possess an incredibly in-depth knowledge of their natural surroundings, and have much to offer the outsider whether tourist or academia. Their reserve shares an 18km border with the Corcovado National Park, and is host to the most diverse population of plants on the American Continent, along with hundreds of mammals, including endangered species like the jaguar, marguay and ocelot. Not only do they depend on nature for their food, health and livelihood, the Guaymi consider nature to be their god.

“We do not have religious ceremonies, but we pray. We simply pray for the health of nature and our families,” Quiros said. The Guaymi believe that without the health of nature, health does not exist within their family – the wellbeing of the two are intricately combined.

The Guaymi of Osa believe so strongly in conservation that they named their school’s textbook “Biodiversity – We Study Nature”, and are working to get it accepted by the Costa Rican Ministry of Education.

The 22 families on the reserve eat only organic food propagated on their reservation including yucca, bananas, rice, beans, oranges and corn, and live an environmentally conscious existence. Although tourism has become a strong financial supplement, it currently only represents about 20% of their income, which comes mainly from raising pigs, chicken, coffee and cattle, and helping with harvests on rural farms.

During our day-long trip, I only saw two other groups of tourists; a family on horseback, and a group of college students hiking with a guide. I learned about medicinal plants, local crafts, and their unspeakable love and appreciation for nature that has re-inspired my drive to conserve this beautiful region.

Tour to the Guaymi Reserve

Request a guided tour from your hotel or a local tour operator in Puerto Jimenez. Unless you are in good shape and like to hike up mountains, we suggest doing the trip by horse, which offers better views and leaves you with more energy to enjoy and photograph an abundance of wildlife along the jungle trail leading to the reserve.

Article by Jani Schulz originally published in Nature Air’s inflight magazine Landings Vol. X No. 1

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