Honoring our heroes is something many of us take for granted. But what if your culture has been damaged or destroyed by colonialism and you’ve never learned about its heroes?
Such is the case with many indigenous people in Costa Rica. One hero is a Bribrí man named Pablo Presbere, who perhaps can be considered the George Washington of the country’s indigenous peoples.
In the late 17th century, Presbere was the leader of a federation of tribes stretching from the Pacific through Chirripó in the Southern Zone to the Caribbean. For 10 years they resisted and fought the Conquistadors. But Presbere was tricked by the Spanish, who told him a peace treaty had been signed with Spain. When he went to talk with them, he was captured, then tortured and finally executed on July 4, 1710.
To honor this hero and increase understanding of his importance, various Bribrí groups are planning a cultural celebration July 4 on the Bribrí reservation in the southeastern Talamanca region.
Featuring cultural activities, including games and dancing, indigenous art and traditional foods, the event promises to be a wonderful opportunity to learn about the indigenous peoples of Costa Rica. Visitors can learn the stories and meaning behind the arts and crafts they purchase – for example, why parrots and tapirs are important to the Bribrí, or what the hummingbird symbolizes for the Maleku.
Sponsoring the celebration are four community groups: Finca Educativa, which conducts ecotourism activities, taking tourists to indigenous towns and employing and benefiting people in the communities; the Association of Indigenous Women of Talamanca, who grow and process organic chocolate in a microenterprise; the Association of Women Farmers of Watsy, a group of women heads of household who collectively grow organic produce, preserving and strengthening Bribrí agricultural traditions and sharing their produce with young and old people; and the Pabru Serce (“Pabru Lives”) Youth Group, in which children and youths learn about and strengthen their culture. (Pabru, which means “parrot king” in Bribrí, was Presbere’s birth name; the Spanish baptized him Pablo. Presbere means “big river with warm water.”)
One of the event’s principal organizers is Horacio Morales, a 26-year-old Bribrí.
Morales first visited the reservation at the age of 8, and discovered a whole culture he didn’t know. Resolving to become a leader and rescuer of the culture, he organized the Pabru Serce youth group, and is now its president and coordinator. He is also a painter and sculptor in stone, wood and bamboo, and a community activist.
The Bribrí organizers have formally invited two other indigenous groups: the Maleku, from the north-central San Carlos region, and the Brunca, from southwestern Costa Rica. However, everyone is welcome. The festivities will be held three kilometers west of the town of Bribrí; just ask to be pointed in the right direction when you arrive. Buses from San José to Bribrí depart from the Caribbean bus terminal at Calle Central, Avenida 11 (Transportes Mepe, 257-8129). Bribrí and the festival site are also both reachable by bus from the southern Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo.
If you are interested but not prepared to make the long journey to Talamanca, you can still participate by making a donation; funds are needed to help the visiting indigenous groups with transportation, food and lodging, and to defray costs of activities. Contributions can be deposited into Banco de Costa Rica account number 001-690159-0, in the name of Eder Horacio Morales Muñoz.
For more information, write Morales (in Spanish) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fran Gilmore has lived with her husband John for two years in Costa Rica, where she has taught yoga and English. In the United States, she was an industrial hygienist for 20 years, often as a worker advocate and educator, and was briefly a community organizer. She is also an artist in watercolor and pastel.