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Costa Rica's Guardians of the Forest: The Resilient Bribri Tribe and their Sustainable Agroforestry

Photo: Ronald Aguilar

In the heart of Costa Rica's lush rainforests, a remarkable tale unfolds—a captivating story of a tribe deeply intertwined with the rhythms of nature, their ancestral knowledge guiding them towards a harmonious existence. Welcome to the world of the Bribri people, where agroforestry practices are not just a means of survival but a testament to their profound connection with the land and their unwavering commitment to sustainability.

Within the emerald green landscapes of the Talamanca region, the Bribri have cultivated an intricate tapestry of life—a mosaic of agroforestry systems known as "fincas integrales". Here, the boundaries between the wild and the cultivated blur, creating a vibrant symphony of biodiversity and abundance. Towering timber trees, like guardians of the forest, reach for the sky—laurel, cedar, and mountain almond—providing shade and shelter to a diverse array of crops that thrive beneath their protective embrace.

In this world, the wisdom of the Bribri women takes center stage. They are the guardians of tradition, the keepers of the land's secrets, and the nurturing hands that shape the agroforestry plots. With an intimate understanding of their surroundings, they harness the gifts of nature, carefully selecting fruit trees such as orange, lemon, star fruit, soursop, and sapote, each one serving a purpose beyond nourishment. These trees not only provide succulent fruits but also act as living umbrellas, casting dappled sunlight upon the earth, creating the ideal conditions for the growth of medicinal plants.

In this intricate dance with nature, the Bribri women cultivate a tapestry of healing. Plants like comfrey, goosefoot, and hombre grande find sanctuary within the agroforestry plots, their leaves and roots holding remedies for respiratory ailments and snake bites—a living apothecary that has sustained their people for generations. It is here, amidst the vibrant foliage, that the Bribri discover the true meaning of self-sufficiency. Their plantings offer sustenance, construction materials, and medicinal resources, creating a sustainable cycle of abundance that embraces the rhythms of nature.

Courtesy of El Colectivo 506

As if choreographed by the forest itself, each tree in the Bribri's agroforestry system plays a unique role. The mighty timber trees provide sturdy wood for construction, while the fallen branches become firewood that warms their homes on cool evenings. Fruit-bearing trees like cocoa and banana not only nourish their families but also present opportunities for income generation, opening doors to economic empowerment.

Yet, the Bribri's agroforestry plots are not just a source of sustenance for their own people—they are sanctuaries for a rich tapestry of life. Within these vibrant landscapes, domesticated pigs, chickens, and horses roam freely, their presence a testament to the Bribri's belief in the interconnectedness of all living beings. Vibrant birds, like colorful brushstrokes on a natural canvas, flit among the trees—toucans and parrots adding their melodies to the chorus of the forest. And in the hidden corners of the agroforestry plots, stingless bees, the diligent pollinators, gather nectar, weaving their own stories of sustenance.

Marina Lopez

At the heart of this captivating tale stands Marina López, a Bribri woman whose roots run deep within the land. For Marina, cocoa holds a special place, intertwined with cherished memories of collecting the beans with her grandmother. Living in the lands where her ancestors founded the community of Watsi, Marina embodies the strength and resilience of her people. In her wooden house, nestled amidst the emerald embrace of the forest, she weaves the threads of tradition and cultural heritage.

Marina, like many Bribri women, plays a pivotal role in preserving the delicate balance between humans and nature. Her gentle guidance and deep knowledge ensure that future generations will inherit a world teeming with life—a legacy of sustainability and respect for the Earth. Marina's story, echoed by countless Bribri women across the Talamanca region, is a testament to the power of ancestral wisdom and the profound impact of regenerative practices.

@indiamayorga Instagram

In the face of encroaching modernity, the Bribri people stand tall, their agroforestry plots serving as a living testament to the importance of preserving indigenous knowledge and cultural heritage. Their story, like the delicate dance of the forest, whispers to us the possibilities that lie in embracing sustainable practices. It invites us to explore new ways of nurturing the land and to listen to the wisdom of those who have lived in harmony with nature for centuries.

The Bribri people's agroforestry plots are not just a window into the past but a guiding light towards a future where humanity and the natural world coexist in harmony—a future where the lessons of the forest are woven into the very fabric of our existence. As we delve into their captivating story, we are reminded of the immense power that lies within us—the power to shape a better world by embracing sustainable practices, preserving our cultural heritage, and fostering a deep connection with the land that sustains us all.


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