Monday, 2 April 2012

Ye’ ù ã (At My House): Fieldwork in the Bribri Indigenous Territory

Talamanca Mountain Range - A view from the boat ride into Coroma

For the past few months I have been fortunate to visit multiple rural communities in Costa Rica and learn about people’s use of tropical plants in their food systems. As some of you may know, I recently visited the community where I will be living for the next year as part of my research. The community is called Klóm ã (Coroma, in Spanish) and is a Bribri Indigenous community; the Bribri are one of eight Indigenous groups living in Costa Rica. In the Bribri language, the community name Klóm ã signifies a place where you can find zapote trees. Klóm ã is located in the Talamanca Mountains in southern Costa Rica. Here, I will be living with and learning from Bribri people, a people that have been living in this region for more than 4,000 years. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recognized the rich biocultural diversity in Talamanca by creating the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve and World Heritiage Site in this region. 

Working with Bribri women harvesting organic banana

Thanks to a longstanding friendship with my colleague, a Bribri community member and professor at the University of Costa Rica, I have been introduced to a Bribri women’s group in the Coroma community. This women’s group has invited me to join them in their activities, including cultivating organic banana and cacao, and planting wild plants within their community. Through my participation in these activities, I hope to gain a better understanding of how the Bribri use plants and forests (also understood as Bribri ethnoecology). Working and living with Bribri women, I expect to acquire new skills. Such skills include learning the Bribri language, learning how to grow the food I eat, and learning how to use a machete!

Boat to bus taxi into Coroma

The Coroma community is removed from towns and cities. It takes buses, boats, and short hikes through the woods and over rivers to get there; it may seem like a lot but it is relatively straightforward to get in and out, as long as you speak a little Bribri and know which boats to take.

Bribri roof made of  Úkö, a tropical palm

The accommodations in Coroma are comfortable. In many ways, living there represents the simple life that I appreciate. It gets dark a little after 7:00 pm, and since there's no electricity, bedtime comes shortly thereafter. I envision many good night’s sleeps over the next year as well as many early mornings (the roosters start crowing at around 4:30 in the morning).

Boiled banana 
Meals are simple but taste very good. Rice and beans are staples, as are bananas. There are several different kinds of bananas and they appear in every meal and as snacks. I also plan to grow some of my own local plants over the course of my research; I look forward to blogging about the unique edible forest plants that I come across.
River for bathing and relaxing

With no electricity, I will not have regular access to my blog; but every month or so I’ll travel out of the community to catch up on e-mail and to post the occasional blog. In the meanwhile, please keep the questions coming - although my responses will be delayed, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. 


  1. Wowww It looks incredible, let us know all the banana types and how the BriBri comunity us them in their food day by day.

    1. Hi Tony,

      It is truly incredible experience. I look forward to writing about all the types and uses of banana. I was recently in Coroma for five days and I tried 3 banana varieties cooked in many different ways, such as fried, boiled, roasted. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you soon - where has your work taken you lately?


  2. This is truly interesting, what a natural setting for one to do research, those bananas look exactly like what we have here in Uganda. Wish you the very best as you settle down in your new environment!


  3. Hi Denis,

    Thanks kindly for your interest. When possible, I hope to provide short updates about my experiences in Talamanca.

    Are bananas a staple food in Uganda as well? I read that the "false banana" or "ensete" was an important crop in east Africa. Is that the case anywhere in Uganada?

    All the best Denis and thanks for reading!