Monday, March 23, 2015

Seeing Ethnobiology in New Colors

Having a father in the military meant that I spent my childhood in a different country and a variety of states. As a result, I have had an interest in learning about cultures and ways of life different from mine since I was young. So far, this program has provided me with countless opportunities to do that, including: meeting other students and researchers at the stations, learning about Costa Rican life through living two weeks at my homestay in San Jose, and also through interacting and visiting indigenous communities. While in Las Cruces, we once again had the opportunity to visit and interact with an indigenous community, this time the Brunka people.

Our guest professor, Hector, first taught us about the Brunka of Costa Rica and how they have repurposed their ethnobiological knowledge. Because of tourism and conservationist policies of Costa Rica government, they have been increasingly using their useful organisms for economic purposes. An example would be the masks, or diablos that they make as well as sell, and the bags they weave. I enjoyed learning about how this shift and repurposing impacted women and the community and led to the revival of certain traditions like women’s groups, and found it extremely interesting.

Before the visit, we were told to bring some type of white, cotton material because we would have the opportunity to dye it. I have tie-died shirts before, but the process the Brunka women showed us was completely different than any I had seen before! When I had tie-died shirts as a kid it involved store bought dye or a tie-dying kit and a lot of rubberbands. In contrast, the indigenous women showed us how their process of dying was all-natural. They used different plants and leafs to make different colors. In their demonstration they died yarn, and showed how they may rub the plant against the yarn with water and the color begins to seep into it. The most remarkable part came next; they would lie the yarn out to dry in the sun and the colors would either change or become darker.

Then came the fun part. We had a chance to get involved and try it out for ourselves. They had set up a small fire with pots on top filled with yellow and blue dye. They used sticks to dip our pieces of clothing in the dye. It was very exciting to be a part of the cultural activity of the Brunka people. It is also neat that I now have a cool tie-died shirt to take back to the states to remind me of the Brunka women and the experience!

Symone Stephens

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