Indigenous Brunka community member speaks on campus

On Saturday, June 20th, UGA Costa Rica welcomed Cristhian González Gomez to campus to speak about the indigenous people of Costa Rica. A big thank you to the UGA Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute (LACSI) for sponsoring González’s lecture!

Cristhian González Gomez is a member of the native Brunka tribe of Costa Rica.

González, a university student, speaks to correct indigenous untruths and to preserve his fragile culture. For example, there’s a sizable misconception that the aboriginal population in Costa Rica is non-existent. On the contrary, there are in fact pockets of native populations throughout Costa Rica. However, as the struggle with dwindling numbers continues, so does the battle of including indigenous ancestral history in Costa Rican education, national identity, and cultural representation.

No, the Brunka don’t frolic around the jungle wearing loincloths, González explains in good humor, air-drawing a triangular flap over his jeans. Although their cultural lifestyle may be simpler, the majority of Brunka people wear modern clothing, have healthcare, education, and basic amenities like phones and Internet.

To right another wrong, González’s native tribe is traditionally called Brunka. When the Spaniards arrived in 1502, their mispronunciation of the tribal name haphazardly christened this indigenous group the Boruca people.

During the 150 years that the indigenous people warred with the Spaniards, the count of the misnamed and maltreated tribes tapered as a result of disease and religious conversion. This partial destruction of González’s ancestors made safeguarding language, traditions, and lifestyles strenuous.

“What really surprised and scared me was the attitude of the government…[the indigenous] don’t have a strong representation,” LACSI student Benjamin Colclough noted. “I feel as though the apathy of the state could cost these people their culture someday.”

Today, 2.4 percent of the current Costa Rican population is indigenous.

Only 10 members that speak the Brunka language fluently remain.

“It was hard to listen to the ways his people struggled to maintain their true identity because they were told by someone else to change it,” LACSI student Bryant Anthony reflected on the cultural repression suffered by the Brunka people.

Although the Spaniard conquistadors have gone, in recent years new problems have encroached. Unplanned tourism has been leading to commercialization and modernization. With that comes an advance in infrastructure, impinging on indigenous territories. Education is a plus; however, often the educational systems don’t benefit or include Brunka culture. This conglomeration ultimately affects indigenous consciousness, as it fades into western thinking.

But González’s message comes with a positive twist: even with these modern obstacles, the culture persists.

What moved student Shannon Griffiths the most was learning that “some of the younger generation wants to help preserve their traditional art techniques by learning form elders.”

Reflecting on the opportunity, as part of their time in Costa Rica, to listen to a university student and Brunka community member share his story, LACSI student Collin Partain said, “It’s not everyday that you get to learn about indigenous cultures. So often cultures that fit outside the mainstream culture go unnoticed, yet these cultures often have some of the most interesting tales to tell.”

“Cristhian´s visit adds diversity to the students´ experience with Costa Rican culture,”
professor Sarah Lowman said. “We found it very important that the students have an opportunity to learn about indigenous cultures of Costa Rica, especially since we have heard ourselves the myth that there are basically no more indigenous people in Costa Rica. By sharing about his Boruca culture and language, Cristhian is actively working to dispel that myth.”

Cristhian González Gomez studied at the Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica and is currently studying International Relations at the National University. He has given many other talks on the Brunka people in diverse settings.

What is LACSI?

The LACS program with UGA in CR allows students to complete 3 courses related to Latin American and Caribbean studies while experiencing Costa Rican culture and language outside of the classroom in homestays, activities in the local community of San Luis, and on excursions to other cities. We encourage students to make connections between content discussed in the classroom with their experiences outside of the classroom in hopes of achieving a multifaceted and authentic learning experience.

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

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