The Rich Coast

Friday, June 12, 2015
Emma Overstreet

Note: this post is one of dozens written by students participating in a 2015 field course in Costa Rica. The entire series is here

Prior to colonization by the Spanish, Costa Rica did not have a single, unified ancient society, as was seen in other Latin American countries with civilizations such as the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas. Instead, the country consisted of isolated tribes, living in peaceful abundance and harmony with nature, each with their own unique culture.

These tribes used the bounty of their land to develop advanced systems of agriculture, ceramics, and metalworking. Some developed skilled techniques for casting gold into jewelry, religious icons, and symbolic representations, particularly of animals. We saw several examples of this amazing goldsmithing at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum in downtown San Jose.

This system of isolated ‘chiefdoms’ proved to be an advantage when faced with the threat of Spanish conquest. Although colonization wreaked havoc on the country’s natives, as it did all across the New World, the effects were less violent. Many tribes were able to flee to the Southern edge of the country, where they still reside today, and others were integrated into the new Spanish colonies.

After a few weeks in Costa Rica, I started to wonder how the country’s remarkably nonviolent history has contributed to its current state. It seems to me that the citizens of Costa Rica are overwhelmingly peaceful and good-natured, and there is little crime, I’m told, even in urban centers. In fact, Costa Rica even abolished its military over 70 years ago.