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Costa Rica

Local Ecosystem Assessment of the Higher and Middle Chirripó River Sub-basins, Cabécar Indigenous Territory, Costa Rica

Contact Information

  • Esther Cámac
    Association Ixacavaa de Desarrollo e Información Indígena
    San Jose, Costa Rica

Project Team

The assessment was conducted by: Abraham García, Flor Morales, Elizabeth Sanabria, Otilio Mora, Roger Espinoza, Carlos Artavia—members of the Cabecar indigenous community; and Carlos Sevilla, Esther Cámac, and Fabricio Carbonell—consultants.

Funding for this assessment was provided by the MA, SwedBio, and Ixacavaa Association.

Ecosystem Services Assessed

This is a user-driven assessment conducted in large part using the traditional knowledge of the inhabitants of the assessment areas. The area is part of the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve of Costa Rica, established in 1982 and declared a World Heritage Site one year later. It is located in the buffer zone of the Caribbean basin, in the sub-basin of the Chirripó River. It is also a part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor due to its important ecosystems, with six life zones and species diversity of high conservation value.

Traditionally, this population conserves deeply-rooted ancestral knowledge on the uses of ecosystems, and lives in a tropical humid forest with dense cover. Their territory contains 48,000 hectares of pristine forest that is currently threatened by timber activities, poaching, pollution, and ecosystem fragmentation due to the unsustainable agricultural practices of non-indigenous people. We started by recovering the stories and histories from the elders about the habitat, its creation, and the norms that regulate its use. We then complemented this knowledge with scientific literature and produced a first interpretation of the relation of ecosystems and human well-being from the Cabécar perspective. We then validated the information in community gatherings convened by elders in other Cabécar communities. What we came up with first was a description of the broad cosmovision of the Cabécar people. Some elements of it are: (1) Earth is a circle surrounded by sea; there is a balance between upper and lower worlds; (2) habitat as a conic house; (3) special areas and places are protected by guardians that regulate access and use of resources; and (4) each living entity is a seed that deserves respect. Human beings are maize seeds. Given this cosmovision, the relationship between ecosystems and human well-being needs to be understood as taking one of three possible forms:

  1. Interrelation —human beings are part of habitat and habitat is part of human beings;
  2. Reciprocity —among human beings (menwomen, children-elders) and with the environment; and
  3. Respect — codes, norms, myths, beliefs, dreams.

One of the main qualities of ecosystems is ‘‘abundance’’—these are places full of life, places of generation of life. Access to this abundance is regulated by ‘‘guardians’’, which are not human. So the norms that control access are within the ecosystem itself. Also, among the constituents of human well-being, the main ones identified are cultural security (identity, spiritual, health, knowledge), food, territorial security, social and environmental reciprocity.

© 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment