It took 3 1/2 hours to get to their Guatuso reservation in an isolated area around Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica but it was a priceless experience. Since I had an extra day before my Tauck World Discovery tour, I took a day trip to visit the 600-member Maleku Indigenous people, one of the 7 indigenous tribes totaling 60,000 people or 1% of Costa Rica. We were met by Alcides, our Maleku guide, who took us into the village where we were welcomed with their traditional greeting of knocking on our right then left shoulder while saying “capi capi”, which is hello-welcome in Maleku. The main welcoming area of bamboo huts with palm-thatched roof had a ground wood fire going inside to keep mosquitoes away. Outside 6 Maleku people were making tamales by wrapping hominy-size corn in banana leaves. Alcides showed us around the reservation, explaining the beliefs and ancient traditions of his people.
Maleku and Boruca tribes are known for their colorful hand-carved masks out of balsa wood that they wear for the Day of the Devil festival each January, and for burying their family members inside their dirt-floored huts. With the majority of Maleku living in concrete houses built for them by the government in 1968, burying inside the concrete house is no longer possible. Now, they have to get permission to follow their traditional burials outside the home since they live in a reserve. Burials occur at 4 a.m. so only Maleku people will attend.
Lunch was served in the Maleku dining area on wooden tables. It consisted of large amounts of black beans, papas or potatoes, rice, pork, lettuce and tomato salad, fried plantains(bananas) and orange juice or cassava juice (yucca or tapioca plant). It was delicious.
Then it was time to go into the forest, known as the “Maleku hospital.” Alcides showed us leaves from a Hombre Grande tree, when boiled makes tea for a bad stomach ache, another plant used for insect repellant and the black wood tree used to build houses. The tubar root makes potatoes, pataste makes cocoa. Their ceremonial clothing is made from the mastate tree which is disappearing because of forest destruction. The bark cloth is painted with the fingertips. Finally he showed, a cinnamon-like leaf, an anise leaf that numbs the tooth for surgery, the curcuma plant makes yellow paint, achiote seed makes a natural red paint, Jamaica tree, a relative of ginger, and cassava root, which is like yucca or tapioca.
Then it was time for a Maleku language class.They still speak the Maleku language and they even have their own radio station and the elders still teach their language to the school children. They also speak English and Spanish. Fufu means butterfly, herra means iguana, uriuri means holler monkey, capi capi means hello or greetings. And we had gracious greetings by the Maleku indigenous people of Costa Rica.