Migration from colder climates to tropical areas

Costa Rica is one of the countries in Central America, first inhabited around 10000 years ago by tribes who had travelled across the world to this spot, and they found it covered with rainforest. Central American rainforests are environmentally sensitive and play an important role in global climate balance, but large areas have been cleared for cattle ranching and for sugar cane plantations. This is detrimental for indigenous people, flora and fauna and endangered species.

Map of global rainforests


Like other major rainforests, the jungles and mangrove swamps of Central America contain many plants and animals found nowhere else.  Central America is famous for its large number of tropical birds, including many kinds of parrots. But there are many political forces stressing the populations of these countries and the ecologically important environment.

Professor Nina Jablonski, head of the Penn State Department of Anthropology has said (in 2009) that we only need to trace our ancestry back 2500 years and we would find our ancestor lived in another place in the world. We didn’t have a country then, the world was our country. We roamed in tribes, and these tribes may have grouped into larger tribes to form early civilisations, but the territories changed as civilisations grew and declined.

Maybe the ancestors of those who finally arrived in Central America had race memory of the rainforests in Asia which stretch from India and Burma in the west to Malaysia and the islands of Java and Borneo in the east.  Bangladesh has the largest area of mangrove forests in the world.

In Southeast Asia the climate is hot and humid all year round. In the mainland Asia it has a subtropical climate with torrential monsoon rains followed by a drier period. This may have seemed familiar to the ancient tribes who had sought a suitable habitat to end their thousands of years journeying over generations.

The tribes who made it from Africa, to Asia, to the Americas were evolving as the generations moved across continents. Our ancestors followed the animals they hunted or herded to seasonal pastures where food and fresh water could be found. They gathered food and utilised everything they could find to make into tools, clothing, cooking vessels and the like. Their belief system was likely spiritual and showed respect for the animal kingdom and the environment. Our ancestors handed wisdom and knowledge down to us to enable us to survive as best we could in a range of environments and climates they had experienced.

Before Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, the pre-Hispanic populations were a mix of tribes, and the isthmus which joins Mexico to South America was both tropical and lush, and highly seismic.

Christopher Columbus arrived in Costa Rica in 1502 on his last trip to the Americas. Costa Rica received its name from Gil Gonzalez Davila when he arrived and thought he had found the most gold he had ever seen; therefore naming it the “Rich Coast”. 

By 2018, Costa Rica had a population of 5,000,000 people. The population growth rate between 2005 and 2010 was estimated to be 1.5% annually, with a birth rate of 17.8 live births per 1,000 inhabitants and a mortality rate of 4.1 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants. By 2016, the population had increased to about 4.9 million. This is a predominantly Catholic country since the times of the Spanish Conquistadors.

Costa Ricans, also called Ticos, are a group of people from a multiethnic Spanish speaking nation in Central America called Costa Rica. Costa Ricans are predominantly whites, castizos (halfway between white and mestizo), harnizos and mestizo, but their country is considered a multiethnic society, which means that it is home to people of many different ethnic backgrounds. As a result, modern-day Costa Ricans do not consider their nationality as an ethnicity but as a citizenship with various ethnicities. Costa Rica has four small minority groups: Mulattoes, Blacks, Asians, and Amerindians. In addition to the “Indigenas”, whites, mestizos (usually Spanish speaking, mixed race of Spanish/European ancestry) blacks and mulattoes, Costa Rica is also home to thousands of Asians. Most of the Chinese and Indians now living in the country are descendants of those who arrived during the 19th century as migrant workers.

The problems of migration from colder climates to tropical areas: 

People at high latitudes in Europe and East Asia seem to have independently evolved lighter skin to produce vitamin D more efficiently with less sunlight, says Nina Jablonski, a biological anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.( watch https://www.ted.com/talks/nina_jablonski_breaks_the_illusion_of_skin_color) But, “People have been scratching their heads” about which variants do this in East Asians. Now, researchers know MFSD12 is one. The ancestors of Native Americans presumably carried that variant over the Bering Strait into the Americas. “There was variation [in skin tone] present in Latin America long before Europeans got there,” Jablonski says.


“The larger lesson,” says geneticist Andrés Ruiz-Linares of Fudan University in Shanghai, China, chair of CANDELA, “is the pitfalls of a Eurocentric view.”………… “Our study shows that going beyond Europeans one can find additional genes, even for well-studied traits. Clearly the bias towards Europeans has led to a restricted view of human diversity.”

But lighter skin means less protection from the sun. It was reported in 2013 that 6 people in Costa Rica die every week from skin cancer (http://www.ticotimes.net/2013/01/15/6-people-die-every-month-in-costa-rica-from-skin-cancer). “Costa Rica receives more UV radiation in the mountains than at sea level. There is 20-40 percent more UV radiation at an altitude of 1,500 meters than at the beach,” a Caja statement said……”Five sunburns before the age of 18 increase by 100 percent the possibility of skin cancer after 40 years.”

Costa Rica is one of the countries with the highest incidence and mortality rates for gastric cancer. Helicobacter pylori infection rates are high in the whole country. Some postulate the volcanic soil is a contributing factor as people ingest foods grown there. Japan also has a high incidence of gastric cancer.

Indigenous people of Costa Rica:

Due to the global spread of tribes, the indigenous peoples never had a thriving culture such as the empires of the Mayan, Aztec or Inka people. The native people were culturally influenced by Mesoamerican tribes from Central America and cultures from northern South America (mostly today’s Colombia). Most indigenous groups lived on simple subsistence economy and were ruled by a chief called “cacique”. When the Spaniards arrived, many tribes moved back into the mountains in order to avoid slavery and taxation by the Spaniards.

The indigenous peoples of Costa Rica have been pushed off their lands into reserves; their land was sold step by step to the mestizo population of mainly European descendance. As with most reservation land, it is relatively unfertile and a varied agriculture did not develop; corn is one of the only products grown by Hueta, one of the indigenous tribes found in Province of San José, Canton de Puriscal, Zapatón, Region of Cerrito Quepos. Other tribes are the Bribri and Cabécares, some consider them as part of the same ethnicity. They share the same religious belief in Sibo as supreme God and creator of the universe. While parts of the Bribri tribe live the lowland areas of the Cordillera de Talamanca, the Cabecarés are isolated in the mountains of the Cordillera. They maintain a complex clan system. 

The Bribri retained their spoken language and use the Latin alphabet and a number of additional characters for phonetic transcription in writing.

They grow cocoa, bananas, corn, beans, pig breeding, bird hunting. They do basket weaving and manufacture of musical instruments with natural materials, fabrics and fiber with natural pigments. To cross the river Sixaola on the border of Panama, they use dugout boats and rafts.

There are around 10,000 Cabecares, who still preserve their language, natural medicine and patrimonial culture (caciques are allowed to marry several women). They have a rich corpus of stories and legends, some of which are written down in Spanish and the Cabécar language.

They live along the Southern Atlantic Coast, Limón province, Chirripó (Pacuare valley), valley of the Rio Estrella and the Talamanca reserve. Ujarrás de Buenos Aires and China Kichá. This is probably the indigenous group with the most distinct cultural identity. The original Cabécar language is still spoken next to Spanish. The Cabécares have retained many of their customs and traditions and clan ties are still very tight. They grow coffee, cocoa and bananas, they carry out bird hunting and fishing.

It’s possible to visit areas where Cabecar Indians still live in their traditional way. See http://www.travelcostarica.nu/indigenous-costa-rica

Finally, there are the Térrabas in Costa Rica. They live in Canton of Buenos Aires in the Reserve of Boruca-Térraba. This ethnic group has preserved its cultural identity, but the original language Terraba is no longer spoken today. They grow corn, beans, rice, bananas, citrus fruit. Today their territory is populated by many non-indigenous peasants.

Map showing location of Costa Rica in Central America

The only significant artefact left by the ancient peoples are Las Bolas. The spheres are commonly attributed to the extinct Diquis culture and are sometimes referred to as the Diquís Spheres. They are the best-known stone sculptures of the Isthmo-Colombian area. They are thought to have been placed in lines along the approach to the houses of chiefs, but their exact significance remains uncertain.

Image of Las Bolas

About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers.
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