Bribri, Ngäbe-Buglé & Cabecar First Nations | Founded 2013 | 100+ Youth Served
LEAF Supporter Greg Lucas of The Dan Lucas Foundation attended the 1st gathering of all of the First Nations in Costa Rica in 2012. He approached LEAF with the concept and support to start working with at least two First Nations and their culture keepers, and this extraordinary journey began.
La Casona, Costa Rica | Founded 2013 | 40+ Youth Served
Did you know? Kwin-Kwin (Thank You)
In La Casona, The people of the Ngäbe First Nation live on a comarca, roughly translated to “reservation,” where indigenous groups have land rights and some autonomy. The Ngäbe people have lost much of their culture due to colonization and globalization. This is particularly true for the Ngäbe that currently live in Costa Rica; originally, the Ngäbe are from Panama, and those that now live in Costa Rica have been separated to some extent from their cultural roots. Due to this loss of culture, certain indigenous knowledge surrounding the making of traditional instruments, the remembrance of songs, and the lineage of some dialects are all disappearing. Here, LEAF International Costa Rica is supporting the Centro de Cultura Ngäbe, founded by community member and musician, Alexis Rodriguez.
The partnership with Alexis provides much-needed support to a man who has already been working to preserve and link kids to local culture for years. Alexis is translating three languages: the ancient language of Bugle, the more traditional language of Ngäbe (or Ngäbere), and Spanish. Alexis teaches ancient stories, painting exceptional illustrations to go with the stories for the kids. As well, he teaches these children the different traditional dances and songs of the Ngäbe people. Through supporting his endogenous efforts, we are connecting him to a larger network of support to bolster his impact to the Ngabe communities he is a part of, and that he serves.
Chirripo, Costa Rica | Founded 2015 | 55+ Youth Served
Did you know? Wëktë (Thank You)
With partner Proyecto Jirondai, a third LEAF International program was created with the Cabecar First Nation. Located on Alto Chirripo, a 22-mile hike from the nearest vehicle accessible road, Luis Salazar teaches approx 55 students traditional song & dance, and healing medicine.
Talamanca, Costa Rica | Founded 2013 | 15 Youth Served
Did you know? Miá-miá (or “wëstëla” is more polite word for Thank you)
In 2013, LEAF International teamed up with Proyecto Jirondai to support the preservation and revitalization of ancient Bribri music, art and language traditions in the mountainous region of Talamanca in southern Costa Rica.
The culture and language of the First Nations in Costa Rica have been marginalized: 2+ generations haven’t been learning their native traditions and ways of being. Currently, 90% of all linguistics diversity in the Americas have disappeared or are in the process of disappearing. UNESCO predicts that all native languages will disappear in this century.
LEAF International Costa Rica supports and empowers the Bribri First Nation to revitalize their cultural traditions. The Bribri connect to their gods, their elders, and each other through singing, dancing, and drumming. By signing, they express a variety of stories and actions.
Meeting 3 times a week, youth in the Bribri First Nation learn ancient Bribri traditions of drum making, drumming, and singing. The community also has a very progressive radio station and recording studio that has been in existence for many years. With use of the radio, Bribri shares their music and recordings of ancient songs with the rest of the country. This ability is empowering to them.
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Take a journey that will immerse you into the heart of LEAF and its mission. Learn about the cultures, preservation methods, and musical traditions of the First Nations of Costa Rica and the cultivation of art in Guatemala. See how LEAF International is contributing to the vivacity of these traditions by supporting cultural knowledge transfer to the next generations.
Successful cultural expedition fully immersed participants in dynamic spaces of ceremonial practices, traditional medicinal customs & language recovery.
Culture keepers and students participate in a 5-day residency at Candler Elementary, more than 4 cultural exchanges across the county & joined LEAF for the 49th LEAF festival. The Costa Rica crew taught more than 275 youth
Alexis Rodriguez published his second book, Ji Tara Kri Deka. This book is infused with traditional Ngabe stories and poems to help the youth connect to their traditional Indian roots. Ji Tara Kri Deka is in 35 schools & 5 Indian Territories throughout Southern Costa Rica and Northern Panama.
October: Culture Keepers Luis Salazar & Jairo Sanchez are building two separate schools in different regions of Costa Rica so youth can have stability in their study quarters.
September: Put on your boots, pack your backpack, and imagine walking 3 DAYS across the Chirripo Mountains to the nearest town then hitching rides and buses to get to the capital city. The traffic, paved roads, sounds, cars, lights, shops, and so many people were all such a surprise to Ceclia Last month was Cecilia’s 1st time away from home- she is 10yrs old. She performed alongside her dynamic mentor, LEAF International Culture Keepers Luis, and with other international youth at San Jose’s Museum of Jade. This was a big life journey.
“Being in the city, Cecilia understood the beauty & importance of her sacred homeland in the beautiful mountain lands of Costa Rica. She was able to share her in-depth perceptions of preservation with more than 100 people- her voice by song and speaking was honored. She now knows the difference and we want people to know that she can help us tell that story of cultural and land preservation.” – Luis Porras Mora
July: Alexis Rodriguez, Jairo Sanchez, & Luis Porras Mora join the 2nd annual LEAF Arts & Park Camp for a 2-week cultural exchange with Asheville area youth.
February: Twelve LEAFers journey to Costa Rica alongside tour partner, Discovery Expeditions to visit the LEAF International program in Bri Bri First Nation. The nine-day quest is a transformational and enlightening experience for all aboard. Cultural lessons are gifted to the group about indigenous arts and music for the Ngabe, Cabecar, and Bri Bri; cacao medicinal properties and ancient uses; Bri Bri language; conical house architecture; Sbák drumming with Teaching Artist, Jairo Sanchez (alongside his teacher and grandfather, Don Emilio); and traditional chants, songs, and dances among the First Nations. Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” serendipitously and appropriately become the group song. The future for these programs is bright.
October: With Proyecto Jirondai, a third LEAF International program is launched with the Cabecar First Nation: empowering medicine man and culture keeper, Luis Salazar, with the support he needs to teach youth in his community in the Chirripos mountains about plant medicine, ancient songs, creation stories, and sacred ceremonies and lullabies. Additionally, Luis Salazar travels to Ujarras once a month to teach another group of students this ancient wisdom as well.
May: 18 Members of Proyecto Jirondai and the First Nation communities travel to the US to share with the LEAF community the traditions of their cultural art while participating in cultural exchanges with various communities in the Asheville area. Cultures were connected and unforgettable friendships formed. This exchange led to increased visibility and recognition of these communities and the pressing challenges they face.
March: LEAF International helps to facilitate cultural exchange and cultural remembrance trip. Members of the Ngabe community in Costa Rica traveled to their homelands in Panama for the first time in their lives, allowing children to see the mountains that they’ve only heard about in their mythology and creation myths. These individuals reunited with the Ngabe communities still living in Panama and participated in a cultural gathering that celebrated their heritage. This experience was one of the most profound moments LEAF International has been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of–all involved were brought to tears of joy, remembrance, and gratitude. This connection continues, and LEAF International is planning to help start a sister program with this Ngabe community in Panama in the future. These exchanges will continue as we work to bolster and strengthen Ngabe cultural identity.
February: LEAF International hosts its first-ever Cultural Exchange Trip in the Bribri and Ngabe First Nation communities, allowing LEAFers and these communities to build relationships with one another, connecting cultures and cultivating global citizenship.
November: With the help of Proyecto Jirondai, Ngabe Teaching Artist, Alexis Rodriguez, won a scholarship from the Ministry of Culture to further his cultural teachings throughout the country of Costa Rica.
October: With a formal invitation from the vice-president, children from both the Ngabe and Bribri programs perform at the presidential house of Costa Rica, bringing these programs national recognition, and giving voice and visibility to indigenous cultural rights more visibility.
September: Kids from Alto Laguna, Ngabe, won 1st place in their area at the National Students Arts Festival, an annual festival organized by the Minister of Education. Good job!
June: 5 LEAFers, including a videographer, travel to Costa Rica to visit the programs in both La Casona and Talamanca. They connect, share, and learn, while also collecting footage for LEAF International documentation efforts.
August: LEAF Staff travels to Costa Rica to launch programs in Talamanca and La Casona. The trip is a big success! All involved are inspired to preserve indigenous culture and traditions of the two First Nations.
January: Greg Lucas dreams of this project. Greg and LEAF vision a viable way to launch a LEAF International program in Costa Rica.
Meet The Culture Keepers
Alexis Rodriguez – Alexis Rodriguez learned music and Ngäbe traditions from his mother who
lived near the frontier. While he speaks Spanish, he thinks in Ngäbe-Buglé. For more than 20
years, Alexis has served as a culture keeper teaching thousands of youth traditional Ngäbe-Buglé
music, rhythms, chants, and the language itself. Alexis has authored 3 books that are used in schools in southern Costa Rica & Northern Panama to teach youth the Ngabe language & history.
Cabécar culture keeper, Luis Salazar is a teacher, healer, medicine-man,
agriculturist, musician, & community leader. Luis teaches kids in his community, high on the
Chirripó Mountain, and he travels across the country to teach oral traditions & medicine, and ancient chants to the Cabécar kids of Ujarras in the South Pacific. Both culture keepers are band members of LEAF partner, Proyecto Jirondai, which uses ancient traditions and the voices of the elders with contemporary music to bring awareness to indigenous culture and the voices of marginalized people. Proyecto Jirondai also uses visuals to explain the songs for those who don’t speak their indigenous languages.
In 2017, Brianna left her village of Chirripo for the first-time & headed to the city of San Jose. The traffic, paved roads, sounds, cars, lights, shops, and so many people were all such a surprise to Brianna. Last year, 14 year old Brianna came to the US to teach & perform at the LEAF festival. The power and energy of her first international experience could be felt throughout her entire journey. When she arrived in NC she was shy & reserved, by the time she left, she could not stop smiling, hugging, and laughing. Brianna only spoke her indigenous language – Cabecar, which made her stay in NC even more powerful. “Being in the city, Brianna understood the beauty & importance of her sacred homeland in the beautiful mountain lands of Costa Rica. She was able to share her in-depth perceptions on preservation with hundreds of people- her voice by song and speaking was honored. She now knows the difference and we want people to know that she can help us tell that story of cultural and land preservation.” – Luis Porras Mora