Wednesday, 23 September 2020

The tradition of natural fiber in Costa Rica

Fiber as a cultural patrimony. Sadly, in Costa Rica cabuya has been replaced by plastic and other synthetic materials.

The 2018 Costa Rican National Prize for the Patrimony of Intangible Culture (Premio Nacional al Patrimonio Cultural Inmaterial Emilia Prieto) was awarded to Juan Olivado Camacho Leiva (aka Martina) for his work in preserving the traditional art of cabuya fiber.

 

78-year-old Don Martina weaving cabuya fiber

This is a craft that has all but vanished in Costa Rica.

- paying the bills -

Cabuya the plant is a member of the Agave family that supplies a sturdy durable fiber that can be woven into shopping bags, horse cinches, saddlebags, pocketbooks, etc. It makes a strong rope or twine (mecate) with many uses. Sadly, in Costa Rica cabuya has been replaced by plastic and other synthetic materials.

A cabuya plant cultivated by the collective

The craft of cabuya fiber is still very much alive in some nearby countries (e.g. Nicaragua). It is also common in Colombia where it is known as fique.

In Costa Rica, this traditional craft endures in San Isidro de El Guarco, Cartago—on the road leading south to Pérez Zeledón. There is a collective of artisans working to continue the tradition of cabuya and educate Costa Ricans about this natural fiber. The collective is called La Cabuya Cuenta (also written as La Cabuyacuenta), meaning Cabuya Matters.

 

- paying the bills -

Don Martina pulling cabuya leaves to remove the fiber

The cabuya plant supplies long—five feet or so—soft flat leaves. These leaves are pulled through a metal frame to strip the outer layer of the leaf from the fiber. The fiber comes out as fine threads, several feet long.

 

These threads are then washed and dried before being spun into thicker thread or cordage that can be woven into a variety of useful objects. Thread can also be dyed to achieve many lovely colors. This dyed thread or cordage can then be woven into decorative patterns.

 

A woven cabuya pocketbook

- paying the bills --

One of the things cabuya was used for was saddlebags—alforjas. The durable nature of cabuya makes it an excellent material for rough usage. Agricultural workers heading out for a day’s work would use alforjas to carry their lunch, water, and other supplies.

 

Saddlebags in Costa Rica did not require the ownership of a saddle or even a horse for that matter. The saddlebags were just slung over the shoulder, giving a good distribution of weight front and back.

La Cabuya Cuenta operates a store and demonstration center in San Isidro. There is a good assortment of beautiful useful items for sale—pocketbooks, baskets, large shopping bags, etc. It is a wonderful place to shop for an extra special gift.

I congratulate don Martina on winning this prestigious prize—it is entirely deserved.

Jack Donnelly
Jack Donnelly
Jack Donnelly is a writer, photographer, and speaker living in San Pablo de Heredia. His topics of interest include Costa Rican folk culture, national traditions, traditional cuisine, ecotourism, and wildlife. Donnelly is the author of COSTA RICA: Folk Culture, Traditions, and Cuisine which is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Related Articles

[Photos] Hundreds of tourists flooded Prusia, eager to flee the pandemic

(QCOSTARICA) The gradual opening in the midst of the pandemic saw...

Victim of sexual abuse in Cartago: “this has to stop”

(QCOSTARICA)  "I was walking and pushing my six-month-old son's stroller and...

MOST READ

First electric buses will hit the road in November

(QCOSTARICA) The first three electric buses that will serve the country have already arrived and starting in November will begin service on three routes...

COVID-19 Costa Rica: 1,378 new cases for Sept 16

(QCOSTARICA) The Ministry of Health reported 1,378 new cases of the COVID-19 on Wednesday, September 16, bringing the total of confirmed cases to 59,516. The...

The death of Dr. Salas’ father comes at a difficult time

RICO'S DIGEST -  I have no doubt that this is a moment of great weight for the majority in Costa Rica who identify with...

Canadians flying to Costa Rica with Air Canada will have free COVID travel insurance

(QCOSTARICA) As part of its return to international flights, Air Canada will provide free travel insurance to its customers for new bookings made between...

Why are the number of recovered not keeping pace with new cases?

(QCOSTARICA) If we look at the numbers, we see the number of new cases daily over the 1,000 mark. And when they do, they...

They did not last a day: the first flexible delineator posts on ruta 32 downed

(QCOSTARICA) The flexible delineator plastic traffic road divider on the Ruta32 did not last a full day. Crews finished placing them this Sunday at...

Let's Keep This Going!

To be updated with all the latest news and information about Costa Rica and Latin America.

Log In

Forgot password?

Forgot password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.

Log in

Privacy Policy

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.