• Ken Morris

    Jack: Do you happen to know of a good book on the history of the indigenous peoples in Costa Rica (ideally in English but Spanish would be OK) especially as it pertains to their interaction with the Spanish?

    I got into a discussion the other day with a gringa who insisted that Costa Rica has whitewashed its history of repressing the indigenous only to romanticize their remnants today as tourist attractions, and I bristled a little at her harsh criticisms. Surely, I conjectured, the Ticos have not been that bad. I therefore decided to ask a UCR professor with some expertise in Costa Rica’s indigenous peoples and was surprised by how little he appeared to know. He couldn’t even offer me a persuasive explanation for why there was apparently less inter-breeding between the Spanish and the indigenous in Costa Rica than there was elsewhere in Central America.

    Maybe this is a history that has yet to be written, it being a small country and all, but if there is one, I’d like to read it. Thanks.

    • jahjan

      I’d like to read it too!

  • jack


    I would first urge you to see the first chapter of my book in which I talk about The White Legend. You may be able to find it under “Adiós White Legend” on the Tico Times website.

    I do not know of any concise accurate work on pre-Columbian Costa Rica. In part because there were many different groups here and the general dividing line between the influence of the northern Mesoamerican cultures (e.g. Maya) and the South American cultures was the Central Valley. Also, the Spanish quickly began moving people around the country and many were sold as slaves to Panama (sugar cane) and Perú-Bolivia (mining). There are some very academic and technical books on the archaeology–lots of potsherds.

    A recent UCR study of genetic markers identifies the modern Tico population as 34% indigenous, 46% European, 15% African, and 6% Chinese. This study is not well received by Ticos who insist on thinking of themselves as purely European–The White Legend.

    • Ken Morris

      Thanks, Jack. I just read your article on the white legend. It is part of what I’m looking for, but too short.

      I also quickly checked Wikipedia for the demographics of Nicaragua and read that 69% are mixed indigenous/European while 5% are indigenous. This isn’t the same measure as one of genetic markers, so it’s hard to compare, but my sense is that the indigenous genetic markers of Nicas are higher than they are for Ticos.

      If so, I’m not sure what explains the difference. The relative size of the two populations at contact could explain it, although it seems more likely that the Spanish in Nicaragua had their own mines where they worked the indigenous as slaves while Costa Rica didn’t and sold them off as slaves elsewhere. Of course, there are other possible explanations.

      Yeah, my sense of the pre-Columbian stuff is that Costa Rica is on the fringes of the great civilizations and the experts have focused on them, leaving the fringes as footnotes.

      It’s all fascinating . . .

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