Doña Maria Pita Morales
Feeding off the Uatsi tradition,
Talamanca, Costa Rica
We found doña María Pita in her house in Uatsi, a community of almost 80 families in the Bribri Indigenous Reserve. Doña María is seventy-five years old, but looks quite strong. Although she speaks a little Spanish, she still finds it difficult, as it is her second language. In Alto Lari, where she was born, they do not speak Spanish. They speak Bribri, the language of her ancestors who have shared the Talamanca Mountain Range with Cabecar indians, living from the production of cocoa, beans and yucca, among other things. “I have many brothers, eleven to be exact. Two died so we’re fewer now. They all live there.”
When she was a child, the trip her parents had to make from the mountains to Puerto Viejo de Limón to get produce to market took six days, involving stretches on foot and others in canoe. Due to such difficulties their mother decided to move the family here, nearer to populated areas. “It was a huge change when my mother came here.” At only 10 years old, María Pita left the mountains behind for a life in the Valle de la Estrella, an area occupied by the banana companies and their monocultures.
There was no school in Alto Lari, which is why María did not learn to read or write, and her first words in Spanish were not pronounced until she was eleven. But her children did go to school. She had nine, and nearly all of them have their own families today. “Now I live with Jorge, the oldest son, and his father” – her husband. Although each son has his own small plot of land, they always help her on the farm.
“When my mother came here they didn’t let her plant cacao or fruit trees, only banana. All this was only banana. She fought with the banana company. She fought a lot and they let her plant corn, beans and rice, but no fruit. Afterwards she won the fight. Now there are ceiba and types of fig trees and many other huge trees. I planted everything.” And this farm that was once covered with only banana plantations, is now rich in biodiversity, and species of animals from the mountains such as boars and birds of the Tinamid family known as “gallina de monte”, have been attracted to it.
She now shares the knowledge of her mother with her children: “My mother was like that. When she went to plant banana or plantain she took us children along with her and used to say, this is how to sow corn, this is how to sow squash. I always tell the children they have to take care of the soil. There’s a way to do everything.”
Doña María Pita has two plots of land. One in Yorkin and this one where she lives off two and a half hectares where she has cacao, banana, plantain, yucca, domestic animals, medicinal plants, and a wide variety of fruits such as star fruit, orange, mandarin and palm trees such as the coconut palm. It is a tropical paradise. “The farm is organic, natural. Nature takes care of feeding the soil. When the cacao pods need to be cut, the children arrive and the farm labourers too.” The main product is cacao, followed by banana and then star fruit. These fruits are commercialized through APPTA, the Talamancan Association of Small Producers that is a member of the Cooperative Sin Fronteras. With the help of the cooperative, they are processed in Switzerland for sale in Italy, Canada and other countries.
Walking through this plot of land is like walking through the forest. Limpid air, crystal water, no agrochemicals in the soil. And I ask myself, what is the value of the energy and the food produced in this beautiful forest that reproduces naturally, of a mountain covered in birds and wild animals? What is the nutritional value of a fruit cultivated in a monoculture, full of chemicals that make it grow artificially while destroying biodiversity? I don’t know if any related studies have been carried out on this, but I trust my intuition and prefer doña María Pita’s bananas a thousand times over.