The Huetar tribe of Guayabo is located in the dense and colorful rainforest of Costa Rica´s Central Valley. As we boarded a passenger van to visit the tribe for a class field trip, I expected to see mud huts clustered around a central teepee, may be with animal hides hanging in the entrance ways. What we found was a dirt road lined with small, brightly painted houses and extravagant gardens. We met with the tribe in the village square, where the Shaman performed a welcoming ritual under the central thatch roof. We learned that each palm-wood pillar of the sturdy structure represents a different ancestral spirit, which makes the shelter a sacred and wondrous place. The Shaman then led us through the forest, teaching us about the medicinal plants Native to the Guayabo area. We tasted everything from Turmeric root (believed to prevent arthritis and cancer) to Dormilona flowers (said to cure chicken pox). Of course our group of Western-minded pre-medical college students had varying opinions on the health effects of the herbs, but there was not a person among us who was not in awe the Shaman´s vast wealth of healing experience and knowledge.
The wife of the Shaman fed us a delicious lunch of maíz tortillas with home-grown vegetables, wrapped in plantain leaves and accompanied by freshly squeezed pineapple juice. We ate on the wooden floor of the Shaman´s home, which was beautifully hand-built and highly decorated with Central American folk art. The walls were painted with images of the Huetar spirits; the windows festooned with hand-carved wooden beads. A member of the tribe demonstrated the coating of an arrowhead in the secretions of a poison dart frog, which is an effective method of killing game while hunting. The Huetar tribe is unlike anything I have ever seen in my culture or anywhere else, and the rituals of the tribe must be experienced to be appreciated. Many tourists visit the beaches and natural attractions of Costa Rica, but participating in the healing rituals of a Native Costa Rican tribe is one of the many unique opportunities that Universidad Veritas offers.