PRONUNCIATION: COHSS-tah REE-kuhns
ALTERNATE NAMES: Ticos
LOCATION: Costa Rica
POPULATION: 3.1 million
LANGUAGE: Spanish; English
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism (over 90 percent)
In 1502, Christopher Columbus became the first European to arrive in what is now Costa Rica, on his fourth and last voyage. Although they named the region "rich coast," it was never a source of great wealth for the Spanish. Costa Rica became an independent nation in 1838. Around that time, coffee became an all-important export and source of national wealth; bananas, introduced in 1871, also became a major export crop. Costa Rica's political life has generally been tranquil. However, in 1948, thousands died in a civil war. Since then, Costa Rica has held to a tradition of orderly, democratic rule.
Costa Rica is about the size of the state of West Virginia. Mountain ranges run the length of the country, reaching as high as 12,500 feet (3,810 meters) above sea level. The lowlands along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts are hot and rainy, with swamps and abundant forests.
Costa Rica has a population of over 3 million.
Spanish is the universal language. Costa Ricans call themselves "Ticos." Vos is often used in place of tú as the singular familiar pronoun. Costa Rican Spanish is influenced by Mexican television.
Amerindians (native people) in Costa Rica see the world as created by Sibu (God) and controlled by good and evil spirits. Traditional healers who cure with herbs and chants are called brujas (witches). They are always female and at least fifty years old.
Catholic folklore is plentiful. As in all of Latin America, saints are prayed to as a link with God. Statues and pictures of saints in the home are believed to confer good luck.
More than 90 percent of the population are baptized Roman Catholics. The constitution recognizes Catholicism as the national religion. A Catholic marriage is the only type of religious ceremony the state recognizes as binding. However, Costa Ricans generally do not observe rigid conformity to the doctrines and rules of the church.
Most of Costa Rica's fifteen public holidays are religious. Some businesses close for Holy Week, the week before Easter. Falling in late March or early April, it is commemorated with religious processions. Christmas Eve (December 24) is celebrated with visiting, drinking, dancing, and gift-giving as well as midnight Mass. The feast day of Our Lady of the Angels, Costa Rica's patron saint, occurs on August 2. On this day, La Negrita, a small black stone image of the Virgin, is carried in a solemn procession.
The most important secular holiday is Independence Day, on September 15.
Parents of newborn children receive gifts from relatives and neighbors. The godparents traditionally take the infant to church to be baptized. A child's first birthday is also a great occasion. Children enter school at age seven. A middle-or upper-class girl's fifteenth birthday is a special occasion (called the quince). It is marked by a large, elaborate party. Most adult Costa Ricans let their birthdays pass unnoticed. Couples celebrate their silver (twenty-five-year) and golden (fifty-year) wedding anniversaries.
Funerals are required by law to be held within twenty-four hours of death. Whenever possible, a church ceremony is held, and mourners then proceed to the cemetery for the burial.
Foreign visitors have described Costa Ricans as hospitable and gracious. Much socializing goes on in clubs or bars, or at fiestas or other community celebrations. However, many Costa Ricans socialize primarily with relatives.
Dating is not common. In rural areas and among more traditional urban families, girls under eighteen must still be chaperoned (accompanied by an adult) at night. If a boy and girl go out on a date even once, they are generally thought to be novios (boyfriend and girlfriend) who do not date anyone else.
Costa Rica and Panama enjoy the highest standard of living in Central America. Most Costa Ricans live in small wooden or cement-block houses. The floors are of wood or tile, and the roofs of zinc or corrugated iron. The urban poor generally live in overcrowded, usually rented, slum dwellings. Squatters' shanties (shacks) can be found on the fringes of the cities.
The extended family is the basis of Costa Rican society. Several generations may live under the same roof. Much of Costa Rican social life consists of visiting relatives on Sundays and joining them on special occasions. Family size has dropped sharply since 1960 because of birth control. Women form a growing proportion of the labor force. Divorce, once seen as a disgrace, occurs more frequently than in the past. However, separation and desertion remain far more common. Many women are also victims of domestic violence.
Costa Ricans wear modern, Western-style clothes. Clean, unwrinkled clothing is very important to urban working-class people. Many will skimp on food to buy stylish clothing. Jeans and tee-shirts are everyday wear for young people of all classes. Girls wear school uniforms.
Traditional women's clothes include a sheer, low-cut, frilly white blouse and a flowered, full cotton skirt. A fringed silk or cotton rebozo (shawl) is draped around the shoulders or over the head. Traditional men's clothes generally consist of dark trousers and a long-sleeved white shirt with a red knotted handkerchief at the neck and a colored sash around the waist
The Costa Rican diet is based on rice, beans, tortillas or bread, fried plantains, and strong black coffee. The midday meal is the main one.
Olla de carne, the traditional stew, is made with beef, potatoes, corn, plantains, squash, yucca, and other vegetables. Other popular main dishes include paella and zarzuelas (spicy seafood stews).
Elementary education is compulsory between the ages of six and fifteen. However, many graduates enter college unable to read or write well enough to meet the college standard. Well-to-do parents usually send their children to private schools, where instruction is at a higher level.
The main institutions of higher learning are the University of Costa Rica and the National Autonomous University.
Costa Rica has a national orchestra, opera house, and dance company. Alejandro Monastel is a classical composer who employs native folk themes. Among popular performers are Los Talolingas, who wrote "La Guaria Morada," regarded as the nation's "second national anthem."
Francisco Amighetti and Richard Kliefoth are among the nation's painters and graphic artists. Costa Rica's best writers have been mostly essayists and poets, including Justo Facio, Roberto Brenes Mesén, and Joaquín García Monge.
About three-quarters of all Costa Ricans are members of the working class. These include farm and domestic workers, gardeners, and janitors. As in most Latin American societies, work is seen as a necessity but not an end in itself. The work week is often cut short on Friday afternoon, and there are many holidays.
Soccer is the national sport—or even national mania—of Costa Rica. Even the smallest village is likely to have at least one team. It is also by far the chief spectator sport. Like soccer, bicycling, boxing, and wrestling are popular working-class sports. Basketball, volleyball, and tennis are played mostly by upper-and upper-middle-class boys, and tennis and golf are played by their fathers.
Films are extremely popular, but most moviegoers are under twenty-five years of age. Portable radios are operated everywhere, most often tuned to stations playing popular music. Even the poorest homes are likely to have TV sets. Favorite programs include cartoons and old movies from the United States, and Mexican telenovelas (soap operas).
Because it has only a small native (Amerindian population), Costa Rica has little in the way of native arts and crafts. Elaborately painted wooden oxcarts, only crafted since about 1900, are decorated with brightly colored geometric patterns or designs such as flowers. Similar designs are painted on some storefronts.
Costa Rica has maintained democracy, avoiding the armed conflicts and dictatorships that have gripped other Central American countries. However, poverty grips as much as one-third of Costa Rica's population. Most farmers own only tiny plots of land or none at all. Crime-control is hampered by the lack of a professional police force.
The environment is threatened by slash-and-burn agriculture and the cutting of forests. Slash-and-burn agriculture involves clearing land by cutting down all the trees, and then burning anything that is left to allow crops to be planted.
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