By Natalie Helms
GUANACASTE CONSERVATION AREA, Costa Rica – The vast green forests of Rincón de la Vieja volcano were home to a tribe of indigenous people hundreds of years ago.
Petroglyphs appear on ancient volcanic rocks scattered along the slopes. The drawings etched in stone tell stories of Costa Rican history, but other legends have been passed by word of mouth to future generations.
During a hike at Rincón de la Vieja National Park in the Guanacaste Conservation Area, naturalist Christian Zuñiga Gutierrez, shared an indigenous legend.
According to a legend of the Curubaneo tribe a princess fell in love with a prince of an enemy tribe. The couple hid their relationship, but the princess’s father discovered their secret love and was enraged. Despite his anger, the father pretended he approved and arranged a celebration ritual on the edge of a volcano crater. During the fake celebration he threw the prince into the crater.
The princess was absolutely distraught at the death of her lover, so she fled deep into the forest to mourn. It is said that the princess had a baby boy while she was away: the prince’s child. The princess threw the infant into the crater, believing that the boy would be with his father in the afterlife.
The woman then grew old in the forest and became a witch doctor that people of the tribe would seek out for magical remedies.
Costa Ricans who are familiar with the forests of Rincón de la Vieja say that you can hear the woman’s cries in the wind, and the waterfalls of the region are her tears.
The volcano gets its name from this legend. The word rincón means a place that is difficult to reach or not often travelled. Vieja translates to old woman. The tribe members who searched for the witch doctor would ask for “the old woman who is far away.”
Estimates indicate that about 400,000 indigenous people lived in Costa Rica in eight different tribes, including the Curubaneo tribe, before the Spanish conquest. Today, less than 1 percent of Costa Rica’s population is indigenous, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Most of the population died during or following the Spanish conquest from disease and slave-raiding expeditions.
Today, Rincón de la Vieja is a destination for tourist and research exploration as part of the national park.
Tour guides tell visitors myths and legends, but most of the petroglyphs remain in areas restricted from the public for their preservation and analysis, Zuñiga said.
Although few people now live on the volcano’s slopes, legends and petroglyphs allow a dying indigenous culture to live again in the forest alongside the sizzling crater.