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Starting point: Curiosity about indigenous cultures in Costa Rica

Organizing strategy: Source crafts from tribes

Tools: A quirky, reasonably-priced, upscale gallery in San Jose

Outcomes: A successful outlet for indigenous crafts, returning fair prices to the artisans

Primary Resource:

Gallery Hours: Mon – Sat: 9 am – 6:30 Sun: 1 – 5 (Sundays Open Jan through April)

In describing Galeria Namu, we are often asked about our name: namu, which is the Bribri word for jaguar, the sacred animal to so many tribes of Central America.  This name addresses one aspect of our mission – to respect and celebrate the permanence and legacy of the first people of this land.

In our downtown San José gallery you will find the incredible artwork that comes from Costa Rica (and other Central America locations) indigenous and folk artists. There is no other gallery in the country that has brought together such a collection. Our objective is to bring to you these unique works, at reasonable prices, not only for your delight, but also to give the artists the forum they deserve. We engage in fair trade practices: the artists get paid immediately, we are not a consignment gallery and they are assured of receiving equitable compensation.\

Despite the general consensus about Costa Rica of not a country one comes to expect to find an array of arts (other than wood crafts), Namu proves that this is simply not the case. When one looks hard enough, as we did, there is a rich and diverse body of folk and indigenous art which is not hard to imagine, given the great natural beauty of this land – how could it not inspire the beautiful art we have assembled. There is much to discover on both our website and within our physical gallery in Costa Rica. Our staff astounds visitors with their knowledge base and our commitment to fair trade. We are all about fair trade and sharing the incredible works of art from this little corner of the world.

Handmade Crafts: Cabecár Tribe Costa Rica

The engagingly whimsical creatures, made by Costa Rica’s Cabecár indigenous tribe have been offered in Galeria Namu for about five years. These handmade crafts, an art form of which is the only artifact that we have from this tribe; in fact it is the only cultural expression that they make to offer tourists, what few they come across.

The Cabecarés maintain a complex clan system. Approximately 10,000 in number, they still speak their own language and practice their natural medicine and patrimonial culture and as such are probably the indigenous group with the most distinct identity retaining many of their customs and traditions.

As romantic as this authentically indigenous lifestyle may sound, it is not without challenges, some of them quite extreme such as precarious health care and minimal availability of  basic education, not to mention their rigorous living conditions. Their territory is remote, isolated and quite disconnected from the rest of the country. This is where a remarkable project, spearheaded by theHumanitarian Foundation of Costa Rica, has played a large role in opening up avenues to modern conveniences and government services without taking away from their traditional beliefs and cultural identity. Initially the project had to overcome language and cultural barriers; ten years ago the people, and especially the children, were quite alarmed by people with white skin, fair hair and blue eyes.

With time, as well as much dedication and donations, medical clinics, cultural centers and elementary schools have been established. Later, cabins were constructed to house volunteers and shortly thereafter the shy women of the villages were encouraged to create something different out of their bark fiber cloth. Thus the Curious Creatures craft was initiated. It is remarkable that over the last decade, a whole generation of children have grown up in the awareness of the confidence of their parents as they welcome hitherto unheard of visitors from outside the tribe into their villages.

So it is with pride that that we announce the debut of this lovely, fresh and innocent handmade crafts of the Cabecár on the website of Galeria Namu. We know from our experience in our physical gallery that visitors are entranced by this unusual expression of indigenous sensibilities. The little animals and collages the Cabecares have sprung to life for our delight, and in turn we can repay the gift of their candor by purchasing them knowing that the money that they receive for their work is being put right back into their well-being. Seldom is there such cause and effect in art, and we are so very honored to be able to facilitate the process.