As the plane started descending I watched the land beneath me become larger and larger, until it actually felt real. I had no idea what to expect, all I knew was that I would be observing a tribe called the Navi on a little island for four months. The island was close to Central America, specifically off the coast of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean. The airport consisted of a dirt runway an hour away from the village I’d be studying called “Amour libre”, meaning free love in English. When I arrived I was greeted by an elderly man and woman.
I would be following Kleansy, their daughter, around as my “tour guide” and native consultant during my stay. Kleansy was about 20 years of age and one of the older teens in the tribe. I would be one of the first outsiders allowed into the tribe and considered myself very privileged to be the one breaking the barrier between the outside world and this tribe. The small size of the island was what first caught my eye. When we began our descent the speck of land looked tiny and I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone sailing from the coast of Costa Rica could stumble across this island.
As soon as I arrived Kleansy started explaining some history of the tribe. She stated her small island was founded when Costa Ricans left the island of Costa Rica. Europeans started settling there bringing disease and genocide over gold which caused these Costa Rican natives to flee. They took off by canoe when they first stumbled upon the island of Amore Libre. The Costa Ricans that initially left were looking for freedom and peace, therefore naming their island “free love” in their native spanish language. By the time I got settled in the camp site it was evening and Kleansy offered me dinner. Tonight we’d be eating fresh fish and mango.
Amore Libre was a society based primarily on agriculture but men and women also spent time searching and foraging for food. Their main source of protein was fish from the Pacific Ocean and streams on the island. They picked fruit such as mangos and coconuts from trees that were both harvested by the tribe and from trees that were wild. Luckily there were several permanent streams, one permanent river and adequate drainage to support the society’s agricultural needs. As an agricultural society every single person took part in producing and maintaining the crops and farmland. Several native fruits were the staples of their diet and fresh water was available from three large lakes to support the population. Local fishing efforts provided a large portion of the dietary needs of the society’s 100 person population. It was very interesting to witness a culture that was so in tune with the land and that revered the environment that they lived in because they depended on it so much for their sustenance.
The society of Amour Libre made every effort they could to conserve their land. They didn’t have an army of any sort and instead focused their efforts toward conserving their land to make sure that future generations could survive on it. The location of the tribe is 250 miles off the west coast of Costa Rica. Similar to the Islands of Hawaii, Amour Libre was formed by the rising of several oceanic volcanoes that rose above the ocean’s surface and created a land mass that featured two volcanic peaks on either end of the landmass. The island has an area of 50 square miles and is surprisingly lush with thick vegetation dominating throughout, but there were also many meadows that the natives designated for foraging and some that were used for agriculture. The land’s rich soil content and land area-to-population ratio allowed the society to be sustained by agriculture and horticulture.
I would go on to learn that when the natives first arrived to the island it was largely covered with trees and underbrush. Several days after I first arrived I learned that 10 years after the natives first arrived they recognized that they had deforested the…