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Costa Rica's Pampa and violence for the past.

Sep 15, 2021
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Today is Costa Rica's independence day. Actually, the declaration of independence didn't arrive until late October, and actually it's independence day for most of Central America. We celebrate the usual patriotic larp parades and concerts and people who care hang a flag around the bars jailing their homes from baleful, untrustworthy neighbors. I'm sure the president says something somewhere about the supposed value of democracy. But in general, it feels like most people here are sort of apathetic about independence, like its more of an excuse to get a day off from work and probably get drunk instead of a spiritual celebration of the nation. It's not like in the US or Mexico, whose independence day is marked with deep cultural significance, fancy fireworks and tears out of national pride. Records show that when the declaration of independence arrived on October 29th 1981, there was very little enthusiasm shown from the population. Sort of 'cool we're independent, I wonder who'll win this week's football match'.

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Truth is, Costa Rica was used to national sovereignty by that time. We were forgotten by Spain and Guatemala for more than a hundred years, the reasons for this are for another post, but it's hilarious in an absurd way how alienated we often were from the rest of the region's politics/culture. We had an elite-led civil war, like all civil wars really, about wherever or not we should be annexed to the Mexican Empire. Turns out the Mexican Empire was already dissolved by the time ticos bros were killing each other over muh Mexico, we just were that irrelevant that we didn't get the news until later. Perhaps ironically, this independence from the rest of Central America's culture is what led to Costa Rica being one of the most prosperous nations in central america.

However, any cool high school history teacher will tell you that Costa Rica's real founding lies not in its independence, but in the annexation of Nicoya, which happened July 25th 1824. Nicoya's region is now more often than not just called by the province's name of Guanacaste. Like 90% of Costa Rica's folklore and national symbols all come from Guanacaste, as do most of our customs, despite Guanacaste arguably shaping little of our short history.



Yet most ticos are in love with Guanacaste. Not thanks to government propaganda, but because Guanacaste is chiseled deep in our collective memories and thus in our national spirit. Everyone goes to have their vacations in Guanacaste, parents take their children there because they remember their parents taking them to Guanacaste, and the parents of their parents remember the same. Most ticos have fond childhood memories of mellow afternoons in Guanacaste's beaches, the trembling echo of the cicadas over dry, begrimed leaves, flowing with the quiet whispers of warm sands going with the wind like the confluence of Eden's rivers. There is something ancient about Guanacaste's dry forest, the skeletal threes under the crimson of late-afternoon sunlight, housing eagles and being trailed by red ants as if they were its veins. Forrest's untouched by humans and yet abandoned by nature, like a place in eternal decay, but I can't help but feel a sort of peace of mind and soul when I remember those mournful landscapes. The withered corpses of brittled oaks, grey like a broken statue, give them a calm and comforting solitude in death.

Fun fact, Guanacaste's Nicoya has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.










Though not as popular as others, my favorite folkloric tune is a vals called Pampa, composed by Jesús Bonilla and written by Aníbal Reni. It's an ode to the memory of Guanacaste, especially how we can't let go off that memory.

View: https://youtu.be/KdJNsYZscpU

Here is an english translation of the lyrics. Made by deeptranslate and me.

The sun rises over the beautiful plain
under the clear crystal sky;
shines the beautiful amethyst of the oak,
and the malinche of coral red.

How beautiful the hill looks!
But appears more like a pearl of the sea
that set in the tameless pampas
a jewel would come to form.

Pampa, pampa, the savanero saw you
and he can never forget you;
on his colt he escapes lightly
after the fierce calf.

Then comes the afternoon divine,
and the contour is seen to bleed;
there are marimbas that quake far away,
and the pampa becomes immortal.






I don't think the tune reflects the subtle violence of the lyrics, but this is the magic of the piece, it's a paradox of the peaceful violence of nature. There is something sort of zen in the image of a cow skull in a desert landscape, of a vulture resting next to his prey, of dead trees and the snaking trails of far away forest fires. Cormac Mccarthy's Blood Meridian touches on this theme, and so does a good deal of Costa Rica's literature.

When we examine the lyrics, we see the beauty of memory juxtaposed with subtle violence. Only after experiencing the violence of Guanacaste's pampa is the memory stuck there forever. In the lyrics, there's an abundance of the color red: coral red, marimbas, and how the afternoon contour, which is divine, bleeds. The divine is not comforting or peaceful in an orthodox way, the glimpses of divinity we see in a sunset bleeds. I don't know about you but bleeding usually isn't a pleasant experience. After we see an image of spilling blood, we hear the marimbas quaking. The og word in spanish is tremar, which is a verb usually used in relation to earthquakes, which Costa Rica often gets. Again, the memory of the melody of the marimbas is something that shakes you, not all that comfy. And there are more indications of this ´peaceful violence', the pampa is described as tameless, and calfs are fierce. Not all is fierce of course, the sky is clear, the oaks shine under the sun. But the pampa only becomes immortal once it's memory has been entombed inside of you, only when its nostalgia has fiercely bleed all over you and shaken you and after you realized you can't tame that feeling, only there it becomes inmortal.




Time and memory are violent, time coerces us into moving forward even if we don't want to, a lost future, a picture of your past can take hold and enslave your every cell. A memory or images of the past can take hold of your soul like some demonic possession, and no matter how irrational, how better the future will be, or how much on the wrong side of history you are, you won't let go. You love what you love: Why do people fall in love with a partner that's clearly not good for them, that there's clearly better people they could be falling in love with? I think it's the same with nostalgia and the past, it's irrational but it's all too human. You can't force a anyone to give up on his or her beloved. And they will turn to violence to protect that love.

It feels to me that as a society we are just coming to face the consequences of disregarding the past so much, of forgetting our dead, of thinking they have no say about what goes on in the realm of the living. And no sacrilege goes unpunished, at least some terrorists think so. The New Zeland mosque shooter rationalized his atrocity by appealing to the men who died in war, only for future generations to disregard their sacrifice and turn their country into something those dead men would've detested. Reactionary movements are rising up everywhere, because they won't let go of some lost past, and those obsessed with progress are seemingly not willing to compromise. People are in love with the past wherever we accept it or not, and when we try to kill a beloved, there will be blood.

There was this 3 edgy 5 me quote going around of Fire Emblem twitter, something like 'If they want to hug the past, let them die with it'. Well, the past will surely die, but it may bury everything with it.


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Self-Hating Bureaucrat
Mar 27, 2022
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Great post.
It feels to me that as a society we are just coming to face the consequences of disregarding the past so much, of forgetting our dead, of thinking they have no say about what goes on in the realm of the living
This was my favorite part, and I completely agree. "The past is never dead. It's not even past."
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Aug 9, 2021
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