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Costa Rican Culture: Crafts

Most of the crafts found in Costa Rica, like jungle-seed jewelry are similar to crafts in other Latin American countries, but a few of them are special to Costa Rica.


Carretas

These colorful painted wooden carts drawn by oxen used to be the common form of transportation in the countryside. Although they are rarely seen in use today, they have become Costa Ricans most famous type of craft. In the middle of the 19th century, when coffee was first being cultivated in the surrounding countryside, oxcarts provided the only method in which to transport the hand picked coffee beans over the mountains and to the coast. This symbol of Costa Rican agricultural is nowadays available as a souvenir in replicas of all sizes. The main center for carreta construction is in Sarchí, the country’s most famous artisan town.


Banana and Coffee Paper

Coffee and bananas have long been associated with Costa Rica, and artisans have developed various crafts based on these crops. The most interesting is banana paper (and, to a lesser extent, coffee paper), which are made into greeting cards and notebooks.


Pottery

The village of Guaitil on the Península de Nicoya is famed for its pottery. The attractive pots are made from local artisans who fashion their pottery in the pre-Columbian Chorotega Indian style. The tradition of handmade pottery has been handed down from generation to generation for over 800 years. The sand for the clay is collected in the mountains; three different colors of sand are used: tan, red ochre and black. All the pots are made completely by hand. The designs, which are carved into the surface of each piece, contain power and fertility symbols of the Chorotega Indians. The pots are then fired in wood burning, igloo-shaped, earthen ovens that artisans keep in their yards. Many houses and hotels in Guanacaste are decorated with huge pots.


Wood and Seeds

Costa Rican artisans have a strong tradition of woodworking. A variety of handmade handicrafts are made from the finest native woods, such as Cocobolo, Ron Ron, Nazareno, Mora, Melina, Guanacaste, Guayacan Real, Guapínoly, and Chonta. Artists make beautiful bowls, masks, bracelets, necklaces, earrings and jewelry boxes out of the different colored wood. Also the use of jungle seeds in jewelry is very common. One seed known as the “Nene” from a tree called Ormosia, is believed to bring good luck. The Nene is a beautiful red seed with one black spot covering one-third of its surface. Another seed used regularly by local artisans is the ojo de buey (or eye of the ox).

Frequently used in jewelry is the guanacaste seed, a light brown seed with a distinctive brown eye. The guanacaste tree is a huge canopy tree and is the national tree of Costa Rica. The word guanacaste is of Natuatl origin and means "ear tree" because the pods superficially resemble the shape of a human ear. The nutritious pods are used for stock feed, and the bark and wood are used for tanning and lumber.