A History of Costa Rica
Wedged between Panama and Nicaragua, lies a small, culturally-rich country with a compelling history dating back centuries. Costa Rica is believed to be populated by indigenous colonies since 10,000 BC with Mayan and Aztec cultural influences. It was not until 1502, that Christopher Columbus arrived and gave the country the name, Costa Rica, translating to “rich coast.” This name was given with the expectation that precious metals would be filling the land; however, the wealth from precious metals was not obtained, turning the country towards agriculture for wealth. Columbus’s arrival initiated the colonization and progression of modern Costa Rica.
The first evidence of inhabitants in Costa Rica can be dated back to 10,000 BC. Historians believe these inhabitants were hunter gatherers that initially arrived from North America during the last ice age. There were an estimated 400,000 people, separated into many diverse groups by the time Columbus reached the area. Each group had their own lifestyle and culture. Some of the major tribes in ancient Costa Rica were the Borucas, Bribri, Cabesares, Darasque, Guatusa, and Teribe tribes. Many of these tribes are still inhabiting parts of Costa Rica, maintaining their languages and traditions.
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The Baruca tribe is known for their intricate wooden masks. They mostly speak Spanish: however, they have their own language that is nearly extinct today, called Baruka or Brunka.
Costa Rica During the 1500s
In 1502, Columbus arrived off of the Coast of Limon. After his arrival, the rumor that the land was rich in gold spread like wildfire. These rumors encouraged Spanish settlers to migrate to the area. When they arrived, they quickly gave up the hope for gold and found themselves engaging in farming. Unfortunately, the colonization by European settlers brought many diseases, such as smallpox, measles, influenza and typhus, that reduced the indigenous population substantially. Many of the Indians that remained were taken into slavery or included in a genocide.
In 1522, a Spanish conquistador named Gil Gonzalez Davila led an expedition to Costa Rica. As he travelled through the country, he converted hundreds of indigenous Indians to Christianity, baptized them, sold some of them as slaves, and stole their gold and pearls. In 1540, Costa Rica officially became part of the vice-royalty of Spain. In 1561, Juan De Cavallon was the first conqueror of Costa Rica. He led 80-90 men that he recruited from Guatemala into Costa Rica to establish the first Spanish colony. Three years later, the town of Cartago was established. Ironically, many of the people that were entering Costa Rica for wealth lived a poor, peasant life.
Costa Rica During the 1700s and 1800s
The years between 1700 and 1800 were eventful for Costa Rica. In 1723, the city of Cartago was destroyed by the eruption of the Irazu volcano. This event was the first recorded volcanic eruption in Costa Rican history. Since 1723, the Irazu volcano has erupted twenty-three times. In 1808, coffee was introduced from Cuba. Coffee became Costa Rica`s primary crop. On September 5th, 1821, Costa Rica gained independence from Spain and became part of the federal republic of central America until 1848. When the federal pact was obliterated in 1848, each country obtained its own independence, including Costa Rica.
In 1856, Costa Rica participated in the war against William Walker. William Walker was an American filibuster born in Nashville, Tennessee. He wanted to expand the United States by colonizing parts of Central America, inspired by the idea of manifest destiny. Costa Rica fought alongside Nicaragua during the battle of Rivas. Juan Santamaria, a Costa Rican drummer boy, sacrificed his life during the battle of Riva by setting a building on fire to force the filibusters to retreat. In an article written in El Dario De Costa Rica, a Honduras man named Alvaro Contreres wrote about Juan Santamaria, “The invention of Costa Rica’s almost unknown soldier had begun…. Over the following decade, Santamaria would become the national hero of Costa Rica” (Soloman, 2011). Costa Rica celebrates Juan Santamaria Day every year on April 11th.