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THE PURPLE SNAIL Sustainable use of resources during the pre-Columbian era


By Jaime González (with permission for La Cusinga Ecolodge)
Beginning at the mouth of the Coronado River, the beaches of Punta Mala and Tortuga extend to the northwest until they are halted by the rocky outcrops of Ventanas de Osa. To one side, hidden within the serene waters of the Balso River is a small and beautiful patch of mangrove. In the background rise the young mountains of Ojochal, providers of crystal clear water during the entire year. On the lower slopes, dispersed along the margins of the river, peasant homes comprise one of the most intimate and peaceful communities of the south. In the grassy pastures large quantities of rocks are commonly found that make us think of an ancient volcanic cone.
Many of these rocks were used by the indigenous people of the region for the crafting of rustic mortars for grinding and today are frequently found in the homes of the country folk. But in addition to these rocks, there existed nearby a resource of great importance that gave a special character to the cotton textiles made by the southern indigenous people: the purple snail, which they managed in a rational and sustainable manner in order to extract the coloring that the Indians required for their cloth. According to what may be derived from the tales of the Spanish Conquest, the purple dyed fabrics were preferred by the Spanish adventurers who sent them to the European monarchs. A memorable passage was written by the naturalist, Henri Pittier in 1904: “It is doubtful if today there is to be found in the entire peninsula anyone who will weave a shawl, and even among our Boruca and Térraba Indians, this useful occupation has fallen into disuse during the last ten years. The fabrication of thread was connected to another interesting industry, which I also remember from the past, even though I still saw one of its phases in the Sierpe River mouth, ten years ago: I refer to the dying of cotton.
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