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They used several colors, all taken from nature, especially from plants. But the most brilliant dye, and at the same time the most stable, was the purple obtained from a sea snail, called by Lineaus Purpura patula, common on certain cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. So precious and so sought after was the thread dyed with the mucus that escaped from the shell when the snail was caught, that it reached the extreme that royal taxes and clerical fees had to be paid in skeins of purple cotton cloth.  It was a common tradition among the Indians that each year, the missionaries that ruled the populations of Quepos, Boruca and others sent porters loaded down with heavy bundles of purple thread, northward destined for the convents of Nicaragua and Guatemala. Nothing was ever known again of these porters. Another detail that demonstrates the importance of this special product to which I make reference, is that the cliffs where the dye-producing snails lived and bred, were the exclusive property of the king and it was his right to distribute the rights of usage out to the Indians. Furthermore, the purple dye industry was not exclusive to the Costa Rican Indians.
Not only is this snail found on the Caribbean coast, constituting one of the vestiges of ancient fauna which indicates the prehistoric existence of a connection between both oceans, but it also extends the length of the western coast from Ecuador to Tehuantepec and it is not a remote possibility that the natives along all of this stretch of coast have known its properties.” The purple snail was found precisely in those crags that form the site of Ventanas de Osa, a place that was visited by the Indians of Térraba and Boruca, who searched in the cracks for the purple dye for their cotton cloth. The indigenous people utilized the purple snail without destroying it, rubbing the snail to extract the coloring substance. The snail once utilized was returned the rock so that its dye could again be used to advantage.
This is an example of the sustainable use of the purple snail as practiced by the southern indigenous people of the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This resource was maintained during hundreds of years in spite of its extensive exploitation. Only the arrival of the Spaniards and due to their commercial zeal did the populations of the snail finally disappear. Why not promote the seeding of the purple snail in coastal locations as part of a program of ecological recuperation of this species? Why not think of the rocky outcroppings of Ventanas de Osa and Isla de Violin?
English translation by Jack Ewing
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