The Maleku Strategy

Luis The Maleku Strategy

Luis Josue Dominguez, Maleku/BriBri artist

We met Luis, above, last December. He agreed to be our liaison setting up a meeting between LRFF representatives and the Maleku indigenous tribe of Guatuso. We wanted to find out what the possibilities were for finding funding to help them with the preservation of their forests or a forest restoration project. Luis told us the sad history of the Maleku, a gentle and brave people. I told the story and previewed this project in a previous blog “Two Stories From My Heart to Yours”.

We returned on September 9th to talk meet with the Maleku and give a presentation about the project plan. Randy Sperger, Founder of Green Earth Development Team (GEDT), who has been working with the Maleku for over 20 years, and Eduardo Vega, a member of the GEDT board also came from San Jose to attend the meeting. Randy and I had been in communication about implementing this project, coming to the conclusion that the first step would be to unite the tribe.

presentation The Maleku Strategy

Giving the presentation in the big upala or rancho

Many years ago the Maleku formed three different communities or “Palenques”. The first, as you enter the reserve area, is Palenque Sol, next is Palenque Margarita and the furthest into the reserve is Palenque Tonjibe. The latter is where we held this meeting and the two previous meetings with the Maleku. The presentation stressed the fundamental importance of the three groups uniting to implement this complex and long-term project.

sebastian The Maleku Strategy

The rancho (upal) outside with Sebastian showing his stuff

After the presentation we sat for a dialog. We all realized that only one person, doña Fanny, from one of the other Palenques, was in attendance. Eduardo Vega reiterated time and time again that the recovered Maleku lands would belong to the entire tribe. If they proceed with this project as a people rather than as a community they are assured success. The laws have already been passed, many years ago, proclaiming the lands as rightfully theirs. They can buy the land back at a set government price per square meter and the non-indigenous owners must accept this.

bienvenido The Maleku Strategy

Bienvenido Cruz explaining the all-important reserve map

Bienvenido, a Maleku (Tonjibe) elder, found a map of the many different reserve boundaries over the years last May. It shows the 8000+hectare reserve that contains sacred sites, including a beautiful waterfall.

mapa The Maleku Strategy

Bienvenido's map

The entire outline in the map above is the 8000 ha. reserve that the Maleku recognize as their ancestral lands, although Bienvenido explains that the original Maleku lands were 60,000 hectares. The colored area of the map shows the area that the Costa Rican government has decreed as their reserve. At one point the government reduced the size and then added the turquoise colored areas, but this never equaled the first government decreed area. We want to start by buying the land within the agreed upon area, concentrating, at first, on the upper reaches where the water source is, in this way increasing water for future generations.

me The Maleku Strategy

Counting off the benefits of this project for the entire Maleku people

The benefits of this project create a win/win future for my friends. The creation of community nurseries in schools, community centers, churches or by private citizens will provide an immediate income from the sale of native seedlings for the reforestation projects. The Maleku want to reforest 2/3 of the recovered land representing approximately 2000 hectares or 2 million trees. As the forests mature they will have resources, such as the Suito palm used for roofing, to live their traditional lifestyle. If the project is developed in conjunction with a carbon credit company, making it certified, the Maleku will sell the offsets from the CO2 that the new forests are sequestering into perpetuity. Imagine what great improvements in their living conditions they would realize.

group close The Maleku Strategy

Some of the attendees with the beautiful art in the background

Everyone present agreed that unity would be the first step to seeing this project come to fruition. The date was set to bring the presentation to the other two Palenques on September 25th at 10 am in Palenque Sol, and 1 pm at Palenque Margarita. Here we will explain our strategy and the importance of unity among them. At the same time we will choose representatives from each Palenque to serve on the new association or tribal council that will receive and administer the new reserve land for ALL of the Maleku people.

finale The Maleku Strategy


When we were finished everyone felt that much progress had been made. Randy and Eduardo will be back, as well, on the 25th to help with the conversation. Eduardo is instrumental in getting across the importance of unity.

tenorio The Maleku Strategy

Tenorio Volcano with the sun behind

As we drove out of the Maleku reserve, across two rivers, we saw Tenorio Volcano as never before. The sun and cloud formations created an incredibly synchronic moment. Proof that when you are looking you see the right path. This is the gift of our work. Thank you!


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