You won’t see much evidence of native traditions in Costa Rica today. Less than two percent of the country’s population is of aboriginal extraction, and the dispersion of the various groups ensures that they frequently do not share the same concerns and agendas.
The government set up a series of reserves in 1977, which gave indigenous peoples the right to remain in self-governing communities. However, communities don’t actually own the land they live on. This has led to government contracts being handed out to, for example, mining operations in the Talamanca area. Moreover, as in the case of North America’s reservation system, reservation land is often poor quality.
Recent years have hardly been positive. At one point it was hoped that the National Development Plan 2011–2014 might include a long-mooted law granting autonomy to indigenous communities. But in the end it failed to recognize indigenous rights. In 2015 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, meanwhile, urged the Costa Rican government to “protect the life and physical integrity” of members of the Bribrí community in the Salitre reserve, who have been fighting for years to reclaim land illegally occupied by outsiders. The struggle goes on.
Read more: The Rough Guide to Costa Rica
The nineteenth century saw Native Americans and the US government sign treaty after treaty, only for the latter to break them as soon as expedient – usually upon the discovery of gold or precious metals.
When the whites overreached themselves, or when driven to desperation, the Native Americans fought back. The defeat of General George Custer at Little Bighorn in 1876, by Sitting Bull and his Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, provoked the full wrath of the government. Within a few years, leaders such as Crazy Horse of the Oglala Sioux and Geronimo of the Apache had been forced to surrender, and their people confined to reservations.
One last act of resistance was the visionary, messianic cult of the Ghost Dance, whose practitioners hoped that by ritual observance they could win back their lost way of life, in a land miraculously free of white intruders. Such aspirations were regarded as hostile, and military harassment of the movement culminated in the massacre at Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1890.
A major tactic in the campaign against the Plains Indians was to starve them into submission, by eliminating the vast herds of bison that were their primary source of food. As General Philip Sheridan put it: “For the sake of a lasting peace … kill, skin and sell until the buffalo are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered by the speckled cow and the festive cowboy.” Today, Native Americans continue to fight for their lands.
Read more: The Rough Guide to the USA
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At Japan’s northern extremity is the island of Hokkaidō, home to the indigenous Ainu. Around 25,000 people identify as full- or part-blooded Ainu, a people who have faced a long history of persecution by the Japanese.
Music is a major part of Ainu culture. Their traditional music and instruments, including the skinny string instrument tonkori and the mukkuri (“Jew’s harp”), have been taken up by Oki Kano, an Ainu–Japanese musician. Together with his Oki Dub Ainu Band, Oki has released several toe-tapping and soulful albums and has played at international music festivals including WOMAD in the UK.
Attempts have been made to linguistically link the Ainu and the Japanese but, time and again the research is rebuffed. Ainu is, seemingly, a language isolate – all the more reason to listen.
Read more: The Rough Guide to Japan
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