San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

‘What Happen’ Rereleased

THE Talamanca region, a beautiful expanse of the Caribbean coast stretching from Monkey Point, just north of the Panamian border, to Cahuita, on the southern Caribbean coast, has become a major tourist destination over the past several decades.With its yearly migration of sea turtles during the summer months, its beautiful beaches and unique Caribbean style and culture, Talamanca villages such as Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo draw thousands of visitors each month.That’s why U.S. citizen Paula Palmer thinks “What Happen,” her in-depth study of the folk history of the region, is just as important today as it was when first published in 1977.This year, Palmer released the fifth English edition of “What Happen” to a “whole new generation” of Talamanca residents who no longer reside in a “culturally homogenous community of Afro-Caribbean villages.”“The Afro-Caribbean communities are still there, albeit in the shadows of Italian restaurants, noisy shops and streets jammed with cars and tourists,” Palmer writes in the foreword to her book. “Now people of many cultures, languages and nationalities are having an impact on the coast’s development, and they all have a stake in Talamanca’s future.”When she first arrived in Costa Rica in 1974, Palmer experienced a much different reality on the Caribbean coast than that which tourists are likely to see today.“I (first) wrote ‘What Happen’… before the coastal villages had electricity and telephones,” Palmer says. “A trip by bus to San José (via Turrialba) took a whole day.”Palmer became a volunteer director of the Cahuita English School with the assistance of the U.S. Peace Corps, where she began tape-recording and mimeographing the personal stories of old Cahuita residents for use as student reading material.After receiving encouragement and inspiration from Talamanca residents, Palmer began her quest to document the region’s unique history, culture and folklore. The stories are presented almost entirely in direct transcripts of Palmer’s conversations with some of the oldest residents of Talamanca, many of whom have since passed away.Starting with the earliest settlement of Afro-Caribbean fishermen from the Caribbean islands and neighboring coasts in 1828, Palmer comprehensively weaves together a vast and colorful mosaic of a unique culture and history.The book’s title, “What Happen,” refers to the friendly greeting in Limón English, pronounced “wh’appen,” as in, “what happen, rain wet me up and I take a draft,” writes Palmer.Tales of pirate ghosts, makeshift musical instruments, African “bush healing,” buried treasure and homemade liquors highlight this definitive collection of stories from a time before the vast influx of tourists, and before the region began to experience changes to its unparalleled Caribbean character.“We was living good,” said the late David Kayasso in a 1977 interview with Palmer, featured in “What Happen.” “Everything we have. We want nothing. You may say now the living that time look hard, and it was hard, but we never know better. Times was lively, man.”The book is available in English for $14 at Seventh Street Books in San José (256-8251). The Spanish version is available at bookstores throughout the country, priced at ¢3,500 ($7.25).

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