Children’s Museum Opens Banana Room

December 2, 2005

LET’S contradict that well-knownFrank Silver and Irving Cohn song fromthe 1920s: Yes, we do have bananas here inCosta Rica. Plenty of them. And a new permanentexhibition that opened last monthat San José’s Children’s Museum payshomage to that fact.The Nov. 19 opening ceremony of themuseum’s 38th exhibit, the Sala de Banano(Banana Room), was a mix of speeches anddances, clowns and sing-alongs, much likeany public event in Costa Rica.But eight-year-old Jerson Chamorro, astudent from the San Alberto School inSiquirres, stole the show. (Students fromSiquirres, Limón, Guácimo and Sarapiquí– all Caribbean-lowland banana communities– were invited for the ceremony.)Chamorro, completely at home on thedais with numerous government andbanana-industry officials, delivered animpassioned speech on the history and cultureof the banana in Costa Rica, recountinghow it opened the country and spurredthe construction of railroads.“¡El mejor del mundo! (The best in theworld!),” Chamorro concluded his talk.Take that, Ecuador and Honduras, andany other country that fancies itself a moreprominent banana-producing country thanCosta Rica.THE Banana Room technically isn’t aroom at all. The Spanish-language exhibitsits in one of the museum’s courtyards,next to the display portraying the growingof coffee, the country’s other signatureagricultural product.A car from one of the old banana trainshouses a video exhibit documenting thehistory of banana cultivation in Costa Rica,in particular the role the product played inuniting the country and opening its transportationnetwork; the construction of theAtlantic (1871-1891) and the Pacific(1897-1910) railroads grew from the needto get bananas to foreign markets.A simulated banana-packing plant sitsnearby. Plastic green bananas arrive via atwo-meter-high cable vía (cable transport)system, just as the real product is deliveredout in the Caribbean. Kids can clean theproduct in a cold-water bath before packingthem in banana boxes and sendingthem off on a conveyor belt.Yendry Tenorio, 11, visiting from SanJoaquín de Flores, north of San José – coffeecountry more than anything else – hadfun playing banana packer.“We have learned about bananas inschool,” she said. “But it’s fun to pretend.”A typical Caribbean-style stilt house ishome to the finishing exhibits about themeaning of the banana industry to CostaRica’s economy. The country produces 60million tons of product, most exported tothe United States, Canada and the EuropeanUnion, which pumps more than half abillion dollars into the country’s economy.Not bad for an industry that uses a mere512 square kilometers – about 1% – of thecountry’s territory.TWO years in the making, the exhibitis sponsored by the government NationalBanana Corporation and the NationalBanana Industry, and is unfailingly upbeatand positive: it touts the fruit’s low-fat,high-nutrient, heart-healthy nutritionalbenefits; the plant’s leaves provide shadefor growing coffee and cacao; bananas arethe source of other products, namely animalfeed, juices, liqueurs and paper.Little is said about environmental problemsoften associated with the industry.The exhibit does document ways in whichthe industry has decreased consumption ofenergy and water and the use of agrochemicals,but says little else.Nonetheless, the exhibit in the onetimepenitentiary, now one of San José’s foremostmuseums, makes for an informativelook at what the banana industry means toCosta Rica.The Children’s Museum is at the northend of Calle 4 and is open Tuesday-Friday,8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and weekends, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is ¢900 ($1.80) foradults, and ¢600 ($1.20) for children. Formore information, call 258-4929 or see themuseum’s Web site at www.museocr.com.

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