The Maleku are an indigenous people of Costa Rica which live in the Guatuso Indigenous Reserve near the town of Guatuso (San Rafael de Guatuso), located 1 hour from La Fortuna. There are around 600-1000 aboriginal people still living in Costa Rica and around 500 live on the reserve, but outsiders have come into the community as well. Before the Spanish colonization, the Maleku territory extended as far west as Rincon de la Vieja, and included the volcano Arenal to the south and Rio Celeste (Tenorio National Park) as sacred sites.
Today their reserve is concentrated south of San Rafael de Guatuso, Alajuela, and there is a little settlement for touristic purposes on La Fortuna. The reserve has 3 "palenques" or villages:
- Palenque Sol
- Palenque Tonjibe
- Palenque Margarita
Their economy primarily relies on indigenous art that are sold to tourist in the area. The art made by the Malekus includes carvings, paintings, and musical instruments, which are their most popular items. Most members in the villages (including children) make some type of art or help out, by cutting and preparing the necessary balsa wood trees or fruit (jicaras) needed for the projects. The most popular themes of their decorations are animals, which have a special meaning and name.
In that reserve they have a still a big leader name Alfredo de Jesus. 70% of the tribe speaks Maleku language and the rest just some words. Many of them speak spanish too. Actually the Maleku language: The guatuso or malécu lhaíca (also maléku jaíka, which means "el habla de nuestra gente" - "so speak our people"). Very few people still speak the native language, and it is in danger of dying out.
Some of the Maleku words are:
- kapi kapi = means Hello or Welcome
- afe-pakian = hi
- hebet = no
- fufu = morfo butterfly (Italian)
- niskak = bird
- pili = toucan
- pek-pen = frog
- gnou-ek = red-eye frog
- ti-fakara = waterfall
- irri miotem? = what is your name?
- mioten... = my name is...
- arrachapi kahole = I would like a cup of coffee
- errekeki kerakou = let's go (to a place)
- ereke malehila =let's go swimming
The Maleku still invite tourists to visit their villages, although most tourists prefer to see them perform ceremonies in the nearby town of La Fortuna. The tour lasts 2 hours and it is very informative. The tourists who visit the villages, learn about healing plants and animals, and also about the Maleku culture.