21 Dec

The AGS Bowman Expedition to Central America

Our AGS-University of Kansas (KU) Bowman Expedition to Central America has discovered state governments there are granting indigenous populations ownership and autonomy over their valuable and often conflictive land areas that may now cover up to 15 percent of the region.

With different names but similar purposes, new “territorial jurisdictions” have been established on indigenous lands throughout the region. These delimited areas house the region’s remaining forests, waters, minerals, and other natural and cultural resources, but they are plagued by weak governance, illegal logging, land-grabbing, conflicting property regimes, severe poverty, and now huge development projects, agri-businesses, and the trafficking of drugs.

As we have seen elsewhere around the globe, the future of these indigenous areas and new territorial jurisdictions will likely determine the stability or instability of the region.

Our AGS/KU current Bowman Expedition, called Centroamérica Indígena, works at two scales, one that covers the entire Central American region and the other with intensive projects underway in Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.  The study is funded by a Minerva Grant for University Research offered competitively by the United States Department of Defense. AGS President Jerry Dobson is Principal Investigator (PI) and the CoPI is KU Geography Professor Peter Herlihy who leads the research.


Bowman map

Figure 1.  CA Indigena studies geographic factors related to stability, instability, and resilience throughout Central America, with intensive studies in Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. map/research by KU/AGS Centroamerica Indigena Project.

Our research team of professors and students has spent three years working in La Muskitia region, eastern Honduras and we have partnered with indigenous Miskitu communities to finish detailed fine-scale transparent digital maps of land use throughout the Río Plátano and Tawahka Biosphere Reserves and in the new Concejos Territoriales that now cover the eastern part of Honduras.

The results can be seen on our CA Indígena project website (www.prmapping.res.ku.edu) or this

Figure 2.  This 13-minute video about CA Indígena in Katainasta, Honduras tells the story of a community mobilizing to map itself (https://youtu.be/nklypg6uoXA).

In Guatemala we’re tackling the mapping of our first municipality, in the beautiful colonial Department of Sacatepéquez, centering on the colonial capital of Antigua.  We’re helping communities map their place-names, land uses, and land changes, while up-dating large-scale cartographic sheets in collaboration with the National Geographic Institute (IGN).



Figure 3.  A street in Antiqua. Antiqua was the capital of Guatemala from 1543 to 1773.

In Costa Rica, we’re helping the indigenous Cabécar map their land uses and territorial rights in their legally-defined “Territorio Indígena Chirripo” of the Talamanca highlands.



Figure 4.  Territorio Indígena Chirripo in Costa Rica is the largest indigenous preserve in Central America. This is a bridge in the preserve.


Figure 5.  The sign reads that even bikes and ATVs are prohibited in Pueblo Cabécar.


Pictured above, Jerry Dobson (left) is President of AGS and Professor Emeritus of Geography, University of Kansas.  Peter Herlihy (right) is the first AGS Bowman Scholar, CO-Principle Investigator of the CA Indígena Expedition, and Professor of Geography, University of Kansas.  Photo credit: Lilliam Quirós Arias. Director, School of Geographical Sciences, National University of Costa Rica.