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The Boruca Indigenous Tribe of Costa Rica

With just over 2,000 members, the Boruca Tribe is one of Costa Rica’s eight remaining indigenous tribes in the country and are often most recognized for their artwork and craftwork. It is so admired that many attempt to replicate their intricately and beautifully made designs and masks for tourist stands and shops but they do not stand to compare.

There is a deep-rooted history and tradition behind these intricately carved masks. The Boruca people are a tribe of pride who have overcome struggles remaining strong and persistent. This sense of dignity and respect comes from their sentiments of defeating the Spanish conquistadors of the past and never losing their identity.

Danza de los Diablitos

Beginning December 30 until January 2nd the pride of their artwork comes alive through brightly colored masks during the festival of Dance of the Devils or Game of the Little Devils hosted by the Boruca people. Although this representation and festival are that of elaborate costumes, folklore, and ritual dances it tells a tale of their past and struggle. It is also a celebration of their resistance to capture and attempted removal of their identity and tradition.

On the first day of the festival the Boruca born men walk up into the mountain to a lookout as they are aware of the invaders approaching and call upon the spirits to help them protect their land and territory. As they return to the village now protected, they are dressed in a burlap material to cover their body and adorned in their meticulous hand-carved devil masks symbolizing the various spirits.

These colorful traditional devil masks are worn by the Boruca people to invoke fear against foreign intruders. However, it is Sibu, who is their deity, the creator of all things, they simply use the devil masks as a form of intimidation to the Catholic invaders to triumph in their battle.

Representing the Spaniards, one is gowned in a bull costume, a burlap-like covering with a tail and mask and the symbolic battle begins. For several days, he is accompanied by the diablitos as they taunt him, running and hitting at him. Through the days they dance through the community as they are gowned in more elaborate attire and banana leaves as the bull continues to fight back. However, the diablitos eventually gain force in the mock battle as the days progress and with the help of their traditional drink chicha.

On the final day ultimately, the bull is captured and ceremoniously killed as a representation of their perseverance and success in history. The traditional elaborate dance is performed and participated in by the men of the tribe, but the women play a vital role in preparing this fermented corn alcoholic drink. They also are essential in the planning and preparation of the festival.

These ornate masks play an essential role in the Boruca life as they have been involved in their culture for over 500 years and are an important source of income for this talented artisan tribe. The Diablo mask is their traditional ceremonial mask of evil and frightening faces. They may be the more recognizable as it is featured within their cultural festival depicting their history and survival.

Created from balsa wood or tropical cedar they are skillfully carved and hand-painted from techniques passed on through the generations. The Ecological mask is a beautiful and artistic display of animals and plants of the rainforest much of which can be found within their territory. The Combination masks are a skilled blend of both the diablo and ecological masks, illustrating the true talent and creative minds of this unique indigenous Costa Rican tribe.

Reserva Indigena Boruca

Along the Terraba River and within the Talamanca Mountain range is where the Boruca tribe resides with most living on Reserva Indígena Boruca. You may also hear them referred to as Brunca, Brunka, or Borunca and all are correct. They are nestled within the valleys and mountains of this southern pacific region of Costa Rica near the border of Panama. Homes are traditional, simple, single-story homes, only needing that which is necessary.

They live on much of the abundance of the land like many others, growing coffee, cacao, and tropical fruits. They have developed their self-sufficient and sustainable community throughout the years mastering their land and what is available to them producing beans, rice, corn, cassava, and tomatoes. Meals consist of highlighting what their landscapes produce with meals of tamales, the staple of rice and beans, and meat that they raise themselves. The isolation has contributed to their culture’s longevity as they removed themselves from the developments of society and culture.

Working the land, nurturing it, and planting sustainable crops allows the families to provide for themselves. The earth produces plants for their traditional Boruca medicines which several people still specialize in through their ancient traditions for the community. There is a deep and true respect for the land and nature that surrounds them in the surrounding hills and streams.

Boruca Language

The Boruca language is one that is notwithstanding the test of time and continues to fade through the generations. It is not commonly spoken throughout the community and homes anymore as Spanish is the predominant language. There are still a few elders that continue to keep this Chibchan tone language alive with their knowledge, preserving what is left as it is considered critically endangered.

Within the local primary school children are being taught Boruca as a second language but also taking part in classes highlighting their culture, legends, and history. Aside from the traditional classes of math and sciences they are being introduced and educated in their unique methods of carving and handicrafts. Children are the lifeline and future of their identity and the school reflects this in their curriculums.

Final Thoughts

As the world and culture continue to evolve and progress, it is with admiration and respect to witness the Boruca people maintain their pride and traditions. Through recognizing the importance of their past history and culture they have upheld who they are with such fortitude and strength preserving their longstanding identity. The Boruca people are a tribe of self-sufficiency and ingenuity with remarkable skills and talents, envied by others.

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