Boruca Masks of Costa Rica

Like everything in life, behind these famous masks there is a story that despite being sad has a sense of triumph since they were made with the purpose of defending the identity and indigenous culture and today it happens to be an artistic element and as a form of expression and is sold as souvenir.

Christopher Columbus arrived on the coast of Costa Rica in September 1502, along with his group of conquerors with the sole purpose of finding gold. In his quest for riches he made no attempt to respect the life and culture of the four tribes who lived in the territory of the country. The east coast Caribs, the Boruca, Chibchas and Diques in the southwest were forced into a bloody war, during which many men fought bravely and died to protect their land, culture and lives. Of these men, many died defend their tribes. The battles were hard for the natives who fought with bows and arrows against the axes, knives and rifles of the Spaniards.

Since the Boruca have a tradition of passing stories from generation to generation through oral tradition, different versions have been developed of how the mask was integrated with the Boruca culture during wartime. A well-known and respected elder of the town of Boruca, Don Ismael González, who received the national prize of popular culture in 2002, speaks of the particularly remarkable and significant strategy for the culture in which the Boruca carved figures of wooden devils from balsa wood to protect and disguise their faces as well as frighten the invaders. The masks were painted using natural colors obtained from plants or minerals such as achiote or annato (orange / red), coal (gray / black) and yucca (ocher). Other members of the community believe that the use of the mask had its beginning after the the Spaniards in a ceremony to commemorate the victory and to pay tribute to those who lost their life in the fight.


El Juego de los Diablitos

For several centuries (no one is sure when) El Juego de los Diablitos or "The Game of the Little Devils", has be held as a celebration that lasts three days; From 31 December to 2 January.

Many interpret the event as a representation of the battles against the conquerors, during which they believe that their ancestors wore the masks as armor. The mask represents the fierce and triumphant Indian warriors who fought for the lives of their tribes and future generations.

There are others who do not believe in the use of the masks in battle but believe in the representation of the warrior and the symbolism of the mask.

The men of the town who wish to participate carve masks with faces of devils, one for each day, decorated with feathers and painting them (today) with new live colors. They also wear traditional woven garments out of sackcloth.

Others wear a bull suit (a wooden frame covered with sacks) which is worn by about ten men during the holidays; They represent the seventeenth-century Spaniards.

Starting at 8:00 p.m. Of the night of December 30, participants gather at the house of the devil to consume chicha (traditional alcoholic drink made from corn) and prepare for the celebration. At midnight, the men go up a hill and disguised themselves in their masks, the little devils leave and pass from house to house circulating throughout the town. Each day, the group circulates three or four times. The whole village follows them headed by a designated guide and musicians playing accordion, flute, drums and horn. Chicha is served in all the houses and the public watches while small battles are carried out where the bull attacks the devils and they dodge it, with the faces protected by the masks.

On the third day, January 2nd, men wear their best masks and battles continue. This day is considered the most important. The commission of people chosen to organize the festival every year, sometimes rewards the most beautiful mask as well as the ugliest. The best fighter is also rewarded among other categories. During the first two days there is no clear winner during battles. But on the third day, the little devils start to win. Eventually the bull runs away and hides and when they find him, they tie him and burn him (only the suit).

This moment represents the victory of the natives over the Spaniards.