In the Southern Zone of the country, located among the Talamanca Mountains and about 14 miles from Panama, live an indigenous Costa Rican tribe called the Boruca (also known as the Brunca or the Brunka). This tribe is small, numbering less than 3,000 people. The Boruca’s village has around 430 people. Nevertheless, it is culturally very rich. Their native language, although not used, is Brunka – Spanish is mainly spoken.
The tribe is famous for its vibrant, intricately carved, painted balsa wood masks, which have become popular items among Costa Ricans and tourists. In fact, the author owns three of them. These masks are important elements in the Borucas’ annual Baile de los Diablitos (Dance of the Devils) ceremony, celebrated between December 30 and January 2 every year. The dance depicts the resistance of the Diablito, representing the Boruca people, against the Spanish conquerers. The latter are represented by a figure that resembles a bull.
The victory celebrates the identity and existence of the Borucan people against past enemies, as well as current threats to their community and way of life. Especially, as the modern world encroaches, indigenous people have to struggle to find a balance that retains their spirituality and harmony with nature.
A Boruca mask always combines indigenous art combined with elements of nature. For example, the masks are made to look like jaguars, birds or a combination of the styles. While originally colored by natural dyes, today they are hand-painted to depict the “scary” faces of the indigenous tribe as seen through the eyes of the Spanish Conquistadors.
The Diablo mask is at the center of the festival for which Boruca is known (Juego de los Diablitos). While originally colored by natural dyes, today they are hand-painted to depict the “scary” faces of the indigenous tribe as seen through the eyes of the Spanish Conquistadors