Isn’t this an AWESOME mask?!!
It’s the one we bought today in the ‘Territorio Indigena Boruca.’ Today’s post is likely going to be longer than usual as we learned so much and want to remember this one for sure.
Boruca is one of the 8 native groups still living within Costa Rica. The three in the North of the country originally came South from the Maya of Mexico. The 5 in the South of which Boruca is one came North from Columbia. They inhabited the whole of the southern part of what is now Costa Rica until the time of the Spanish conquests. The Boruca are proud of the fact that their carving skills helped to keep the Spaniards at bay. Their intricately carved masks, usually depicting animals, helped to scare off the invasion. It’s these masks and how the Boruca are beginning to flourish is what drew us here today.
Getting to the village wasn’t easy. It’s about 50 kms from our lodge and we hired a local taxi driver (with help of our host who also arranged for a tour in the village). The 3kms down from the lodge was easy compared to the road to Boruca. The village is about 9kms up a mountain and the dirt road is full of ruts from the rains. I was half afraid of narrow, winding roads hugging the side of the hills with nothing but drop-off below…it WAS narrow and winding but there was width so we never felt like we were in danger of going over the side. Phew!
Like many indigenous groups worldwide, Boruca is a smaller group with much less land than history shows. Government handouts don’t feed the soul. However, masks were still being carved over the years, father teaching sons the skills, painting them with natural charcoal, achiote and leaves.
Masks are made through the year for one purpose - the Dance of the Diabolitos - Dance of the Devils. These masks don’t celebrate the devil, they’re for the protection of the people. This three-day long celebration takes place over Dec 30 to Jan 1 each year. The first day is a dance with just masked Boruca visiting from house to house, enjoying food and Chi-cha - the local alcoholic drink. On the second day, the toro (bull) appears to represent the Spaniards terrorizing the Boruca who eventually succumb. Third day, some of the villagers, dressed with masks and robes as the women, give strength to the fallen warriors who rise to vanquish the bull. The bull’s mask and costume are burned in the village plaza and everyone retires to food and drink. Throughout the days of the dance, musicians with drum, flute and conch shell signal the various parts of the dance and are even able to let people know where in the village the dance is taking place.
About 30 years ago, university students visiting the village found out about the masks and as word got out, tourists began visiting to get masks. These were usually ones that had been used during the dance. Seeing opportunity and with new tools and acrylic paints available, the mask carvers began expanding their art, carving masks specifically for tourists. Now, a group led by local women is spreading the message of the Boruca even wider, inviting people to the village for a discussion of the masks and of the traditional weaving done.
Weaving - using cotton grown on trees within the village, many of the ladies, after learning the skills from their families, now make and sell cotton purses, belts, hats and placemats. Everything is done by hand and the dyes are all sourced from the world around them. White or a coffee cream are natural colours. Blue comes from a green leaf that changes after a time in hot water. Yellow comes from a tuber/root similar to turmeric. Green dye is made from a combination of the blue & yellow. Orange is from the seeds/fruit of Achiote, black from a bark.
The rarest, most difficult is the purple dye. The people need to take the white cotton to the ocean where they search for a particular mollusk (sea shell creature). They blow into the shell and the mollusk releases a white excrement that is put onto the cotton yarns. By then leaving the yarn in the sun, the purple colour emerges. (The Spanish were particularly interested in purple for royalty and heads of church.) I bought a gorgeous bag to use for work
Our tour was conducted by Harol Rojas, one of the first of Boruca to attend university. His major was Tourism and he’s part of a collective started by his mother, Dona Lourdes, called ‘So Cagru’ (so = wise mature woman; cagru = warrior). Families within produce masks and woven articles to sell. Harald accompanied us to visit one of the weavers; his brother was one of the carvers and he told us the stories of the masks. Harol also showed us typical Boruca homes contrasted with government-provided pre-fab homes. The pre-fab homes get hot and damp in their environment and of course there was no consultation with the people as to what type of home would suit them. Hmm, sound familiar?
Our tour finished with a typical Boruca meal (rice, pork, platanos, beans, mango salsa) served on a leaf and eaten in the traditional Boruca manner - by hand.
Boruca has both elementary and secondary schools and the children learn basic mathematics, reading, writing, etc but part of each day is also devoted to Boruca culture. The native language was almost lost but children are now learning.
What an amazing day, full of hope for a proud people.
Oh, and the weather? It was amazing until we got back to our tent…the rain began again and we were deluged all evening. Good thing we’d asked our driver to stop at the local ‘supermercado’ where I bought some simple supper fixin’s on our way back from Boruca.
Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times. Asian Proverb