The Boruca, Costa Rica’s Unconquered Tribe

In my last article, Land’ ho Costa Rica History and the Last Unconquered Tribe, we talked a little about indigenous tribes. Costa Rica has a rich history of native tribes who have lived in the area about 10,000 years before Columbus arrived.

Out of Costa Rica’s 4.5 million population, about 114,000 are indigenous people from ancient tribes making up about 2.4% of the population. These tribes have retained their customs, culture, language, and rituals throughout the occupation of the Spaniards to present day.

The Mighty Boruca

In this article, I’d like to feature the mighty Boruca tribe. The Boruca are the only indigenous tribe of Costa Rica not defeated by the Spaniards. The Boruca are also known as Brunca, Brunka, and Borunca. The Boruca live on a land reservation of about 140 km2 in the South-Pacific region of Costa Rica. Costa Rica law established reservations for indigenous tribes to live. The Costa Rican government allows the tribes to self-govern on their reservations.

Boruca Scared the Sh*t Out of the Conquistadors

If you recall from my last article, I described the first Boruca and Spanish conquistador encounter in the jungle. The Boruca masks were terrifying with distorted scowling faces and jaguar-like fangs. Their bodies were painted in bright colors or covered in animal skins or banana leaves.

When the conquistadors first saw the Boruca tribesmen, they ran. The Boruca charged the conquistadors and chased them back to their ships. Legend has it the Boruca warded off the conquistadors for four days. That must have been such a sight to see, the brave conquistadors running for their lives.

Dance of the Little Devils

The Boruca celebrate each December 30th to January 2nd with the Dance of the Little Devils. This festival represents the Boruca chasing off the Spaniards. The Spaniards, represented by a bull and the Boruca the “little devils.”

Day 1

This multi-day festival starts with the warriors hear of the approaching conquistadors; they hike up into the surrounding hilltops to keep a lookout. While on the mountain top they call on the spirits of their masks to help them ward off the invaders. The warriors, to simulate animal skin wear burlap. They ordain themselves with beautiful feathers, paint their bodies in bright colors and wear their masks. The warriors energized with the spirits of their masks return to the village ready to defend their land.

Day 2

Day 2 begins with someone dressing up in the bull costume. The bull costume is covered in burlap, draped over a large box with a mask of a bull’s head. It’s somewhat cumbersome to wear, and it takes quite the beating. Due to this, the bull costume is worn by different people throughout the festival.

The Boruca paint their bodies in bright colors and don masks representing different spirits. The little devils, chastise, chase, and hit the bull. During the first couple of days of the festival, the bull knocks down the devils and thwarts their attacks. On the evening of the second day, the warriors drink chicha.

Chicha is a strong traditional alcohol drink made from corn. The Boruca believe chicha gives them powers to defeat the Spaniards. I guess when you have a few cocktails, you can feel invincible. The Boruca certainly did.

Day 3

The morning of the third day, the “Cacique” (Chief) and elders of the tribe walk through the village and bang on drums, play flutes and blow into a conch shell. The elders call the warriors of the village to come out and fight, then drink more chicha. They summon the spirits of the masks, drink more chicha, and become more emboldened. They then chase down the bull and the attacks worsen. Wouldn’t you hate to be the person dressing up in the bull costume?

Day 4

The final day of the festival, the warriors drink more chicha, then cover themselves with banana leaves to make themsleves appear to double or triple in size. They change their masks and attack the bull again and again. The attacks become more and more violent. It almost turns into a drunken brawl with all the chicha they drink, and that’s why the last couple of days of this festival gets a bit violent for the people participating. The ceremony culminates when the devils finally kill the bull and save their heritage.

Boruca Today

Today the Boruca live a peaceful life in the Talamanca mountains of Costa Rica. They still embrace their traditions, language, and culture. The Boruca tribe mostly relies on Ethnotourism to sell their crafts to sustain themselves.

Ethnotourism is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s when you travel to immerse yourself in another culture. Cool, huh. When you visit the Boruca you can arrange a homestay to see what’s it’s like to live in that culture. My husband David, daughter Dawn, and I have done it all over the world. We’ve stayed with weavers high in the Andes and on Lake Titicaca in Peru. We’ve also stayed with farmers in Bhutan. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it. It’s enlightening, makes you humble, and makes you grateful for many things you’ve taken for granted in your life.

By now, I hope you’re ready to bring your tribe to visit the mighty Boruca tribe, the only indigenous tribe who remained unconquered by the Spanish during their control of Costa Rica.

See You Soon

We look forward to your vacation with us. If you haven’t read my other articles, please check them out here. Please follow us on Instagram @discoverybeachouse. For more information or to check our availability, visit our website at Discovery Beach House. Watch our YouTube Channel for more details on Manuel Antonio, the best spot to vacation in Costa Rica.

* Danza De Diablitos | Photo Credits: Tilyian Morrin, Peace Corps Volunteer, (Festival of 2017 – 2018) |

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