Culture Cures Boredom

Are you feeling restless? Are you unsure of what your next steps in life are? The answer may be travel. Travel not only provides a sense of adventure and newness, but also opens one’s eyes to how different cultures of the world live. These new perspectives can lead to more appreciation for what you do have, and shine a light that unveils where your true interests lie. In addition, some types of travel can provide a feeling of connectedness with our ancestral roots, while inspiring one to further develop their inquisitiveness. And so, if you find yourself yearning for more, you are on the right path and are ready to explore!

Hidden within Costa Rica are different cultures and ethnic groups. There are eight indigenous groups in the country, and Costa Ballena’s closest indigenous are the Borucans. Boruca’s history has been extremely challenging as they live on a reserve high in the Talamanca Mountains. Farming alone was not enough to sustain their tribe and people were experiencing extreme poverty. They were losing their pride quickly, and their culture was decaying.


With the completion of the Inter-American highway in the late 60’s, tourism began to trickle in with renewed interest in the annual ‘Fiesta de los Diablitos‘. In addition, the Peace Corps workers helped as they brought the Borucans some new designs and marketable ideas. This is when their local economy shifted from agriculture to tourism. Daily life in Boruca has now changed to focus on cultural preservation. Today, eighty percent of the Borucans are artisans, either carvers or weavers. With advance notice, you can see demonstrations of weaving, dyeing, and carving. There are also opportunities to enjoy lunch and a guided tour of the village (limited English spoken).


boruca-maskThe history and traditions of Borucan masks began hundreds of years ago. ‘Diablito’ masks, were originally created and worn with the intent to scare unwelcome invaders. When the Spaniards arrived with advanced weapons, the Borucans only had animal spirits, such as the jaguar, to guide them. The conquistadors seeing uncircumcised men with devilish looking masks therefore assumed that they worshipped the devil. The Borucan people were triumphant in keeping the Spanish from conquering their land and their spirit. Every year since the Spanish Crusade, the annual ‘Fiesta de los Diablitos’, (always December 30 to January 2,) has traditionally occurred in remembrance of the Borucans’ fierce resistance to colonization.


The art of weaving has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. Mothers and/or grandmothers teach girls as young as seven years old the traditional techniques of this craft. For the village women, weaving is a ritual part of everyday life and is done in-between chores.  The patterns seen on all woven products are not kept in written record, but are handed down over the years. Today in the village school, cotton gathering and hand spinning of the yarn is taught in the second grade. In the third grade, the natural dyes (from leaves, bark, seeds, fruit, flowers, clay, ash, the Murex sea snail) and dying process are introduced. The fourth graders are given weaving instructions.


Visiting Boruca

Boruca is about 1.5 hrs from Costa Ballena, a 4WD vehicle is required. Go south on the Costanera to Palmar Norte. Turn left on Hwy. 2 and head north approx. 25 minutes, passing 4 bridges (the fourth is a long bridge over Rio Puerto Nuevo). A few minutes later, there is the sign “Territorio Indigena Boruca – 8 km”, turn left there. From this point, the drive is about 20 min. and has beautiful ridge views. At the T junction, turn on the lower left and go 50 meters to the museum and park there. Marina, who does the demonstrations (in Spanish only), can be found at the rancho between the museum and the Civic Center. You can purchase woven and carved goods (but if you don’t, please leave a tip). For reservations call Marina +(506) 8780 8648, or Susie of Boruca Gallery Gift Shop +(506) 2200 5428.

Susie and George Atkinson have worked with the Borucans for nearly 20 years. Their goal is to help bring as much income into the village of Boruca. Susie prides herself on her deep and vast knowledge of their history and offering unique artworks made by the Borucan indigenous at affordable, fair trade prices in her gallery found at Cabinas Pacific Edge.