Although there was never a thriving indigenous culture as strong as the empires of the Mayans, Aztecs or Incas, the history of Costa Rica is rooted in eight different indigenous people groups.
When the Spaniards arrived, many tribes moved back into the mountains in order to avoid slavery and taxation by the Spaniards. The decimation of the indigenous of Costa Rica was due mostly to diseases, rather than targeted genocide as happened in other Latin American countries.
Today, there are only about 64,000 indigenous people living in Costa Rica (around 1.7% of the population), mostly living in remote mountain zones.
One of the better well-known is the Boruca (also called Brunca, Brunka or Borunca), a proud indigenous tribe in South-Pacific Costa Rica, located among the Talamanca Mountains 20 km from Panama.
The Boruca tribe is estimated to have around 2,000 members and is located on an indigenous reserve, where about 140 km² of land are protected for their use. According to Costa Rican law, tribes on the reservation land, like Boruca, have the right to self-governance.
The Borucas are known for the ornately-carved wooden masks they make. The masks come in many different varieties and styles, but the skill of a craft passed on for many centuries can only be seen in an authentic Boruca mask.
Watch the video below to see the amount of work and creativity that goes into making one of these elaborate hand-carved masks.
The Borucan masks relate the story of the tribe and their appreciation for nature.
They make beautiful, unique souvenirs and the purchase of the masks help support the Boruca people. Visits to the reserve and the workshops where the masks are hand-carved can be arranged.
Check back in for our next post in which we will share about the famous annual festival of the Borucas and the meaning behind the “little devil” masks!