In southern Costa Rica, the end of the year is celebrated very uniquely at the country’s biggest indigenous cultural event, the “ Fiesta de los Diablitos Costa Rica ” The four-day annual “Festival of Little Devils” takes place over the New Year’s holiday from Dec. 30 to Jan. 2 in the village of the Boruca community on the tribe’s indigenous reservation in the Talamanca Mountains.
The Fiesta de los Diablitos celebrates the Borucas’ historic victory over the Spanish conquistadors. Through their language, legends, dance and crafts, the people of Boruca keep their rich ancestral traditions alive. The Borucas are well-known for their colorful, hand-carved masks made from lightweight balsa wood, which play an important part in this annual pageant.
“This is the largest festival that we have. This festival is our identity. We are reconnected to our ancestors, our culture and our traditions,” explained Santos Leiva, a master mask maker in Boruca. “In this festival, no one is sad. Everyone is happy and celebrating.”
During the festival, village men dress up as warriors and ancestral spirits using traditional balsa wood masks and elaborate costumes made from cloth sacks and banana leaves. One man takes the role of a mock bull, representing the Spanish intruders. Women of the community have an important yet less visible role making food and drink to sustain the participants and visitors.
The event begins ceremoniously at midnight on Dec. 30 when the male warriors – dressed in special devil face masks decorated with natural paint from plants – walk from house to house in the village preparing for battle with the “Spanish”, represented by the bull. The warriors drink chicha – a beverage made naturally from fermented corn – and shout battle cries, while accompanied by drum music. “This is the spiritual moment that the warriors are uniting with their ancestral warrior spirits,” said Leiva. “It lasts all night until about 6:00 a.m.”
The Spanish conqueror, in the figure of a bull, arrives during the day on Dec. 31. All day on the 31st and 1st of January, the warriors engage in mock battles with the bull. They dress in specific warrior masks or animal masks, such as jaguars, toucans, macaws, monkeys and other animals of the rainforest, Leiva explained. In the evenings, there are celebrations and dances.
January 2 is the day of courage, the last stand of the battle. On this day, the village elders appear, shouting special cries of courage and wearing masks with feathers and animal figures. The community gathers in a sacred place in the center of the village for the final battle. “Only on this day will female warriors appear. History says that women did not participate directly in the fighting, but were assisting the warriors with natural medicine,” noted Leiva. “The dying or injured warriors drink chicha and return to life.”
Just as in history, at the end of the festival, the bull representing the Spanish conquistadors is “killed” and the costume is burned on a large bonfire in the middle of the village with great celebration over the Borucas’ victory.
A fantastic collection of images from the Fiesta de los Diablitos can be found on this Facebook page by travel writer and photographer, James Kaiser.
Attending the Fiesta de los Diablitos in Boruca is an easy day trip from Portasol Rainforest & Ocean View Living. The Costa Rica sustainable community, located between Manuel Antonio National Park and Dominical, has vacation rentals available in rainforest bungalows and Costa Rica luxury vacation homes. The indigenous village of Boruca is a little over 90 minutes away. Portasol also offers Costa Rica property for sale and yoga retreats and events.
Article by Shannon Farley