FlyIn – Boruca, Costa Rica

My iMedia FlyIn team and I spent 10 days this month in Boruca, Costa Rica gathering content for a website that we hope effectively tells the story of the Boruca people. The Boruca are a small indigenous tribe located in southwestern Costa Rica.

I’ve never worked from start to finish on a production team like this. If I do say so myself, it was a roaring success. Here are some of the things the nine-person team collaboratively produced:

And finally, here’s a story I wrote about what makes them unique that will hopefully find it’s way to CNN iReports eventually…

“Devil” masks infuse economy, preserve culture for indigenous tribe

Travelling in Costa Rica, it’s hard to miss the hand-painted, brightly-colored wooden souvenir masks sprinkled throughout shops and markets.

While many tourists take them home, few know the centuries-old traditions behind them. But for the Boruca tribe from which it originates, the mask represents a cultural shift back toward ancient, nearly-forgotten traditions and away from encroaching poverty.

Baile de los Diablitos

Boruca masks are the centerpiece of a four-day festival called Baile (or sometimes Juego) de los Diablitos (Dance or Game of the Little Devils) celebrated annually for centuries, according to villagers.

The town is home to the indigenous people located on a reservation by the same name 20km from Panama in the Puntarenas Province.

“Boruca has become known for its history and that history is Los Diablitos, based on the arrival of the Spaniards,” Victor Hernandez, a tourism student from Boruca said. “For many it is a story in which the Indians lost–that they are in some way that ones who died and no longer exist. But for the Borucas, it represents a different meaning.”

During the festival, men in the village wear the masks to represent the way Borucas were viewed by the Spaniards in the 1500s during the Spanish and Indian wars. In the depiction, the Spaniards are represented by a person dressed as a bull. On the third festival day everyone dies, but on the fourth day those in the devil masks drive away the bull.

“Everything ends when the Spaniard dies in the field like the rest of the Borucas. I believe that this story is what makes Borucas different,” Hernandez said, noting that the Borucas are still very much alive nearly 500 years later.

“It gives it meaning in any other part of the world. It makes people understand that Boruca has not died and that there has been no Spaniard that has been able to kill them,” he said.

Boruca artisan paints mask

La Flor de Boruca

Although the Borucas celebrate every year, the mask was a well-kept secret for most of the country until recently.

In the face of growing poverty, eight determined women from the indigenous Costa Rican tribe, managed to turn their village back to its artisan roots by marketing the intricately carved and painted masks.

“The community was going through a severe crisis because there was no economy to assist the families. There was a lot of poverty, and also a lot of discrimination towards women,” Boruca’s Margarita Morales said, describing what it was like in the 1970s. “There were issues with malnutrition for children. A lot of youth migrated towards other parts of the countries because the village had nothing to offer to them. ”

On top of financial concerns, many of the Boruca traditions risked being lost. Morales wanted to seek better for her family and community.

“Boruca did not have culture,” Morales said. “It was dormant.”

She started talking with other women and found they were interested in the same things. So they founded an organization, La Flor de Boruca, meant to be a space for supporting each other. It only grew from there.

The women wanted to revive the culture, while promoting the economy.

Morales brought their ideas to a nonprofit called Mujer y Familia and they supported the action with a grant for 20,000 colones. La Flor eventually raised enough to build a traditional-style rancho home where women, and later men, could work on and sell Boruca crafts.

La Flor continues to flourish and this month even recruited nine United States interactive media graduate students from Elon University to make the trip to Boruca and help record the community’s history, legends, traditions and crafts. The students just launched a website, Boruca.org, in both Spanish and English that aims to tell the Boruca story.

For more about the resilient Boruca people and their masks, visit Boruca.org.

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