Las Artes y Los Borucas

Almost 40 years ago we bought several carvings in an Indonesian village dedicated to woodwork, which somehow started an interest in indigenous art. Over the decades, we built a small collection of 2- & 3-dimentional works of art of peoples of North America, whenever possible purchasing directly from the artist or craftsperson. Here in Costa Rica indigenous treasures are more difficult to locate but plentiful to enjoy in amazing museums, like the Jade Museum that we visited last year. But most of the indigenous peoples live quite far from us, so I especially appreciated the opportunity to meet several members of the Boruca tribe recently right here in Atenas. The Boruca live near the southern Pacific coast, just a few miles off the border to Panama. This is how it all developed  …

Escuela Santa Eulalia, Atenas, Alajuela, CR
Escuela Santa Eulalia, Atenas, Alajuela, CR

Early August my friend Doña Lilliana, who is an English teacher, invited us to participate in the English Festival in her elementary school in the Santa Eulalia neighborhood of our town Atenas. While we waited in the principal’s office for the festive assembly to commence, we noticed several masks decorating her walls. The principal explained that a Boruca carver had carved them. But the school activities soon supplanted the mask images with those of beautiful children in their white and navy blue school uniforms, eager to meet us and ask questions of their “special guests”.


The students had worked extra hard to present the festival program with poems, skits, songs and storytelling entirely in English. After lunch, we took our appointed places to judge the “Impromptu Speech” and “Spelling Bee” competitions. With her speech “Describe and compare types of families in Costa Rica and the world” VI Grade student Saray Verónica Reyes Valle won first place over the speeches given by Fiorella Ramírez Alverado and Maikol Andrey Rodríguez Ramos. Saray spoke for 2:47′ and earned full points with her presentation. The spelling bee was hotly contested by thirteen students at level 5. Yeremy Fernando Morera Varela managed to out-spell his closest competitor Ashley Daniela Murillo Villalobos over 3 rounds. Congratulations to the winners of both categories, as well as all participants for their excellent work! Saray and Yeremy have since participated in the next round of canton-wide competitions and both finished in third place. Well done!!

And we have since tried unsuccessfully to find Señor Cristian Ureña, the Boruca carver of masks, who some years ago was known to live in the town of Turrúcares, only about fifteen minutes east of Atenas. Although we searched and asked around for Don Cristian in his former neighborhood, nobody knew where he might be living now. After this hot and disappointing search, we repaired to the Chicharronera La Central for a mega serving of the best, juiciest chicharrones you ever enjoyed! And I mean JUICY! The fried yucca chunks were equally divine and I don’t even like fried food all that much!


Just when I had given up on Boruca masks, Lilli called me with an invitation to an upcoming festival of student art to be held at the local technical high school. This festival is held yearly under the auspices of the Department of Public Education and this year’s event included an invitation to the Boruca tribe to perform a brief version of their little devils dance, the “Danza de los Diabolitos” a 3-day ceremony illustrating the ongoing identity struggles of indigenous people against conquering forces. The Boruca, Lilli told me, would be bringing craft items to sell during the festival. Yeah!



“I assume responsibility for education”
The table for 4 honored speakers adorned with a grand bouquet and the judges’ table with rows of medals



Masks, the symbol of this year’s festival.


Drawing, Photography, Woodcut, Painting, Sculpture, some of  the many categories in which the students entered their works
Range of categories & subjects in which the school children submitted entrees
All the different categories of entries & performances and their location on campus



LasArtes.2015.CTP.Atenas.04-2240 LasArtes.2015.CTP.Atenas.05-2239




Manga drawing: try and fail, but never fail to try



Version 3

My friend Maestra Lilliana with some of her pupils and colleagues
Version 2
Last minute encouragement for a dance team!

But first we’re all ready for the Boruca dancers to enter the stage.


As you can see on the long events list, there were many dance and musical performances and I missed many of them because I had to leave early for an appointment. The festival ran much longer than scheduled and by the end of the day children and teachers were equally as exhausted, as they were happy about this exciting day at the CTP de Atenas.

Before I left, I had an opportunity to meet and talk with several members of the visiting Boruca tribe, who had set up a display table for their carvings and weavings. Especially Señora María Fernández was very helpful in answering my questions and explaining some of the Boruca traditions. Her father carves the masks and she and her mother, also called María, paint them. Another extraordinarily creative team of carver and painter I met, are Catalina Lázaro Morales and her brother Roy. Their work is so intriguing!

Painted by María Fernández, 2015
Painted by María Fernández, 2015
Under the painted eye is the slit opening through which the dancer wearing the mask looks out
Under the painted eye is the slit opening through which the dancer wearing the mask looks out
A more contemporary style of Boruca carving incorporating eco features, often frogs or birds. Mask by Catalina & Roy Lázaro Morales
A more contemporary style of Boruca carvings incorporates eco features, often frogs or birds.
Mask by Catalina & Roy Lázaro Morales (right view)
Mask by Catalina & Roy Lázaro Morales (left view)

This is a video I found online, showing Don Roy carve an eco-develito mask.

Small traditional mask carved and painted by María Fernández parents
A small traditional mask carved and painted by María Fernández’ parents

And lastly the ever-present Jaguar, Lord and Protector of the jungle.

Jaguar mask carved by Roy Lázaro Morales
An eco-style Jaguar mask carved by Roy Lázaro Morales

2 thoughts on “Las Artes y Los Borucas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s