Indigenous Traditions – Bruncas’ ‘The Dance of the Devils’
The Boruka (Boruca) and Rey Curré towns are part of the few remaining Costa Rican indigenous tribes; both are sharing the Brunka ethnic heritage and language, and are located in the South-East of the country near Buenos Aires de Puntarenas.
Every year these communities celebrate the well-known “Juego de los Diablitos” which translates to ‘The Dance of the Devils’ in English; a 500 years old tradition of performance with masks telling a tale and symbolic views of the Spanish conquer over the indigenous tribes. The Boruka celebrations run from from the 30th of December to the 2nd of January every year, and Rey Curré’s from January 28th to February 2nd.
While visiting the communities is not a luxury trip, it is indeed a place out of time, dense with mythology and symbolism. During four days of performances you will see the locals immerse themselves in the game; the men dress up as devils, with their own handmade masks and clothing. They engage in a fight against the bull—a symbolic representation of the Spanish invader—strongly conveying a message of the ongoing fight against modernity and the loss of their culture.
The game is well developed and structured with ten different phases that play out over four days. The devils are born at midnight of the first day; where children, elderly indigenous citizens and “los mayores” —the name given to the senior indigenous leaders, will dance in joy and drink ‘chicha’—a drink of fermented corn, until the sunrise.
On the second and third days the battle takes its twists and turns, accentuated by the drums and flutes. The bull faces the devils, taking them through the village, visiting different houses, walking the unpaved roads, and running from side to side around the ‘platano’ trees, whilst everyone continues drinking ‘chicha’. The drink initially represents the first sweat of the bull, but by the end represents its blood.
The devils challenge the bull, push him around and confront him. Sometimes there can be twenty men against one bull—incarnated by the strongest men in the village. Men switch around in order to stay fresh and energized and keep the bull very fierce and can repeatedly push the devils to the ground. It is not uncommon to see indigenous men with bumps and bruises on their faces due to the contact between the bull and the wooden masks that protect their faces. This game is no joke. Neither women nor children participate due to the strength of the spectacle between the opponents.
By the fourth day the bull has conquered the devils and they die, as it is foretold by modern history. Nevertheless, at sunset the final part of the tradition takes place: the devils are re-born through magic and kill the bull. They burn him and drink his blood. The symbolic ending of the tale of the Brunkas depicts their culture which has been re-born from the ashes, and nowadays it is still alive. It’s a bold statement about future as well. This ‘dance of the devils’ is performed every year so the yourger generations don’t lose the important link to their history.