"There was a time, a time when every moment showed a place where the symphonies shone, through branches and leaves; the symphonies of nature." - Oystein G. Brun
Driving down the cool air mountains that opens into a wild country of deep dry jungle was the first step into the "Brunka Region". The Brunka Region is home of the "Boruca" people, a Costarican indigenous tribe that lives in a reservation on the south pacific of Costa Rica.
The road serpentines the mighty "Térraba" river, locally know as the "Dí Crí" (Great River). It's meandering body allows some impressive views along it's way, where many huts and crops settle.
A wave of heat is your first welcoming when arriving to "Rey Curré", an Indian Territory inside Brunka. The heat of the weather is as the warmth of it's people. The whole village gathers together at this time of the year (the last week of January) to celebrate their "New Year".
The party's epicenter takes place at the community center, where everyone meets to await the "call" of the famous "Diablitos" (Little Devils).
We arrived late, so we had a quick bite to eat on an improvised public kitchen at the community center. Sitting there, a nice local family offered us cold "Chicha", a saliva-fermented drink made out of maize. Served on a bamboo cup or usually on a "jícara" (small bowl made from a type of pumpkin) the first sip of this representative drink, was like eating an overripe fruit, but the sourly-bitterness washes down as the high alcohol percentage kicks quickly into your blood stream.
Walking around the small community center we were wondering where the village was, as no houses were visible, but we did see where the "Diablitos" where and they were getting ready to start off the New Year's celebration - Actually it had already started the night before at midnight...
Soon after midnight you will hear shrieks and groans screeching down the hills of the village. But this is an announcement of joy, because The Little Devils have been born, this is how the Celebration begins. A commemoration of life and death is what the Borucas celebrate during 4 nights / 3 days. A new year is born and so are the souls of the warriors that defended the indigenous territories from the Spanish conquest.
"El Juego de los Diablitos" (The Little Devils Game) or in Brunka called "Cagrúv rójc" symbolizes the fight between the Boruca people and the Spanish Conquistadors. The Borucas are the Diablitos and The Conquistadors are represented by a Big Horned Bull.
Horns and shells are played by the Elderly (Diablos Mayores) to announce that the celebration has begun. Youngsters playing drums and flutes follow the elders and along follows the howling Little Devils, joining the procession with their demonic colorful masks.
The whole village and neighborhood areas follow the tribe along different houses where the fight against the Bull takes place.
The fight starts very gentle and consists of few Diablitos teasing and jesting the Bull around so that he makes a fool of him, it's almost like a dance between them. Meanwhile the rest of the Diablitos and the public surrounding the "arena" drinks "Chicha", served cold and free of charge by the owners of every house they visIt. You must have your own "jícara" or bamboo cup (or any drinking container).
Lots of more battles continue along the way through out the village on different houses, and their hosts; they all keep serving cold Chicha to their guests. As each battle progresses more people from the tribe join in and start accompanying the children's musical flutes and drums with accordion and antiphonal singing with their native language but mainly with non-lexical vocables . The party is just warming up and so is the heat of the day.
A loud rattling noise feels coming closer during one of the fights. The Bull is almost forced out of the "arena" into the gravel road in front of the house.
All of the sudden a big cloud of dust filled with screeching sounds terrorizes the event. After the dust has settled down one is able to see that its a second horde of Diablitos! They start pushing and beating the Bull with branches and leaves but the Bull is relentless and it keeps pushing, taking down some of his victims.
By this time each battle becomes tougher and vicious as we advance on different houses. More and more Diablitos join in, fighting for their culture and their right to live!
It's almost dawn and you can clearly see the "Chicha" has done it's inebriety effect on the Diablitos, whom have been drinking since earlier than 11am. The Diablos Mayores always vigilant, make sure that the rules are being followed as previously discussed and he who is seen loafing, resting or taking pictures with those around them is whipped and immediately pushed back into the fight. The celebration as fun as it may look it's taken very seriously, harsh enough that the Diablitos are not allowed to drink anything else but "Chicha". I heard one of the elders saying to a Diablito;
"This is our culture and you must not betray it, you can only drink "Chicha", be proud of your roots"
It seems that we shape culture as we engage in our social practices in our everyday life. What do we think we are? and what we're supposed to be? These are values that affect how we judge other people's values comparing them to ours, not by where others come from.
"If we can understand the values behind culture, we can understand people better for whom they are and what they stand for." - Fernando Lanzer
The perseverance of the Bull constantly reminds the tribe that the Conquistadors will not give up fighting against what they proclaim as their own. Tired and literally drunk with power the Diablitos linger and fight during two more days.
The fatigue is clear, specially on the Elder and young ones, sweat drenches the outfits and more and more Diablitos fall to the ground and against trees as the Bull rams them down.
The third and last day they recover strength and struggle to survive one more day. Until all of the sudden, they start dropping dead to the floor and the Bull manages to escape. This is called "La tumbazón" the fall of The Diablitos marks the victory of the Conquistadors.
With the last rays of light on the last fighting day, magic fills the village with mystical powers and the Diablitos resurrect one by one for one more last shot to hunt down the Bull. The Bull once long gone, hides over the hills. Some of the Diablitos transmutes into "dogs" and lead the way to find the Bull.
Finally the Bull hunt is over. And the Bull (outfit) is burnt by the purifying flames of death, allowing the survival of the Boruka people.
The death of the Bull brings the village to a huge celebration on the last day. But the intense battles all the "actors" go through are not to take in vane, as this is a lesson that the indigenous people are in constant strive to keep their land, but more important to maintain their long gone roots that have been ran over by progress, taking more and more of their people to forget where they come from, which is a valuable lesson to us all.
"El Juego de los Diablitos" fights for an extinct cultural identity in Costa Rica but hoping to reach out, Los Daiblitos are part of the costarican culture and they not only involve sacrifice, they proclaim our own cultural roots, our own way of life and our own believes, which in my opinion Costa Rica already has forgotten.