QCOSTARICA – If you have spent any time in Costa Rica, you have probably seen the brightly-painted balsa wood masks that are in gift shops and souvenir stores. These masks are intricately-carved and painted by the men of the Brunca Tribe from the highlands in southwestern Costa Rica. (They may also be known as the Boruca Tribe.)
For centuries, the indigenous Brunca people have held a ceremony that lasts for three days, from December 31st through January 2nd, known as the Dias de Los Diablitos (Days of the Little Devils). This three-day ritual features a dance in which one of the tribesman, dressed as a bull, kills all of the men of the village.
The bull represents the Spanish conquistadors who tried to wipe out the indigenous tribes of Latin America. However, on the third day of the ceremony, the men of the village (the little devils) are resurrected and, wearing their masks, seek out and kill the bull. The symbolic message of the ceremony, of course, is that the Brunca people and their culture cannot be killed by the Spaniards.
Authentic Brunca masks are popular with tourists and with international expats living in Costa Rica. And “used” masks that have actually been part of the Diablitos ceremony are particularly prized.
One place you can be certain that you are dealing with authentic Brunca masks is Galeria Namu. If you unfamiliar with this gallery, it is one of the cultural gems of Downtown San José. It is a small shop on the block behind the Holiday Inn that features wonderful art work from indigenous tribes in Central America.
Galeria Namu owner, Aisling French, informs “Q-Costa Rica” that in early January, they will be receiving 20 Brunca masks that have been part of this year’s Little Devils ceremony. “Because of our unique relationship with the tribe, we will get the best masks,” said Ms. French. And Galeria Namu provides its customers with photographic authentication that each mask was part of the ceremony.
Galeria Namu takes great pride in offering many kinds of traditional art works from indigenous tribes and from folk artists. And they make a point of paying Fair Trade prices to the artists. They are located on Avenida 7, between Calles 5 and 7.
Downtown San José is full of surprises. It’s all part of The Real San José.