Juego de los Diablitos

boruca diablito masks

500 years ago, the Spanish came for our land and gold, enslaved many of our ancestors, and killed thousands. Our people retreated to a bowl in the highlands in Southwest Costa Rica to what is now known as Boruca. There, brave Brunka warriors, wearing masks of nature spirits, frightened the invaders who called us “Diablitos,” or Little Devils. Thanks to those “scary” masks, our Brunka culture survived the Spanish and many challenges since.

For at least three centuries, we have been gathering each year to honor our ancestors, remember our history, and watch young men take their place among the warriors. The excitement and pride we feel when celebrating our “Juego de los Diablitos” is indescribable. It is the main festival in our village and everyone participates in the celebrations and cultural dances, which open doors to the spiritual world.

On the evening of December 30th, after months of preparation and mask making, our proud warriors climb “Brugran,” our sacred mountain. After midnight “those born behind the Sun” return and the whole village greets them. Adorned with masks and traditional costumes, they take turns for the next three days fighting the “bull,” which represents the Spanish invaders. The action moves around the village so everyone can watch.

For the next few days, Boruca becomes a different place. It is a time to meet with our friends, local and foreign. Only young men over the age of 16 are allowed to play in this rough game, while women help make costumes and prepare traditional foods. At night we all celebrate and dance -- and you’re welcome to join us.

The festivities end on January 2nd with the “killing” and burning of the bull -- and the whole town rises in euphoria! This is when we are grateful that our culture has been reborn for yet another year and we are still here. This celebration has given us the power to say we are the Brunka and still alive five hundred years later.