In Costa Rica, the Boruca Indians enact the Conquest, and re-write it to their advantage, in their “Juego de los Diablitos.”  The Borucas employ the figure of a bull to represent the aggression of the Spanish conquerors.[1] Although the bull first defeats the native Boruca diablitos, the Borucas persevere and ultimately slaughter the bull.[2]  This ritual (which is accompanied by accordion, violin, guitar, drum and flute music)[3] most likely has pre-Hispanic roots.  Originally, the “Cagrú rójc,” as it is called in the language of the Boruca, probably evoked a dualistic struggle of positive and negative forces. Jorge Luis Acevedo describes the Cagrú rójc as an ancient fertility ritual.  Although the aspects of the fertility ritual remain present,[4] the dance/drama was subsequently adapted to represent the Conquest.  The Juego de los Diablitos continues to take on new meanings over time.  Today, the toro simultaneously represents the Spaniards and also other contemporary dangers to Boruca culture.  “Es una representación de la lucha entre los indígenas y los españoles,” explains Santos Rojas Morales the Mayor of the Diablitos, “y actualmente es una manifestación de la difícil realidad de la cultura indígena en Costa Rica y en el mundo” (cited in Parrales, my emphasis).  The “Juego de los Diablitos” celebrates, through music and dance, the survival of Boruca culture historically, in the present and also projects the idea of cultural reproduction towards the future.

What, however, is the culture that the Borucas are reproducing?  The music of the “Juego de los Diablitos” reflects the hybrid culture of contemporary Borucas. As Adolfo Constenla writes, “La cultura Boruca actual es, tal y como se advierte en las narraciones de su literatura oral, una cultura mestiza” (69).  According to Acevedo, the toque del cuerno, which the Borucas play during the festival, is autochthonous.  Rodrigo Salazar S., on the other hand, informs that Panamanian Chiricano Indians introduced the cuerno de res to the Borucas at the time of colonization (176).  This cross-fertilization signals an important aspect of indigenous identity—autochthonous peoples have always negotiated their own indigenous (“mestizo”) cultures with other Indians before, during and after the Conquest. The “Juego de los Diablitos” evokes the survival and reproduction of a mestizo Boruca culture through a hybrid mixture of music and dance.

-Robert Neustadt

[1] Bulls are fairly common symbols with which Indians represent the Spaniards.  Walter Sánchez reports that the Chiriguanos of Bolivia have a ritual “Juego,” El Yagua Nao, that enacts the conflict of the Conquest via a bull that fights against native jaguars (40). In Guatemala, the dance drama “Baile de los toritos” enacts a corrida in which a rich Spaniard is ultimately killed by a bull.  The “Baile de los toritos” is different, however, because the dance does not enact a conflict between Spaniards and Indians. Although the dancers are Indians in masks and costumes, nearly all of the characters in the drama represent Spaniards. See pages 11-20 of Jesús Castillo’s book, La música maya quiché.

[2] Preparations for the festival begin on December 1.  The diablitos begin to dance and play music (initially shell trumpets and horns) at midnight on December 30.  The bull is fictitiously sacrificed on January 2 at 5:00 pm.  For a description of the Juego de los Diablitos see Jorge Luis Acevedo’s La música en las reservas indígenas de Costa Rica, pages 69-73.

[3] Three selections of music from the Juego de los Diablitos can be heard on the compact disc recorded and compiled by Jorge Luis Acevedo, Música indígena costarricense.

[4] Participants are presented with the (fictional) opportunity to purchase the bull’s genitalia and sexual organs during the festival.  After the bull is sacrificed the list of those who purchased these parts is read aloud in public. It is specified that the customer purchased this part of the bull because he is elderly and lacking in sexual vitality etc. (Jorge Luis Acevedo, personal communication, 12/07/2005). 

2011 Devils of the Americas. Some rights reserved.


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