The Bribri people of Costa Rica – Spirituality, Culture, and Food
My friends and I decided to participate in an excursion that visited a Costa Rican indigenous village where you spend the day with them learning about different aspects of their history and culture. The tour description stated that we would be introduced to indigenous life and customs, a visit with a Shaman (medicine man), chocolate making and tasting, a traditional indigenous lunch, and a visit to a waterfall. Our exciting field trip took us to meet the Bribri people.
The tour van was supposed to pick us up at 7:30 am but to my surprise, they were early (that is a plus in my book). The first stop on the tour was with the Shaman. We had to walk up several mystical stairs that felt like they would never end. Once we reached the last step, we could see the site contained a replica of a traditional hut and a holy conical house. The Bribri believe that this site is where God created the universe. The conical house has four levels that represent the four levels of the world:
- Ground level – the plane we inhabit
- Second level – where the spirits of plants and animals dwell
- Third level – the plane that houses the spirits who cause disease and suffering which periodically descend to cause misery on Earth.
- Fourth level – the highest level in the conical house where Sibu (God) and his helper, the king of vultures, lives. The Bribri believe that a cacao tree used to be a woman that Sibu turned into a tree.
Meeting the Shaman was like meeting a spiritual wise elder who demanded your respect without speaking a word. First, the Shaman gave us some history about his people and their beliefs then he performed two healing rituals on all of us.
The next stop on our expedition was to visit a Bribri family where we learned about different aspects of their lifestyle. We were shown an array of plants that they use for healing various diseases and ones that can even be used as makeup. I did put this on my lips but since orange lipstick is not my color, I am not sharing that photo. 🙂
About the Bribri People
- They live in the mountains of the Talamanca region, the Caribbean coastal areas of Costa Rica, and in northern Panama.
- It is estimated that their population is approximately 35,000.
- Many are isolated and they have their own language.
- The Bribri have the lowest income per capita in the country but are able to raise most of their own produce, medicine, and housing materials.
- They earn cash for items they can’t grow themselves by selling cacao, banana, plantain, and through tourism.
Included in our tour package was a scrumptious traditional Bribri meal. I loved the presentation of the cacao pulp drink and the meal itself. The lunch was presented to us in a banana leaf and was comprised of chicken, carrots, banana, and something that reminded me of a potato.
Another tour activity involved learning how they traditionally make chocolate. We were able to do the entire process ourselves which concluded with our very own production of hot chocolate. This was 100% chocolate, no sugar added. Unfortunately, my pallet has been conditioned to like the sweetened version of chocolate… What a shame!
The last part of our Bribri excursion entailed a short hike to a refreshing waterfall. I was too much of a chicken (cluck, cluck) to fully go into the waterfall for fear of slipping on the rocks while trying to get out.
The very next day I saw a quote on Facebook that said, “Your body can do it. It’s your mind that you have to convince.” Sigh, I should have jumped right in!
More Photos of the Bribri
From my adventures to this magnificent country I learned a few important lessons that I wanted to share with you. It is not an all-inclusive list but a few short tips that will help you along with your travels in Costa Rica…
- Bring and Use Bug Repellent – Due to the Zika virus scare, I probably inhaled more bug spray than my lungs could handle but I’d rather be safe than sorry.
- Cash – If you are pinching pennies like I am, I would advise bringing a little more cash than you think you will need. Two ATM machines tricked me into numerous bank fees by stating I could not take out a certain amount of money in one withdrawal. The ATM did allow me to make two withdrawals but made certain to charge me for each one. I am still mad about that!
- Don’t Flush Paper Products Down the Toilet – Depending on which part of the country you are in, the treatment of wastewater will vary. If you see posts in bathrooms that ask you not you flush paper products down the toilet, please adhere to the request. They have trash bins for you to put your used paper products in. We are visitors in their country and we don’t need to pollute their local environment or add to any infrastructure limitations.