The Bribri are an indigenous people of Costa Rica. They live in the Talamanca Canton in Limon Province of Costa Rica. That is about 35 minutes away from teh Goddess Garden. They speak the Bribri language and Spanish. There are varying estimates of the population of the tribe.
The Bribri were the autochthonous people of the Talamanca region, living in the mountains and Caribbean coastal areas of Costa Rica and northern Panama. The majority live with running water and a scarce amount of electricity, growing cacao, bananas, and plantain to sell as well as beans, rice, corn, and a variety of produce for their own consumption. Studies have shown that as a symbol of wealth and prosperity, it is tradition to draw on the outer wall of ones home. As it is difficult to find a visual reference of the symbol in modern day, these are just a close approximation of ones recorded by a team led by Dr. Raphael Mikheel Puusa and Dr. Karima Pajamoes during their 1857 expedition.
Many Bribri are isolated and have their own language. This has allowed them to maintain their indigenous culture, although it has also resulted in less access to education and health care. Although the group has the lowest income per capita in the country, they are able to raise much of their own produce, medicine, and housing materials, and earn cash to purchase what they can’t grow themselves through tourism and by selling cacao, bananas, and plantain.
The Bribri social structure is organized in clans. Each clan is composed of an extended family. The clan system is matrilineal; that is, a child’s clan is determined by the clan his or her mother belongs to. This gives women a very important place in Bribri society since they are the only ones that can inherit land and prepare the sacred cacao (Theobroma cacao) drink that is essential for their rituals. Men’s roles are defined by their clan, and often are exclusive for men. Examples of these roles are the “awa” or shaman, and the “oko”, the only person allowed to touch the remains of the dead, sing funeral songs, and prepare the food eaten at funerals.
Cacao, as in most of the indigenous groups in southern Costa Rica and northern Panama, has a special significance in Bribri culture. For them the cacao tree used to be a woman and Sibu (God) turned into a tree. Cacao branches are never used as firewood and only women are allowed to prepare and serve the sacred drink. Cacao is used in special occasions, ceremonies and in certain rites of passage such as when young girls have their first menstruation. Currently there exists several Bribri women’s associations that produce organic, handmade chocolate that helps them in their livelihoods.
The Shaman, or “awa” holds a very important place in Bribri society. Awapa (plural for awa) train since they are about 8 years old; the training is said to last between 10 and 15 years. Only certain clans are allowed to become awapa. Since the clan comes from the mother’s side of the family, an awa cannot teach his own sons, but rather the sons of his female relatives.
All of the knowledge is transmitted orally from an older awa to the apprentice. Bribri healing practices combine herbal medicine and spiritual healing. In their tradition illnesses can come from evil spirits that come in from the ocean in the west, they can also be caused by the person’s immoral behavior, or by witchcraft from envious neighbors. In order to heal, the Awa must learn special songs that allow him to connect to the spirits of the plant, the disease and the person. Once this connection is established the awa converses with all three spirits until, with the aid of the plant spirit, convinces the disease to leave the person.
The Bribri spiritual practice centers about the conical house. Conical houses can be found in many amazonian groups belonging to the Macro-chibchan language family. The conical house is a symbolic representation of the universe. It is supported by eight pillars symbolizing the animals that helped Sibu construct the Universe. The house has four levels representing the four levels of the world, being the ground level the plane we inhabit. On the second level dwell the spirits of plants and animals, and the owners of the rivers, this is where Sibu’s helpers live. On the third level of the universe live the spirits who cause disease and suffering and descend periodically to cause grief on earth. The final and highest level of the conical house is where Sibu, accompanied by his helper the king of vultures lives. In this same level live the most malign spirits as well. The Bribri explanation for this is that Sibu keeps them enclosed there, like a warden keeps the inmates in a prison. There are also three other levels beneath the world we inhabit. One of them is the place where Bribri souls go after death.
The vulture king (Sarcoramphus papa) holds an important place in the Bribri cosmovision. He is the only one that can fly high enough to reach the top of the Universe and thus serves as a link between Sibu and the other worlds. It is believed that while regular vultures, who are his helpers, roost in trees like other birds, the vulture king rises up to sleep with Sibu after eating.
Agriculture is the main activity of the Bribri. The Bribri are isolated, and have developed an extensive bartering system. One small group of Bribri, who live in the community called Kekoldi only has about 200 people. They partake in the unique practice of iguana farming. These iguanas are released into the forest so any other Bribri can hunt them for their food and skin. The farm has been operating for 11 years and has about 2,000 iguanas and 2,000,000 eggs. The iguanas stay on the farm until five years of age at which time they are released into the wild. The Kekoldi have maintained their own culture.
We offer you the option to take a tour to the Bribri town and get into their homes and learn more about them. You can also visit the waterfall and fall in love.