Villa Quetzal

Villa Quetzal

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Shamans of Costa Rica...

Costa Rica has many amazing National Parks. Today I want to talk about a very special and mystical National Park located in the south pacific area.
The Chirripó National Park.  This is one of the wildest parks, it protects a large number of important ecosystems.  The National Park takes its name from the mountain by the name of Chirripó, which is the highest mountain in Costa Rica; it reaches 3820 m (12,533 ft). 

In the Talamanca Indian dialect, Chiripó means “Place of Enchanted Waters.”

The park is located approximately 30 km northeast from the city of San Isidro Del General; it is quite large, covering about 50150 ha (123,918 acres).

Chirripó was considered a sacred mountain by the pre-Colombian Indians. 

According to the stories, only the tribal leaders and shamans were allowed to the summit.  In fact, some interesting looking rock formation, known as “The Crestones” were considered as a shrine. 

Some people say that, 25000 years ago, the summit was covered with glacial ice. Today, the highest levels are marked by bare rock with glacial features such as U-shaped valleys, ribbon lakes, and moraine deposits.  

Chirripó means “Land of the Eternal Waters.” 

Tribal leaders and shamans performed rituals atop the lofty shrine; lesser mortal who adventured up to the mountain were killed.  Some say that there are magnetic fields swinging wildly at the top, particularly near the "Crestones."  This is a very powerful reason that keeps drawing visitors to this place and its surrounding areas.  

The indigenous groups that lived in the shadow of Chirripó, allegedly referred to the peak as “the Magic Mountain.”  On clear days at the summit, it is said that you can see both the Caribbean and the Pacific coastlines; you might even feel as if you were floating above Costa Rica, admiring the many layers of mountains descending to the ocean.
The clouds surrounding the mountain peaks, create a mystical visual experience. 

At night, the stars glow just beyond the mountains, and if you observe the sky during the earlier morning, you might see stars cascading across the sky.

The Bribri Indigenous Tribe of the “Cordillera of Talamanca” is one of the few remaining indigenous group in Costa Rica.  The Cordillera of Talamanca is the most rugged and unpopulated area of the country.  The centerpiece of this mountain is the great mountain of Chirripó.

The Bribri social structure is organized in Clans. 

Each clan is composed of an extended family.  The clan system is matrilineal, which means; the child’s clan is determined by the clan his or her mother belongs to.  This gives women a very important status within the tribe.  For example, they are the only ones who can inherit the land and prepare the holy cacao drink, which is a sacred part of their rituals. 

The legend says that the cocoa tree used to be a woman, and Sibu (God) at some point turned her into a tree, ever since, they consider it divine and for instance, they never use the branches of that tree for firewood, and just women are allowed to prepare and serve the sacred drink.  

Men’s roles are defined by their clan. 
Some roles are exclusive for men, for example,
* the roll of “usekor” or supreme shaman, the one connection between sibu-sura (god-goddess) and the tribe
* the role of an “awa” or the healer shaman
*the “oko” or person allowed touching the remains of the dead, singing funeral songs, and preparing the food eaten at funerals.

There is a very specific hierarchy among the Bribri tribe, and it is highly respected.

The Shaman or “awa” holds a very important place within the Bribri society. 

The Awa, are trained from the time they are 8 years old, that training lasts between 10 and 15 years.  Only certain clans are allowed to become awa.  Interesting enough, 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.

To this day, all the knowledge is transmitted orally from an older awa to the apprentice.  Some of those valuable pieces of knowledge are the healing practices; they combine herbal medicine and spiritual healing.  In order to heal, the shaman must learn a special song that allows him to connect to the trinity represented by the spirit of the plant being used, the disease, and the person.  The shaman establishes the perfect connection with the three spirits, initiates the conversation, and with the aid of the plant spirit, convinces the illness to leave the person.

The Bribri spiritual center is a conical house.  These Conical houses can also be found in many Amazonian groups.  The conical house is a symbolic representation of the Universe; it is supported by pillars, symbolizing the animals that help Sibu (God) in the building of the Universe.

The Bribri believed the universe is shaped like a diamond, “as above so below."  Therefore, the conical house has the physical part above ground, built with local materials.  The invisible part of that diamond is beneth the ground and mirrors the material one.    

On the physical part, Sibu has his realm; the top three layers belong to him; his helper is his faithful King Vulture; the one that can fly high enough to reach the top of the universe and serve as a link between Sibu and other worlds.  The fourth layer represents the forest and sky.  The fifth layer in the middle of the diamond represents the earth. Interestingly enough, the most maligned spirits known to them lives in the same, place.  Sibu says that is the only way to keep them under control, locked up.

On the mirrored part, below the earth, lives Sura, the one who receives the souls of the Bribri after death, because she was their creator.

It is truly fascinating, that even in current times; Costa Rica has indigenous groups that have managed to preserve their traditions, and beliefs.  This, of course, has come at the price of being isolated; additionally, they have seen their number diminishing over time.

Fortunately, there are some non-profit organizations working in the area for the benefit of this exceptional tribe.

Next time you come to Costa Rica, make sure to spend several days in the southern zone.  That will allow you the opportunity to visit the Chirripo Mountain, and experience the magic of the shamans living in the area. 

If you want to obtain more information, and make arrangements for a tour to this fabulous place, contact,  they will take care of all the arrangement needed during your vacation.

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