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Indigenous communities

According to the last census conducted in 2011 by the Instituto Nacional de Estádistica y Censos (INEC), the indigenous population of Costa Rica consisted of 104,143 individuals, representing at that time a little less than 2.5% of the total population of the country.

8 minority ethnic groups, namely the Bribris, Bruncas, Cabécars, Chorotegas, Guaymís, Huetars, Malekus and Teribes, live today in 24 indigenous territories scattered in 6 of the 7 provinces of Costa Rica (although they are mostly present in the South Pacific and Caribbean regions).

In 2011, according to INEC, these territories were home to 48,500 people, of whom approximately 36,000 were indigenous. 25% of the population of all these geographic entities is not from one of these ethnic groups.

Indigenous territories of Costa Rica

Indigenous territories of Costa Rica. Source: INEC (2011).

These indigenous communities have many cultural assets that deserve to be known and preserved, such as their mother tongue, their practices and beliefs, their knowledge of medicinal plants and those used for handicrafts, and their indigenous architectural models.

THE BRIBRIS & CABÉCARS

Stretching from the Caribbean coast to the heart of the Talamanca mountain range, the Bribri and Cabecar indigenous communities are the largest in Costa Rica in terms of population.

Their cultural identity has remained authentic. Although both ethnic groups have their own language, they share a belief in the same god, Sibo. Their traditional medicine and construction with materials from the forest are some of their remarkable practices to discover.

Their subsistence economy is based mainly on the cultivation of cocoa, bananas and cereals as well as hunting and fishing.

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THE MALEKUS

Located in the Northern Plains region, in the Guatuso indigenous territory, the Maleku community has preserved its language and beliefs towards their god Tocu and their devil Maica.

The economy of this group is based on the cultivation of cereals, tubers, bananas, cacao and the sale of handicrafts. The rural and community tourism that is developing allows some songs, dances and traditional costumes made of "mastate" to survive.

THE BRUNCAS, GUAYMÍS & TERIBES

These 3 ethnic groups are located in the South Pacific region. They maintain deeply rooted customs based on beliefs for their god, birth, death, puberty and marriage.

 

Numerous ceremonies and dances punctuate the life of these communities and constitute, among other things, the richness of their cultural identity. This is the case, for example, of the "Fiesta de los Diablitos" (Festival of the Devils) celebrated by the Bruncas from December 31 to January 2.

In addition to agriculture, handicrafts occupy an important place in the economy of these ethnic groups. 

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THE CHOROTEGAS

The Chorotegas live in the indigenous territory of Matambú, in Guanacaste. They are the few descendants of the Mesoamerican natives.


Although this group has lost its language and part of its traditions due to its assimilation into the rural system of the Nicoya Peninsula, old customs remain between generations: typical recipes, traditional medicine, beliefs and pottery crafts.

THE HUETARS

Close to the capital San José, the Quitirrisí and Zapatón territories had 2,417 individuals in 2011, of which 1,354 were indigenous.


Although the Huetars have lost their language, some traditions remain such as the "Fiesta del Maïz" during which traditional musical instruments and chicha are at the heart of the celebration.

Although their lands are not very suitable for agriculture, some families are dedicated to the cultivation and sale of medicinal plants of which they have an excellent knowledge. The commercialization of handicrafts such as baskets, baskets and hats also represents an important activity for this ethnic group.

Huetar