Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

At the time of European conquest, there were numerous Indian groups present in the Talamanca mountain range and surrounding coastal plains of southern Costa Rica and western Panama. Pursuing notably divergent strategies for cultural survival over the centuries, four of the Chibchan-speaking groups remain: the Boruca, Bribri and Cabécar (many on reservations in Costa Rica) and the Teribe (largely in Panama). Traditional subsistence was based on agriculture, supplemented by hunting and river fishing, but Talamancans are now largely integrated into their national economies, with fewer individuals dependent upon a rapidly diminishing supply of available land. Although some work in national government, or for national and international Indian advocacy agencies, self-government within communities is informal, with the opinions of elders and shamans respected.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Middle America and the Caribbean --Central America


Costa Rica


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Collection Overview

The Talamancans collection provides general information for the Bribri, Boruca and Cabecar subcultures in southern Costa Rica; information on the Teribe is limited. Historical reconstructions cover the Conquest and Colonial eras of the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. Most primary evidence pertains to a few decades before and after the turn of, and one decade in the middle of, the twentieth century (1873-1917; the 1950s).

Gabb (1876) and Stone (1962) (espectively present general ethnographies for the late nineteenth and middle twentieth centuries, with particular focus on the Bribri and Cabécar. Skinner (1920) adds some description of funerary customs for an intermediate time, but for the most part describes material culture in detail, much of it collections representing crafts already extinct.

Pittier (1903) supplies a collection of Bribri and Boruca folklore from the end of the nineteenth century. Nygren (1998) looks specifically at Bribri mythology as it relates to social identity within the nation of Costa Rica during the twentieth century.

Ibarra (1999) and Meléndez (1962) provide more strictly historical works: Ibarra analyzes the contrasting trajectories of the Boruca and the Cabécar-Bribri in maintaining their cultures under external pressures, from first European contact through the nineteenth century; Meléndez documents the career of the last Talamancan king at the end of that period.

Overview by

Leon G. Doyon

awa –medicine man– Use SHAMANS AND PSYCHOTHERAPISTS ( 756)

Bone dance –ceremony held a year or less after death– Use MOURNING ( 765) and/or CULT OF THE DEAD ( 769)

bukurú –taboo objects– Use AVOIDANCE AND TABOO ( 784)

havas –carrying baskets– Use UTENSILS ( 415)

jawá –see awa– Use SHAMANS AND PSYCHOTHERAPISTS ( 756)

oko –mortuary specialist who handles the dead– Use MORTUARY SPECIALISTS ( 767)

ókub –see oko– Use MORTUARY SPECIALISTS ( 767)

sibü –creator god– Use SPIRITS AND GODS ( 776)

tsûku –shaman– Use SHAMANS AND PSYCHOTHERAPISTS ( 756)

usegla –Cabécar high priest– Use PRIESTHOOD ( 793)

Indexing Notes by

Leon G. Doyon

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