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The Bribri are natives of Costa Rica. The name Bribri comes from the word « strong ».

The matrilineal clans represent the social structure of the Bribri. Only the women can inherit the lands and prepare the sacred cocoa drink essential to their rituals. Grandmothers play an important role in families. They transmit the social and cultural heritage: the customs, the traditions, and the stories.

The men’s roles are defined by their clan, for example, the « awa » (the shaman) and the « oko » (the responsible for funerals, the person authorized to touch the dead bodies, to sing funeral songs, and to prepare the necessary food for the funeral).

Like the Navajo and other Native Americans, when someone is near death, they install him in a small hut away from the main house. They don’t let someone die inside his own house otherwise, they have to burn the house or abandon the camp. These measures keep away evil spirits.

Bribri Family

After death, the mortician wraps the corpse in bark covers and plantain leaves and deposits next to the body his last hammock (where he has breathed his last breath) and all the other objects he used until the very last moment of his life. Then he places the body on a small platform in the woods, surrounded by a fence covered with thatch to prevent the animals’ access.

Frequently this scaffold is covered with thorny vines that grow above. The body remains for five years (or one year, according to other sources) in this temporary grave then it is transferred to the common house of death.

Nine days later, they organize a ceremony called « extinguish the fire » which lasts only one night. The women from the family prepare chicha, cocoa, and other food for a feast, and the tsuku (the healer) sings some secret songs, accompanied by the calabash.

He sprinkles a pinch of powder on the utensils that belonged to the dead and which are still in the house. He sings and shakes his rattle for each application of powder.

Bribri house
Usule: spiritual temple

Five years later (or one year), when the flesh has completely disappeared, they return to the small scaffolding where the corpse is stored and organize a new ceremony called « the bone dance ».

That is an important period for the family that lasts between fifteen and twenty-two days. During this interval, they sacrifice animals, consume lot of cocoa and chicha, and spend a significant amount of money.

Two healers sing for the celebrations. When the guests are gone, the undertaker, surrounded by the family, cleans the skeleton, wraps it in allegorical patterned tissue, and after a special ceremony, transfers it to the House of Death far into the mountains.

They use different tissues depending on the cause of death (fever or other diseases, age, snake bite).
The House of Death is made of resistant wood and divided into four rooms. Each room corresponds to one of the four geographical groups of the Bribri living on the Lari, the Tihri, the Uren, and the Coen rivers (four upper tributaries of the Sixaola).

They store the bones of the dead in a suitable room and deposit, very close, various bows, arrows, and utensils.

The shaman practices rituals and sings different symbolic songs to warn the deceased of the path he still has to take before reaching the other world, his final destination.

He may have to cross dangerous rivers, to meet great snakes and perilous precipices. But he can also find beautiful birds, butterflies, and stunning flowers on this path.

The shaman’s song ends with a description of the final arrival of the deceased in the afterlife, the kingdom of God.

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Spiritualité Autochtone