Many indigenous peoples throughout the isthmus, and all the way north to Mexico, enact the Fiesta de los Diablitos, a resonant spectacle that is both disturbing and humorous. In Costa Rica the Borucas use it to celebrate New Year and to re-enact the Spanish invasion, with Columbus, Cortez and his men reborn every year. The fiesta takes place over three days and is a village affair: foreigners and tourists are not encouraged to come as spectators.

On the first day a village man is appointed to play the bull; others disguise themselves as little devils (diablitos), with burlap sacks and masks carved from balsa wood. The diablitos taunt the bull, teasing him with sticks, while the bull responds in kind. At midnight on December 30 the diablitos congregate on the top of a hill, joined by musicians playing simple flutes and horns fashioned from conch shells. During the whole night and over the next three days, the group proceeds from house to house, visiting everyone in the village and enjoying a drink or two of home brew (chicha). On the third day, the “bull” is ritually killed. The symbolism is indirect, but the bull, of course, represents the Spaniard(s), and the diablitos the indigenous people. The bull is always vanquished and the diablitos always win – which of course is not quite how it turned out, in the end.

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